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Understanding an Atheist POV

Michael Morris
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This is not to start an I'm right and you're wrong discussion, so if you can't refrain from that please keep your opinion to yourself.
I have a lot of trouble understanding how an atheist comes to the conclusion that a Supreme (or at least vastly superior) Being is not responsible for the creation of life. I've heard the arguments that given enough time and material interaction that randomness will produce cabon based life. First, how much time would be needed to accomplish this? I realize that I could go out choose six random numbers tonight (and purchase my very first lottery ticket) and retire tommorow, but I can't reasonably believe that will happen. Cosmologists are now placing the age of the universe at around 12 billion years and that the Big Bang is not a repeatable event as some had proposed, the universe will continue to expand ad infinitum. If it took perhaps half that time for stabilization (that's just a guess, correct me if you know for sure) that would leave just a few billion years for life to begin and evolve to its current state. Furthermore, from what I have gathered, there seems to be very few planets in the galaxy in which the conditions are right for the spawning of life. A few billion years may seem like a plenty of time to some, but as programmers, we realize how small a quantity a billion really is. So, assuming that the incidence of earthlike planets is relatively consistent in all galaxies and given the small amount of time, is it reasonable to believe that life just began? Let's assume that it is reasonable, although I have serious doubts. Why does the set of chemical reactions involving hydrocarbons cause and sustain life? I pose this question philophically and not scientifically. Why and how also, did those first life forms manage to create a mutable storage structure (genetic information) that all of us software engineers must marvel at and envy? One final point, how did the matter come into being in the first place and can anyone get a handle on the concept of absolute non-existance, which must be possible, if there is no Supreme Being? I can't. You must admit, that a tremendous amount of coincidences would have to take place for a mindless beginning of life to be possible.
I have no problem separating my scientific beliefs from my philosophical or religious beliefs because they are based on a completely different set of laws. Each require at least some assumptions. As we all remember you can't prove that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line (at least in the Newtonian Universe) but it is a reasonable assumption. For me, faith in a Supreme being is just as reasonable an assumption because there is an apparent order about nature and the cosmos. Anyway I would like to hear how others come to their philosophical conclusions.


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Mapraputa Is
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Let me try...
I've heard the arguments that given enough time and material interaction that randomness will produce cabon based life.
I do not think it's pure randomness. As I understand, most of chemical compounds are unstable, there are only so many "meaningful" combinations that can provide substrate for the next level of organization.
A few billion years may seem like a plenty of time to some, but as programmers, we realize how small a quantity a billion really is.
I would rather say that as programmers we aren't in good position to judge is a billion a small quantity or not, it depends on for what purpose. If we are talking about life development, biologists definitely have more authority.
So, assuming that the incidence of earthlike planets is relatively consistent in all galaxies and given the small amount of time, is it reasonable to believe that life just began?
Many processes are non-linear, perhaps development of live forms belong to this category. From what I read, evolution was slower at the beginning, and accelerated later.
Why and how also, did those first life forms manage to create a mutable storage structure (genetic information) that all of us software engineers must marvel at and envy?
One thing I remember, nucleotides spatial structure is such, that adenine can form stable connection only with thymine, and guanine with cytosine. This makes replication possible. I guess, this is called "emergence". Phenomena of level zero provide opportunities for epi-phenomena to emerge. If they do, than we start to suspect some supernatural forces here, how could dumb level zero form such a beautiful level 1 phenomenon? They aren't smart enough for this.
It can be observed even with numbers. Start with a dull series of natural numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... and from here all kind of interesting regularities emerges.
1<sup>3</sup> = 1<sup>2</sup>
1<sup>3</sup> + 2<sup>3</sup> = 3<sup>2</sup>
1<sup>3</sup> + 2<sup>3</sup> + 3<sup>3</sup> = 6<sup>2</sup>
1<sup>3</sup> + 2<sup>3</sup> + 3<sup>3</sup> + 4<sup>3</sup> = 10<sup>2</sup>
...
1<sup>3</sup> + 2<sup>3</sup> + 3<sup>3</sup> + ... n<sup>3</sup> = (1 + 2 + 3 + ... + n) <sup>2</sup>

How did mindless numbers organized themselves into such a regular structure? They did not, the structure was right there!
One final point, how did the matter come into being in the first place and can anyone get a handle on the concept of absolute non-existance, which must be possible, if there is no Supreme Being?
Atheistic answer, as far as I know, is that matter and energy has always existed, they only change forms. The same question can be asked about Supreme Being, how *this thing* was created? If Supreme Being always existed, then why not to save one step and move right to the matter and energy -- these concepts proved themselves testable, which is useful.
I can't. You must admit, that a tremendous amount of coincidences would have to take place for a mindless beginning of life to be possible.
The whole point is that it's not mindless! Speaking of which, did anybody read "The Computational Beauty of Nature" book?
Anyway I would like to hear how others come to their philosophical conclusions.
Occam's razor and verifiability principle. But let me ask, If we accept that the universe was created by some kind of Supreme Being, what follows from this?
[ June 21, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]

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Thomas Paul
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The atheist POV is fairly simple. Just because we don't understand something doesn't mean that God did it. You didn't understand how the presents got under the tree... but there is no Santa Claus. The more we learn the farther we push God away. We used to think that God held the Sun in the sky but now we know it is gravity. Maybe if we knew a little more and understood the universe a little better then we would push God completely out of the picture.


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Gregg Bolinger
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Michael,
I'M RIGHT AND YOUR WRONG!!
Sorry, but someone had to say it.


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Michael Morris
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Map, you give excellant arguments, but they are all scientific. I guess I should have been more specific in framing my questions. What I am trying to get at is the simple reason of why all these scientific reasons exist in the first place?
Would it not have been just as likely that matter might have been structured in an infinite number of ways and only a very small set of those configurations would produce some form of life? Why do numbers produce intersting regularities? Why is there such order in nature and the cosmos amidst apparent chaos? And if it's not mindless, what mind is responsible? I don't think Occam's razor would necessarily preclude a Supreme Creator, because there are only two options as I see it, one, either matter has always existed or two, matter was created by a Supreme Being. Either of those two could be construed as the simplest possible explanation of the beginnings of the universe. But, if you accept the Big Bang theory, and you believe that there is a single iteration of the Big Bang, as is currently, then it would seem to me that we are looking at a finite time line and that would lean towards the second explanation. The verifiability principle is obviously problematic because it only involves science, so I can't make any arguments there.
To answer your final question, if we do accept a Supreme Being, then that opens up an entirely new discipline on an equal par with science. Once that assumption is made, then laws governing morality and ethics flow just like chemical and physical laws flow from science. I don't suggest that atheists are in any way immoral or unethical. Quite the contrary, I am most amazed at the high ethical values that are held by the atheists I know. Most are better Christians than those who call themselves Christians. That fact seems to be one more argument in my favor. Why do we seem to be compelled to be ethical? The law of the jungle would be so much easier.

Maybe if we knew a little more and understood the universe a little better then we would push God completely out of the picture.
But Thomas, is it possible to completely understand nature at some point in the future? Is there a finite set of knowledge? And, if we do ever completely push God out of the picture, will all the atheists maintain their current high ethical standards?
David Weitzman
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Part of the problem here is terminology. What does the word God mean anymore?
You mention specifically the creation of life. The deists will grant that some directed force created a universe and set it in motion with a certain level of intention, although they won't grant the biblical Almighty God who can turn rivers into blood. Some people call the force that set the universe in motion "chance". Others see the universe existing for a while before God ever hits the scene.
It seems that overuse has caused the word "God" to lose its meaning. Is this conversation limited to the topic of the origins of life and creation?
Michael Morris
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It seems that overuse has caused the word "God" to lose its meaning. Is this conversation limited to the topic of the origins of life and creation?
Absolutely not. After all, those who accept a Supreme Being believe that the creation of the physical universe is an infinitessimal portion of his existance. I would like it to encompass whatever philosophical points might be made by atheist, agnostic, pagan or whatever.
Jim Yingst
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This is not to start an I'm right and you're wrong discussion, so if you can't refrain from that please keep your opinion to yourself.
Awww...
I have a lot of trouble understanding how an atheist comes to the conclusion that a Supreme (or at least vastly superior) Being is not responsible for the creation of life.
First I'll say that personally I'm somewhere on the border between atheist and agnostic, depending on how you define them. I don't purport to be certain that there is no God, but I don't find the concept particularly probable. So I believe I can address your questions from my own viewpoint, but don't claim it provides any sort of proof that will necessarily convince anyone else. (No more than most theist claims are likely to convince me, anyway.) So, with that disclaimer out of the way...
I've heard the arguments that given enough time and material interaction that randomness will produce cabon based life. First, how much time would be needed to accomplish this?
No idea really. We have data to estimate rates of evolution once the basic processes of DNA replication are set up, but no real data for how difficult it is for DNA replication to appear in the first place. (I'm focusing on DNA since that's the single aspect that I have the hardest time imagining how it would "evolve" - it's really the precursor that allows all other evolution, isn't it?) I agree that a lot of the steps throughout the whole process of the universe developing life seem improbable, perhaps very imporable - though that's also balancecd against the fact that it's a very big universe out there. I'm not going to try to hazard a guess as to how likely it was that life would appear somewhere in the universe (assuming only random processes) as I think there are too many unknowns for me to say. Or for most anyone else for that matter unless perhaps they specialize in biochemistry or evolutionary biology. (I doubt they really know either, but they'd know more than me.) I'll concede though that it's quite possible that the a priori chance of eventually getting life in the universe might have been extremely low. Say, one in a billion. Or whatever nonzero value you want to assign - fine. I still don't think that necessarily implies the existence of a divine being though - some form of the Anthropic Cosmological Prinicple is sufficient for me. Basically, if you postulate a large enough set of possible universes which somehow "coexist" in some larger meta-structure (e.g. the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics), then it doesn't really matter how improbable life might be, as long as it's a nonzero probability. There might be vastly more alternate universes out there without life than there are with life - but the question "how did we get here?" only gets asked in those few universes which somehow do have life. So any sapients shouldn't really be surprised that the universe they find themselves in happens to have had the necessary set of characteristics that caused life to appear, however improbably.
(You can find several related past discussions by searching on "anthropic" here in MD.)
I realize that to many people it seems much more "likely" to postulate some deity which arranged all these "coincidences" according to a plan. But why? Where did this God come from? Why is it easier to believe the universe just "happens" to have a friendly neighborhood Supreme Being with the amazing power to structure the rest of the universe the way he wills it? Or maybe talking of God and the universe as separate things is incorrect according to some; whatever. I just don't see, personally, how the notion of God is somehow more believable than scientific explanations.
Why does the set of chemical reactions involving hydrocarbons cause and sustain life? I pose this question philophically and not scientifically.
Not sure what you mean here. "Philosophically and not scientifically", why shouldn't chemical reactions involving hydrocarbons cause and sustain life? It's the "not scientifically" that perplexes me most here, as that seems to cut off any answer I might try to give, and I don't know what you want here instead.
Why and how also, did those first life forms manage to create a mutable storage structure (genetic information) that all of us software engineers must marvel at and envy?
That's the part of the whole process that I can least imagine how it might have happened. So there are things we don't understand yet. Cool.
One final point, how did the matter come into being in the first place
Dunno. How did God come into being? Maybe there are a whole bunch of matterless universes out there - but they're kinda boring, and no one lives there, so they tend not to inspire theological debates.
and can anyone get a handle on the concept of absolute non-existance, which must be possible, if there is no Supreme Being?
Can't tell what this means. "Absolute non-existence" of what? Are we talking about life-after-death (or lack thereof)? Alternately, the most absolute type of non-existence which I can imagine is not possible, given that we do in fact exist. So I'm not sure what you mean here.
I have no problem separating my scientific beliefs from my philosophical or religious beliefs because they are based on a completely different set of laws. Each require at least some assumptions. As we all remember you can't prove that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line (at least in the Newtonian Universe) but it is a reasonable assumption.
It's a reasonable assumption in the universe we actually live it too, but it doesn't seem to be true. Though that may depend on how you define the concept of "straight" is the presence of gravitational fields.
For me, faith in a Supreme being is just as reasonable an assumption because there is an apparent order about nature and the cosmos. Anyway I would like to hear how others come to their philosophical conclusions.
Well, I think I've covered my own alternate hypotheses, which seem at least as "reasonable" to me. The other factor in my own "spiritual de-volution" (having been raised Protestant) is that as I grew up it seemed increasingly more plausible to explain away the body of beliefs in most religions I was familiar with elaborate combinations of superstition and social institutions which were encouraged as means of placating and controlling societies. (Yes, the "opiate of the masses" quote.) Again, I'm not saying that necessarily is all that's behind most religions - but it seems, again, not an unreasonable assumption to me. To the extent that I figure even if there is some sort of "God" out there, the chance that he/she/it has any particular attributes which are taught by any particular religion (such as, say, whether he would care whether we believe in him or not) seems quite small to me, and so I don't worry about it much.
Map, you give excellant arguments, but they are all scientific.
Well, duh. As are most of mine, composed as they were prior to reading your later response. But to my mind the anthropic principle is a decent answer to most of your questions here.
Why do numbers produce intersting regularities?
Are you talking about numbers that occur in nature, or those in pure mathematics? For the latter - dunno. Did God create the Mandelbrot set? Could he have somehow set up the nature of our universe differently so that the Mandelbrot set had a different shape than it does? Could he change the value of pi, as determined by a number of reasonably simple formulas (albeit with an infinite number of terms)? I view this sort of thing as outside the scope of either God or a quantum many-worlds superuniverse - they're both stuck with the same set of mathematical truths. Which is to say, given the same set of simple-looking axioms, in any universe or under any god, you get the same value of pi. And given the same seed equations and rules of algebra, you get the same remarkably intricate Mandelbrot set.
if we do accept a Supreme Being, then that opens up an entirely new discipline on an equal par with science. Once that assumption is made, then laws governing morality and ethics flow just like chemical and physical laws flow from science.
They do? Well, only if you actually do have some sort of accurate knowledge of God's will. Which seems to require a few more assumptions beyond the mere existence of a supreme being. I think that there's a lot more consensus on physical and chemical laws than there is on moral ones.
But Thomas, is it possible to completely understand nature at some point in the future? Is there a finite set of knowledge?
Maybe, maybe not. My gut feeling is it's finite, but pretty darn big. Though there's probably an application of Gödel's incompleteness theorem which shows that you could never really know everything.
And, if we do ever completely push God out of the picture, will all the atheists maintain their current high ethical standards?
You mean, without the inspiring examples of various religious leaders to look up to? <cough> :roll: Err... what religion did you say you're a member of, again?
Seriously, it's in a society's interest to promote certain standards of behavior which benefit the society as a whole. As an obvious example, most atheist parents would still find it in their mutual interest to teach their children not to go around murdering others, and to expel murderers from their society (one way or another). Sure, they won't do a perfect job of it - but do you really think religious families do any better on average?
[ June 21, 2003: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]

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Michael Morris
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Very good points Jim. It's getting past this old fart's bed time. I'll try to clear up some of my questions and assertions tomorrow.
Mapraputa Is
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Ha! This was written because I believed Jim is too indifferent to respond, as usual. But I's funny to compare our responses... Hm, I wonder if we attended the same Atheistic Church at some point
Map, you give excellant arguments, but they are all scientific. I guess I should have been more specific in framing my questions. What I am trying to get at is the simple reason of why all these scientific reasons exist in the first place?
You want the ultimate answer that would explain everything? But how do you answer the question "why Supreme Being exists"? Because without it nothing would exist? I can give the same answer, scientific reasons exist because without them nothing would exist.
Would it not have been just as likely that matter might have been structured in an infinite number of ways and only a very small set of those configurations would produce some form of life?
I do not think mankind is ready to answer this question, and I am not sure if ever will. Why to try to answer questions we cannot answer? If you will ask me what Japanese word "wakarimasu" means and I do not know Japanese, I would prefer to answer "I do not know" rather than to guess "it means Supreme Being". And be wrong.
The verifiability principle is obviously problematic because it only involves science, so I can't make any arguments there.
Then let's ask this question: whether matter always existed, ot was it created by a Supreme Being, what difference does it make for our world, rather than gives us reasons for speculations? I did not invent this question, I read it in some funny book. Among other paradoxes the author gives this: imagine than suddenly all things in the universe became twice bigger. Can we notice the difference? Apparently not...
To answer your final question, if we do accept a Supreme Being, then that opens up an entirely new discipline on an equal par with science. Once that assumption is made, then laws governing morality and ethics flow just like chemical and physical laws flow from science.
How this would happen? If we do not postulate existence of Supreme Being, we can rely on our good old scientific methods, i.e. document what systems of ethics exists, how they developed, under what conditions morality is high and what social processes inhibit it. If we do postulate that morality laws are given by some sort of Supreme Being... There is a joke: "The problem with standards is that there are so many of them". The same problem with Supreme Beings - whom are you supposed to trust? How can you be sure that Holy books are true if you cannot test them and replace by new ones? And then there are multiple possible interpretations of Holy books, or better say of their translations from antic languages...
Why do we seem to be compelled to be ethical? The law of the jungle would be so much easier.
Not to have intelligence would probably be easier also. Evolution tends to produce more complicated forms of behavior, humans are social animals, and without morality societies would be destroyed.
From practical POV, we have morale rules because Mom told so I read, that children who were isolated from human society did not show any developed system of ethics later. We probably first learn basic morale rules from figures of authority, whoever they are, and later develop ability to critically analyze what we were taught.
[ June 22, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
Mapraputa Is
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Jim made a good point about being on the border between atheist and agnostic. I moved my self-definition in the same direction after Thomas pointed out the difference between the two. As I believe there is no proof of Supreme Being existence, symmetrically there is no proof of the opposite. I personally manage without one, but this doesn't change anything on cosmic scale, I am afraid.
Balaji Loganathan
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Anbae Sivam == Love is God.
Service is to Man is service to God.
Thats an Indian(tamil) saying. Which I feel make lot of sense than talking abt Atheist or Agnostic.
IMHO
[ June 22, 2003: Message edited by: Balaji Loganathan ]

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Thomas Paul
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This is the agnostic's prayer from the book, "Creatures of Light and Darkness" by Roger Zelazny:
Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
John Dunn
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I am most amazed at the high ethical values that are held by the atheists I know. Most are better Christians than those who call themselves Christians.
Case in point: Henry David Thoreau
quick aside:

from the essay On Civil Disobedience
although it is seldom mentioned without references to Gandhi and King, "Civil Disobedience" has more history than many suspect. In the 1940's it was read by the Danish resistance, in the 1950's it was cherished by people who opposed McCarthyism, in the 1960's it was influential in the struggle against South African apartheid, and in the 1970's it was discovered by a new generation of anti-war activists. The lesson learned from all this experience is that Thoreau's ideas really do work, just as he imagined they would.
from the essay:
He who gives himself entirely to his fellow men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also.

He opposed the US for allowing slavery and refused to pay taxes, at the same time that Catholic Churches in the south were getting tax benefits. (I never could understand how the churches couldn't do the same - I only mention Catholic because that is what I was.)
I think this may have been the first wedge, albeit small, that eventually pushed me towards being "just" a Christian rather than Catholic.
translation: I want veto rights if the Church does something I'm not so sure about.
-----------


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Why should our amazing existence necessarily infer the work of a Supreme Being?
I never specifically thought about this too much until now, but why can't they be separate?? Sort of like a macrocosm of the body and the soul ==>'Mother Earth' and 'Supreme Being'?? Is it possible that other planets will develop life when Supreme Being gets around to it??
In the book the Hot Zone which goes over the Ebola virus outbreak and goes over in detail all about viruses and how a virus is neither dead or alive, unlike any living thing - it merely exists until it comes in contact with a host and suddenly moves into a 'living' stage, then it feeds until the host dies in which it goes back into a dormant stage, unless of course it passes on to a new host. ====> Okay so where am I going with this?? Can that same concept be said about our 'life' or 'soul'??? Could God or Supreme Being be a non-human entity such as a force or an energy. Perhaps we merely humanize it so that we can better understand it??
Perhaps we don't have a monopoly on life at all, but rather just the medium in which it exists in this world. Whose to say that plants, fish, biosystems don't possess the same energy or force from the same 'Creator' or 'Supreme Being' that we do???
Like everything else in the world, we all want to either 'OWN' God or insist our particular 'UNDERSTANDING' of God which lead to another thing to possess and fight over and eventually kill one!! :roll:
-------------
What if God is, simply put, "beyond our best comprehension"?? Perhaps 'He', (for lack of a better word), laughs when He examines us?? Next to anything supreme we are after all quite inferior, temporary, and trivial.
If god was like anything human, he would adjust the world to do away with slavery, oppression, war. Why would any god be so mean??
Perhaps, the real deal is this: A chance at life and temporary existance, (in relation to eternity), OR nothing - hang out in the energy pool, like a virus waiting for a host; or in heaven as a spirit; or perhaps in the next life??? So you can play the game and you may be a slave, you may be handicapped, you may be a millionaire, you may be average. Take it or leave it, check out anytime you want. Hell, (oops I mean HECK!), God very well may be busy making the Grand Canyon and Mt. Everest, playing with Earthquakes, etc. etc.
In God's eyes we are not as important as we like to think ourselves...
Michael Morris
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Sorry for waiting so long to respond, but we had the annual church picnic today.
I'M RIGHT AND YOUR WRONG!!
Ok Gregg, this is MM the Certified Umpire speaking: YOU'RE OUTA HERE! [index finger pointint to showers]
JY: First I'll say that personally I'm somewhere on the border between atheist and agnostic, depending on how you define them.
Map: Jim made a good point about being on the border between atheist and agnostic. I moved my self-definition in the same direction after Thomas pointed out the difference between the two.
Well, I have no trouble understanding an agnostic point of view. And quite frankly, it would not seem that truly intelligent people would completely shut their minds to the possibility of a Supreme Being no matter how improbable. I'm sure practically everyone who claims to believe in a Supreme Being has gone through some agnostic phases, simply because there can be no scientific proof that could ever prove or disprove the existance of a Deity. So, I see an Atheist being in the same position as myself only with a diametrically opposing point of view. I cannot prove with scientific methods that God exists and he can't prove that he doesn't.
JY: They do? Well, only if you actually do have some sort of accurate knowledge of God's will. Which seems to require a few more assumptions beyond the mere existence of a supreme being. I think that there's a lot more consensus on physical and chemical laws than there is on moral ones.
It does indeed require more assumptions, the next would be that God is inifinitely good and perfect. Of course there is more consensus on the physical laws of nature because we have the means to test their validity.
JY: You mean, without the inspiring examples of various religious leaders to look up to? <cough> Err... what religion did you say you're a member of, again?
Don't even get me started on this one. I really don't want to rant on about the Catholic Episcopacy. Suffice to say I am sufficiently disgusted with them now. Bishops and Cardinals have had this "My shit don't stink" arrogance since about the fourth century. The true leaders are the ones very few people ever meet or hear about, like my parish priest. Some rise to greatness like Francis of Assisi, Dominic and most recently Padre Pio. Pio was ostracised by the powers that be in Rome because he was taking the lime light away from them. All he ever wanted to do was be a monk but many people were miraculously cured after going to confession with him as a confessor, and he suffered the stigmata, perpetually like Francis. Nuf said, I want to keep this discussion on a more general level.
JY: Seriously, it's in a society's interest to promote certain standards of behavior which benefit the society as a whole. As an obvious example, most atheist parents would still find it in their mutual interest to teach their children not to go around murdering others, and to expel murderers from their society (one way or another). Sure, they won't do a perfect job of it - but do you really think religious families do any better on average?
I agree with that. But, does an atheist have a different set of rules? Is it more likely that an atheist would break an ethical rule while under some stress than a believer?

Map: Ha! This was written because I believed Jim is too indifferent to respond, as usual. But I's funny to compare our responses... Hm, I wonder if we attended the same Atheistic Church at some point
You got Jimbo pegged all wrong. He only appears to be impassionate. Just whisper "Romanes eunt domus" in his ear and he'll follow you anywhere.
Map: You want the ultimate answer that would explain everything? But how do you answer the question "why Supreme Being exists"? Because without it nothing would exist? I can give the same answer, scientific reasons exist because without them nothing would exist.

And if nothing existed, neither Supreme Being nor phyiscal universe? That was the absolute nothingness I was speaking about earlier. Is it OK to just say, it does exist so there is no point in considering the other possibility?
Map: Why to try to answer questions we cannot answer?
Many humans have spent most of their lives doing just that. You must have asked yourself the question at some point in your life, "Why am I here and what is the purpose of my existance?" We can just say that because a sperm and egg came together and there I was and my sole purpose is the survival of the human species or you can try to look deeper. I personally would like to believe that I am here to make my little corner of the world a little better place than I found it, but I'm a dreamer and an eternal optimist.
Map: Then let's ask this question: whether matter always existed, ot was it created by a Supreme Being, what difference does it make for our world, rather than gives us reasons for speculations?
It may not make any difference if the Supreme Being just likes to go around creating things and stand back and watch the ensuing chaos. But if the Supreme Being had a reason for creation other than vanity, it would make a huge difference. And if that were the case, it would seem logical that he would somehow communicate his reasons to his the stewards of his creation.
Map: From practical POV, we have morale rules because Mom told so I read, that children who were isolated from human society did not show any developed system of ethics later. We probably first learn basic morale rules from figures of authority, whoever they are, and later develop ability to critically analyze what we were taught
I think we are born with a desire to do the right thing and that good ole Mom just reinforces that in us. Sure, we can lose our ethical standards and, as you mentioned, it would be much more likely without the good examples of our parents and other authority figures in our lives. What would happen to a group of children that somehow were separated from the herd and were allowed to evolve without outside influence? Would they not eventually return to an ethical standard? I think they would and not necesarrily because it is in their best interest to do so because raw instincts would be the first compulsion for survival and that has little to do with ethics.
TP: Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
A parish priest was paraphrased this to me by saying "God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul".
JD: Like everything else in the world, we all want to either 'OWN' God or insist our particular 'UNDERSTANDING' of God which lead to another thing to possess and fight over and eventually kill one!!
Very bad thing indeed. When the uneducated or just the pure zealots believe they will be martyrs they are like mad men. We Christians were just like that during the Crusades. If a battle was not going in the Crusaders favor they might mention the possiblity that the heretic enemy was holding some precious relic and more often than not the momentum of the battle would change. It's one thing to die for your God, but something entirely different to kill for him.

JD: Perhaps, the real deal is this: A chance at life and temporary existance, (in relation to eternity), OR nothing - hang out in the energy pool, like a virus waiting for a host; or in heaven as a spirit; or perhaps in the next life??? So you can play the game and you may be a slave, you may be handicapped, you may be a millionaire, you may be average. Take it or leave it, check out anytime you want. Hell, (oops I mean HECK!), God very well may be busy making the Grand Canyon and Mt. Everest, playing with Earthquakes, etc. etc.
A chance at life, no matter how shitty it gets. That, to me, is the real deal. Enjoy every minute of it without harming any of your fellow humans. If there is indeed an after life then whatever pain we endure is an acceptable price.
David Weitzman
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M&M: A chance at life, no matter how shitty it gets. That, to me, is the real deal.
What makes life more real than non-life? If God had made a universe without sentient beings, would God be less cool?
John Dunn
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What would happen to a group of children that somehow were separated from the herd and were allowed to evolve without outside influence? Would they not eventually return to an ethical standard?
Funny you should ask...
required reading for all jr. high school students in my day:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Michael Morris
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DW: What makes life more real than non-life? If God had made a universe without sentient beings, would God be less cool?
Nope. I only meant it from my most grateful perspective. God, as I understand Him, has no need of us. Our lives are a precious gift that we did nothing to deserve.
David Weitzman
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MM: Nope. I only meant it from my most grateful perspective. God, as I understand Him, has no need of us. Our lives are a precious gift that we did nothing to deserve.
So if man is not, by nature, more cosmically important than a bar of aluminum, why is the "good luck" theory of existance any less probable than the intent creation one? Unless a Supreme being specifically created life and gave life a definate purpose, we're simply drifting electrons.
The pattern of living things is similar to the pattern of a galaxy. Impressively intricate, but we know that "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked." It seems perfectly conceivable to me that the aggregation of a series of simple changes throughout time has led to a complex universe.
Michael Morris
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Originally posted by David Weitzman:
MM: Nope. I only meant it from my most grateful perspective. God, as I understand Him, has no need of us. Our lives are a precious gift that we did nothing to deserve.
So if man is not, by nature, more cosmically important than a bar of aluminum, why is the "good luck" theory of existance any less probable than the intent creation one? Unless a Supreme being specifically created life and gave life a definate purpose, we're simply drifting electrons.
The pattern of living things is similar to the pattern of a galaxy. Impressively intricate, but we know that "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked." It seems perfectly conceivable to me that the aggregation of a series of simple changes throughout time has led to a complex universe.

I don't think man is less cosmically important, certainly if he was created by God and given a special position in creation that would not be the case. I have no problem accepting that the complexities of life and the cosmos evolved from more primitive states, but what I am trying to get at (and don't seem to quite know how to correctly articulate it) is why do simple systems evolve into more complex ones? Luck of the draw? If matter just existed from eternity, would it not be more likely that such orderly laws would not exist?
John Dunn
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MM I'm sure practically everyone who claims to believe in a Supreme Being has gone through some agnostic phases, simply because there can be no scientific proof that could ever prove or disprove the existance of a Deity. I believe that our FAITH in certain things morphs and evolves over time, as we can not maintain the answers we gathered as children into teenage years, into a young adult, then into older age, etc, etc.
I just accept that life has many mysteries. If I was to find out much later on in life that there was no God, then I would have NO Regrets whatsoever. I feel that my beliefs are beneficial to me and others, regardless of the outcome of the question of God, so in the end its all good.
I wonder how difficult it was for people who discovered late in life, after emancipation, that slavery was wrong; and although they questioned it, never acted on their beliefs?? OR the folks that were duped into rounding up Jews or turning a blind-eye to what was going on in Nazi Europe??
I guess my point here is that I'm okay with being wrong about a Supreme Being, as long I have nothing to make amends for in the end. If we kill in the name of God, and find out there is no God then are we not murderers or fools??
Imagine how tough it must be for Catholic parents and families who lost gay children/siblings to suicide, after the kids were being told by priests that they were 'going against the Church', only to then find out that some of the same priests were gay and abusing children and their superiors knew and were looking the other way!!!
I'm was never comfortable with the notion that any Church knew ALL the answers to life's mysteries.
Richard Hawkes
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I guess everyone's finished already. Shame. Anyway ...
Creation
As an atheist, it simply doesn't make sense to me that there is mind or purpose behind life and the universe. There is the tiniest of agnostic slithers in my thinking, however IMO the only logical time and place a supreme being is likely to have existed is outside of and before the universe. I use the term supreme being here to mean "unknown power".
God as mathematician?
I believe order exists because we look for patterns and patterns are meaningful to us. Has anyone read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? One of the principle themes running in this book is the author's concept of Quality (aesthetics). After he concludes that any given phenomenon has an infinite number of logical hypotheses, he goes on to try to explain why certain hypotheses achieve superiority. He claims that aesthetics are essential in the selection of hypotheses and hence scientific fact/understanding. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced (I haven't finished it yet!), but there's certainly much truth in what he says. We create hypotheses (from somewhere) and we create meaning.
The point? We can marvel at how much everything seems to fit together so perfectly, but its not so perfect in reality. There is chaos and mutation and there are flaws (things that don't add up? or things that we haven't seen the value of yet?). Also the universe (life included) is in a constant state of flux, something we humans can't really comprehend in our 70 or so years on this world.
Morals and ethics
The law of the jungle has been rooted out by humans living in increasingly complex societies. The desire to do the right thing (by our standards) can be attributed to humanity learning to care for itself beyond its basic physical needs - an extension of our natural biological/maternal instincts onto society as a whole perhaps?. To be honest, I don't think there's much that is instinctive about morality beyond the desire to protect those of our own kind. Humans are essentially pain-avoiders and pleasure-seekers. Consider also the role religions have had in shaping and normalising many of our modern ethics (whether you're a believer or not). If being nice to one another was so natural I doubt there would have been a need to establish institutions that preached these ideas (historically, along with some not-so-very-nice ideas!)
Religion
Okay we shouldn't get onto how God is celebrated on this thread but there is so much more to religion than simply celebrating the fact that we are here and should be grateful. I have no problem in the idea of celebrating our existence (it is a remarkable thing after all), its the assumption that we have to be thankful to something with a higher purpose I have a problem with. Not that its necessarily a bad idea, it just doesn't make any sense to me.
When I consider the history of religions, the many gods that have been worshipped/created, the fact that religions and gods seem to evolve over time (as do societies), plus the fact that humans are inclined to put their faith (as I do) in so many things (because simply to question everything would leave us no time to live our lives), all these factors lead me firmly to my own POV that there is no God in the traditional sense.
I can't see the wisdom of God leaving His "marketing" (for want of a better word) in the hands of humanity. How can we logically choose the correct way if all we are left with are the constantly changing and differing ideas that have been passed onto us by our ancestors? Isn't it cruel even to subject a world to such ambiguity? Of course these types of arguements are dead-enders because the old "faith" spanner gets chucked into this kind of thinking, along with the fact that we are never supposed to understand the mysterious ways of the Lord.
IMO we have enough meaning in our lives already through the challenges of everyday living and in the lives of our families and friends. The universe is a strange and wonderful place, but why can't it just be?
[ June 23, 2003: Message edited by: Richard Hawkes ]
Amitabh Sharma
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This is a very insightful and interesting thread. Thanks to all who have put in the effort to express their thoughts on this topic.
I tend to sway both ways when it comes to deciding if there is a God or not. As Jerry Seinfield says Life is just a random sequence of events. But sometimes I feel that pieces do fall in places and we begin to see the reasons why things happen. May be that is Gods way of showing his presence.
I am increasingly coming to the conclusions that God does not want us to believe in him because that encourages US to take actions. He does not want us to depend on him. I read a survey that most people in Canada who are atheists are middle aged. I think the reason for that is that they are dissatisfied with their lives. But in the old age I see a lot of people become more religious. Is there a reason for it?
Michael Morris
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But in the old age I see a lot of people become more religious. Is there a reason for it?
As Bill Cosby once said of his Mother, who was now the grandmother of his children and in relation to the way she treated his chidren, "This is not the same woman that raised me. This is an old person trying to get into Heaven!"
John Smith
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As an atheist, it simply doesn't make sense to me that there is mind or purpose behind life and the universe.
...
Has anyone read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

I consider myself an atheist, too. However, I differentiate between the two distinct questions discussed here. The first one is about the existance of God. The second one is about the existance of purpose and reason. To me, these two questions are not the same. While I find it intellectually insulting to fall on my knees and follow the religious dogmas by performing certain activities and ideas, I celebrate the force, the beauty and the mystery of life every day. As Jim Yingst already pointed out, it's about equally unlikely that either random chance created life or the deterministic process in God's mind. What's more likely is some law of nature unknown to us at this time. What is it? Well, it could be quallity, morals and values, according to "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintanance", or it could be something else.
It doesn't actually matter what it is in the context of this discussion. What matters is how you want to try to understand it, -- statically through simple acceptance or dynamically through the quest.
I have no problem in the idea of celebrating our existence (it is a remarkable thing after all), its the assumption that we have to be thankful to something with a higher purpose I have a problem with. Not that its necessarily a bad idea, it just doesn't make any sense to me.
I guess I didn't read your post carefully enough the first time, -- you already said what I wanted to say, but I'll leave my comments anyway.
The universe is a strange and wonderful place, but why can't it just be?
The universe chose the path of heavy resistence instead of the maximim entropy. There must be a reason for that, don't you think?
Eugene.
John Dunn
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Has anyone read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Yes! This is an awesome book and IMHO a must read for developers. It definitely got me to re-examine the way I shyed away from learning new things around the time C went to C++. This prompted me to change the way I approached the programming field and to then get on the internet band wagon very early and I've never stopped learning new things and picking up current skills.
This is a book worth buying as I can see myself reading mine again in the future.
Michael Ernest
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I thought atheism was expressed as an affirmation of a world view in which a Supreme Being has no bearing or meaning. In an atheistic view, that is, the world is material and finite and neither more nor less than what we can comprehend through our senses.
Postulating the existence of a higher power to justify that which we can sense but do not fully understand suggests that our understanding of our environment is limited. What it does not suggest is that, some "greater" power, in particular a conscience one, must have been responsible for everything around us.
The social fabrication around what the Supreme Being is or isn't, whether that Being demonstrates intent through human action or natural phenomena, etc., by various religions, seems quite clearly to me to betray the human need for an explanation as to why we're all here.
Most religions reserve the right to ignore proof as a means to finding God, relying instead on inspiration and insight to support belief. Who knows why that right is important? To say that proof denies faith doesn't answer that question; it only warns people to stop asking it.
Some religious arguments assert that atheism can only be valid if it disproves the existence of God, an idea which religion does not expect to prove in the first place. Atheists who aren't quite clear on the concepts which founded their team in the first place might take this bait, but a smart one shouldn't.
John Smith
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This is an awesome book and IMHO a must read for developers.
Just imagine Robert Pirsig, Joshua Bloch, and J.K. Rowling co-author a book on programming. I bet you it would surpass The Bible in popularity and influence.
John Smith
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In an atheistic view, that is, the world is material and finite and neither more nor less than what we can comprehend through our senses.
Err, that's a gross distortion of what I think athesism is. Let's see:

atheism
\A"the*ism\, n. [Cf. F. ath['e]isme. See Atheist.]
1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
2. Godlessness.

Notice that this doesn't say a thing about the Plato's wall. All it implies is that atheism denies the existence of a supreme intelligent Being.
Michael Ernest
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That's sounds like a Christianized dictionary you're reading from. Here's a source I think is more enlightened.
Richard Hawkes
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Originally posted by Eugene Kononov:
The universe chose the path of heavy resistence instead of the maximim entropy. There must be a reason for that, don't you think?
By "chose" do you mean the universe is self-aware and able to make choices? If that is the case then maybe the universe (as our creator) is God.
But ... I don't think there necessarily has to be a reason or purpose for something to happen beyond natural random mutation and cause and effect.
Science can never hope to tell us how to live our lives or answer the big question of why we exist. These dilemas are purely human constructs and have no meaning outside of a context of being self-aware. However, it is important to think about such things because we are able to, plus the act of doing so adds value to our lives and increases our appreciation of how great it is to actually be alive (IMHO!). There is no one answer, just many personal answers.
Michael Morris
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ME: Some religious arguments assert that atheism can only be valid if it disproves the existence of God, an idea which religion does not expect to prove in the first place. Atheists who aren't quite clear on the concepts which founded their team in the first place might take this bait, but a smart one shouldn't.
Those, of course, are bogus arguments. I hope no one believes I started this thread to bait or trap anyone. I sincerely wanted to hear how atheists came to their conclusion. I never considered atheism as an alternative, though as I mentioned doubts have crept in from time to time. It probably has a lot to do with where I was raised. Very few in this area would ever admit to being an atheist, even if that were their conviction. I really didn't want this to degenerate into a discussion of religion, but I suppose that was inevitable to some extent. It's difficult to separate discussion on the existance of a Supreme Being without dicsussing the consequences that existance.
Jim Yingst
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[M^2]: I hope no one believes I started this thread to bait or trap anyone.
No, I don't belive that. But it often happens in discussions like this that someone pops up to whine about how atheists don't have proof either, yadda yadda, and that was why I put in an extra disclaimer at the outset. Anyway, there's a continuum of levels of atheism and agnosticism, and whether I identify myself as one or the other, there will be some people on either side who disagree with the definition I use. Hence, "I'm somewhere on the border between atheist and agnostic, depending on how you define them." I don't much care about which word is chosen for me, but wanted to avoid being pigeonholed.
[M^2]: But, does an atheist have a different set of rules?
To some extent. Atheism affords more freedom, for better or worse, to modify or reject rules. This may be for good reason, if the rule in question doesn't really make sense anymore in this day and age - but it could also make it too easy to reject good rules which a person is not (yet) wise enough to appreciate. As an example of the former, I don't think that the Catholic church's stance on contraception is beneficial, so I view it as a good thing if a person does not feel constrained by their religion to follow that particular set of rules. On the other hand, ideas like marital fidelity are sometimes dismissed as old-fashioned (perticularly in the seventies), and I don't think it's a bad thing if a little fear of hellfile helps reinforce this concept for some people.
[M^2]: Is it more likely that an atheist would break an ethical rule while under some stress than a believer?
Possibly - it does seem like there might be a lower threshold for deciding that a particular rule isn't that important. Though I don't think it's a big difference - more important is (as Map said) what values did the parents emphasize and actually demonstrate, atheist or no?
[M^2]: Very few in this area would ever admit to being an atheist, even if that were their conviction.
Perhaps this accounts for your perception that the atheists you've met are strongly moral people. In that environment, the only people willing to speak up are those with particularly strong conviction, who can make a good case for themselves. Meanwhile there are a bunch of lukewarm in-betweeners of various flavors who find it more expedient to be seen as Christian. In a more widely atheist society, we might be similarly impressed by the few Christians who were brave enough to identify themselves as such. Just a guess; dunno if it has any validity.
...
[MFE]: Here's a source I think is more enlightened.
Quoting from later in that source:
Beware also that because the word "atheist" has so many shades of meaning, it is very difficult to generalize about atheists. About all you can say for sure is that atheists don't believe in God.

Sounds like what Eugene was saying a second ago. He was objecting to:
[MFE]: In an atheistic view, that is, the world is material and finite and neither more nor less than what we can comprehend through our senses.
I also disagree with this generalization. There's plenty of room for things we don't comprehend, and maybe even for things we can't perceive. Though I tend to figure if it can't be perceived one way or another, it doesn't matter much to me either way.
Pirsig: I read it long ago, but don't remember it much now. I was somewhat under-impressed at the time, probably because I had heard such overblown reports of its greatness that I was going to be pretty hard to please. Might be worth another look now though.
John Dunn
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ME Here's a source I think is more enlightened.
Thanks, that was a very intersesting link.
Mapraputa Is
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[M^2]: Is it more likely that an atheist would break an ethical rule while under some stress than a believer?
[Jim]Possibly - it does seem like there might be a lower threshold for deciding that a particular rule isn't that important. Though I don't think it's a big difference - more important is (as Map said) what values did the parents emphasize and actually demonstrate, atheist or no?

Actually, it's even more complicated. What parents teach their children is only a start, and how far children will go after... Depends on child's "potential". I do not think development of his/her ideas about morale is too different (although different, yes) from other kinds of development. Like with any school subject, some end up as PhD, and some cannot get even high school diploma in spite of all teaching.
Is it more likely that an atheist would break an ethical rule...
Ok, "real life" case that stroke me so much, I cannot forget it. After 9/11 events one of Christians I know, waited in impatience for when the USA would start bombing Afghanistan, even said he would go to the restaurant to celebrate. Did he break any "ethical rule"? Probably not. How can a human being "celebrate" killing innocent people, is beyond my understanding. How can such a person consider himself a Christian -- this is what I call a "miracle".
It seems to me that our "ethical rules" are defined mostly by our capacity for empathy and ability to understand other than by any set of rules we learnt, and this capacity is, you already know what I am going to say, pretty orthogonal to attending/not attending Church.
Originally posted by Michael Morris:
I don't suggest that atheists are in any way immoral or unethical. Quite the contrary, I am most amazed at the high ethical values that are held by the atheists I know. Most are better Christians than those who call themselves Christians.

There is a theory of "memes", which states that ideas propagate and live in society much like viruses. Ideas of Christianity penetrated a good part of world literature, to name only one source. Or maybe atheists observed them alive in people, who, in turn, could have no idea about Christianity, yet... etc. I read one of apocryphal gnostic Gospels, and it had an interesting and very poetical paragraph. Unfortunately I do not have the book here, so I cannot give exact (which means translated from Russian ) quote. But it was something like: "look under this stone - I am here". The idea was that God is everywhere, if you can see.
"At this final stage, the patterns are no longer important... The patterns have taught you to be receptive to what is real"
- C.Alexander

[ June 24, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
Manav Mitra
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I haven't read other argumes yet, but speaking for myself, I am yet to fully understand if I am an atheist or not. I would like to believe in god, but there's so much pain, suffering and unscrupolous corrupt people are having fun with all the money... there is no balance... no justice... You see spastic children and really wonder if there is any such thing?
- Manav
Amitabh Sharma
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:

Actually, it's even more complicated. What parents teach their children is only a start, and how far children will go after... Depends on child's "potential". I do not think development of his/her ideas about morale is too different (although different, yes) from other kinds of development. Like with any school subject, some end up as PhD, and some cannot get even high school diploma in spite of all teaching.
[ June 24, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]

On this note I would like to hear your answers to these questions:
Would you tell a child that there is no God?
Would you prefer your child to be an atheist?
Are all atheists pessimists?
Thomas Paul
mister krabs
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Originally posted by Manav Mitra:
I haven't read other argumes yet, but speaking for myself, I am yet to fully understand if I am an atheist or not. I would like to believe in god, but there's so much pain, suffering and unscrupolous corrupt people are having fun with all the money... there is no balance... no justice... You see spastic children and really wonder if there is any such thing?
- Manav

My favorite explanation is that when God saw all the suffering that there would be in the world, He gave us each other. The fact that that didn't work out is our fault, not God's.
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Amitabh Sharma:

On this note I would like to hear your answers to these questions:
Would you tell a child that there is no God?
Would you prefer your child to be an atheist?
Are all atheists pessimists?

I'd sure like to answer those, since I have two kids.
It doesn't occur to me tell my child how the world is; I am far more interested in what they see and how they express their view. My son in 8 and doesn't think there is a God. My daughter doesn't seem to care much about the question.
I would prefer that my children be happy and treat themselves and others well. Whatever belief system gets them there is fine with me.
Why would an atheist necessarily be a pessimist? Why would anyone who believes in a God necessarily be an optimist?
 
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