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Thursday = Thor's day (sivers.org)
245 points by CitizenKane on May 7, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments



The logic here doesn't hold with respect to monothestic religions such as Judaism or Christianity.

The Ten Commandments, which are common to these two religions, have two "tables," the first of which (commandments 1 - 5) defines the relations between God and man and the second of which defines the relations between men (6 - 10). The very first commandment is "thou shalt have no other gods before me. The next proscription is against idolatry, which basically amounts to a worship of things that are seen, or the creation itself, which in KJV language is as follows: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." In other words, belief in God is everything while belief (in the sense of worship) in anything else is all idolatry.

Thus, the logic of a monothestic religion of this type is that there is one true God and every other purported deity is a mere figment of man's imagination, hence an idol (the very word "idol" derives from a Greek root from which the Greek word "to see" comes from - even the word "idea" comes from a Greek word originally meaning "to see with the mind") and hence not real.

The logic of this piece holds if we proceed from an atheistic baseline, which takes the opposite view that only that which is material is real and all purported deities are only figments of man's imagination. If you assume that premise, then it is true that my belief in one deity and rejection of the 529 that others have believed in is not materially different from your rejection of all 530 of them (or whatever the number).

But this logic falls apart if one assumes there is one true deity (infinite creator and providential overseer of a creation from which the deity is above and apart) and all the rest of the purported deities are simply products of the mind and hence not real or true. In that case, the person who believes in the true deity can consistently say that he as a theist believes in the true one while rejecting all the false ones while the person who denies all of them includes in that denial the one true deity and hence is an atheist.

I know this is not the forum to get into religious debates but, if my summary of the logic is wrong, I invite others to explain why. Note that I am not assuming here that any religious point of view is true. I am merely taking that view on its own logic and explaining why it makes perfect sense for someone with that belief to say that he is a theist while one who is not a believer is an atheist. If the premise of one true God is true, it is utterly irrelevant to say that man has concocted a billion fake ones such that we are all atheists in denying them.

In other words, from the theistic perspective, the question is whether there is indeed a true deity of whatever type. If so, that is pretty important. If not, then obviously it is not. (Disclaimer: I am a believer and, indeed, a deacon in my church - but I am not making my points from a religious perspective, merely a logical one).

Edit (concerning the several replies): I invited you to engage the logic of my argument and you certainly did! My post is probably beside the point if all the original piece did was depict a way of steering away from a religious discussion that begins "How can you not believe in God?" or if it was merely a technique for getting a believer to understand the viewpoint of one who does not believe in a particular deity or in any at all. I don't think I was trying to exalt the theistic point of view or to denigrate those who don't accept it - merely trying to say what follows from accepting its premises. Got to rush now because I have to prepare to teach a Bible study tonight (really). Thanks for the fine comments - very stimulating.


This is a very typical religious argument. It puts religion, in this case Christianity, on a piedestal where it doesn't belong if you don't happen to be Christian.

The original statement in it's logic form is this: You believe in 530 gods, I believe in 529 gods. 530 minus 529 is 1, so we agree on not believing in most of the gods.

That's it. Nothing more to it. And assuming the date didn't secretly worship Zeus it's true. It's simply a way of dismissing the subject, knowing that a discussion between an atheist and a true believer is bound to end in an argument. Especially on a first date.

Instead of taking this for what it is there seems to be the need for an elaborate explanation of why there is a god and why that god is the one you happen to believe in. And the whole explanation is based on the premise of Christianity which the other part doesn't believe in.

Please don't take this as a personal attack - it's not in any way meant as one, but it's an interesting discussion.


But it seems an awful way to dismiss the discussion on a date. Comparing the belief in Christ with the belief in Zeus!? I know it may be logical for an atheist, but for a Christian it may actually be insulting.


> Comparing the belief in Christ with the belief in Zeus ... for a Christian it may actually be insulting?

Why? Why the double standards? We both find belief in Zeus ridiculous. What's fundamentally different about the Christian God in 2000 AD and the Greek God in 0AD? What statement can you make that is valid for the Christian God but is plainly ridiculous when you replace the word "God" with the word "Zeus"?


because Christians are people too...they have feelings.

I am not arguing that the Christian God is more logical than Zeus. But be careful to bring it up on date if you don't want to end up in an argument like this one. Respect the religious beliefs of other people because they are important for them.


Why though? I mean, we generally don't think it is important to respect other people's irrational beliefs — why is this one any different from all the other irrational beliefs a person can hold?


If everyone avoided saying things that could possibly insult other people, society would not progress and minds would never change.


..as is your belief to a hindu


Are you assuming I am a Christian? I am not. I'm just saying that a comment like may upset a person that believes in Christ.


" In that case, the person who believes in the true deity can consistently say that he as a theist believes in the true one while rejecting all the false ones while the person who denies all of them includes in that denial the one true deity and hence is an atheist."

This looks to be a matter of definition of "atheist". (Or "theist", for that matter.)

Is an atheist one who does not believe the claims of the existence of deities? Or one who does not believe in the existence of what is in fact a deity?

"But this logic falls apart if one assumes there is one true deity ..." Isn't this just begging the question? By the same reasoning, if we posit that there are no deities, then no atheist is an atheist because they are not, in fact, disbelieving regarding any actual deities.

"In other words, from the theistic perspective, the question is whether there is indeed a true deity of whatever type. If so, that is pretty important. If not, then obviously it is not."

Well, that's the whole matter right there; it's pretty important whether you are a theist or an atheist, because that's part of what's under question. (More broadly, the question is whether there are any deities; there being but one is sort of a variation on that.)


+1 for proper use of 'begging the question' :)


Thanks. I cop to having a certain glee when the opportunity for that arises. :)


An atheist can be either one who does not believe the claims of the existence of deities (if no such deity exists) or one who does not believe in what is in fact a true deity (if the deity does exist). I will grant that, if the atheistic view is correct that there is no true deity, then it is the believer who suffers from reality distortion. That, of course, is the nature of that debate. But I don't think the point I am making here assumes that one or the other is correct. I'm simply trying to address the logic of the original piece that no one can meaningfully use the word atheist because that person in turn will deny the existence of other deities.


But you're talking from a position where it is currently not possible to prove the existence/non-existence of a God.

If, for example, God were proven to exist then the definition of an Atheist would not change. However the people who were Atheists would absolutely change - myself for one :) because many current Atheists are also rationalists.


I think the argument is fairly sound and is great at concisely explaining why religion is a product of humanity's imagination and current culture. (With all due respect, don't take this as an affront on your beliefs.)

I like the argument for a number of reasons:

- It beg's the question "Why do I reject those other 529 gods?" Generally there is no good answer for this other than being indoctrinated at a young age. You realize that you believe what you believe because of the circumstances in which you were born. This leads to the conclusion that the religion you follow has more to do with where you live than what is "correct". (Noting that there are plenty of exceptions to this).

- It drives home the point that humanity has been creating gods for thousands of years. Most of those gods have likely been created before your god had even first been mentioned. Any rational person would ask why did humanity move past those gods? You can never disprove the existence of a god, so what happened? Ideally, you realize that religion is much like any trend, just with longer than average turn around.

- If you follow the trend of gods, you realize that humanity has been generally moving away from polytheism towards monotheism. This makes you wonder why and conclude that it is tightly correlated to (and arguably directly caused by) humanity's understanding of the universe. As we understand more about everything, we don't need gods to fill in these gaps of knowledge. For instance, we understand why the Sun rises or lightning strikes. As humanity has progressed, one by one we killed the need for Roman and Greek gods. This leads you to wonder what role a monotheistic god fills and realize that the god is generally used to bring understanding to things we don't understand and reason to things we can't control. This is hardly a rational reason for a figment that "solves" all unsolved problems.

In short, I like the "(n-1) vs n gods" argument because when you think through everything implied by it, a rational being has no choice but to conclude that in all likelihood the religion they follow is not correct. Unfortunately, emotion plays a huge role in religion, making rational thought difficult. On a personal note, I was a theist for 20 years, backed by 12 years of formal study in my religion. Making the mental shift to realizing everything I'd believed was wrong was difficult to say the least, but years later my life is all the better for it.


Nice points, though we disagree. Ironically, I was an atheist for 20 years of my adult life before I went in the other direction (I don't think I became irrational in the process, but that is where we disagree).


"think the argument is fairly sound"

No, it's a fallacy. There is an absolutely enormous number of possible humans that could exist, but don't. A presumably finite, but enormous number. Neither of us believe they exist. I also don't believe in your existence (for the sake of argument), but you do. The difference is, you don't believe in 10^1000-1 humans, but I don't believe in 10^1000 humans.

No amount of stacking up non-existent things proves anything about any given thing, up to and including whether or not that thing exists.

Incidentally, this doesn't address any of your other arguments, which aren't really "in support of 'the (n-1) gods' argument" so much as their own independent, free-standing points. I just want to point out the (n-1) argument is a rhetorical device, not an actual argument of any merit. Perhaps "good rhetorical device" is all you meant by "sound", that would fit with the rest of your message, but I do prefer to reserve the word for its actual logical meaning; if we give that up we don't really have a replacement.


You make some very cogent points and make them well. But there are alternative ways of looking at it.

- It beg's the question "Why do I reject those other 529 gods?" I reject the others specficially because I accept Christianity. I can neither prove my religion nor disprove (most) of the others, yet by accepting mine I must reject all others. I acknowledge I do this as a leap of faith, but that is different from being indoctrinated at a young age. I will agree with your over all point that most people just believe whatever they are told at a young age, but the more thoughtful people of any religion will often be able to bring forth real arguments for it. This of course is not proof, and many of these arguments involve sometimes personal experiences, but that is still very different from no good answer other than indoctrination.

Most of those gods have likely been created before your god had even first been mentioned.

Many religions will disagree with this. Literalists amoungst Christians and Jews, for instance, will beleive that God was known about since Adam with an unbroken chain of believers. The reasonable literalists will agree that God was first written about late in history, but that is different.

To those people, society did not move past older deities so much as some branched off to false religions and then some of those false religions faded away.

(I am not a literalist, but it is an alternate explanation)

If you follow the trend of gods, you realize that humanity has been generally moving away from polytheism towards monotheism.

True as a general rule, but first note that some polytheistic religions are still around, even in relatively highly educated populaces. Second, note that an alternate explanation is that God is trying to subtly guide humanity to the truth and moving to monotheism is man's response to this guidance. I am again not saying I personally believe this, but that is provides a different explanation.

You make excellent arguments which I respect, but there are other explanations for everything you bring up and I do not think they would provide much weight to someone who already believed one way or another.

[edit: fixed an omitted "not"]


> It beg's the question "Why do I reject those other 529 gods?" Generally there is no good answer for this other than being indoctrinated at a young age.

But that does not explain people who switch religions later in life.

For myself, I decided that I could not be atheist after encountering spirits. My encounters with spirits disproved atheism for me, instead I am currently a Christian because that is the only religion that is able to accurately describe my spiritual encounters. Atheism as a worldview denies that spirits exist, therefore in my mind it can not possibly be accurate.


This is interesting. I wouldn't say that atheism "denies" that spirits exist anymore than it denies that Russell's teapot exists. Besides, atheism still provides plenty of room for spirits should there be any evidence for them (subjective or objective). Since you have subjective evidence for spirits (which I'm not discounting), I wonder why you would make the leap from that to the validation of the entire Christian story, or why that leap has to involve a currently organized religion at all?


I think this is a rather weak argument for the following reasons:

-If God is not real, how can we explain the existence of so many counterfeits?

-Most of the 529 gods that theists or Christians reject, for historical, scientific, and philosophical reasons, do not have a sound or rational basis for belief, such as Zeus or Thor.

-Many Christians are familiar with the competing claims of other religions, even as espoused by those faiths' most well-reasoned and ardent adherents, and yet still reject them.


If God is not real, how can we explain the existence of so many counterfeits?

Is this not the perfect example of begging the question? In order to be a counterfeit for God, a non-counterfeit God would have to exist.

Most of the 529 gods that theists or Christians reject, for historical, scientific, and philosophical reasons, do not have a sound or rational basis for belief, such as Zeus or Thor.

I realize that Christians believe they have a sound and rational basis for belief and believe that other religions do not, but I don't believe that has been demonstrated, and it would need to be.

Many Christians are familiar with the competing claims of other religions, even as espoused by those faiths' most well-reasoned and ardent adherents, and yet still reject them.

And vice versa.


Let me put it another way: what is the basis for the vast majority of humankind's belief in a deity of some sort? If the idea has no basis in reality, then can someone demonstrate the reason for this belief with the same degree of intellectual rigor that is demanded from Christians for their beliefs? Dismissing it as mere superstition is inadequate. An evolutionary hypothesis would be quite hard to prove.


Although placebos contain no active ingredients they often provide some relief, for reasons not entirely explained, but clearly show our capability for self healing. Religion works because you believe - not because of an all knowing, all powerful, invisible entity that everyone fights about.


His argument was not a "we're basically the same, you can round off the way in which we are not, QED" argument. It was a way of giving a theist an atheist's perspective.

"HOW can you not believe in God? I can't imagine life without believing in God!"

"Well millions of people used to not be able to imagine life without believing in Zeus et al, and you don't believe in them."

It reminds them that there isn't even a consensus within theists over which god is the right one, and it's a way to diffuse the issue.


> the logic of a monothestic religion of this type is that there is one true God and every other purported deity is a mere figment of man's imagination... and hence not real.

Seems to me you agree with the article. You say 529 gods of history don't exist, 1 does. We say the exact same thing you do, just about all gods. Look how easy it is to make your quote sound atheistic: "Every purported deity is a mere figment of man's imagination"


I think your logic depends on your definition of atheist. Taking the word apart it simply means without a theology. Substituting in the definition of theology we get "without a particular system or school of religious beliefs and teachings." Under that definition it makes sense to say even someone with a monotheistic belief system is "without a particular system or school of religious beliefs and teachings" of other gods. Meaning, they don't have system of religious beliefs for other Gods besides their own.


Great rebuttal.

> But this logic falls apart if one assumes there is one true deity

I'd argue that is where the problem lies. Because currently and as far as I am aware the Atheist viewpoint and the Theist viewpoint is equally legitimate and, at some specific point, not empirically provable either way. i.e. the existence of God is purely a belief/non-belief thing (I touched on this in another comment).

From a logical/rational viewpoint the Atheist and the Theist hold disparaging views regarding the Theists god (existence/non-existence). However, they hold essentially the same view r.e. other gods. Because the Theists God cannot be empirically proven the Atheist/Theist view is equally valid - they are equal.

In a case where God is either empirically proven to exist or not exist you are right; the argument breaks down. To my knowledge this situation does not currently exist.

Short version: your argument works perfectly. But if God empirically doesn't exist then the logic is flawed in the same way. From the unproven ground the logic is sound.


I strongly disagree.

Just because something hasn't been proven to be false it doesn't mean it's true. It hasn't been decisively proven that the Earth wasn't sneezed out of the nose of a giant space-goat, but that doesn't mean that the goat-sneezing theory should be equally valid to other theories which have more empirical evidence to their name.

I have never seen any empirical evidence for the existence of a god, and thus it doesn't seem like a valid theory.


I'd say they are valid theories simply by affect of not being completely absurd by "our standards". Many scientific theories have been considered absurd then ultimately proven. Obviously the religious argument has been around much longer; perhaps it is just a bigger question that "what is light", or maybe it is just bunk (I'm in the latter camp, if it matters).

Also, from a personal perspective, I would say that the weighting is clearly in favour of non-existence. However from a religious perspective it is the other way.

That, ultimately, is the source of all disagreement over religion. How do you find a common measurements of truth/non-truth when your "markers" are entirely different.

Which is invalid? Who judges?

(the answer, I feel is that society judges - and currently we are in transition from pro-theist to pro-atheist, but it will be a long transition)


I understand the later post getting downvoted... but why this?

It makes little comment on whether the views are equal (that was a side issue Mixmax brought up). It is pointing out how the GP's logic is flawed!


The Ancient Greek word it comes from is (w)oida, "I know". Structurally, it's the perfect tense of (w)eido, "I see": knowing something is equivalent to having seen it, for Ancient Greeks. I loved reading that in the dictionary.

Their word that properly meant "I have seen" was "(w)idon"; the wid- root comes into English as wit/witty, and via Latin as video and visual.


Personally, I'd don't see why this is an inappropriate forum, as long as the comments are intellectual in nature.

To address your point, I agree with your general claim that there's no logical inconsistency in a monotheistic view by itself. Suffice to say that the matter has been discussed so much that if there was a conclusive 'proof' against it, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.

However, the argument against theism presented here is pretty effective against a standard, simplistic argument of religion which is basically 'how can something believed by so many people possibly be wrong' (which is how I interpret 'How can you not believe in God'). Holding up the multitude of religions, past and present, is a pretty good rebuttal.

Not an inconsistency, but a good argument.


Replace “520 gods” with “520 religions.” (The true number of trivially unique religions is closer to the number of people who have ever lived, since many peoples' beliefs differ from denominational creeds.) “Problem” solved.


Thank you for that extremely well-written post. You have saved me the trouble of trying to say essentially the same thing (and I'm not so sure I would have been as successful as you have here).

Good show!


I love that we're living in a time where it's so easy to learn.

Well put, Derek. Me too.


I agree with that statement, but it does pain me that this was his big takeaway. There is no decision that is more life-impacting than belief/disbelief in a God. To see someone so quickly silenced/swayed by such simple rhetoric really illustrates how many important subjects are not getting nearly as much thought as they deserve.

We will spend months stressing about a job or a start-up, which might affect our lives for the subsequent year or two or three, and no more than a few hours here and there really digging into what evidence exists to support an atheist or religious perspective. It's a cycle that sadly continues - 200 years ago everyone was Christian so people defaulted to it. Now, the trendy thing for "intellectuals" is atheism, and so many jump in without a thought (this continues to hold for both sides, as exemplified in the article).

When deciding which direction to take with a start-up we do hours and hours of customer interviews, site visits, market research, brainstorming, reading, and even self-reflection. The same, and more, should be done for religion (e.g., check out a church, speak in a truly unbiased fashion with ardent believers and non-believers alike, grab 20 minutes of a pastors time who has probably dedicated his life to talking to people like us, etc).

There is no topic that gets less thought relative to its importance.


There is no decision that is more life-impacting than belief/disbelief in a God.

Disagreed (and I can find you multiple believers/non-believers who will agree with me).

In many ways it's irrelevant - your life choice to make whichever way you choose (with in depth research or knee jerk reaction). There are lots of other diverting things to spend your time on.

It's a cycle that sadly continues - 200 years ago everyone was Christian so people defaulted to it. Now, the trendy thing for "intellectuals" is atheism, and so many jump in without a thought

I feel that's a bit disingenuous - 200 years ago to hold a different religious belief was risking your life.

grab 20 minutes of a pastors time who has probably dedicated his life to talking to people like us

Oh. man no. Religious organisations are designed to self propagate. A pastor is essentially a salesman for the religion. Hear what he/she has to say but treat it with a large dose of salt.

Ultimately religious belief is (or should be) an individual thing.


I'm merely pointing to the fact that many extremely intelligent individuals have given atheism a lot of thought and come out on both sides of the fence. Of all major world issues, topics of study, etc., I cannot think of another with bigger potential implications.

Your statement that "religious belief should be an individual thing" is exactly the mindset that I am trying to address. The existence of a God is fact, or not fact. It's either true for everyone, or false for everyone. Saying something is "individual" is healthy only to the point that it does not stop you from actually researching it, and many times the best learning is done in collaboration and reviewing the work of others.


Saying something is "individual" is healthy only to the point that it does not stop you from actually researching it

That's the point I am disagreeing with though.

The problem with God is that there is no way we can consider it as a Fact or Non-Fact. There is currently no objective reality of God's existence - so there is no element of fact or non-fact in it (interesting side note: if we all unequivocally believe in God how would that affect things - philosophical question for those so inclined :)).

An individuals opinion of God is really Faith or Non-Faith (do you believe it may be a provable Fact or may not be a proveable Fact); and that is what I feel is the personal choice - even if someone just shrugs shoulders and says "yeh, there must be a god" we have to respect that. Period.

(another side point: my problem with religion is, simply, that it tries to influence that decision, making it out to be the most important decision of your life...)


"The problem with God is that there is no way we can consider it as a Fact or Non-Fact. There is currently no objective reality of God's existence - so there is no element of fact or non-fact in it."

The same can be said for unicorns and garden gnomes. Except that an overwhelming majority of people consider it a Fact that those creatures don't exist.


why should religious belief have a special place in the continuum of silly thoughts? (you say they should be respected)

if you can make someone believe anything (e.g. there's this god with x,y,z attributes), you can make them do anything.


I make a distinction between religious belief and religion. The former I respect, ultimately, as a personal choice (that is not to say I wouldn't try to present an alternative if it was appropriate!). The latter I have little respect for :)


But that's a problem. We don't pretend to respect people for having silly beliefs, except when it is religious - why this exception? I find it helps to think of religious belief/conviction as a socially acceptable form of mental disease, comparable to examples in drug use.


I suspect you're preaching to the converted :-) I rationalise it by accepting this phenomenan exists - I will fight when it is detrimental of course, but otherwise just let it slide.


preaching is one of my character flaws :-)


No, he was saying that whether or not there is a God is either a true or false statement.

Now of course, whether or not we can determine the truth of that statement is another question entirely. I certainly am not aware of any way of proving it either way in this life, and indeed the evidence I am aware of (in either direction) is highly ambigious. And of course, even if you decide you personally beleive there is a God (or a multitude of them) that does not indicate which (if any!) of the currently available religions is closest to correct.

I arrived at my decision to believe in Christianity by a leap of faith. I think there is some evidence I can bring to bear to support it, but I am the first to admit that it would not stand up in most courts of law much less in the arena of science. I believe it because on an intuitive emotional level, it seems right.

Thus, I try to respect all religious beliefs. I cannot prove my beliefs are correct. I cannot disprove someone else's beliefs (excluding a very few fringe groups that make provably false claims, and even then it is those specific claims not the religion as a whole I could disprove).

But, while my belief in God is a personal thing, the existence or nonexistence of God is a fact. We may not be able to answer the question in this mortal life, but it is still either true or false.


I think we're actually agreeing. My point was the existence/non-existence of God as a fact is currently unprovable. And, so, either viewpoint is essentially the same - just in reverse.


The existence of a God is fact, or not fact. It's either true for everyone, or false for everyone. Saying something is "individual" is healthy only to the point that it does not stop you from actually researching it, and many times the best learning is done in collaboration and reviewing the work of others.

But there is no way to "research" the existence or non-existence of God. It's entirely a matter of faith, which I either have, or do not - that's why it is an individual matter.


"The existence of a God is fact, or not fact. It's either true for everyone, or false for everyone."

The existence of God is both fact and not fact, until you look in the box.


Good QM joke...


That depends entirely on who you are, and I'd say your view is a bit prejudiced.

I'm from one of the most atheist countries in the world, and to tell you the truth I don't think I've ever had a serious conversation with friends or family discussing whether God (or a god) exists. To us it would be like having a serious discussion about whether or not the tooth fairy existed. We just don't really care, and think the whole discussion would be kind of silly if it wasn't for all the wars fought in the name of various religions.


I was going to make this same point.

No amount of investigation into god/religion is going to prove the existence of a god. Once someone reaches this realization and at the same time still lacks faith, I see no reason to go any further if they aren't inclined. There's finite time and only so much people can do with it. I don't see why god/religion should be any more deserving of this time than anything else.


This interested me actually. In the UK we have a general baseline of Christianity but I generally thought that the beliefs were mostly agnostic to atheist. But when I happened to mention I was an atheist to my parents (who show no other interest in religion) they were outwardly surprised.


That is interesting. I've never discussed religion with my parents or other family - just assumed them to be agnostic. Maybe I'm wrong...


Am I right in thinking (from your domain) you are Danish? I'd be interested in whether you're right or not in that assumption. Because It's common thought to me that northern European countries are generally more agnostic anyway (I suspect because the Roman Empire/Holy Roman Empire never really touched it)


Spot on. According to this site: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html it's the third most atheist country in the world.


Sounds similar to a friends refusal to reject the existence of ghosts. They don't really have any interest in ghosts and no doubt don't believe in their existence but refuse to express their disbelief for fear of being proven wrong.


> Now, the trendy thing for "intellectuals" is atheism, and so many jump in without a thought (this continues to hold for both sides, as exemplified in the article).

I don't think it is the 'trendy' thing at all, it is just that when you think this stuff over and you weigh the evidence someone that is intellectually oriented will probably come down on the atheist side of the line.

Trends have nothing to do with it, at least atheists are no longer burned at the stake. But in plenty of countries it's probably safer to have the wrong religion than no religion at all.


From the point of view of an atheist, there is very little to even think about. That's the problem, really. In matters of faith, faith (by its very nature) requires very little thought. You can search for 'evidence' of the existence of God, but there is none to consider really.

That's why you end up with great scientific minds being reduced to things like Pascals Gambit. While Pascal did enter into an interesting piece of game theory, the substance requires very little thought (if your not going to believe in god, you better be right sort of thing).


My father was an atheist and I was raised that way. But I became an agnostic. On what evidence? I cannot explain how wonderful is that I am alive and aware of my own existence right now.


"There is no decision that is more life-impacting than belief/disbelief in a god."

Not really. The real life-impacting decision is choosing whether to live for yourself and by your own moral code, or blindly following someone else's.


It pains you? really? Not to be simplistic, but if you don't actually believe in god in the first place, than the decision to believe in god or not is just about as relevant as the decision to believe in santa claus...

re: pastors, barber called, time for a hair cut...


"if you don't actually believe in god in the first place, than the decision to believe in god or not is just about as relevant as the decision to believe in santa claus"

That's not really an a accurate statement. What a person believes doesn't determine what is relevant in this case. What does determine what is relevant is what the truth about God actually is.

If God does exist, and if the Bible accurately describes His interactions with and expectations of man, then not believing He exists has ramifications that will affect you for all of eternity!

If God truly does not exist, then you might be able to argue that it is irrelevant whether you believe in Him or not. But even in that case, it depends on how the belief in a false deity affects the believer. Does their belief in a false deity guide how they make important decisions in life? If so, then even belief in a false deity is totally relevant.


Pascal's wager only makes some semblance of sense when you consider one possible god with a simple "damned if you don't" heuristic. Throw in all the possible gods that have come before and after (Ra, Zeus, Freyja, Odin, The Moonies) and the wager starts to look pretty bad when you have to pick the "right one."


I don't see how you went from my post to Pascal's wager. Please explain.


What if you've got the wrong god? Then you're just as screwed as the atheists.


That's absolutely true. If there is one true God, you'd better make sure you've got the right one.


"When deciding which direction to take with a start-up we do hours and hours of customer interviews, site visits, market research, brainstorming, reading, and even self-reflection. The same, and more, should be done for religion."

How, exactly? The former involves actual data points and hard evidence by which you can understand what is probabilistically true. In talking to a religious figure, you're just getting someone's opinion on what he believes. That method of 'research' cannot possibly help someone understand what is true in reality.


> There is no decision that is more life-impacting than belief/disbelief in a god.

There might be a god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.


"We will spend months stressing about a job or a start-up, which might affect our lives for the subsequent year or two or three, and no more than a few hours here and there really digging into what evidence exists to support an atheist or religious perspective."

If the religious perspective if based on faith, how or why would one dig for evidence?


Thank you for standing up for things of eternal importance. I wholeheartedly agree.


yes, but the problem is to decide what to learn


That's a great problem to have.


And, sometimes, which resources to use. (E.g. for computer books, I find the best 10 times or more effect than the median.)


This argument is fun but not much more.

"Why don't you have any children?. This seems strange to me."

"Well, there are billions of children in the world that are not yours, I just have one less than you. We're basically the same."

The difference between having no children and one child is big. So is the difference between believing in no gods, and one God.

I think the original argument is useful to point out that there are billions of people who don't believe in your particular God, and that it isn't that strange to not believe.


I disagree. The point of the argument is that the same reasoning used to rule out all the gods you don't believe in can be used to rule out the god(s) you do.

Your analogy isn't equivalent in that way. Thinking through why you don't believe in Thor might help you reveal a double-standard or inconsistency. Thinking through why you didn't -- what? -- give birth to all the other children in the world is nonsensical.


I think there are two points. The conventional use of this argument is the one you are talking about, and that is why I said at the end of my post that it IS useful for that.

However, the article specifically says “So, I guess we're not compatible, huh?”, meaning that we can't get along because we are different. And the response to that is “Of course we are! I like you a lot. And we do agree on 519 of the gods, so we'll just not mention that last one.” My response is that zero to one is a big jump. Darek seems to be a "lets all get along" kind of guy, and that is great, but this quote doesn't justify that.


> "the same reasoning used to rule out all the gods you don't believe in can be used to rule out the god(s) you do."

Not if the reasoning you use to rule out the other 519 gods is "exclusivity of god #520". Or if the reasoning is "I haven't explicitly ruled them out, I just don't have any positive evidence for their existence, but I do for #520".

It's certainly worth thinking about whether your reasoning for whatever god(s) you believe in is consistent. The original argument sort of touches on that, but it does it quite poorly.


"Me and Bernie Madoff have a lot in common. There are 6.8 billion people on earth neither of us have defrauded."

A similar argument can be used with Jeffrey Dahmer and murder, various priests and child molestation, Kobe Bryant and defeating people in a 1-on-1 basketball game, or Fred Phelps and funerals protested.

There is a big difference between no children and one, no murders and one, no gods and one, no felonies and one, and so on.


> So is the difference between believing in no gods, and one God.

Im not sure that takes into account the fact that belief in one particular God (or set of gods) usually precludes belief in all the others.

In that respect belief/non-belief is not very different.


A better analogy would be as follows:

"Why don't you believe the sun is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium?" "Well, there have been hundreds of theories of what the sun might be composed of; giant birds, fire, holes in the sky... I just believe one less than you do"

That analogy still only works if there's some particularly good reason for believing that one God is significantly more likely to exist than any other.


Interesting. Knowing a little bit of English/Spanish you can guess the origin of most of the days of the week.

* Sunday/Domingo - Sun/?

* Monday/Lunes - Moon/Luna

* Tuesday/Martes - ?/Mars

* Wednesday/Miercoles - ?/Mercurio

* Thursday/Jueves - Thor/Jupiter

* Friday/Viernes - ?/Venus

* Saturday/Sabado - Saturn/?


Interestingly, Bulgarian (and by extension probably all Slavic languages) don't follow this model.

(translations based on word roots)

Monday - ponedelnik - "after no work"

Tuesday - vtornik - "second"

Wednesday - sryada - "middle"

Thursday - chetvurtuk - "fourth"

Friday - petuk - "fifth"

Saturday - subota - from Sabath

Sunday - Nedelia - "no work"


Russian is very very similar save for Sunday, which is "voskresenya", which roughly translates to (i think) "the resurrection." "Nedelia" translates to "week," but I've never thought about it as meaning "no work" which it almost also does in Russian.


Knowing Polish and learning Russian had me do a couple of double-takes on days of the week. We call Sunday "niedziela" and the week "tydzień". I guess identifying Sunday with the week makes some sense, and one of the languages just switched it around at some point.

I always thought of "niedziela" as coming from "nie dzielić" / "не делить" / "no dividing/separating", though it doesn't really make sense as name for the day.


Sanskrit (and hence Hindi and Tami;l) largely does. would clarify more but a bit too drunk now to tyep too ciherentyl. sorry. just thought you should know before i forgot in the morning..


What's really interesting is that Portugese is one of the few European languages which doesn't follow this pattern, since at some point someone decided it was heretical to name days after those silly Pagan gods.

So they have:

    * Domingo – Sunday
    * Segunda-feira – Monday
    * Terça-feira – Tuesday
    * Quarta-feira – Wednesday
    * Quinta-feira – Thursday
    * Sexta-feira – Friday
    * Sábado – Saturday
Domingo is the Day of the Lord, Sabado is based on sabbath and the others just get numbers. That's the trouble with monotheism, there's too damn many days and not enough gods.


In greek it is rather similar:

  * Monday -> Δευτέρα ("second")
  * Tuesday -> Τρίτη("third")
  * Wednesday -> Τετάρτη ("fourth")
  * Thursday -> Πέμπτη ("fifth")
  * Friday -> Παρασκευή ("preperation")
  * Saturday -> Σάββατο ("sabbath")
  * Sunday -> Κυριακή ("of the lord)
That version is being used since the time of the Roman Empire, before that, Greeks used the babylonian model that named days after planets -which in turn had been named after gods.

The english names are of germanic/norse descent, again mostly names of gods.


So how many civilizations have _not_ had seven-day weeks?


    Sabado is based on sabbath
All of them except Domingo are also exactly the same in Hebrew ("first-day", "second-day", "third-day", etc).


You beat me to it... I was going to mention that in Spanish, the weekdays are named after Roman gods from Latin. If you find this amazing, then you will be surprised that the month of July is named after Julius Caesar. But what I find truly amazing is that Caesar Salad is named after a guy from Tijuana!!!


And August for Emperor Augustus, January for the roman god Janus (who was actually Zeus), etc


There's a legend that emperor Augustus wanted his month to have 31 days as well, just like Julius, and that's why we have 31 days on both months.


actually, Jupiter is Zeus. I don't think Janus has a counterpart.


ah yeah, the names of the months. September - Siete, October - Ocho, November - Nueve, December - Diez. They would match if it weren't for July and August.


The French I was taught in primary school hinted at most of this too. I'd venture anyone who knew bits of different languages would have probably guessed the roots of the days, atlhough English roots differ from romance roots (Wednesday based on the English god Woden instead of the Roman god Mercury).

* Dimanche * Lundi * Mardi * Mercredi * Jeudi * Vendredi * Samedi


Actually if you know enough about the history of the Norse religion, Odin to Mercury is not a difference. Odin comes from Wotan who started as the messenger of the gods then gained prominence in the pantheon. By Roman times he was co-equal with Tiwaz and had acquired many of his characteristics. By Norse times Thor was still important enough to take the central position in the temple at Uppsala. However Odin was god of wars, aristocracy, and poetry. After Christianity took over, Odin continued to gain importance in the mythology (which was after all continued by poets telling stories for aristocracy) and by the time Snorri Sturluson wrote The Prose Edda was the familiar allfather, king of the gods, etc.


Domingo -> from the Latin 'Dies Dominicus' -> The Lord's day

Lunes -> Luna -> Moon

Tuesday -> Martes -> Marte (Mars)

Miercoles -> Mercurio (Mercury)

Jueves -> Jove -> Jupiter

Viernes -> Venus

Sabado -> Sabbath

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categor%C3%ADa:D%C3%ADas_de_la_...


to chime in, Mongolian: 1-dex udur - 1st day (Monday) 2-daxi udur - 2nd day (Tuesday) etc... xagas-sain udur - 1/2 good day (Saturday) *buten-sain udur - full good day (Sunday)


And, according to the following page, the planetary day names eventually made their way to Japan in the first millenium, by way of India and China:

http://www.cjvlang.com/Dow/dowjpn.html

I was always curious about the Friday -> "gold" day -> payday link, but I guess this was a total coincidence. The actual derivation seems to be Friday <- Venus's day -> gold planet's day.

Other parts of the same site are devoted to the European, Chinese, and Vietnamese day name origins:

http://www.cjvlang.com/Dow/index.html#TOP


Sabado = sabbath

Friday = Freyja Norse god more or less equivalent to Venus.

Wednesday = Norse god Woden more commonly known in the US with out the W aka Oden.


The Japanese seem to agree; sun, moon, fire, water, wood, gold, earth. Well, the beginning is similar, anyway...


In Italian it's pretty much the same:

* Domenica (From Latin: dies dominicus -> Lord's day)

* Lunedì (Luna -> Moon)

* Martedì (Marte -> Mars)

* Mercoledì (Mercurio -> Mercury)

* Giovedì (Giove -> Jupiter)

* Venerdì (Venere -> Venus)

* Sabato (Sabbath)


Domingo (Spanish, Portuguese) and Domenica (Italian) probably refer to Dominus, Lord, as Sunday is the Lord's day in the Christian tradition.


The article actually mentions most of them. :)


This is how it goes in Swedish as per our Norse history and heritage:

Monday = Måndag = Månes dag (Máni's day) - Måne, the brother of Sol. "måne" is also Swedish for "moon"

Tuesday = Tisdag = Tyrs dag (Týr's day, son of Oden)

Wednesday = Onsdag = Odens dag (Oden's day)

Thursday = Torsdag = Tors dag (Thor's day)

Friday = Fredag = Frejas dag (Freyja's day) - some say this day is named after Frigg, and some Norse history seem to indicate that Freyja and Frigg are one and the same goddess that somehow got separated as two in literature

Saturday = Lördag = lögardagen, from old, old Swedish "laugr" (water/waterfall), the day on which you bathe

Sunday = Söndag = Sols dag (Sól's day) - "sol" is Swedish for "sun"


Icelandic shares only some and ends up being more like Bulgarian and Portuguese mentioned above - looks like the early Christian influence got the Icelanders too

   Monday: mánudagur = moon day
   Tuesday: þriðjudagur = 3rd day
   Wednesday: miðvikudagur = mid-week day
   Thursday: fimmtudagur = 5th day
   Friday: föstudagur = fasting day
   Saturday: laugardagur = washing day
   Sunday: sunnudagur = sun day


Domingo is from "domini/us", lord or sir, or head of the house (from "doma", home).


This just makes me sad to be honest with you.

  The idea that “we believe in 519 out of 520 Gods” means anything shows a fundamental misunderstanding of religion.  You may not like the beliefs of some religious people but the point of religion is the beliefs.  It’s not that a God created the world it’s that a benevolent God created the world and left teachings which lead to benevolence. 

  On that note I’d point out that he’s wrong about learning something too.  The web is a wonderful place and you can go out and learn things but the problem with the Web as opposed to a person is the web doesn’t challenge your beliefs.  He took the most superficial point imaginable out of a serious conversation and pursued it.  So while he learned something useless he missed the much deeper contradiction in the statement he was so enamored with.   


It’s not that a God created the world it’s that a benevolent God created the world and left teachings which lead to benevolence.

I'm confused. Are you saying that the second part can be true without the first part being true?


I think the point is very simple and very elegant. It's not about God, it's about the fact that humanity (and our history) is a lot more subtle than most people really compute (I came to that realisation myself not very long ago).

The beauty of it is that the religious conversation didn't matter too much - it was just that the clever rhetoric device (the Norse gods) was the avenue to a wealth of information. It is there for the taking but never actively taught.

So, the point is that you can pick up any passing point of interest and satisfy your craving for it like never before. Then half an hour later move on to something else.

And you will still have those Norse gods/weekdays lined up as a party trick...


No? So Sivers' message was just about religion then? ;)


Posted on a Friday? Madness!


They were on a date -> Love god -> Friday!


"You and I are almost identical in our beliefs! If history has named, say, 520 gods, you don't believe in 519 of them, I don't believe in 520 of them."

This argument comes from Dawkins book The God Delusion. It's clever, but also kind of dumb. Trying to discredit contemporary religion based on what people believed 2,500 years ago is like trying to discredit science based on alchemy.


That would imply that the current view of god(s) is more advanced (in a provable way) that the old view of them. To an atheist, this is nitpicking.


It might be legitimate if you were arguing with a deist (holding merely the belief that there is some form of deity responsible for creating the universe) rather than a Christian (holding the belief that God created the universe then sent a bunch of prophets to the Jews then appeared as his own son as a carpenter in Judea for some reason then got himself crucified by the Romans so that everybody's sins would be forgiven).

The former of these (which I do not personally hold) is a more sophisticated and plausible than the existence of Thor, while the latter is pretty much on exactly the same level.


That's like saying that because we've already debunked alchemy and astrology, being asked to debunk evolution as well is just nitpicking. If you asked someone at the Harvard divinity school what the most compelling arguments in favor of religion were today, they'd probably talk about Thor to the same extent that your bio101 professor talked about star alignments-- not at all.

Whereas oftentimes they're actually using the same methodology, techniques, and textbooks that you'd find in the neuroscience/physics/philosophy departments, and publishing in the same academic journals. C.f. http://csp.org/psilocybin/


> That's like saying that because we've already debunked alchemy and astrology, being asked to debunk evolution as well is just nitpicking.

Well, yes. Scientists around the world agree that every scientific topic should be debunked. The ones that are left -- the ones that survive an attempt at debunking -- should be taken as fact, presumably until they are debunked and replaced with something more valid.

> If you asked someone at the Harvard divinity school what the most compelling arguments in favor of religion were today, they'd probably talk about Thor ... -- not at all

Sure, because choosing what to believe in, without a scientific basis, is essentially fashion. And believe me -- Thor is _way_ out of fashion.


"Scientists around the world agree that every scientific topic should be debunked. The ones that are left -- the ones that survive an attempt at debunking -- should be taken as fact, presumably until they are debunked and replaced with something more valid."

This is exactly the same as what many modern religious thinkers would say, which was my original point-- that debunking old dogma doesn't do anything to disprove the 'cutting edge' of religious thought.

edit: Whatever, if you read my archive you'll see I'm probably the most atheist atheist on HN, but at least I'm willing to be intellectually honest and give the other side a fair shake.


Many major religions are monotheistic by definition. The entire premise is that only 1 true god exists.

Saying we "agree on 519 of 520 and disagree on 1" is a non-statement. The first person's belief in that 1 by definition precludes his belief in the other 519.


I think many people may be missing the point.

The point of the argument is to challenge people to question whether the existence of their god is any more plausible than any of the other thousands of deities whose existence has been postulated.

It works well against Christians or anyone else whose god has specific and well-defined properties. It doesn't work against deists since their "god" is sufficiently poorly-defined to be more plausible than Thor.


> "It works well against Christians"

No it doesn't.

It amazes me how often I hear Christians say "this argument works well against atheists" and then make an utterly stupid argument that none of the atheists I know would take seriously. This strikes me as much the same -- it's an argument that atheists think should work well against Christians, but that most Christians will think is stupid and misses the point.


It works well against the argument, "How can you not believe in God?" The belief that 'belief in God' is a given is equally stupid.


Oddly enough I was brought up a churchgoing Christian, but was convinced by arguments of pretty much this same form that Christianity was almost certainly false.


"It doesn't work against deists since their 'god' is sufficiently poorly-defined to be more plausible than Thor."

Contemporary thinkers might argue that god is well-defined, but ineffable.


Many people have actually dabbled in several religions before ending up in the one they're currently in. Alternatively, they may have studied other religions to some extent to reassure themselves of the "correctness" of their original religion. In that sense they are familiar with other beliefs and probably feel that they have rejected those other systems on their own merits. In that framework, the 519 of 520 argument does make since, exclusive of the monotheistic prohibition against other gods.

I think what you are saying is that a Christian (for example) would say, "of course I don't believe in other god X, because I'm not allowed to". The 519 of 520 argument depends on whether the monotheist can also reject those other gods on their own merits.


Judaism (to take an example) was a contemporary of those religions too - it hasn't changed an awful lot over the intervening time span.

You seem to shrug off "what people believed 2,500 years ago" as, perhaps, silly or illogical and then chasten someone for doing the same to current religion :)


I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that Judiasm was originally multiple gods. They got the idea for monotheism from the Egyptians during the brief period where a pharaoh actually tried to have monotheism.

The Jews adopted that even tho the Egyptians reverted relatively quickly to multiple gods under King Tut. Mostly because the priests of all the various gods that had been shut down wanted power back.

From Judaism, monotheism spread to Christianity and Islam and some might say in some minor form to some variants of eastern religions/philosophies.


> "I was under the impression that Judiasm was originally multiple gods."

There's only speculation, nothing really concrete (at least not that I've ever found.)

Judaism does directly reference several Egyptian concepts. Both Genesis 1 and the plagues in Exodus draw heavily on the Egyptian pantheon (in a negative way -- explicitly rejecting Egyptian gods, calling them weak or stating that they are mere created objects.) But I don't know of anything that links Jewish monotheism to Egyptian monotheism.


Heh, my fault - I simplified it a little forgetting this is HN :D

To answer your point - the answer is yes, and no.

Ultimately it is next to impossible to be sure (assuming we can take the critical rather than the religious view of the history) when/where/how Judaism appeared.

At the time pretty much every country had their own God or gods and considered them superior to the others (though, ironically, appear to have been accepting of the other gods - just considered them inferior). General thinking simply says that at that time one particular country believed in one God - they were imprisoned for the Babylonians for a long while but the religion survived very devoutly.

I'm not sure what the common thinking is about why Judaism survived beyond that and grew to be so important.

Then, yes, Judaism influenced or started pretty much all of the modern religions.

EDIT: I find the birth of religions a fascinating subject, but I'm still churning through the birth/development of Christianity so not back to Judaism yet. All my knowledge above comes from a wonderful book called "A Little History of the World" which touches on the subject briefly.


> Then, yes, Judaism influenced or started pretty much all of the modern religions.

If by 'all the modern religions,' you just mean the 'big 3.' [namely: Christianity, Islam, Judaism] I've never seen claims that any of the 'Eastern' religions were influenced by Judaism.


The Jews never worshipped multiple gods, but there is evidence that at one point, they believed other gods existed (but they did not worship them, they only worshipped the god of the Hebrews, now known as G-d).

There's also virtually no evidence that Jewish monotheism was influenced by Atenism, the Egyptian monotheism founded by Akhenaten. It's a fun theory but not one that most scholars give credence to.


2,500 years ago, Jews were slaughtering goats and offering them as burnt offerings on altars in order to absolve themselves of sin.

Modern Judaism is distinctly different than what was practiced two millenia ago.


To my knowledge, the religious decree about slaughtering goats is the same today in judaism as it was 2,500 years ago.

The reason it's not practiced today is 'just' because the decree also states that you have to perform the sacrifice at the great temple on temple mount. That poses a technical problem, since: 1. The temple was destroyed 2k years back, and there's a pretty famous mosque standing in its place. 2. Religious jews have to do a special kind of purification in order to even be on temple mount, and this purification is impossible at the moment, again for weird technical reasons (they need a red cow, don't ask).

BUT, if there was a temple, and there was a purification rite, religious jews would, in all likelihood, be happily burning offerings 3 times each year.

In short, not as different as you may think.


I was under the impression that a most of the religious classes/castes (other than the Rabbis) in Judaism were wiped out by the Romans (or someone) and that some of those were the ones that were supposed to perform certain ceremonies. I may be wrong though, I can't find anything about this in a quick Wikipedia search.


Rabbis aren't a caste, they're just a profession.

There is a priestly caste, the kohanim. The kohanim have various obligations and duties, most of which are moot in the modern world, and one of which involves the hand gesture made famous by Leonard Nimoy.

There is another caste, the Levites, but they have no remaining duties.


That's a very problematic argument for a few reasons.

Firstly your now considering early Judaism unenlightened. However the core beliefs are still very much the same; and many customs from contemporary Norse times are still observed by some sects.

Secondly that's the practice of religion; which is very different from a belief itself. It is possible to believe in God or a set of gods without following the practices of the organisations themselves. The difference between then and now is that a) you were "sold" the practices as an inherent part of belief in XYZ God and b) to believe without practising them was dangerous. As a result the actual belief in the Abrahamic God is somewhat irrelevant to the practices.


I don’t remember anymore whether Dawkins also argued with past beliefs but I do know that he often emphasizes the geographical distribution of religions, not so much the history of religions. You can view a example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYigmGyN2RQ

I do think it is quite baffling how you can be consciously aware of all the myriad of religions in the world and still not be a atheist. They can’t all be right and there exists no method of picking the right one except trusting you own feelings. I mean, Christians baptize their babies, Jews circumcise their sons – those religions seemingly don’t even want you to consciously decide to join them. It’s just assumed that you will if your parents have that religion.


"They can’t all be right and there exists no method of picking the right one except trusting you own feelings."

I agree wholeheartedly with the first half of that statement: "They can’t all be right". The religions of the world have conflicting beliefs that cannot be reconciled. If there is one true God, then the other religions that worship other gods have to be false. You can't have it both ways.

However, at least with respect to Christianity, the second half "and there exists no method of picking the right one except trusting you own feelings.". is most definitely not true. Christians who believe the Bible to be true and accurate would tell you the opposite -- do not trust your feelings, because feelings don't determine what is true and what is false. In the Bible-believing Christian realm the argument would be "Read the Bible, decide for yourself whether you believe it or not."


Are you suggesting there's a difference in the procedural, moral and/or intellectual rigor of religion 2500 years ago, as compared to today, on a scale similar to the differences between alchemy and science? or astronomy and astrology?

I can't say I see differences of that magnitude. In fact, I don't see many significant differences at all.

(E.g. whereas most modern religions are far less bloodthirsty than some historical religions, so were many religious contemporaries of those bloodthirsty belief structures.)


Absolutely. Modern day religious scholars are doing things like giving people psilocybin in double blind studies to elicit primary religious experiments. (And they found that they were able to create primary religious experiences in roughly 70% of the participants.) Saying that these academic papers that are being published in the top journals in the country are the intellectual equivalent of Catholicism is ridiculous.


I'm not sure why endeavors wholly separate from the practice of religion should be considered to reflect upon the state of religious practice.

Surely one can be religious and practice science. But in what denomination of which religion is it a requirement?

The non-religious have performed countless similar studies on religious experience, efficacy of prayer, etc. Are you suggesting their activities reflect on the state of religious practice in the modern world, simply because their subject matter is related to religious practice?


Science isn't separate from religious practice, but rather it's one of our contemporary religions. Only instead of the ten commandments, you start with the unprovable beliefs that there is nothing supernatural, the universe can be explained entirely through natural laws, we can learn about these natural laws through observation and measurement, the world exists as we see it and is not an illusion, etc. So in regards to the academic studies on the efficacy of prayer, I would consider these studies to be part of modern religious belief rather than separate from it.


See Eliezer Yudkowsky's The Fallacy of Gray, HN discussion and essay: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1147767


I don't disagree with you at all. If you look at a lot of modern religious thought though, the assumptions are usually just as sound as the assumptions behind science. In fact, they are usually the same plus or minus one, with well-grounded reasons behind any diffs.


Isn't the God of existing Abrahamic religions the same dude that the ancient Hebrews were worshipping 2,500 years ago?


Yeah, but if you look at the etymology of 'religion' it just means to tie back. In other words, to reunite people with some original source of all things. My point is that if you want a contemporary account of god, ask the people working on the Hubble telescope or the folks from csp.org, not some random sect whose beliefs haven't changed in 2,500 years.

To give another example, if I wanted to debunk astrology then I'd start by arguing against the beliefs of Kary Mullis (who won the Nobel prize in science), not some 4000 year old scrolls.


[deleted]


I know the difference, and I used them properly. It might have been a little confusing because I refer to both in the same post, but I meant them to be completely different examples. (In other words, astronomers are engaged in religious activity because they are trying to figure out the origins of the universe. Whereas Kary Mullis is an expert on the contemporary arguments in favor of astrology, if there are any.)


Given the ideas and tenets of "contemporary" religion are 1500 to 2500 years old, I think it is a perfectly valid comparison.

Lame, yes, but valid.


i haven't ready any of dawkin's books, but it seems to me the "point" of this argument isn't a logical one. the point is to express to theists the kind of "feel" that atheists have regarding religions, namely that any specific religion is just another religion

for a theist, it may be hard to imagine not believing in their particular god. but it's easy for them to imagine not believing in those countless other gods


The story was good, I'm definitely happy to live in a time with such easy access to information, but as for the actual argument, haven't we all heard this before? That doesn't diminish it, but I'm surprised by how new it seems to many people. It's been argued forever. I'm sure it goes back much further than this, but here's a passage from 2005's "Sense and Goodness Without God" (http://www.amazon.com/Sense-Goodness-Without-God-Metaphysica...):

But if the idea of a god is inherently illogical (if the very idea is self-contradictory or meaningless), or if it is contradicted by the evidence, then there are strong positive reasons to take a harder stance as an atheist – with respect to that particular god. For in this sense, even believers are strong atheists – they deny the existence of hundreds of gods. Atheists like me merely deny one more god than everyone else already does – in fact, I deny the existence of the same god already denied by believers in other gods, so I am not doing anything that billions of people don’t do already.


Interestingly, "Sunday" in Japanese is expressed with the kanji for "sun" and the kanji for "day". It's obviously pronounced differently, but the literal meaning is the same as the English phonetics.


That's true for Monday as well, which I've always thought was cool:

月曜日 = Monday

月 = Moon, 曜日 = day of the week


Derek makes the same mistake many make when dealing with deities -- he personalizes them.

My guess is that the ancients viewed deities as categories of things we don't know -- hence the 6 zillion gods. Over time, organization set into religion and people began anthropomorphizing the gods.

Judaism moved "categories of things we don't know" from a multiple choice to a single entity. Then organization set in again with the anthropomorphizing.

It's a mistake to take this to zero -- the assumption that we know everything and things we cannot prove are not worthy of consideration. Having a deep understanding of the huge amount of unknown in the universe is a critical part of a balanced life. To say you don't believe in one person's personification is to miss the point entirely.


Reframing is just a fantastic psychological tool/technique, and is the logical follow-up to Einstein's maxim that "The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." This example by Sivers is brilliant.


I've always found this an interesting topic, and once in a while it's interesting to discuss it with someone who believes in a god.

Sometimes I wonder how much we choose what we believe, especially when it gets down to this bottom-of-the-soul (or "soul"), meaning-of-life stuff. When someone is incredulous at the fact that I don't believe in any sort of god, I 've said: "Let's try this: for the next sixty seconds, I'll start believing in God, and for the same sixty seconds, you have to stop believing in God. Are you in?"

Naturally, it's not really possible for either person to do this, but sometimes it promotes interesting discussion about the nature of faith — why can't we do this, etc, etc?

Of course, a lot of times it just pisses people off too.


Now you can start to dive into any subject with some whimsical web browsing - an alternate to watching a TV show

Wow, I just had a discussion with my wife about giving up cable TV but keeping cable Internet for this reason. My argument was during the 1/2 hour of a silly sitcom, I can become knowledgeable with just about any subject of my choosing. And even if I want to veg out, I can still find most shows on the web.

Her counter argument was the cable box + remote are easier to use than hooking up a computer to the TV, which is what we currently do.


... until the iPad came along. ;)


I think a lot of people are missing the point (although the comments are really interesting...keep those up).

One person is just trying to say to the other that their different beliefs don't make them very different people. Based on the second person's reaction, I'd say their beliefs don't make them that different (in this case).

Someone mentioned that this argument came from Dawkins' book; this seems like a small twist on that argument to make a different (and demonstrably valid) point.


There is one "error" in that discussion imho. Even if Thursday is named after Thor, it doesn't mean that Thursday was dedicated in celebration of Thor. And on the other side, Easter isn't named after Jesus. So I'm not following how Thursday and Easter are even remotely related.

edit: of course this is just nit picking, and is not really relevant on the big picture.


easter is named after a month in the germanic calendar named after the goddess Ēostre


I can't believe nobody has brought up the Flying Spaghetti Monster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_spaghetti_monster


George Carlin put it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o


I love that guy's responses! Though when I do something similar (not quite same level as him), my friends usually give me the weird look..


Reddit was down?


My minimum requirement for believing in any particular god is if I can have lunch with them. Can I call them, invite to a party, and they actually show up. Etc.


Does this apply to people as well?


Nope I believe Linus Torvalds exists even though I don't expect to have lunch with him. I have higher standards for gods. Unlike most of the planet. Unfortunately.


It still seems a little unfair. If Thor flew across the sky right now, brought thunderstorms to the desert, Mjolnir-ed the Space Needle, appeared on television shaking hands with Conan O'Brien, and rebuffed your lunch invitation on the grounds that he has a thumb-wrestling appointment with Quetzalcoatl, you still wouldn't believe in him?


a good deal of that might constitute stronger evidence than attending a lunch date, and therefore validate belief. Lunch makes a good testing bar, above which other proofs may pass.


but he won't. and neither would any other deity. they're just made up.


Now now, that's a skepticism failure. A proper skeptic should acknowledge that it's very very unlikely that Thor exists, but that there is a small nonzero probability that he might.


Yes, technically you are correct. But we think in terms of absolutes all the time in order to live in this world (e.g. The statue could wave it's arm, but it is such a remote possibility that we can discount it for practical purposes.


Funny! :-P But seriously, since flying and causing thunderstorms are way more exotic and powerful abilities than merely having lunch with someone, they would be acceptable substitutes for lunch. Better than lunch!


Aren't all these atheist/theist debates better housed on reddit with all the other dreck and stale debates the host? Hacker News is for news, not for silly things that just make people waste oxygen arguing about them.


Hacker News?


I agree that it's not Hacker News, but it is intellectually engaging, and there are lessons to be learned ...

Conflict resolution, finding common ground, agreeing differences that exist, but don't have to matter, and the observation that today we can invest all of 3 minutes to discover stuff, then decide whether we want to know more.

When I was 22 I moved country, and I knew nothing about where I was going. Encyclopedias told me very, very little, and after days, literally days, in the library, I still knew almost nothing.

Today I can spend 5 minutes on the 'net and know more in that time than I could've found in days of diligent, comprehensive, but above all boring research.

Read with the intent of learning - not all lessons are obvious, and some are worth more for having found them, rather than being given them.


I think its been particularly interesting growing up during this transitional period. I'm 21 now, but I can remember up to about the 6th grade when card catalogs and encyclopedias were still pushed on us at school. But the internet was coming into its own during this period as well. These parallel environments have given my generation a unique perspective of the web. We've essentially grown up together--perhaps there's a psychological connection here that can explain other behaviors.


FWIW, I submitted it because I found it intellecually engaging. I think there is a lesson here that's pertinent for hackers, being able to take a situation and look at in a unique way. Then taking that unique perspective and using it to your advantage.

But what I love about Derek's writing is that there always seems to be a lot of interesting nuggets of wisdom that they contain. I think there is a lot of interesting material here and that it could be taken a lot of different ways depending on the reader's perspective.


I did not find it in any way engaging. Embarrassing, rather. The "discussion" is not original, as was pointed out earlier, and rather poorly presented (granted the possible real protagonist may have been more charismatic.)

On the other hand, if someone does find it useful or educational, I suppose the only fault can be found in myself for not having pointed to the same insight.


With the greatest respect; i'm not sure that everythign posted here has to be educational or useful.

Sivers' writing is generally "inspirational" (I love his writing style), light hearted and informative. I actually think there is a very deep and important point to be learned from this particular post.


You do not consider learning a "very deep and important point" to be educational nor useful? :)

However you wish to refer to your experience, for one reason or another I did not share it but, as I was musing, that is sort of irrelevant since someone did.


Hmm, I was making a point regarding your comment and a weird mix of the original "not hacker news" one and your own. Sorry :(

Formally:

1) I actually do think it is educational

2) Regardless, things posted to HN, surely, don't have to be educational all the time! :)

To discuss your post a bit more: I think you missed the point. The subject of Sivers anecdote was irrelevant; as I read it (and the following explanation) it is about learning things :)




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