How to Talk to an Atheist

Article by Carl Herby, Ray Comfort, & Penn Jillette

When faced with the mocking rants of God-haters, our natural temptation is to dismiss them as ignorant bigots or to get angry. But that’s not Christ’s way. Christians who follow Christ’s example will find His Spirit shedding light in the most unexpected places.

To the Christian Witness

The goal shouldn’t be to convert an atheist into belief in God. That’s up to the Holy Spirit. Atheists already know God exists (Romans 1:20). So the goal should be to effectively explain that he or she, like you, is a sinner and desperately needs the Savior.
Show tangible love. When Ray Comfort, co-founder of the Way of the Master, was once introduced on a radio program as “the man internationally hated by atheists,” he tried to diffuse the situation by offering free copies of his books to atheists on his blog. Over 120 atheists responded politely and favorably.  Form friendships first. An established relationship can go a long way in getting atheists to consider biblical truths.

From an Atheist

If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”   – Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller)

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19 Responses to “How to Talk to an Atheist”

  1. Here’s a little perspective from an agnostic who leans toward a godless but spiritual take on the word.

    A good portion of what you said in your post will either alienate the person you are talking to, get you laughed at, or cause the conversation to descend into a heated argument.

    When faced with the mocking rants of God-haters, our natural temptation is to dismiss them as ignorant bigots or to get angry.

    Actually, it’s the social and political power of religious people (and the abuse thereof) that tends to inspire hatred. To atheists, by definition and belief, the Christian god simply doesn’t exist. Thus, hating a non-existent entity is irrelevant and unproductive. Rather, negative feelings are directed toward the beliefs and actions of religious people rather than a non-existent entity. Atheists of a more prejudicial flavor focus their negative feelings directly upon believers as well.

    Because of this, telling an atheist that s/he hates god will surely cause them to roll their eyes. From their perspective, you are making a ridiculous assertion.

    Atheists already know God exists (Romans 1:20).

    That simply isn’t true. Most atheists find the existence of a deity to be unbelievable, and hence, do not believe. The problem here is that on some emotional/cognitive level, theists find a lack of belief in a god to be so alien that they can not conceive of this belief not being present in a person. Different people can think quite differently—in ways that will seem completely strange to you. Remember that.

    So the goal should be to effectively explain that he or she, like you, is a sinner and desperately needs the Savior.

    You might be able to get an occasional atheist to believe in a deity, but appealing to Christian belief to do so generally won’t work well. In fact, a lot of atheists will instantly tune you out—particularly those who had a bad experience with Christianity at some point in their lives. Think about this. You will be trying to form arguments based upon a system of belief that the person sees as mythical fiction. You’re far more likely to have an impact via arguments that rely upon observations about the universe and everyday life.

    Even if you do manage to convince them of the existence of a supernatural force in the universe, that doesn’t mean they’ll believe that Christianity has the one true understanding of the universe. Theism/spiritualism does not equal Christianity. There are 40 religions on the planet, plus a large number of people who are spiritual but adhere to no religion. In a multi-cultural world with easy access to cultures from around the globe, Christianity has a lot of competition.

    If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

    What you are saying here is unclear. Do you think hell should be included in the conversation, or not?

    Subjecting non-believers to everlasting torment makes the traditional version of the Christian god look like an evil, megalomaniacal, tyrant. Thus, if you use this approach, you will be arguing that they should believe in and support an entity that is essentially evil in their eyes. Appeals to the existence of a hell are also interpreted by the non-believer as threatening violence against a person if they refuse to believe. Consequently, you’ll probably anger or alienate the person you are talking to and instantly end any possibility of having an impact.

    Speaking only of an after life is a better approach, although the whole concept will most likely sound like a fanciful fairy tail to the atheist in question. Again, you’re better off if you stick to using observations about the universe that we live in rather than resorting to arguments of a more ethereal nature.

    That’s just my 2¢ as a non-believer.

    • Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your honesty.  Sorry for the misunderstanding – I’d like to clear up the confusion. It’s important to note that this article was written to Christians trying to correct a wrong approach and possible inspire them to share their faith with honesty and without fear with nonbelievers, including atheists (which often intimidate Christians).

      First off, you’re right about the fact that Christians seem far more angry and hateful than atheists. I’d like to apologize about that… But the perception often works the other way, too. Many times, passionate atheists and agnostics seem to push a Christians buttons (whether intentionally or not, I don’t know). In that, to many Christians, atheists seem angry and arrogant from their perspective.

      Also, your comments illustrate my main thought – I guess it should have been more clear… Even if I thought I could prove the existence of a Divine / Supernatural being, that’s what I’m saying is secondary. The Bible teaches that everyone has been given evidence internally and externally of God (creation and conscience) – what we do with that is our choice. What my article seeks to promote is the effort not to argue God’s existence, but to attempt to convince others of their need of a God… The presence and problem of sin… A universal issue of depravity – no matter the faith tradition or cultural context.

      The last paragraph is actually a quote from avowed atheist Penn (of Penn & Teller). He says something powerful: if Christians really are convinced of Hell, then it should be more serious to them than a casual, Sunday-only faith. If what they believe is real, then they should be devout at trying to convince (proselytize) others. I am not bringing Hell into the argument, the atheist (Penn) is. But just to be totally clear… I think fear is a lousy motivator, but I believe that certain fears are healthy. Becoming a Christian is more about life than death, it’s more about Jesus than the Devil, it’s more about about Heaven than Hell.

      TimberWraith, I have a couple of sincere questions: Do you actually deny the existence of God or ignore it or question it? Where do you personally derive the existence of right/wrong and of truth? Have you personally examined the ‘best evidence’ of true Christianity (not just some of fringe church or so-called Christian hypocrites) for yourself? (I’m confident that one could not logically argue w/ the legitimacy of design, cause/effect, personhood, & morality as to proof of ‘God’)

      Thanks… Look forward to your $.02 more.

  2. First off, you’re right about the fact that Christians seem far more angry and hateful than atheists.

    Oh, I’d say that there are hateful and angry people on both sides.

    The presence and problem of sin… A universal issue of depravity – no matter the faith tradition or cultural context.

    That approach won’t work well because a very large portion of atheists see Christianity as being judgmental of human behavior in oppressive, overblown, and irrational ways. Consequently, when you use concepts such as “sin” and “depravity”, you will trigger the image of Christians as judgmental busybodies. I understand that sin and depravity are common concepts in traditional Christianity, but they just won’t work on most atheists.

    Do you actually deny the existence of God or ignore it or question it?

    I suspect that the idea of a deity, as imagined by most religions, reflects human psychology more than any phenomena possibly existing in the universe (or outside of the universe). If you were to ask me if some intelligence or awareness of some kind is connected to all of life in this reality or perhaps the universe as a whole, my answer would be, “I suspect that there is no way of knowing the answer to that question.” Put another way, when it comes to the more detailed depictions of deities present in the world’s religions, I am an atheist. When one describes a deity using vague terms—an intelligence or awareness connected with existence—I am agnostic.

    Where do you personally derive the existence of right/wrong and of truth?

    Empathy for others, social sciences, life experience, and assorted information from countless sources.

    Have you personally examined the ‘best evidence’ of true Christianity (not just some of fringe church or so-called Christian hypocrites) for yourself?

    I was raised Lutheran and I have attended Christian Churches of other persuasions over time. They all present an understanding of reality that I find to be simply unbelievable. To compound matters, I find that the bible reads like a poorly written sci-fi/fantasy novel. I know that probably sounds terribly offensive—which is not my intent—but that’s honestly how I feel.

    If I actually found myself believing in a divine presence of some kind, paganism is far more likely to appeal to me than any other faith system. That’s because the ideas of paganism are centered upon nature, are non-hierarchical, and are largely undefined. Put another way, the faith centers upon divine aspects of the knowable (nature) and doesn’t try to impose a rigid system of beliefs upon the follower.

  3. I suspect that the idea of a deity, as imagined by most religions, reflects human psychology more than any phenomena possibly existing in the universe (or outside of the universe). If you were to ask me if some intelligence or awareness of some kind is connected to all of life in this reality or perhaps the universe as a whole, my answer would be, “I suspect that there is no way of knowing the answer to that question.”

    Hmmm. That was poorly written. How about this wording, instead:

    I suspect that the idea of a deity, as imagined by most religions, far more reflects the quirks of human psychology than it reflects the actual existence of some phenomena in the universe (or outside of the universe). If you were to ask me if an overarching intelligence or awareness of some kind is connected to all of life or perhaps the universe as a whole, my answer would be, “I suspect that there is no way of knowing the answer to that question.”

  4. I am very sorry about your past experiences with churches that have left you feeling like the truth is unbelievable. I can understand – there are definitely things in my childhood and upbringing (both religious and non) that I strongly identify with you about. However, the proof remains. We do not get to make up the rules for ourselves. We do not determine what is truth/lie, what is moral/immoral, what is right/wrong. We don’t get to say what God we can line up with or not… unless we ourselves sit in the seat of God in our own minds. God is something that sits in the seat of decision & choice… we should never sit in that throne lest we be worthy. Without an Absolute Being with Absolute Authority – this world would be chaotic – the natural world, the human world, etc. Instead of deity being a reflection of the human psyche – what if our human psyche is a reflection of that Deity? Why do you feel it so impossible to know / comprehend the existence of an ‘overarching intelligence’ ? I wrote an article about this: http://wp.me/pElZC-7b (some interesting comments, too).

    The Real Issue:
    We are all depraved sinners. Let me speak for myself… I am a sinner. I do things that are wrong. Things that are against my own judgment violating the good & rights of others, even when I don’t want to. They often have ill effects and strong consequences. Pride, envy, hatred, lust, slander, etc. The Bible names it as sin. However you judge evil/wrong/injustice… wouldn’t you agree? We would both agree that no amount of good deeds could balance out certain wrongs. No amount of charity would counterbalance the abuse of the innocent. Community service cannot make up for rape. Turning over a new leaf isn’t enough for a serial killer’s release back into society… there must be more. Something redemptive. Something powerful enough to totally forgive and remove evil. Even though this is the message of the Bible, this is the heart-cry of every soul – the reality no one can deny.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound condescending or arrogant (that’s probably my own insecurities shining through). I am a student of the Bible and of life. Please accept this viewpoint from a sincere disciple.

  5. *shurg* Those words make sense to you because you already believe. I don’t. I’ve read and heard those same words in many other places. I remain unmoved.

  6. As for the issue of ethics and morality, I was born into a community and family of racists and anti-Semites who claimed they were Christians. What I learned from their obstinate prejudice was that the only person I could trust to figure out right and wrong was myself. My family, my peers, and my church could not be relied upon for anything amounting to wisdom. I learned to trust the words of no person, institution, or entity claiming itself as an authority. The only arbiter of ethics and morality that I can trust is my own intellect, empathy, and connection with other living things. I have been sold far too much ideological snake oil to believe otherwise.

    Christians, the Christian church, and the Christian bible all claim to know the word of their god and as such, profess to be in touch with the ultimate authority on all matters. As I mentioned previously, it’s a big world. With at least forty religions, thousands of denominations of Christianity, agnosticism, atheism, and individual, religion-less, dogma-less spirituality, you’ve got a lot of competition. Whose religion? Whose supernatural entity or force? Whose interpretation of which spiritually significant text? Does the supernatural even exist? There are so many voices and perspectives. It forms quite a din.

    The de facto conditions in the world are such that there is no established supernatural authority over who sets down a body of ethics and morality. The perceived “ultimate authority” varies between communities, cultures, countries and even political parties. Each religion claims that its god or gods have authority and yet there are so many of you, making claims to the same territory. Even within Christianity, the god of conservative Christianity is quite different from the god of progressive Christianity. Accusations of false belief zing about in the ether. And now, we even have non-theists claiming that science should be the ultimate arbiter of morality and proper living.

    Ultimately, what transpires isn’t the will of some supernatural entity or the imprimatur of ultimate truth, but the simple effect of human social forces in action. What a society comes to see as truth is a collective task, shaped by history, conflict, and other mundane forces. If you wish to see the hand of your god at work and that gives you as sense of comfort, then by all means, do so. I see the world quite differently, however.

  7. The funny thing here, is that we both see humanity as manifesting a variety of “flaws.” However, I take that perception one step further than religious folk. I recognize that religion, religious texts, and religion’s understanding of reality are created and shaped by human beings, and as such, they too are flawed. Call me a cynic and an iconoclast, if you will, but I trust religion as much as any other self-proclaimed authority: very, very little.

    This is one of the paradoxes of a fair portion of Christianity: it fails to apply its notion of human fallibility to its own texts and beliefs. Christianity isn’t the only body of ideologies to do this. Contemporary atheism does this as well.

    I’m an equal opportunity cynic. 🙂

  8. Again, I want to affirm that I’m not trying to be a smartypants, here. This is simply how I see the world. In the end, the only “authority” we have to help us figure out life is ourselves and even that isn’t a fully trustworthy authority. We muddle through as best we can.

    • It’s difficult to share such an intense conversation as origins, spirituality, etc. without more common ground. This will, by all intentions, be my last comment. I would like to leave you with one thing to consider & to ask you to do the same for me (please). I’d like to say that I have never been outside of the envelope of theism, so I have a hard time digesting what life would be like without an assumed Higher Power / Divine Supernatural. I was raised in a Christian home and in a good church. As I have grown to see so many flaws in both my family and religion, I came to the point where I had to decide which way I would go. Christianity was plausible. Jesus is the only human to ever raise himself from the dead (historical, scientific, prophetic proofs abound – enough to establish it as fact in a court of law). To deny God’s existence would be foolish for me – especially considering origins. My guess is that you believe in some form of ‘millions of years’ evolution and the big bang… I’m familiar with the theories – but where did all of that matter & energy come from? Where did it originate? How did it get here? Richard Dawkins says that science cannot answer that question. (Yet the Bible, from my vantage point, does a good job answering that question.) What I’m saying is that both major view of origins takes faith. You have to believe in evolution or in creation. Either in millions of years or in an infinite God. Neither is empirical, observable, or provable. In your view, we all came from the earth and will return – without an afterlife (am I close?). In my view, we came from God and will answer to God when we return. Hopefully, we both have lived what we thought were good, decent lives – doing our best. Except at the end of your view, we just disappear. At the end of my view, we are judged according to our faith. I like my odds on that one. I just think that, whether you admit it or not, you know there’s more to this life than just birth and death. Something to consider… Thanks for a healthy discussion. May God show you much grace. -Patrick

  9. I’d like to say that I have never been outside of the envelope of theism, so I have a hard time digesting what life would be like without an assumed Higher Power / Divine Supernatural.

    Indeed, a big difference between you and me is that I’ve existed both within the envelope of theism and outside of the envelope of theism at different times during my life. I know what both experiences are like, and existing outside of the envelope makes far more sense to me. I also find that both theism and atheism place far too many constraints upon what might exist in the universe because the common concepts of a deity and the supernatural seem far too contrived and limited to explain existence. Consequently, to say whether one believes or disbelieves in a god or the supernatural seems to me, well, largely irrelevant. The universe is vast and unknown. To try to squeeze the universe down into the human created concept of a deity or some other supernatural construct seems odd to me. Whatever is going on out there is probably far stranger than anyone realizes. Consequently, I take refuge in the unknown and see beauty in it. For me, agnosticism denotes the embrace of uncertainty and the acknowledgment of the unknown.

    Jesus is the only human to ever raise himself from the dead (historical, scientific, prophetic proofs abound – enough to establish it as fact in a court of law).

    Many of the world’s religions make claims supporting the occurrence of fantastic events, many of which violate common scientific principles. I’m as likely to trust the proof of other religions’ claims as any claim that Christianity makes.

    Besides, courts generally don’t bring cases to trial when all of the witnesses are dead and both the events and evidence are from long in the past… say, many, many generations before.

    Even if evolution is found to be guided by some intelligence (which I find to be highly dubious, btw), how do you know that there is only one intelligence doing so? How do you know that these entities are deities and how do you know that such entities are Christian? How do you know that the entities which guided evolution also created the universe? Are they perhaps, a product of the universe itself?

    If awareness continues after bodily death, then perhaps this is a currently unknown natural process? Perhaps this phenomenon is another part of the life cycle of the species, however arcane it might be? Continuation of awareness after bodily death does not necessarily offer insight as the existence of deities, btw.

  10. Indeed, a big difference between you and me is that I’ve existed both within the envelope of theism and outside of the envelope of theism at different times during my life. I know what both experiences are like, and existing outside of the envelope makes far more sense to me.

    Hmmf. As I re-read that, it sounds quite arrogant. So much for trying to wright this at one in the morning.

    Let’s restate matters.

    What I’m trying to say is that once I stepped outside of a single ideology—Christianity—I found myself in a place where no ideology seems to suffice, and after a time, I have found that not even atheism works for me. To try to place boundaries upon the unknown—any boundaries—doesn’t make sense to me. The gods of most religions seem far too much like human beings with super powers and as such, appear to be largely products of the human imagination. I also find organize religion’s tendency to dismiss competing theologies as evil to be highly off-putting. Atheism generally refuses to consider anything beyond that which is strictly empirically verifiable, and while that is very appealing from a disciplined, rationalist perspective, I find it lacking in imagination. An unbending rationalist approach also seems to inspire a good deal of prejudice against non-rationalist ideologies.

    To summarize, I find traditional theism far too mundane in its notions and highly tribalistic in its tendency to declare all other paths as inferior or wicked endeavors. While I find contemporary atheism to be admirably disciplined in thought, I also find it to be far too unimaginative, too restrained, and at times, prejudicial in highly elitist ways.

    Anyway, I need to stop yammering because I have to take a friend to the airport this morning.

    My thought for you, Patrick, is to consider that no religion necessarily has all of the answers or fully understands the boundaries of the universe. Why not consider the beliefs of several religions or all religions and form a perspective that is an amalgam of traditions rather than limiting yourself to only one? By all means, don’t stop believing in the divine—as it obviously gives you peace and meaning—but perhaps it might be useful to broaden your approach? There’s a lot out there to explore. Why not consider the wisdom of multiple faiths?

    • The question still centers on three distinct ideologies:
      Theism- There is a God (Plural or Singular), Atheism- There is no God, and Agnosticism- I am not sure.
      If you are a theist then you presume that there is a God based on the scientific and evidential method. The scientific method can be used by any of the three ideologies, no one controls science as it is based on observed and reproducible facts. That is, any scientific theory should be able to be demonstrated. The evidential method can be used by the theist or agnostic as it is based on the eye witness accounts preserved throughout humanity’s recorded history. The atheist will always dismiss any evidence produced from human existence that is contrary to his belief as inferior or coming from less evolved, less informed small thinkers. So the theist looks across the universe, the natural world and throughout all of humanity’s history and determines that there must be a God based on his conclusions of the evidence he has been given.
      If you are an atheist you presume that there is no god based on the scientific method. Atheists believe that since they cannot prove the existence of a god scientifically, no gods exist. Many times the atheists see all the problems in the world as proof that there is no god. They may say if there really is a god why does this god allow sickness, murders or disasters. So the atheist looks across the universe and the natural world and determines that since a god cannot be definitely proven and since there is so much destruction in the world a god does not exist.
      The agnostic looks at all the evidence and says “I don’t know, both sides seem right and who am I to judge”. The agnostic simply refuses to declare an opinion and thus offend others or the god that he is not sure of. The agnostic is ever asking questions but never able to come to a distinct position.
      I choose theism because to me the wonders of the universe could only come from an eternally existent, intelligent God. Everywhere you look and on whatever level you examine, you find an order to everything. I believe that an eternally existent God with an intelligent plan makes much more sense than eternally existent unintelligent energy that became matter and that by chance and circumstance became the universe we know.
      I choose Christianity because out of all of the world’s religions, it is the most believable and because it offers something rather than requiring something. I choose Christianity because it is founded on the bible which is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eye witnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, they report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin. I believe the bible’s account of God because the God of the bible is the same God who is able to create and sustain the universe as well as relate to me in my humanity. I believe Christianity because it is the only religion where its creator provided a way that is freely given to all who will choose to accept it. There is no class warfare or extra benefit extended to any special group.
      I choose Christianity or intelligent design because I have the ability to choose. I believe that we were created with a free will rather than the mere accident of the evolutionary process. No other creature has this ability to the extent that the human race does. The ability to exercise faith.

  11. If you are a theist then you presume that there is a God based on the scientific and evidential method. The scientific method can be used by any of the three ideologies, no one controls science as it is based on observed and reproducible facts.

    Hmmm. I have no doubt that theists feel that there is evidence to justify their beliefs, but the scientific method is generally not used in establishing religious belief. The scientific method involves creating a hypotheses about a given physical system or organism, using the hypothesis to predict behavior in that system/organism and then testing the system/organism to see if the predicted behavior occurs under the conditions specified by the hypothesis. Then that research is published and reviewed by one’s scientific peers, tested, and retested again.

    The problem is, it’s darned near impossible to create a testable hypothesis for the existence of deities. Scientists would have to observe consistent behavior in some physical system/organism that requires the existence of a mechanism beyond currently observable physical laws and natural forces. So far, no reputable scientific body has produced such research. It’s possible that might happen, but as of yet, it hasn’t.

    One can interpret a lack of scientific proof as indicating that one can’t really draw a conclusion (as I would), one can interpret that as indicating that proof just hasn’t been found but it might be in the future, or one can conclude that with no scientific proof, there’s no need to consider the existence of deities at all. Obviously, the interpretation that one embraces will be influenced by one’s perspective on religions and deities.

    The thing that confuses me, is why theists do not interpret scientific research as indicating that their deity used physical law to make the stuff we see around us and that said process employed the patterns observed in scientific research exploring the origins of the universe and evolution. (When I was a theist, that was my assumption.) That assertion makes the existence of a god completely untestable, but at least it places religion and science in non-competing spheres. Many atheists won’t be satisfied by that, but so what?

    Scott said:

    If you are an atheist you presume that there is no god based on the scientific method. Atheists believe that since they cannot prove the existence of a god scientifically, no gods exist.

    That’s the approach that many of the most vocal atheists currently take—particularly those folks who have been referred to as “new atheists.” There are many kinds of atheists out there, though. I know atheists who were raised as atheists and simply have no need or inclination to question if there is a deity. They were never introduced to the concept as a child and the idea of a deity seems entirely strange to them. I know of atheists who had terrible experiences with organized religion as LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and came to find the beliefs of traditional faiths to be so loathsome, that they came to challenge the validity of all religions, including the existence of deities. People come to their perspectives in different ways. That’s true regardless of what ideology you are addressing.

    The agnostic looks at all the evidence and says “I don’t know, both sides seem right and who am I to judge”. The agnostic simply refuses to declare an opinion and thus offend others or the god that he is not sure of. The agnostic is ever asking questions but never able to come to a distinct position.

    People do not necessarily fit into the neat, well defined definitions of agnostic, theist, and atheist as easily as one might expect. I certainly don’t. I find the deities of most traditional religions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) to be completely unbelievable. However, I don’t believe it’s possible to prove or disprove the existence of deity-like entities when one places very minimal definitions upon the concept. When it comes to organized religion, I’m an atheist. When it comes to the vague sense of “there’s something out there, but I’m not sure of the shape or nature of that something,” I’m an agnostic.

    I choose Christianity or intelligent design because I have the ability to choose. I believe that we were created with a free will rather than the mere accident of the evolutionary process.

    Perhaps a deity could use the phenomena of order from chaos as an engine in producing life? If you define your god as all-knowing and all-powerful, which traditional Christianity generally does, then even chaos becomes a definable, manageable set of conditions, no? In fact, with omniscience alone, chaos would become an understood pattern. Hence, an accident becomes a predictable event at the end of a vast network of interlinking causal relationships—viewed as chaos for the casual observer, but a predictable phenomenon to the omniscient.

    The thing about the laws of thermodynamics is that they indicate that order can be produced from chaotic systems, so long as there is an available energy source (such as the light/radiation from a star). In the most general sense, this relationship is what makes physical processes such as evolution possible. (Have you ever seen a fractal diagram, btw? That’s pretty much chaos and order existing within each other.)

    Consequently, you could propose that before the start of this universe, your god fiddled with physical constants, entropy, thermodynamics, and a whole host of other variables such that the evolution of life in our universe was inevitable. When you can predict everything that’s going to happen, and you have complete control over the creation of the system in question, then why wouldn’t your god be able to do this? Hence, you wind up with a theological explanation of the origins of life that can coexist with evolution.

    The thing is, if one is willing to learn about these bodies of science and accept that these scientific discoveries are valid, one can surely muster up the creativity necessary to reconcile the existence of one’s god with observable physical processes. I cobbled together the above paragraphs in a few minutes and I’m not even a believer.

    And here’s a little secret: the fact that I know you can do this is one of the reasons why I lean toward agnosticism.

  12. When you can predict everything that’s going to happen, and you have complete control over the creation of the system in question, then why wouldn’t your god be able to do this? Hence, you wind up with a theological explanation of the origins of life that can coexist with evolution.

    Well…. I would agree with you that God could have used evolution to create the universe, though it would not be my position. In fact science based on evolutionary principles has discovered such things as the human gene code that for some appears to be a language that at least hints at an intelligent designer. The atheist that believes everything that is came from things there were not are truly the ones with the hard sale. For the theist ideology the question is more about who and why of origins than the developmental process for how it was achieved.

    When it comes to organized religion, I’m an atheist. When it comes to the vague sense of “there’s something out there, but I’m not sure of the shape or nature of that something,” I’m an agnostic.

    It is no doubt that many of the practices of organized religion do not reflect the true nature of a loving God. Also the behavior of many of their followers could cause you to throw your hands up and say “Not For Me”
    Regardless of how you feel about the people who call themselves believers, it does not change the real question of wether or not God exist or not. You seam to lean toward the possibility of a creator. If you decide that there is a creator then you must decide what it is that your creator expects from you.

  13. The atheist that believes everything that is came from things there were not are truly the ones with the hard sale.

    I think it’s a “hard sell” because so many people have a fairly weak grasp of the science behind these processes, and hence, it seems like nonsense to them. In the absence of information, people resort to employing the familiar: religion, for instance. For example, when it comes to understanding the origins of the universe, understanding the physics behind cosmology is useful. However, that requires at least some understanding of spacetime and thinking in terms of n-dimensional coordinate systems. How many people have encountered the concepts of spacetime and n-dimensional coordinate systems?

    Regardless of how you feel about the people who call themselves believers, it does not change the real question of wether or not God exist or not.

    Ah, but negative experiences with believers can motivate a person to challenge concepts they might never have though of challenging before. Consequently, a process of exploration is initiated where one might never have taken place under other circumstances. The end point of that exploration might result in discovering that god is nothing more than a socially constructed illusion.

    You seam to lean toward the possibility of a creator. If you decide that there is a creator then you must decide what it is that your creator expects from you.

    Perhaps the forces that forged this universe have no expectations of the inhabitants at all. Perhaps this is nothing more than a vast cosmic experiment designed to be observed and experienced. Perhaps the creator lost interest and moved on to other universes. Perhaps this reality was created by multiple entities and those entities have conflicting expectations. Perhaps the creator doesn’t take a hierarchical perspective and rather, feels like it’s our place to decide our purpose and conduct for ourselves. Perhaps our sole reason for existence is merely to provide an intermediate evolutionary stepping stone for the species that god is truly interested in. Perhaps the deity that created the universe is far more interested in a life form the evolved in a different solar system and consequently, what we do is ultimately irrelevant.

    There’s really no way of telling, as creation doesn’t necessarily imply the expectations of that which created reality.

  14. Well…. I would agree with you that God could have used evolution to create the universe, though it would not be my position. In fact science based on evolutionary principles has discovered such things as the human gene code that for some appears to be a language that at least hints at an intelligent designer.

    Scott have you ever seen pictures of bismuth? Bismuth forms elaborate crystal structures that look like tiny, futuristic cityscapes. You can make these crystals yourself by melting pure bismuth on a kitchen stove and allowing it to cool. The elaborate crystal structures seen in the linked photographs will form of their own accord as long as you poor off the excess melted material.

    Why am I going on and on about bismuth crystals? Because they’re a perfect illustration of order from chaos. When you melt a material, any material, you are causing the atoms to bash against each other until they loose the cohesion of a solid. By doing so, you have essentially randomized the atoms in the material and have created a heat-induced chaos. Bismuth is interesting in that it forms highly ordered structures on its own from its chaotic liquid state. This tendency toward order is a product of the very construction of the atoms themselves. It comes out of the forces that interact between the protons, neutrons, and electrons and is made possible by the number of subatomic particles in the nucleus itself and the distinct way that this specific number of particles will interact with each other.

    If you are a theist, and you are looking for signs of intelligence behind the very structure of the universe, the bismuth atom is a readily observable example. If you believe in a divine intelligence, then it’s pretty easy to conclude that this intelligence structured a tendency toward order—a very beautiful and breathtaking order—right into the physical laws of the reality we inhabit.

    Looking at this from a computer programmer’s perspective, why would you code a program that needs constant tweaking when you have the ability to write perfect, sound code that accomplishes the purpose of the program on its own, in an efficient, seamless manner? In other words, why would a god create a universe that needs constant tweaking to produce life? When a human writes code, persistent tweaking is inevitable, but do you think that a god—who is supposed to be perfection and power incarnate—would need to tweak her/his program time, after time? In essence, what people call creationism, always seems to imply that god had to hang out for eons, coaxing her/his creation along until it produced human beings. No offense, but that creates a portrait of a deity with a level of competence that falls far short of what one might expect from divinity. Is your god a master craftsman, or a just a guy who likes to tinker in his garage?

    So, why not code the physical laws of the universe so that life—and by extension, coherently organized matter—is written right into the structure of reality (very much like the elaborate crystal structure of bismuth being “encoded” right into its constituent subatomic particles)? To me, that’s far more impressive than a deity hanging out so that s/he can iron out the bugs in his/her celestial software. Christians are always talking about embracing the glory of their god. Well, that’s pretty darned glorious, no?

    The thing is, “god as super competent programmer” creates a scenario in which it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a deity. One could say, as atheists would, that the universe brought life about on its own because that’s how physical law works and as such, there is no need for supernatural explanations. The theist will point to the possibility of an intelligent force having crafted life right into the physical laws at the very start of the universe. An agnostic would say that either view is potentially applicable. In the end, this leaves it all up to faith, which I believe is an important concept to Christians and other religious folk, correct?

    The nice thing about this, is that everyone gets their own little peace of the ideological pie. What’s so bad about that? Right now, the push for creationism is causing a clash between scientific bodies and traditional Christianity. Traditional Christians are running the risk of making themselves look completely foolish and inadvertently discrediting their belief systems. They’re also running the risk of making themselves look anti-intellectual, which really isn’t a good way to go. Christianity has a long standing intellectual tradition. Why risk making your religion look like it’s, well, kind of dull-witted?

    I encourage y’all to read the science and adapt theological concepts to scientific findings, rather than trying to do the reverse. Let’s look at it this way: if god created physical laws, then the findings of science are an exploration of god’s works. To oppose science is to oppose the exploration of god’s works. That’s akin to turning your backs on god’s creation. Theologically speaking, that doesn’t make sense.

    Work with the science, folks. You can do this. I’m not a believer, but I know enough basic science and theology to argue your case without opposing commonly held scientific concepts such as evolution. If I can do this, so can you. It won’t solve arguments with atheists, but it will ensure that your spirituality’s underlying belief systems remain consistent with the institutional knowledge of an increasingly technological age.

  15. Wow, that was a very well thought out and discussed topic all around. I am a Christian, I have come to my own conclusions about the Universe, the Bible, Sin, Nature, and Humankind in general. I respect everyone’s right to evaluate and decide for themselves. I married an Atheist and of all things he thought the idea of Satan and Hell more ludicrous than anything else. We have been together 22 years and over time his belief’s as well as mine have changed. I have many gay friends and after years of being told they are going to Hell by fellow Christians have given up even trying understand a theology that would be so hateful. For me it was not questions about rules, about what is sin and where we came from, it was about finding my place. I know, self-centeredness led me to God. When I read the Bible I didn’t listen to preachers in my Baptist Church who told me if I lied to my parents I would go to hell. I prayed and I listened and I learned my way. I remember thinking in Earth Science and again in Astronomy and in Physics how perfect everything had to be for us to be here and survive. I believe in something greater. I believe our strongest and most influential discussions begin with the tangible things around us and in the universe. 🙂

  16. This has been interesting to read and I have heard some different views from my own that could raise some good arguments. I will however say- 1. it is not religion that gets you anywhere it is faith. There are many Christian views, but the core of Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ as our savior and only way for us to be forgiven of our sins. 2. We have to ask him to acknowledge our sin and forgive us. He is our Heavenly Father and like any good father he does not always agree with what we do, but wants us to humble ourselves and ask for mercy and forgiveness when we do something wrong.

    The way I see it- I work hard for what I have. I am not a gambler. Why gamble with my eternity? If I believe in Christ and that helps comfort me, bring me peace and give me something to look forward to, also helps me to reach out to others- what have I lost if this turns out wrong? If I choose not to believe, live my life getting into things that turn around and harm me or cause problems later, because at the moment I was enjoying these things and I die to find out that I missed the life boat what happens then? Which gamble am I willing to take?

    You can’t see love, or touch love, but you feel it. I feel my faith and my God even though I have not seen him or touched him I know he is there and he has continued to show me this many times in my life. You may be able to prove many things scientifically but you will never sway me from my thoughts or feelings about God, because in the end I will have to answer for whatever I did or stood for in my life. My life is not worth any amount of so called “Fun” in this world because I recieve much more peace from my God and his word than anything else out there. Thank you for everyone being calm and having a good conversation. It is good to be able to share our thoughts in a healthy way. God Bless you all

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