Hi, I am new here
  • bonnie43uk April 2012

    Hi, I'm new in here.

    Can i ask a question about faith in general?

    Why do you believe what you believe?  (I'm an atheist) .. please be kind to me

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith April 2012
    Hi bonnie43uk,

    Welcome! We're all very kind here :)

    I think your question is, How do you justify your beliefs? Rather than, What happened in your life that led you to the point of having the beliefs that you do? But do correct me if wrong.

    There are lots of things that we believe, and the way we justify those beliefs varies:
    • 10 is greater than 9
    • The area of a rectangle is a x b
    • speed = distance / time
    • E = mc2
    • If I don't eat, I'll die
    • I can hear something
    • A Jaffa Cake is a biscuit
    • This bit of stone is an artefact
    • This sentence makes sense
    • If a person is offensive, they may be banned
    • This is a waste of time and money
    • This is enjoyable
    • He deserves some respect for what he did
    • She is very generous
    • It's important to be true to yourself
    I suppose if we were to pick one of those and say "Why do you believe A" you might say "Because I believe B". But then the question is "Why do you believe B" and so on. Eventually the answer is "I just believe Z and I can't give a reason for that". For me, I might end up by saying "I just believe that God, as I have described him, exists, and that everything else depends on him". And you might say "I just believe that the universe/multiverse has always existed, and that everything has emerged out of that".

    Does that help?

    (Why the list above? See here.)
  • SimonSimon April 2012
    Probably somewhat less sophisticated than Dooyeweerd I am compelled by:

    Why is there something rather than nothing (of which fine tuning is a sub-question).
    The experience of spirituality.
    The remarkable explanatory power of Christianity (of which ethics is a sub-question).

    Of course we can argue about such things all day, however I think the Christian position has the most substantive answers - although do acknowledge that Dawkins has the most memorable one-liners!

  • bonnie43uk April 2012

    Thanks for your comments Simon. My question is more about faith in general, let me put it like this.

    I'm a firm believer that we are all products of our environment and parentage.

    I'm sure you've heard this point of view expressed by others, but I'd like to get your take on it. Lets say for instance you weren't born in the UK to Christian parents ( i really dont know your circumstances), but lets say for arguments sake, you ( Simon) were in fact born in Pakistan to strict muslim parents, ..I'd hazard a guess there would be a very high probability you would now be a follower of Islam. Of course, I'm fully aware this isn't a "fool proof" system of determining a persons particular faith, we can of course change of views as we get older. But in general, it tends to be borne out if you look at a religious map of the world. In my particular case, my father was a strict catholic, as was his father before him,... going back countless generations. And you can do this with many other religions across the globe, .. it's passed on from generation to generation sometimes going back hundreds of years and more. In my case the "faith gene" stopped due to various reasons, .. a greater understanding of evolution, doubts about supernatural claims, understanding how the planet worked, the problem of suffering, biblical contradictions ..etc. I could not place my faith in something that I was becoming highly dubious about. It seems clear to me that the things we believe are heavily dependant on what part of the globe we are born, and what our parents believe. As I said, I know this is not true in all cases, but it's very evident in places of high religious cultures. As babies and children, we get absolutely no say in what faith we will get raised into.

    Anyhoo, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.


  • SimonSimon April 2012
    Yes it is a well known problem - do we have free choice to choose our beliefs or are we mere pawns of circumstance? It sort of comes down to favoured political philosophy. If you are on the right you are more likely to think that you have a lot of control over your circumstances, beliefs and decisions, whereas if you are on the left you are more likely to think that more of life is controlled by social factors. I tend towards the left so fully acknowledge that I probably wouldn't be a Christian if born somewhere else - but I wasn't born somewhere else - I was born me and have no choice on the matter!!

    Thing is this isn't a very good argument against religion because it applies equally to all people - you may claim to be an atheist however what if your circumstances were different? It cuts both ways.
  • bonnie43uk April 2012

    Thanks for your reply Simon.

    You say it's not a very good argument in that it cuts both ways, .. absolutely it does, .. it applies to my atheism 100%.. if I was born in a fanatical muslim country, there is not a shred of doubt I'd be a devout follower of Islam, this is precisely what I'm trying to get across, .. we are all products of of circumstance and parenthood, .. i repeat again, we are all heavily influenced by our surroundings and what is taught to us as children. What does this say about faith?, when generation after generation after generation are raised to believe in a certain god ( be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever). Lets take your Christianity for example, .. what does your Christian God have to say about billions of muslims raised into the Islamic faith purely due to geographical and parental circumstances?, .. are they all doomed to hell?, or not offered the same eternal salvation supposedly given to Christians?. ( for example, in Pakistan the population is roughly 95% muslim, these people will have been totally immersed into that faith from birth, these people are not accepting Jesus Christ as their saviour, they have been raised in a totally different culture, they follow the Qu'ran not the Holy bible, we are talking huge numbers of people, millions and millions, not to mention all their past generations aswell. Does your Christian god accept these people into his kingdom nontheless, or banish them?. How does it work exactly?, .. if he does accept them, then maybe the whole Christianity thing and believing in Jesus isn't that important ,.. or, if God doesn't accept them, I can only take it he's not the all loving, all forgiving entity that many Christians portray him as. How can he condemn them if they've merely been taught and raised to believe another view?) There are various New Testament passages which say you can only reach true salvation via Jesus.  It makes no sense to me.

    My atheism is based purely on skeptism and lack of belief in what I was brought up to believe, I can find no credible evidence. I'll happily change my view if I come across any, but nothing so far has convinced me. The more questions I ask, the more questions seem to arise.

    It's good to ask questions though isn't it.

    Hope I've kind of made sense.

    Bonnie43uk. in a very rainy Swindon.

  • SimonSimon April 2012
    I think I would be very hesitant to say who will or won't experience heaven. In fact the view I consistently take is one of agnosticism when it comes to the afterlife. Like you I find it very difficult to believe in traditional conceptions of hell, and perhaps even more so if it would mean that millions of people were to suffer from being born into the wrong culture. However I think that getting caught up on this issue might be a distraction from more important things.

    I'm somewhat pleased to note that you started this thread with a question about epistemology (how we know what we know) before getting onto ontology (what there is). Whilst I acknowledge that both areas represent important questions, I find that my Christianity is actually based more on ethics. Indeed the thing that makes Christianity persuasive to me is the way it presents a narrative (or story) that is really helpful in governing both how I interpret the world and how I should then act. For instance understanding the sacrifice of Jesus gives me important pointers for the attitudes that I need to display in my life, and perhaps more importantly what my reaction should be to the life situations I encounter. I think getting caught up with issues like hell, or how exactly to conceptualise an omni-whatever God is somewhat missing the point. Christianity (for me) is powerful because of the context it gives me within the existential narrative, not because it has all the answers.

    The single thing I dislike most about atheism is the paucity of narrative, or even emphasis on negation of narrative. People have evolved to experience life in terms of stories, and the story that atheism presents is simply not very good!
  • bonnie43uk April 2012

    Hmmm, you say the story that atheism presents is not very good?, I've never really seen it presented like that. I dont see it in any way as a story, .. surely it's just a view, .. a lack of belief. ( well, thats how I define my atheism), i know some people view atheism as " God does not exist" , but most of my fellow atheists do not see it that way, we simply lack belief. I know that some dictionary's have differing meanings for the word "Atheism or atheist". I'm more than happy to be called an agnostic atheist, or secular humanist, in a nutshell, I dont believe the stories that I was raised to believe. Religions are man made in my opinion. Our earliest writings and scriptures were our first attempts at trying to make sense of the world. I'm sure you are well aware of the history of our modern day bible, ..it's had quite a journey since it was first written.

    Out of curiosity, here is a question for you Simon, .. Why didn't Jesus himself write anything down?. Surely if the son of God came to earth with such an immensely important message for all of humanity, why didn't he put down in his own words what was required of us, preferably on some kind of tablet that time would not erase?. Why did he leave it to others to write down many decades later, ..none of whom who wrote these words down were eye witnesses to any of the events. We dont even know who the original writers of the 4 gospels were, there is much speculation as to who actually wrote them, and they were most certainly not written in Jesus's lifetime. Of course I'm well aware that oral tradition was the way of things in those days, but surely god/jesus would be well aware of the problems this would have down the line. I think Monty Python highlighted this problem perfectly in the film Life of Brian, .. at the sermon on the mount Jesus is heard saying .. "Blessed are the peacemakers", ..but,  this is mis heard by a few people towards the back of the crowd as "Blessed are the cheese makers" .. there then follows a pointless discussion by these people on the relevance of "makers of dairy products".

    I hope you dont think I'm being flippant here, but I think it's a good point.

    Anyhoo, thanks for your reply Simon,

    Bedtime for me.

    Speak soon.

  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith April 2012
    bonnie43uk - I wonder if your belief that "we are all products of [our] circumstance and parenthood" is a product of your circumstances and parenthood? After all, every intelligent person these days believes that religions are man-made, and that we should cast away the stories that we were raised to believe. I think you're just going along uncritically with the beliefs of the society you were born into.

    It's much more counter-cultural to be a follower of the God of the Bible, as it always has been - even in the Old Testament itself!
  • bonnie43uk April 2012

    Thanks for your reply Anthony.

    Everyones personal experiences are different. I'm certainly not going along "uncritically" with the beliefs I was born into, had that been the case, I'd now be a devout follower of the catholic faith that my father raised me into. As one of 6 children, it's interesting that now we've all grown up, none of us go to church anymore. We've all realised the stuff we were taught had major flaws in it. For my fathers generation, he believed in catholism with a passion to his dying day in 1993. It's also interesting that I'd say we are all far more tolerant and loving as people without god in our lives compared with how our Christian father treated us. Beatings were commonplace in our household. Yes i know this is not a general rule of thumb for Christian parents in general. ( most Christians I know are perfectly fine people), and I dont blame my father for his shortcomings, he had an incredily hard life, esp going through incredible hardships during WWII in Poland, I'm sure his faith in God had a major impact on his life, and he wanted to instill that faith into us, quite naturally.

    As a person, I'm very skeptical about anything supernatural, .. this obviously includes god. I'm seeking answers in life, and I dont find them in the bible. Almost everyday I see incredible documentary's on the tv which explain our origins and how the planet works etc etc ,.. in none of them is ever a god invoked as an answer to all this. ( unless i flick over to Revelation tv or any of the other god channels). I'd rather stick with the rational explanations that science has given us.. they tend to be correct. It's good to have doubt, if you're not sure, .. look it up, .. still not sure, cross reference it, .. we have a lifetimes knowedge at our fingertips today. Look at all the evidence and make up your own mind. Dont be governed by an old book. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    if there is a god, surely he'd want us to use our intellect that he'd given us.

  • SimonSimon April 2012
    Hi again Bonnie,

    I'm not sure we have a choice NOT to interpret life as a story. Atheism is as much a story as Christianity. The question then comes down to which story is more useful/believable when it comes to everyday life. Many atheists say that atheism is more useful because of its reliance upon science, however as a professional scientist I do not see how I rely on science any less than atheists do. Other atheists say that secular humanism is a better ethical system, however since humanism came from Christianity in the first place I don't see many central aspects of humanism that I cannot fit into my Christian worldview. So where is the difference? Personally I think it is in the "inspirational" aspect. Look at all the art and music created and inspired by religion, and compare that to the art and music created by non-believers. Similarly I often work at a synchrotron - very much the "temple" of modern science, but it has nothing on Winchester Cathedral. Look also at the comfort aspect of God and heaven when people suffer tragedy or go through difficult life situations. I'd much rather pray with a grieving person than discuss science or philosophy. People like Dawkins recognise the criticism that atheism is simply not very inspiring when compared to religion, hence the book "The Greatest show on earth", but again I am not convinced. There is something very human about needing a certain amount of ceremony, mystery and art, three things that atheism lacks.


    PS your comment about Jesus writing down stories, the accuracy of the gospel etc. is again a bit of a distraction. For instance if someone was to prove to me categorically that Jesus never existed, it wouldn't stop me being a Christian!

  • Hi Simon. Yes, I tend to agree with some of your points. .. I think humans have an innate need for religion, and this wont be going away any time soon. I fully accept that. Every civilisation known to man has had a belief system, but doesn't this just go to show its part of human nature, we generally believe what we've been told by the previous generation. I have to go back to my original statement, in particular how millions upon millions will be raised in the "wrong faith", simply because of the part of the globe they were born, .. these people will go throughout their whole lives believing in another god to you. But god will quietly sit back and let this error continue, .. for possibly thousands of years.  Think of all the ancient religions that pre date Christianity.. the list is a long one. ( google it).

    I pointed out some queries about Jesus, you've told me it's a bit of a distraction, and that it wouldn't stop you believing in Jesus if proof was found he didn't exist. I've absolutely no doubt the same applies to members of any other faith. Some hardcore fanatics will even fly a plane into a skyscraper to their religion.

    let me ask you this then Simon, lets say you hear the voice of God, and he tells you to sacrifice your son, would you do it? .. I'll answer for you, .. no, of course not, only a mentally unstable person would do that. Yet God asked Abraham to do this, and he went ahead with it, to the point where the angels stopped him at the last minute, . it was a test of faith. Abraham is seen as a great man full of wisdom. I wonder how Isaac felt about all this?.

    Out of curiousity Simon, do you see the Old testament as a historical account of those times, or were they just stories, written for the time.

    I can only be skeptical about the bible as a true historical record. It's obviously a man made document isn't it?

    Anyhoo, thanks again for replying, much appriciated.

    Bonnie43uk. Sorry about the pink.

  • exchemist May 2012
    I've followed this with interest, as Bonnie's experience and trains of thought, and some of Simon's views, are not far from my own - except that my father only gave the five of us the occasional clip round the ear. (Bonnie if you read my own personal intro, you'll see I'm borderline agnostic, so don't take what I say as an orthodox Christian position.)

    My own Catholic upbringing (aided by a quietly ascetic and rather saintly parish priest) has left me with a lasting respect and affection for the Church, its traditions and the art and culture it has inspired. However my faith, which was not in the least shaken by studying physical sciences - rather the contrary -  faded after university and was given what I thought was a knock-out blow in my 30s when I lived in Dubai for a time and travelled in the Far East. This brought home to me that almost all peoples seem to create religions with similar elements, and this made me think it probable that religion is an output of universal human social and psychological need, rather than being revealed truth about a deity. After all, how plausible is it that Christians (and within that group, say, Catholics) have got it "right", while everyone else in the world is "wrong"? It all seems a bit improbable, narrow-minded and arrogant.

    BUT........as I grow older, I find myself more preoccupied with aspects of human experience that the Enlightenment discipline of intellectual rationalisation, as practised in natural science for example, seems to say little or nothing about. For example, although science would say I love my wife and son because it is biologically programmed, I am no longer content to just say OK, yes, and turn the page. If I read a novel, see a play, or look at a painting which addresses the subject of family love, they appeal to me, in ways that cannot be expressed purely in words. What is going on? Equally, why am I moved - sometimes even to tears - by Bach's Art of Fugue, the ultimate in abstract music? It dawns on me that intellectual rationalisation, though a vital discipline for making sense of the natural world, and for exposing ignorance and deception in human affairs, is not the only tool in the box for expressing ourselves and the experience of life. So far so good, this, if you like, is my personal recognition of the place of the Humanities, alongside the Sciences. (By the way, one can get the impression that fanatics like Dawkins would deny the validity of even this much). 

    Which makes me think anew about religion and its purpose. We decided, a few years ago, to bring our son up as Catholic. From my viewpoint, this is mainly because I want him to be equipped to understand his own culture, the culture of Europe, which is, like it or not, suffused from top to bottom with traditional Christianity. And also I think the central directive of Christ to love your neighbour is a profound and powerful principle to guide your life by. But also when, for example, I sing Gregorian chant, or attend the ceremony of the Easter Vigil, I am personally moved and indeed sometimes feel slightly embarrassingly, well, er, "spiritual". And I emerge from the experience calmed, refreshed and in better humour than when I went in. Why? Although the discipline of science and logic is to fight, tooth and nail, against all such sloppy subjectivity, I am no longer prepared to write these feelings off. Am I experiencing God, or just a feel-good phenomenon triggered by the experience, such as you have after watching a good film at the cinema? I don't really know, but I like it, it feels as if it does me good and that's why I do it, some slight element of cognitive dissonance nothwithstanding. 

    I am not there yet (as you can tell), but I do feel I am on a journey to a more rounded understanding of the human condition. Shakespeare as usual puts it best. I now feel, like Hamlet, that: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 

    P.S. Bonnie, I really wouldn't get hung up on taking the Old Testament literally. Only fundamentalists do that. If you've not read it, I recommend Diarmaid MacCullough's "History of Christianity". He's a ex-Anglican who lost his faith due to the dispute about homosexuality (he is one) so he won't try to convert you - to Christianity, I mean. I found it a fascinating perspective, historically and culturally.            
  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Bonnie - I think you are getting hung up on all the wrong things. Although undoubtedly your "arguments" may cause problems for fundamentalists, the issues do not come across as relevant to my Christian faith -exchemist has done an excellent job of explaining why (thanks exchemist it seems we see things in a very similar way!).

    As for the Abraham and Isaac story, well here we are getting into the work of Rene Girard and memetic desire theory - a bit of a pet hobby for me if you really want to go there (although I would suggest looking him up first!). As with many things related to religion, the concepts are somewhat deeper than the Dawkinesque sound-bites that generally get bandied around as "arguments".
  • exchemist May 2012
    Simon, rather amusing, seeing that I describe myself only as borderline agnostic! But it is always a relief to discover that someone else - who obviously thinks - may share some of the same views. 

    Bonnie, thinking further about some of your challenges, such as Old Testament literalism, biblical contradictions, the sequence in which the Bible was written, I do wonder whether, if you had had a more thoughtful priest when you were young, you might have been taught that these are not in fact the problems you take them to be. By the same token, I have to acknowledge that my own continued affection for the Catholic branch of Christianity - in spite of my profound doubts - results from having had a basically good experience of it when I was a child, i.e. exactly your point about conditioning. We are indeed formed, first by our genes, second by our upbringing and third by our adult experiences. 

    There's plenty of church teaching I don't buy - in particular I think the whole attitude to human sexuality is dangerously warped, as recent scandals in the (rather ludicrously) all-male clergy show - and other stuff besides. But reading history makes it clear that (a) it was ever thus with human enterprises, (b) doctrinal disputes have gone on since the time of St Paul, so disagreeing with some things doesn't in itself bring down the whole edifice and (c) there have been many, many holy men and women down the ages who have tried to follow Christ's teaching in spite of it all, who I feel deserve my respect for that. 

    Where I think I have changed my mind is that when I was younger and single, I felt that my doubts about it all meant it had to be junked. With the idealism of youth, I expected a model of the world that was flawless and consistent and operated at the level of logical thought, fully expressible in words or mathematics. Now that I'm older, with a wife and child, etc, my experience of life is that theories often break down in contact with the complexities of reality (sounds depressing but that's not how I mean it) and that there are things not expressible in words or mathematics for which some other medium is needed. (I went to a talk by a sculptor who said he was sometimes asked what such and such a work "meant". His response would always be: "Well, if I could tell you, I would not have had to make the sculpture." I thought this a cop-out at the time, but the more I thought about, it the more insightful I found it.) 
    So I have lowered my sights and am more prepared to tolerate flawed models, for the things in them I find to be personally helpful. I suppose nowadays I think to myself that learning Christianity (as opposed to Islam or Buddhism, say) is the hand I've been dealt, so I should treat it pragmatically on the basis of whether it adds to, or subtracts from, my life and, if it is the former, make the best use of it I can.  

    (By the way, even though you are in Swindon and apparently have Polish ancestry, for some reason I picture you as Canadian. It's probably the "anyhoo" that does it.)     

  • Thanks Exchemist and Simon for your replies, Like you exchemist, I have tempered my views on religion over the past few years ( although it may not appear so within these comments). I'm merely putting across doubts I have as to the existence of a Christian god. I went through what I can only recall as a spiritual moment when I was about 14, it had quite a profound effect on me, In about 1974 the whole family sat down to watch the ITV series "Jesus of Nazareth", on a sunday night, we'd just got back from church .. i think it was in episode 2 or 3 that we first caught a glimpse of Jesus himself ( played by a young Robert Powell), .. John the baptist was in the river when Jesus walked towards him.. there was a close up shot of Jesus, it was like I was looking at Jesus himself, the image was stunningly real, .. the face, the beautiful blue eyes, .. it WAS Jesus to me, ( I'm sure you can see this clip on youtube).. I started crying uncontrollably, I simply couldn't stop. For the next few weeks or so, I tried to live in Jesus's image and behave as best I could.  This didn't last long and I soon went back to my own ways, ..getting into trouble etc. Had I not had a skeptical nature that "tv moment" could have had a lasting impression on me, taking that into adulthood and remaining in the Christian faith.

    When I look back now, it's easy to see that I was duped into believing Christ was real. And how easy it was for me to wrongly accept Christ as my saviour.  In the cold light of day we haven't got a clue what Jesus actually looked like, I'm sure he was quite dark skinned with a Jewish nose, for all we know, he could well have been an ugly balding fat guy, that would not go down well in Christian America. In a nutshell, we are easily duped by what we want to be true. I have a brother who has an unshakable belief in healing stones, and a sister convinced by UFO crop circles. Such is human nature.

    I'm very dubious regarding Christs mission itself, .. Isn't belief in Adam and Eve a central point in why Jesus came down to earth in the first place, to take their/our sins away. What kind of parent ensures that the sins of past generations is passed down to future generations. Why the crucifixion scenario?, why not just forgive us.? ( not that I believe we need forgiving for our sins). No one in here has been able to explain to me why millions of people are born, live a life in another religion, and die in that religion, all seemingly with God watching on throughout generation after generation. It makes little sense to me.

    Somebody asked me an intriging question the other day, ..totally hypothetical, .. Q: if you could be God for 60 seconds, what would you do.?

    Answers anyone?