Just wanted to get a feel for how I'm doing here. This is a series of responses to a Facebook post by my sister-in-law, my other sister-in-law, me and some random friend of theirs.

Terri L :
was wondering the other day what it would take to convince unbelievers that there is a God. Will they believe when the rapture takes place? What will they think when millions of people just disappear from the Earth? I just keep praying for them, that God will open their eyes to His existence.

Me: It depends on how and why they arrived at their unbelief. For me, it's a complete lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary, combined with contradictory scriptures and a bunch of illogical assumptions on the part of religious dogma. If I could see just one piece of evidence for a god or gods, then I'd be open to some kind of belief. Unfortunately for you, and fortunately for me, no theist has ever presented me with anything approaching evidence. There is, however, a lot of circular reasoning and blind faith, neither of which is fulfilling to me.

If millions of people suddenly disappeared from Earth, I'd first look to see if there was any rational explanation. Most likely there would not be, and so I'd have to look to the irrational for answers. However, this has never happened before, and even though Christians have been waiting for over two thousand years, it hasn't happened yet. Every generation thinks it will, but Jesus is still a no-show.

Me: I like to ask theists if they believe in Thor, or Kokopeli, or Zeus, or Anansi or Horus. Probably not, and the same reasons why you don't believe in Horus or Thor is the reason I don't believe in YHWH, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, Shakti or Xenu.

Tambra T.: What happened to the body?

Me: What body?

Tambra T: The buried one that disappeared despite heavy guarding by people who didn't want to give His followers the chance to say He was resurrected?

Tambra T: FYI circular reasoning and blind faith are not fulfilling to me either. There sure is a lot of that out there. I do not subscribe to that.

Janet D: in one of my classes, there were 3 people who said they don't believe in God. when asked how come they don't believe in God, he said, how could he believe in something that he doesn't see. Romans 1 and Psalm 19 would have been good if it was okay to share some scripture.

Terri L: Tim: You should read the Bible and see if you can disprove God. I think you'd be surprised at what you find. And I find it interesting that people will have enough "blind faith" or faith to believe in the THEORY of evolution, and yet they can't or won't believe in God, even though if you look around at that world there is plenty of evidence that Someone had to make it. You love to go out at night and look at the stars. Do you really believe that the constellations just formed that way naturally? That the shapes that are so beautiful just happened to come about? Just wondering.

Me: Terri, I don't have to disprove your god. That's not my job. As a believer, it's your job to prove to me that your god exists. You're the one making the assertion. I'm just rejecting your assertion. The idea that atheists have some responsi...bility for proving that any god or gods exist is ludicrous. How could I possibly find evidence of the lack of existence for something? If I told you there was a ceramic teapot floating in orbit between Mars and Jupiter, amongst the litter of the asteroid belt, would it be your responsibility to prove me wrong? Hardly. It would be my responsibility to prove that the teapot did exist, by giving you evidence. Otherwise, you'd be well within reason to reject my assertion.

Constellations are merely shapes that we've associated with certain arrangements of stars. In most cases, the actual distance between those stars may be quite great, and their shape changes over millennia. In fact, for many of those constellations, they don't even really look like what they've been associated with. This is why different civilizations throughout time have associated differing objects and people with those asterisms.

I see nothing in nature that suggests a creator. In fact, when I look around I see a universe that looks precisely as it should look if there was no creator.

In any case, my beliefs are not at issue here. It's my rejection of your assertion that there is a god, and that your particular God is that god, and that he had a child via a virgin who died and came back to life. You haven't made that case.

Me: Tambra, like Terri, you seem to be asking me to make the case for your religion for you. When I say I don't believe in your God, it's a weak argument to come back with a missing piece of key evidence. It's akin to the people who say that th...e lack of evidence for a second shooter on the Grassy Knoll is proof that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone gunman.

But I'll play along. Anyone who watches enough CourtTV could tell you that bodies disappear all the time. The fact that we haven't found Jimmy Hoffa isn't proof that he was resurrected. There are probably hundreds of explanations for a missing body that don't have anything to do with the supernatural, beginning with the possibility that there never was a body to begin with.

The question, really, is why do YOU believe the accounts of a series of theo-political treatises written decades after the supposed event? After all, your scriptures say that you're supposed to be prepared to offer "reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).

Like Terri, you have failed to realize that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever, but on the believer.

Me: Janet: Telling someone who doesn't believe in your god to read the Bible is like telling someone who doesn't believe in Scientology to read "Dianetics" or telling someone who doesn't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet to read the Book of Mo...rmon or Pearl of Great Price. For that matter, it's like telling someone who doesn't believe in mermaids to read Hans Christian Anderson. Before you can ask me to read your Bible as proof of the Christian God, you have to prove to me that the Hebrew scriptures are based on factual events, and not a series of myths and fables compiled by semi-nomadic Bronze Age animal herders. Then you have to prove that the Christian scriptures are the actual account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and not theological propaganda. Thousands of greater minds than ours have failed to make that case, thus the modern field of Christian Apologetics. Two thousand years of argument have failed to even establish, beyond a doubt, that Jesus was one, real historical figure. That's even taking into account that history, as a soft science, has such low threshold for "evidence."

So, what do you think? How did I do?

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Replies to This Discussion

Little late to the party here (school, real life, not enough internet time!). But I too give you a thumbs up for keeping your cool and not letting them put you on the defensive.

There's especially an opportunity with your niece. At 15, parts of her brain's decision and rationalization centers are still forming. Kudos for taking a firm but gentle approach and not actively 'trying' to de-convert her, as that only drives the family to keep her far away from Naughty Uncle Blue Frog.

Only critique so far: On the challenge to prove the existence of Washington, Lincoln and Columbus, I'd have thrown them a bone on that one and came right back with "You're right. We can't prove their existence with absolute certainty. Or anyone's for that matter. However, we have a lot more evidence of their existence than Jesus'. Including and especially, hundreds of accounts, many eye witnesses from their own lifetime, many with no motivation to make someone like that up.

Unlike our evidence for Jesus which starts many years after his supposed death with religious writings out to sell the religion, followed many years later by all of three secular references from all of two persons which are at best vague and/or suspect. If the only evidence we had for the existence of George Washington was the fanatical fanboy writings of someone who claimed to have met his ghost and three vague references decades after the Religious Cult of George Washington had swept over land describing miraculous acts of Washington's, I would be as suspect of him as a non-fairy tale as I am of Jesus.

Bottom line, faith in Jesus depends on faith that religious writings are always 100% accurate with the historical details. In which case there are a lot more man-gods out there we'd better start believing in. Personally, I vote for Thor. Always loved Thor.
Yeah, I just watched a History Channel program on Thor, and he was pretty cool.

I could have gone a lot farther with the Washington, Lincoln and Columbus argument, but I really thought we were getting off the main question, which had to do with God's existence. Before we can discuss Jesus in a Christian context, we have to establish that the Christian God exists. Otherwise, we're just discussing proof for that some dude walked around, talked for a while and died.

You make great points though, and I tried to make that connection by pointing out that no one is asking us to believe miracles attached to either of those three people, or for that matter Aristotle. Despite their "godlike" places in history, there is no serious claim that any of these people are supernatural in any way.
Got a new response, and posted a new reply of my own:

Terri L: I was just wondering, have you always been an athiest [sic]? When you were a little boy didn't you think there was a God then? If so, then what happened to change your mind? Are your parents athiest [sic]? Did they ever take you to church growing up? I was just curious. If you don't want to post that here, you can message me.

Me: No, I'm not ashamed of anything like that. My parents were both raised in the church. My dad was raised Southern Baptist, and my mom was raised Presbyterian. They were both in church every time the doors were open. I don't know much about their beliefs, but both of them were disaffected with church life. When they had kids, they decided they wouldn't attend church. I do remember one time when I was just four or five years old, before I started elementary school, they tried to start going to the Presbyterian church in my hometown. For one reason or another, they quit going after just one visit. I remember being in the "children's church" and having a crying fit. I don't remember why, but it was a traumatic enough event for me that I still remember it. I also remember my mother and father being very angry when my devout Southern Baptist grandmother would take every opportunity to preach to us. She was horrified that we weren't being raised in the church. There was also a time we went to the State Fair in Mobile and Chris and I went in a little booth to watch a puppet show. It turned out to be a bait-and-switch where some church was trying to get kids in to watch the puppet show, and then tell them about Jesus. My mom pulled us both out and gave the puppet show people a piece of her mind! All that together, plus a general feeling that I got from my parents that they were antagonistic toward organized religion, led me to ultimately decide that although my parents think of themselves as believers in a higher power, they are too independent-minded to be Christians. They might even believe in Jesus, but they didn't think it was important enough to pass on to their kids.

I was a sickly kid, always down with asthma or allergies or pneumonia. My parents weren't very educated. My mom didn't even finish high school. So they provided me with two sets of encyclopedias, a telescope, a microscope and plenty of books on just about any subject I was interested in. If I had a question about something, they would always say, "Go look it up!" At six years old, I was already well-entrenched in a naturalistic way of viewing the world. Neither of my parents put much stock in the supernatural, so I wasn't raised with a general belief in the paranormal or the supernatural. As far as religion went, we had one old Bible in the house that had been my mom's when she was a kid. We had a paint-by-number of Jesus in the hallway. That was it. The closest we ever came to church attendance was watching a preacher on television who used to do big drawings to illustrate his sermons. We watched more for the drawing than for the message of the sermon.

All my friends went to church, and as I was growing up I saw a big disconnect between their actions and their words. They would talk about making out with their girlfriends at church, or at youth camp. They cursed, they drank, they were violent and hateful. They were racist and vindictive and disrespectful. Compared to them, I was a model kid. I was everything they were not. In fact, the kids I eventually hung out with who were not religious were a lot like me. They were generally good kids. I realized then, without really understanding it, that ethical behavior was not dependent on religious belief, and possibly even the opposite; that the people I knew who were not believers or were not devout were actually more ethical than the church folk.

I still considered myself a believer, even as late as fourth or fifth grade, although I do remember balking at saying grace before lunch at school. Something about it just didn't feel right. Looking back, I realize that forced prayer in public schools had been ruled unconstitutional in 1963, and more than a decade later my school was still forcing us to pray in the mid to late 70's!

I do remember praying on my own, late at night. I talked to God and in general, asked God to make me a better person or to protect me from bullies or things like that. It wasn't a regular thing, but I occasionally did pray.

I guess it was in late junior high or early high school that I started really feeling a disconnect between myself and any kind of religious belief. I remember studying mythology in junior high school, and realizing that today's myths are yesterday's religions. The logical next step in that line of thinking is to realize that today's religions become tomorrow's myths! By the time I started high school, I considered myself a Deist, but I didn't know the name for it until I studied early American history, and the great Deist patriots like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Around that time, I met my best friend Jim. Jim was the first atheist I'd ever known, and we had plenty of arguments all the way through college about the nature and possibility of a god. When I say "a god" I mean the philosopher's god, not the God of the Bible. I'd already studied enough world history to know that the Bible was an outgrowth of previous religions and philosophies, including Sumerian and Babylonian religions and the teachings of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. No, I argued for a blind watchmaker god, in line with the Deist "Creator" or "Providence." However, my arguments continually fell short. I found myself less and less able to come up with any use for a god in a natural universe. The god of the gaps that I'd grown accustomed to thinking of — impersonal, uninvolved and indescribable — seemed superfluous. If everything can be explained and understood by simply looking at nature, there's no real reason to believe in an invisible being. (After all, the invisible and the non-existent look quite similar.) I still have respect for the Deist point of view, but I could no longer find a place or need for a god in my world. By the time I graduated from college, I was calling myself an agnostic atheist, and I still do today.

I just remembered something else. When I was a child, I asked my mom where my name came from. I knew it wasn't a family name, although my middle name "Daniel" was a family name. She told me that Timothy was a king in the Bible. Now, either ...she knew that Timothy was not a king, but a companion of Paul, or she never really paid attention in church and had been out of church for so long she'd forgotten. Maybe she even knew, but didn't want to get into the whole thing about "well, who was Paul?" I don't know, but looking back it seems strange that she would say that Timothy was a king, knowing I would eventually find out the truth.

I wasn't just skeptical about religion as a kid. I read a lot about UFO's (note to non-skeptics, the U stands for unexplained) and monsters like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. I had a voracious appetite for "woo" and all of my investigations led me to the same place: there is no evidence for aliens visiting Earth, psychic powers, divination, crop circles, Bigfoot, lake monsters, chupacabra, Mongolian Death Worms, Atlantis or anything else like that. I put them in the same big box with all the gods of current and ancient mythology. If someone catches Bigfoot, I'll see what they have to say and examine the evidence. If someone finds evidence of their god, I'll do the same. Until then, I'm a skeptic, through and through.

The writer of Matthew said only those who are like children can enter the Kingdom of God, but according to 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul said "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Knowing that, I guess it makes sense that those of us who have grown in our understanding of the Universe would put away childish beliefs and be, in a sense, barred from the Kingdom of God.

Terri L: Tim everyone is welcome in the Kingdom of God. All they have to do is believe that He exists, that Jesus is His Son and that He died for their sins, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. All you have to do is accept it. If your really curious as to whether or not there is a God, Jeremiah 29:13 says " You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart." Deuteronomy 4:29 says " But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." Proverbs 8:17 written by King Solomon, says "I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me." Luke 11:10 says "For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened." There is a way to know for certain that God exists, You just have to look for Him with all your heart and soul. Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him as He was dying that he would be with Him in paradise that day. So it's not just for kids or even "good" people, salvation is for anyone who will accept it.

I'm still writing my response.
She seems nice. But, dare I say it? (Sigh) childish. I sought. I wanted to find. My path to non believing began as a search FOR god. Those still "in the box" can never really see it that way tho.
Religion is deeply infantilizing generally, despite Paul's admonishment to put away childish things. The bedrock of religious faith is subordination to a heavenly father. This makes religious people permanent children. They can't let themselves be actual adults without usurping their god's role in their lives. This is one of my primary frustrations in debating theists--they just refuse to be grownups about it. It's like they still believe in Santa Claus and don't notice how childish that is.
My reply to the list of Bible verses:

Obviously I’m doing a poor job of communicating. When I said that skeptics are barred from the Kingdom of God, I was speaking metaphorically. I’m not trying to get into heaven, because I don’t believe heaven exists. I’m no longer looking for God, because I’ve come to the very personal conclusion, (and that’s what atheism is, a conclusion) based on the lack of evidence, that no gods or goddesses or any other higher beings exist. I can’t look for God with my heart and soul, because to my knowledge there is no such thing as a soul. I hate to be literal here, but I really don’t want my point to be misconstrued. The heart is an organ that pumps blood through the body. It’s not an organ of feeling or sensing or thinking or experiencing. Furthermore, the blood that’s pumped through the body has one biological function, and that is to nourish the body’s cells, transport waste from those cells and transport disease-fighting agents. Once it’s spilled from the body, it’s useless. It doesn’t cleanse anything. It doesn’t remove sin. If it leaves the body, except through donation, it’s been wasted. There is no evidence whatsoever that it serves any other purpose.
As long as we’re discussing the *reasons* to believe or not believe, saying I should look for God with my heart is no less absurd than to say that I should look for God with my feet, or my hair, or my penis. The brain is where humans do all of our feeling, sensing, experiencing, reasoning and thinking. I spent a portion of my youth and young adulthood looking for evidence of a god with my brain, and found nothing. Worse, I found that many if not all of the god and goddesses of history have been created by men, in their own image, to subjugate and control, or to allay fear and uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

And so we’ve come back to quoting the Bible. I understand why. After thousands of years of disagreement, bloodshed and waiting, Christians have nothing more than an old book of myths, parables, poems and pseudo-history to fall back on. That’s enough for you, and that’s great. You’ve found happiness in your faith and your certainty. You asked why other people don’t believe, and I really tried to explain why in the clearest terms possible. I’ve failed, and therefore we’ve come full circle. I had to try anyway. The faith side of the discussion gets heard all the time. It gets broadcast on the airwaves and shouted from church pulpits and public spaces. It dominates political races and discussions of foreign and domestic policy. Reason gets relegated to bookshelves and a precious few classrooms.

There is one more point I feel like I need to clarify. Even if you could prove to me that your particular God exists, that He created the Universe and came to Earth as a child by a virgin and then later sacrificed Himself to Himself in order to appease Himself, I could believe, but I could not in good conscience worship that God. To quote one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain: “It ain’t the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” I haven’t read the entire Bible. I’m still working on it. However, the parts I’ve read show me nothing more than a bloodthirsty, self-absorbed, capricious tyrant of a God, who plays with His creation like a child playing with toys. It’s a book of Bronze Age savagery, full of hate, bigotry and absurdities, with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. I’m sorry if this offends you, but talking around this hasn’t worked for me, so I’m having to be brutally honest. The only consolation I have as I read the Bible is that it is more myth and wishful thinking than history. We’re talking about a book that seriously discusses talking snakes, talking donkeys, virgins giving birth, people walking on water, unicorns and dragons, talking bushes, people walking in and out of furnaces, and a host of other silly things. All of these are extraordinary claims, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Instead of evidence, we get only threats. Believe this, or suffer. I would pay it no attention whatsoever if not for the corresponding threat from believers: establish the laws of our nation in accordance with our holy books, teach our religion in the classroom, post our prayers on the walls of our public buildings, or we will make you suffer.

As you can see, I'm running out of patience. I've had to get tough with her.
The closest we ever came to church attendance was watching a preacher on television who used to do big drawings to illustrate his sermons.

So *that's* where Glenn Beck got his inspiration!

I remember studying mythology in junior high school, and realizing that today's myths are yesterday's religions. The logical next step in that line of thinking is to realize that today's religions become tomorrow's myths!

Exactly my line of thinking as a child. Well-put.
This preacher had a show on public television right after Bob Ross, so it was like watching one long show of freaky artists getting their kicks making up imaginary scenes.
:-D *choke* *gag* Thank you for making me inhale my ice cream, Cow.
Awesome NoSacredCow!
They always look for that one experience that "shook your faith to the core and made you abandon god".

Most atheists I know never had that kind of experience. Most have come to it logically and reasonably. They searched and did not find or examined and abandoned as an untestable hypothesis someone else came up with.

~ No Sacred Cow

I wasn't just skeptical about religion as a kid. I read a lot about UFO's (note to non-skeptics, the U stands for unexplained) and monsters like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. I had a voracious appetite for "woo" and all of my investigations led me to the same place: there is no evidence for aliens visiting Earth, psychic powers, divination, crop circles, Bigfoot, lake monsters, chupacabra, Mongolian Death Worms, Atlantis or anything else like that. I put them in the same big box with all the gods of current and ancient mythology. If someone catches Bigfoot, I'll see what they have to say and examine the evidence. If someone finds evidence of their god, I'll do the same. Until then, I'm a skeptic, through and through.

~ The Big Blue Frog

I so recognise myself there in what you've both said. It was a slow gradual weening out of things I had not belief in starting with ghosts (I realised I didn't believe in life after death so therefore believing in ghosts was a bit silly)

By the time I'm reading about interstellar distances I'm pretty much convinced aliens don't fly here from outside the solar system (let alone know we are here) and the probabilities start rapidly decreasing after that. (which annoyed my friends who firmly believed UFOS were real and saucer shaped.)

I LOVED the idea of big-foot and Loch Ness monsters and all that crazy stuff as a kid, but it all just fell away in the end, last of all to go were gods but I do remember kind of steeling myself up for admitting it. like 'wow I really don't believe in god." but it wasn't like I regretted it, it was more like affirming something that might be embarrassing if people knew but that was all (to this day mum still expresses a certain amazement that I went to university and came back an unbeliever like I caught the atheist flu or something rather than grasping it was the conclusion of a process that spans about a decade.)

And as it's turned out, saying you reasoned yourself out of nonsense, to a certain mindset and subset of society is a badge of honour.
Yeah, I was an atheist from 5 or 6 years old. I just did a lot of flailing around, going through the motions, before I finally chucked it completely at 13 or 14. I never actually believed.

I SO WANTED there to be something to find. I really did 'search with all my heart', as Frog's relatives would say. I found diddly squat, because I'm too rational and intelligent to mistake random events for divine cause.

I remember one woman telling me that she prayed for a sign, and a few weeks later, she found a Bible from her childhood in a box in the garage. This, for her, qualified as unequivocal proof of God. It's amazing how credulous some people are.




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