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Poll: What is your religion?
137 points by cmelbye on July 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 355 comments
I'm curious, what are Hacker News' religions? If I'm missing something in the list or if something is offensive, please tell me.

(Please vote for one unless more than one fits)

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It's fairly common for people to respond to this sort of question by saying something along the lines of "I disapprove of organized religion, but have spiritual faith."

My own view is exactly the opposite. I see the value in the ritual, community, and psychological "anchor" that organized religion can provide. But spiritual faith seems absurd; why mix your emotional security and your sense of identity up with a bunch of conceptual abstractions, or delude yourself into thinking that the subjective and particular is really objective and universal?

I respect religion, per se, and hold no grudge against religions that use theology and mythology as part of their symbolic repertoire. So when I say "I do not believe in God", I'm not so much rejecting God as rejecting belief.

Whether or not God exists objectively isn't really something I think about or care about answering.

> Whether or not God exists objectively isn't really something I think about or care about answering.

I think that you could fairly be described as an agnostic, then.

Apathetist is a better description. An agnostic says he doesn't know the answer; I'm saying the question is meaningless.

That sounds vaguely like ignosticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

Studies have been done on the effect of (other people's) prayers in curing a patient. They've all shown no effect, but let's say the experiment had shown convincingly that prayers of the followers of a specific religion result in major improvements to the patients' health.

Would you still say the question was meaningless? If not, how can a question be meaningless if it depends on the result of an experiment?

It's still jumping to an unrealistic conclusion. Interesting, for sure - but it'd just mean better scientific explanation is required, otherwise it's the very definition of superstition.

What you ask is whether the question remains meaningless when confronted by strong evidence towards the existence of a godlike supernatural being that answers to prayers of a given group.

I guess the question will remain meaningless until such evidence is uncovered.

  I guess the question will remain meaningless until such evidence is uncovered
I doubt people who think the question is meaningless will be looking for answers. This is one reason such "evidence" may never be available.

Another reason (a stronger one, in my opinion) is that this question is purely a matter of belief and therefore outside of the realm of science. Which may be another explanation why some people refuse to consider the question.

If it's outside the realm of science, it's no longer a question. The believer already has an answer. In fact, any answer that makes the believer happy will do, for it cannot be neither proved nor disproved.

Science folks my return to the question in the future, when there is a hypothesis to test. Right now, it can't. Trying to answer a question by throwing reason out the window cannot be called trying very hard...

Yes. "Does the act of prayer have beneficial psychological effects?" and "does God exist?" are two different questions, and I do not presume any dependence of the latter on the former.

Besides, I don't see how being dependent upon the results of an experiment has any bearing on the meaning of the question. The data collected in the experiment may be empirically valid, but the connection between the data and the question is inherently rational, not empirical, and you must already have a set of presumptive axioms in order to connect the concrete data to the abstract question.

To elaborate a little, would you say it's "meaningless" to you personally, or in general? Just curious.

I don't see how the concept of meaning can be discussed in general terms at all. It seems to inhere in the relationship between a person and the ideas he considers.

I've certainly encountered other people who behave and speak in ways that indicate that they attribute a great deal of meaning to this question (often ironically because they insist on asserting an empirical basis for their faith), so I would not presume to speak for them.

(BTW, note that I'm being pedantic in this thread in order to discuss this topic with a high degree of precision. I'm not trying to create a semantics rathole, honest. But oftentimes clarifying the semantics is necessary to have a productive conversation.)

I'm saying the question is meaningless

Why? Is it because we have not been able to answer it yet?

Can it be answered in any uncontroversial way?

Or perhaps "can it be answered in a scientific way"?

Or just "answered".

OTOH, I can always answer that 2+2 is 5. And no amount of faith will make me right.

"2+2 is 5" is a mathematical statement. Mathematics is different from the rest of science in that it is not an experimental science, so that a (theoretical) statement does not need an experimental confirmation, just a (theoretical) proof.

Isn't the question only meaningless if the answer is No? Assuming you're talking about the traditional Judeo-Christian God, then you would certainly be missing out on a lot of good (both in this life and the next) if the answer is Yes.

If the question is meaningless, it has no meaningful answer; the answer cannot be "no", so... no.

Your line of thinking is begging the question; you pre-suppose that the question is meaningful before you address its meaning.

OK then, what does it mean to say a question is meaningless? If an answer to the question is important, how is the question meaningless?

When I say "the question is meaningless", I'm saying that the question doesn't identify a gap in useful knowledge of the world. It might be a purely definitional question for which the answer boils down to a tautology, or it may identify a trick of logic that appears to be knowledge but is not, e.g. a paradox, or it might simply be nonsense.

I say the question "does God exist?" is meaningless because:

(a) it is a simple Boolean yes/no question, but its is asking about the relationship between two incredibly abstract concepts: "God" and "existence". To address the question, these concepts must be defined in precise terms; but being abstract, there is no suitably objective metric to measure their precision against. Therefore, in practice, any logically consistent answer to this question will be a tautology.

(b) the validity of religion is not actually dependent upon the answer to this question; the concept of "faith" precludes the necessity of empirical validation. If you are religious, you may consider it important to believe in God, but this is not the same thing as it being important that God objectively exist.

(c) formalities of thought aside, my underlying metric is how useful answering the question is, not how true it is, and I do not see useful value in answering the question. Asking the question, on the other hand, opens the door to interesting conversations like this one, which give us an opportunity to analyze, exercise and improve our thought processes, which is why I'm participating in the discussion so extensively. :)

a.k.a. Pascal’s Wager: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager . It’s rather broken as a theological argument, if only for the fact that who’s to say you’re choosing the right religion if you do decide to go down the spirituality route?

I'm not suggesting that logic would lead you to adopt any certain religion. I'm just saying the question itself isn't meaningless, because it's answer is actually pretty important (not that we can know for sure what the answer is).

It's more like: We don't know whether it's true or false, and we will never know it.. so why bother losing time with this question anyway? (I don't say that is my point, I just wanted to clarify a bit the "only matter if it's no".

That's a valid explanation. When I hear someone call a question meaningless, I immediately think that it must not matter what its answer is, not that the answer (presumably) can't be known.

That's a big assumption. From another perspective, if one does not believe that any god (should it exist) intervenes in human affairs, then the question of whether it does exist would be not as interesting.

This is actually a faith claim In and of itself. Your basically saying you don't believe there is a God who desires (or worse, requires) anything from you. Otherwise it would be in your best interest to care. You're completely entitled to your own beliefs, but passing it off as a position of "non-belief" is illogical. It's the same paradox as "there is no truth" being a truth claim. You sound like a person of great dedication to your belief, despite (and actually because of) your statements to the contrary.

"Not believing" is not the same as "believing against". The first involves no claim, positive or negative, about religion except in response to a question or prompt. The second is an active disbelief or truth claim.

Most atheists do not go around saying "I know there is no god" but, if asked "do you believe in a god/something supernatural/things you can't see", they would answer "no".

Not many atheists are strong atheists (those who "believe against god", who believe the existence of god is objectively disproven). Rather, they are not convinced by anything they experience that there is a god and so do not believe in one, just as they do not believe in unicorns or pots o' gold at the end of the rainbow. (Surely you wouldn't say they are making a faith claim about unicorns just because they don't happen to acknowledge their existence.)

However, they often actively push back against encroaching beliefs that they have not, themselves, claimed as their own.

This distinction between "nonbelief" versus "disbelief" is subtle but important.

EDIT: The only faith claim I could possibly agree atheists have is a general statement about the nature of faith as it relates to them. Namely, most say "I will not have faith. I will only accept as true that which can be demonstrated."

Addition: Atheists can sound pedantic when it comes to word order, but this pedantry has a point. Compare the following two sentences:

"I'm asking you to not join the Navy."

"I'm not asking you to join the Navy."

The difference in word order is the same as the different phrasings between different atheists:

"I do not believe god exists." (I call this atheism)

"I believe god does not exist." (I call this strong atheism)

I prefer not to use "god" as a pronoun, since it makes assumptions which aren't warranted. Let's remove the assumptions by using "a god" instead, and look at your sentences again.

"I do not believe a god exists."

"I believe a god does not exist."

They look the same to me.

Maybe it's a problem with English. I can say that I don't believe in the existence of life on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, but that I don't believe in the non-existence either. In other words I have no data, so how could I believe either one?

The words "I believe X" used to mean "Based on all available evidence I have seen, I'm convinced that X is true". Lately however people have started to use the word to mean any strongly held opinion regardless of any evidence or reason.

To believe something is "to be convinced of the truthfulness of it", to have faith is to have hope in the future based on a belief.

Believe and faith can be misplaced: To be convinced that something is true does not make it true. A conviction which is specific enough maybe testable, a conviction can sometimes be proven or disproven. It is rational to hold convictions which are consistent with available evidence and experiences.

A theology is a (philosophical) theory about gods. A theology may be specific enough to be testable, most however are not. Someone who is convinced that a particular theology is true has a religious conviction or religious believe, which often becomes part of the persons identity or self-identification.

People who share similar theological convictions often join together to form religious groups and religious organizations. One can be convinced either by personally examining the evidence available or by the believing the word of someone who one considers an authority (often as part of the religious organization one is a member of).

The word "god" has also taken on a whole different meaning. The word god used to mean someone with authority and power. For example: In the bible Jezus applies the word "gods" to human judges? By this definition it's obvious that there are gods, many even. [We could then reserve the word "God" (with a capital letter) for the hypothetical entity which has no authority above him. Which leads to the weird conclusion that (this hypothetical) God would be the only true atheist: a-theist, without-god.]

The word "natural" is also confusing. Regardless of what we personally may think: Assume for a moment that the universe was created by someone who was not created. Now we have the situation that the universe is not "natural", but rather "artificial". The only thing natural would be this creator who what no created.

This makes it currently impossible to reason from within science about intelligent design. Intelligent design is not inherently unscientific, but it does challenge some of the most basis assumptions at the basis of modern day science: The unproven (and perhaps unprovable) conviction that Life, the universe and the rest are all purely natural (and not artificial).

The word "supernatural" is also meaningless. Just try to define any observable phenomenon which is neither natural nor artificial? By implicit definition no observable phenomenon could ever be labeled supernatural. Just the fact that we are able to observe it either makes it natural or artificial. Logic leaves no room for anything else.

Your word games aside, atheists do not believe anything. They only accept as true what they see or can be demonstrated.

Interesting use of generalization with a universal qualifier.

One has to be a wee bit naive to "accept as true" everything that one can see: The truth is often hidden behind very convincing illusions and stories, most of which are not really false. These stories often represent other, more limited, truths, pieces of the reality underneath.

That's an excellent point. I'd agree that I have a somewhat Kantian conceptualist worldview, in that I consider that I have access only to my own experience of the world, not to the world itself, so all knowledge is inherently subjective and particular.

But thinking this way, "there is no truth" is only a synthetic claim of truth, not an analytic one; that is, it is "true" because the terms are logically consistent with each other given the rules that define their context (i.e. language), not because it expresses an objective representation of reality.

In other words, given the subjective and particular nature of my experience of the world, I have no basis on which to construct a universal understanding of the world, so I am therefore incapable of making any analytical claim of truth in any universal sense.

More practically, I'd say that ideas, including the idea of God, and including the processes of science, are useful tools that enhance our experience of the world, not objective and "true" representations of the world, and are best judged on how useful they are, not whether they are "true".

Do you like cola? Yes. Oh, so you are a colaist?

One thing I dislike about society is you have to have a religion - even if it is no religion. As someone else has pointed out it just doesn't matter to some of us - until asked outright.

Well, it does matter to me, tax-wise. In Germany there is kirchensteuer, so it's in your best financial interest to be non-religious.

"Otherwise it would be in your best interest to care"

That's still assuming anything matters. So maybe there is a god that hurts me if I don't do his bidding. What is hurt (just some electrons choosing other paths than for pleasure)? Why should I care? What does it matter, if all I can do is what a god wants me to do?

A Dutch comedian once described this as the church of Aliquid, for people who believe there is "something". Despite most people calling themselves non-religious, Aliquid turned out to be the most popular faith in the Netherlands.

For those interested (Dutch speakers) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvcb5hJuEgU

Mine, too. It's called secular humanism.

ANTI-theism != atheist

It seems disingenuous to mix Agnosicism with Atheism. Both are utterly different - one makes a knowledge claim (atheism) while the other is in a position of neutrality or indifference (agnosticism)

Except that I'm not sure that true atheists, as distinct from agnostics, actually exist. Challenge any atheist and they'll admit that the existence of one or more deities is possible, but very unlikely.

The real distinction is between "teapot agnostics", who think gods are incredibly unlikely, and "proper" agnostics, who actually think it's reasonably probable. Many teapot agnostics will call themselves atheists just for the sake of saving time.

I'll also admit that the existence of Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole in some kind of cloaked fortress and has some kind of time-warp technology that allows him to deliver toys to boys and girls world wide in one night is possible.

Nevertheless, I think it would be stupid to describe myself as a Santa Claus agnostic as opposed to a Santa Claus atheist. We have a very good explanation for the Santa Claus story, so there is zero reason to entertain the notion that it might be true.

Same for gods. We have good explanations for how the god stories arose. We can observe that all human societies have these stories, but that they are inconsistent from society to society. We can observe the the believes are convinced that there is something special about theirs--but we see that for the believers from each.

Given that, agnosticism seems a cop out to me.

I think the Santa Claus analogy is a poor one since the story of Santa Claus or his existent doesn't solve any know problems. God solves a lot of problems, like where do we come from.

To me agnosticism is being open to possibilities and admitting at this current level nobody has all the answers.

Why would they want to Cop out? In most people's mind Atheist and Agnostic are the same thing. [Edit: If you are downvoting it will be helpful if you post a reply]

Saint Nick solves a specific problem: Where do the presents come from over the christmas period. It couldn't have been my parents who put them at the end of my bed because they were asleep and as any child knows it's naughty not to be asleep at night. My parents, the guardians of all that is correct in the world, would NEVER be awake at night. So the only reasonable answer is the one given by my parents, the guardians of all the is correct in the world, that there is an advert for Coke climbing into my house and delivering the presents I so wished for.

Then I grew up and it just didn't seem logical any more. Burdened by the truth that may parents, now no longer the guardians of truth in the world, had played a trick on me I went into the world armed with the knowledge that all is not what it seems and that the search for the truth is difficult and long. Over time I realised that this burden was in fact a candle in the darkness of ignorance. A darkness that is in part inherited and in part constructed by the Guardians (whomever they may be) to keep me from the truth.

So you see good old saint Nick has a very specific role in society. He's a lie told by parents to bring darkness into the world of children under the guise of 'magical enchantment'. For some, he is a catalyst to see the lie but for others he is the first snuffing of the harsh light of inquiry and intellectual endeavour that all children are born with.

Why would you even want to know all the answers? Sure, I understand why you want to convince others that you (or your particular collection of fairy tales) have all the answers.

But then you are talking about power & influence, which I guess is the main reason why something that evolved for biological reasons is still around centuries past its expiration date.

The Santa Claus theory solved two known problems when I was a kid:

1. Where do toys come from?

2. Why should I be good?

Known problem = Fundamental problem

Santa claus solves lots of problems as well, where do christmas presents come from for example? Who can I go thank for christmas for another?

Sure, they are not correct answers, but neither are any that any particular god will answer.

>I'll also admit that the existence of Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole in some kind of cloaked fortress and has some kind of time-warp technology that allows him to deliver toys to boys and girls world wide in one night is possible.

Except you don't.

Why lie so blatantly. If you're trying to establish the truth then you wouldn't do this. This doesn't prove that you always lie to convince other people of your position regardless of it's truth but it does lead us in that direction.

By this same logic I could argue that no scientist is Christian, and no Christian is a scientist.

Ask any scientist who is Christian, "does a good scientist believe claims that cannot be independently verified?" Then ask, "do you believe in god?" The questions "are you a good scientist?" and "can the existence of god be independently verified?" follow.

You'll force this poor scientist to admit they're not a good scientist, or perhaps as a compromise you can say that the existence of god is a hypothesis which they have not yet been able to test to their satisfaction (which doesn't sound like belief to me).

Okay, that's actually not the most common result (I might expect a lecture on politesse, or perhaps a simple request to shut my trap). But I find it detestable to go around and tell people that they label themselves wrong, e.g., "You are not a true atheist." It's almost as villainous to say things like "Strong atheists do not exist." when there are plenty of people who claim to be strong atheists. Say instead something like, "strong atheism is not a tenable position." Or, "strong atheism is logically inconsistent." Then, at least, I won't think of you quite so poorly, and we can argue logic instead of identity.

For the record, I'm positive that there are many good scientists who are also Christians. I'm also positive that there are many strong atheists.

P.S. It's bad enough that as a bisexual male I don't exist, but as a strong atheist too I doubly don't exist. Harsh.

If you really are a strong atheist (ie one with a belief that the probability of the existence of any god is zero rather than merely negligibly small) then I apologise for my assertion of your nonexistence.

What I should have said was that most atheists, such as myself or Richard Dawkins, are really agnostics of the negligibly-small-probability variety.

"Challenge any atheist and they'll admit that the existence of one or more deities is possible, but very unlikely."

To which I counter: "Needlepins & how many angels they can hold." It just doesn't matter.

"God lives in a place where reason can't go" is the kind of weak argument I hate most about theism. If you're arguing about the remote possibility of god existing, you're pulling at straws.

Is it so hard to accept that we are just animals with highly evolved, yet ultimately limited brains? Is it so hard to accept that we can't understand everything?

I prefer "strong atheism" in lieu of the Scottsman-esque term "true atheism."

After all, atheism is commonly just a rejection ("a-") of theism. Adeism, if you will, would be the belief there is absolutely no god. Just like deism weakly claims there is a god but we aren't sure what it's like, but theism tells us everything about this god.

Atheism and agnosticism are orthogonal:

1. If you believe in a god but don't claim to have knowledge, you are a theist agnostic. (This is not that silly. Many people believe things they do not claim to know. For instance, you can believe that P != NP while acknowledging the question as unproven and unknown.)

2. If you don't believe in a god but don't claim to have knowledge, you are an atheist agnostic.

3. If you claim to know, not just believe, that a god exists, you're a theist (but not an agnostic).

4. If you claim to know there are no gods, you're an atheist (but not an agnostic).

5. If you claim that the question, "does a god exist?" cannot be meaningfully answered due to flaws in the nature of the question, then you are a theological noncognitivist.

6. If you claim that the question, "does a god exist?" cannot be answered before defining "god", then you are an ignosticist. An ignosticist who claims that "god" cannot be defined is therefore also claiming that "does a god exist?" can never be answered.

7. If you claim that the question, "does a god exist?" is not worth answering, then you are apatheistic.

8. Alternatively, if you choose to assume that the answer to the question, "does a god exist?" is "no", but do not consider it worth the effort to attempt to answer the question conclusively, then you are apatheistic.

9. If you claim that the question, "does a god exist?" cannot be answered because the question cannot be correctly communicated due to differences in the definition of "god" and/or "exist" between the idiolects of the persons attempting to communicate the question to each other, then you are a philosophy major.

9b. If (9) above applies but you manage to work the word "qualia" into the discussion, then you are a philosophy major and I'm changing the subject.

10. If God exists but denies your existence then what does that make you?

A stance of mine is: try not to talk to people who believe that they have a "rational" or "empirical" proof of God's existence for no bigger fool will you find.

For strict definitions of these words, you are right. In practice I find the following equivalent list of terms more common:

1. Deism

2. Atheism

3. Theism

4. Strong atheism

During the Enlightenment, which was the heyday of deism, philosophical proofs of God's existence were still taken seriously by most deists. So they weren't agnostic at all--they claimed to know, based upon reason, that God existed. A perfectly consistent Enlightenment-era viewpoint.

However, since they only go as far as "God exists" and never get to the more exotic beliefs, namely the beliefs which always were and always will be taken on faith (God had a human son, who was also God, died, and was resurrected; God chose a Middle Eastern ethnic group for a special purpose; God revealed prophecies to certain people; God is from outer space) they weren't religious.

I think a lot of the arguments that conclude that believing in God is irrational are actually prevaricating on the word "believe".

You qualified definition '1' with "this is not silly" - on the contrary, I think it is in many cases the most reasonable option.

Really comes down to a matter of definitions. For example, many would claim that atheism is simply the lack of a belief. Some would define agnosticism as the positive belief that the existence of God cannot be known. But these are just example definitions.

Grouping atheists with agnostics is as catch-all as 'Christianity'. I was educated Anglican and to me it's as vastly different from Catholicism as you can tell, my youth minister was actually a methodist and the assistant was baptist. My shop teacher was actually a Quaker, who actively disbelieved in the hierarchical structure of church, who was the person who probably put me on a path to agnosticism.

My agnosticism is of the - God's existence cannot be proven or disproven (at least in my lifetime, or potentially within the human races existence as homo sapiens) so it's illogical to take the side of religion or anti-religion. The logical conclusion (to me) is that it is an unknowable variable, concerning myself with it is a wasted effort.

Besides Greek Mythology has all the cool stories, Heracles slaying Hyrdas and freeing Prometheus. If religion can't entertain me in the slightest then it truly holds no value to me.

I agree definitions vary, and that can cause confusion. For example, people unsure of what to believe can label themselves agnostic. Some call this "fence sitting". At the same time there is what's called weak atheism and strong atheism, the latter asserting there are no gods, which of course is a stupid assertion to make in an absolute sense. So weak atheism makes the most sense as it makes no assertion; it's just the absence of belief. So a weak atheist could technically be labeled agnostic, which is how I define myself, and appears the most rational definition for having no god belief.

There's a definition to atheism I've read once that I think it's the best way to define what atheism means to me: An atheist doesn't believe in god the same way he doesn't believe in santa claus, or werewolves. It's not that he can positively proof god does not exist, only that there's no reason, given current evidences, to believe.

Exactly. :)

I wouldn't agree with this assessment. Atheism is not a knowledge claim; it's just disbelief in God. Similarly, I don't believe in intelligent life on other worlds, but that isn't a knowledge claim — there's just no good reason to believe in it.

Agnosticism, however, is a knowledge claim: It's the claim that God is is unknowable.

I have to respectfully disagree. I think you have your definitions mixed up.

Agnosticism is 'There may be a god, but I don't care enough to claim one way or the other', I think the 'fence sitting' argument is good.

Atheism is: 'There is no god' ie, Richard Dawkins

Atheism is a stronger claim than Agnosticism.

Who is upvoting this? Dawkins - and according to the Dawkins scale / the poll he ran, most atheists - do not claim there is no god. (That's "strong atheism" and a minority viewpoint, as it is a faith statement.) He rejects Christianity, etc., but leaves open the possibility that some definition of a god may exist, while claiming that such a being is unlikely and unproven.

Dawkins' scale of belief is at:


He describes himself as a 6 - that's an agnostic atheist. That means lacks belief, but does not entirely rule out the possibility of a deity.

> Atheism is: 'There is no god' ie, Richard Dawkins

You have just misquoted Richard Dawkins.

Your description of agnosticism is also wrong; you described apatheism.

Agnostic: Unsure. Apatheist: Doesn't care. Atheist: Rejects theism.

You can be all of the three.

I don't believe there is a god, so I am Atheist. I also don't think the answer to "is there a god?" can be answered definitiely. That makes me Agnostic. I also think that since the answer cannot be determined, the question is a silly one. That makes me an Apathist too.

as far as everyday life goes, would it make a difference? Being part of the religions usually means various changes to your routines

I think the split is a fairly good indication of how rational someone is. People who consider themselves atheist tend to act more rationally in the bayesian sense.

I'd like to see a split between atheists and agnostics, particularly because the numbers are so high in that category in this community. I would guess that there would be many more agnostics than atheists. I don't think that being an entrepreneur is particularly bayesianly rational :)

Not necessarily--rational Bayesians are more often atheists, but lots of atheists are completely irrational people who have been raised with atheist beliefs by secular liberal society, just like lots of religious people are completely irrational people who have been raised by religious society. (There are also a small number of highly rational people who have, in my opinion, a very small, God-shaped blind spot in their thinking.)

Although, an agnostic who is aware of the implications of Pascal's Wager would probably still implement those changes.

Pascal's Wager is ridiculous. It is rooted in a false dichotomy and attempts to salve the conscience by the acceptance of a contradiction.

Ok, if you feel it is not a dichotomy, you are right.

I only ever interpreted the dichotomoy as 'there are zero deities' or 'there are one or more deities'.

Perhaps I like Pascal's Wager more than it deserves because it reminds me of: http://xkcd.com/525/

The zero vs. one-or-more dichotomy hits the nail on the head. The problem with Pascal's wager is that its rationale can apply to every proposition. If you're committed to err on the side of safety, you need to accept every possible non-falsifiable idea, because, hey, what if it's true?

Taken to its logical conclusion, accepting Pascal's wager would at best generate immense amounts of cognitive dissonance as you attempted to integrate potentially infinite contradictory ideas into your worldview.

I'm not sure there is a false dichotomy present there. You're either going to burn in hell or you're not. The downside of trying something to get out of that sentence is small and upside is big. It's terrible theology but it's decent logic.

It's false in the sense that it only provides two options and seems to indicate those are the only two options. Believe in the Christian God or don't. It doesn't take in to account Jupiter or Zeus or any other potential deities in determining the 'logic' of choosing to believe or not.

I think it's a false dichotomy because there is more than two possible outcomes. At one end you have 'there is no god' in which case it doesn't matter, fine, but then at the other end there's more than just 'worship God' - there's also 'worship multiple Gods', or 'worship the devil', or endless other possibilities of worship, with no strong reason to pick any one of them.

Unless I have misunderstood the Wager.

I think the assumption is that you are considering believing in a Christian God and on those terms the wager is valid. As far as I know other religions offer little promises in terms of what happens if you stick with it.

I think category A would be believing in Jesus and category B would be not believing in Jesus whatever that means to you.

If the wager deals with only the Christian god, it's arbitrarily limited and has little value.

Not if you're an agnostic in regards to e.g. Buddhism rather than brimstone Christianity.

Hah, I never thought of Pascal's wager in terms of contestability before.

If Agnosticism and Atheism (and nonreligious) were different options I would have a problem choosing which one to vote (and I think many other people here too). There is a lot of overlap among these options, and the definitions vary.

There is more than one definition of Atheism (some classify them in weak and strong atheism, but even these two classes aren't enough for some), and there are different "levels" of Agnosticism depending on your country or culture. Some of these differences are because of communication issues. For example, there is controversy if "lack of belief" and "disbelief" are synonymous (compare with "not liking" and "disliking"). When books on such topics are translated to other languages, such nuances may get lost.

Both are utterly different - one makes a knowledge claim (atheism) while the other is in a position of neutrality or indifference (agnosticism)

Sure, but making a knowledge claim doesn't make it any less objective or wise than being neutral.

I can say that there is definitely not a red 1982 Chevy Silverado orbiting Jupiter and that's a "knowledge claim", yet someone who says they're not sure or are neutral about my claim don't hold a superior position in any sense and would, in fact, look a little silly given the lack of evidence against it.

Absence of evident is not the evident of absence.

bundling those together is approx equal to saying one is non-superstitious/non-makebelieve.

Agnostics are just sissy Atheists.

What? They are so - they don't believe in God, but also don't want to bring down the hellfire and brimstone just in case they're wrong!

Whenever I (atheist) meet religious people and start nerd raging, I remind myself of the following:

The world makes equally amounts of sense for a religious person as it does to an atheist.

It's easy to dismiss religion when you're an atheist, because science makes so much sense that it is a perfectly adequate explanation of the world around us (in the sense that it acknowledges that proving things are difficult). But for a religious person, religion makes just as much sense and adequately explains the world around them.

I think the two should be viewed as poles that have nothing in common and are complete opposites. And both should acknowledge that either may or may not be correct.

If more atheists thought that way about theists, and more theists thought that way about atheists, I think we'd all have a better time on this planet.

Message boards would be a dying business, though.

We have very different ideas of 'adequate' then. For example, I'll take modern medicine over faith healing any day.

I always wonder about the argument that since I believe in a higher power I am excluded from a belief in science and medicine. It is mostly an argument to diminish someone's position and make them defend territory that 90+% of religious people don't believe or want to defend.

On a personal level, I am a Christian and I believe in the Big Bang (let there be light). I don't have any problems with evolution (1). I believe in pursuing science and medicine is good and fits in fine with that whole dominion thing (Genesis 1:26). One's faith is awful fragile if using the mind we were given breaks our world. I personally can't prove a lot of things (love for example), but I have faith. I don't follow everything in the bible (for example: Deuteronomy 23:12-14 and Exodus 21:2-6), but it is an inspired work not literal and some practices just aren't acceptable these days. I really think it is also important to understand that there seems to be an unfortunate separation between people's belief and the earthly institutions that are supposed to embody them.

1) if you breed dogs for ability (e.g. hunting) and don't believe in evolution or Darwin's writings on the subject, then I am really confused how you explain the whole adaption thing.

The problem that I have is that the 90+% of religious people are awfully hazy on which bits of the bible are inspired vs. literal, but all too keen to inflict the results of their beliefs on everyone else, despite no credible evidence that they have any benefit - universal suffrage, contraception, homosexuality/same sex marriage, single mothers, abortion, the earth going around the sun, etc.

In fact, religion has been fighting a rearguard action against science and the enlightenment for hundreds of years now; there's not a huge amount left to believe in, from what I can see.

That's a false dichotomy for the vast majority of religious people. There are very few people that believe exclusively in faith healing and don't accept modern medicine.

This always struck me as unfair - and as an indication that religious types haven't really studied their own beliefs.

Either science is bunk and god answers prayer, or science works and you can use medicine. Of course, the decisions to go to church as use medicine and largely automatic and irrational / social for many.

Faith healing was just an example. You can substitute pretty much any "because God said so" explanation.

I think the reason that the world makes sense for most people is because they have their adequacy levels set too high - they're too used to 'hand wavy' explanations and not having to actually think through things for themselves.

I think that was augustl's point. Most atheist understand just as little about science as most religious people understand about God.

And is there any difference really between a "because God said so" explanation and a "because the Doctor said so" explanation? To follow either, you must rely on faith in the goodness and wisdom of the instruction given as you don't fully understand the reasoning behind it. To the religious and science-skeptic alike, the explanations used by the other camp sounds "hand wavy".

But Truth is Truth and both religion and science, if practiced well, will guide the earnest seeker along.

For the "because the Doctor said so" version, you can at least ask for an explanation. If you ask, there'll be a number of papers and/or scientific studies behind the decision and the doctor will be able to tell you their reasoning, which is normally straightforward ie. we can treat it like this, which gives you an x% chance of recovery, or like that which is x+y%

I'm confused - why all the downvotes? My initial comment above is currently below the "Why isn't there a Cowboy Neal option?"

It's not a false dichotomy at all, as far as I can see. If you take religion at face value, then of course modern medicine shouldn't work and faith healing should - one of these is going against the will of God after all. It's an adequate explanation most of the time... until you have to cure a disease.

With the important difference science is repeatable and verifiable. Don't trust CERN's data? Build a particle accelerator and measure it yourself.

How do you test/compare different, mutually-excluding hypothesis on the existence and characteristics of god given by the various religions?

You know perfectly well an all-powerful god is a logical impossibility.

It's not hard to be atheist or agnostic and a Buddhist. It's fundamentally a very god-optional religion (though some traditions add them back in, like Jodo Shinshu).

Statements about the nature of reality arrived at through a mystical methodology conflict with scientific materialism even if no god is involved.

Perhaps so, but neither atheism nor agnosticism is equivalent to scientific materialism.

No, but I'd be willing to bet that a large portion of the atheists here are atheists because of such a viewpoint.

Precisely. I don't care two shits whether God exists or not, frankly--that's not the interesting question. And "scientific materialism" is a bad way to cast it--materialism is a metaphysical system while science is an epistemic system.

I'm nonreligious because I don't believe claims without a good argument behind them. Buddhism is a set of claims without any good arguments just the same as Christianity, whether or not those claims are about gods and resurrected demigods or not.

I agree that's probably true, but I don't understand your point. I was just observing that Buddhists are likely to also be atheists, since the OP seemed to consider overlap unlikely.

Ha! I actually just finished arguing with somebody about the possibility of an agnostic Christian.

(I think this is possible)

Many schools of buddhism revere different buddhas as gods, believe reincarnation, a buddhist hell, etc. All too familiar.

All religions have something useful to be gleaned, as do nearly all books, even if the useful content of that book amounts to a single sentence.

Those ideas are not the core of buddhism. Its like saying that christians believe in the easter bunny. They are just historical and cultural baggage that got along for the ride.

No. You both are wrong.

Buddhist hell is not a place or something to believe in, but it's an explanation of a certain state of mind. The same for god.

So it's not a tradition or something to believe in (btw it's nothing to believe in buddhism as it'd contradict the basis of a buddhism where you just practice with the guidance of your teacher, you don't believe in things but rather check them).

Btw it's a pity and quite a cultural harm that mistranslations or just inability of western discoverers of buddhism to think beyond some closed view caused spreading lots of bullshit about buddhism.

Some time ago I put together a survey on programming languages and religious affiliation. http://www.kimsal.com/reldevsurvey/results.php and the filtered data is at http://www.kimsal.com/reldevsurvey/filtereddata.txt if anyone would care to pull it down and play with it.

Here's the visualization of the current poll snapshot (as of 11:47pm EST): http://hackerpolls.heroku.com/polls/44

Disclosure: I created this awhile ago and almost forgot about it until I saw this poll

My belief in God is at the same level as my belief in a multiverse of which we are just one universe amongst infinite.

- It would be great if this were true (Yay afterlife/alternate worlds!)

- No one can provide any convincing evidence for existence.

- It is impossible to prove nonexistence.

- The truth of this matter has absolutely no influence on my life. i.e. focus on other things should take priority before focus on this, although it is always fun to read about and debate existence.

I fluctuate constantly between being an agnostic and being a believer in God.

Truth of the matter is, when misfortune/tragedy strikes (like the loved ones having health problems) it really helps to believe in God.

My wife just gave birth to a premature child. He's a boy and he's in very good health, but he was born at 30 weeks (now he's at 32). Her water broke at 27 weeks.

We were on the cutting-edge with this pregnancy ever since the start ... she had 2 embryonic bags (most likely twins) and lost one, causing her an ugly hemorrhage and a detachment of the other bag. This detachment was nullified by the child growing, and her water breaking was totally unrelated to that (urinary infection).

After the water broke, the child stayed in her for another 3 weeks, because at 27 weeks children are not viable. This was a dangerous and highly unlikely outcome ... when water breaks most women go into labor immediately. And if not ... it is dangerous because the amniotic fluid was mostly gone and both mother and child could have suffered (even death) from a uterus infection.

And I could say that this was just our luck or that we had some kind of a divine intervention ... I prefer the later, and I would probably go mad if it was the former.

I also noticed another thing ... I have several friends that are now doctors, and I also made lots of friends in the hospital since my wife was hospitalized. People working in health-care have an easier time believing in God than in any other profession I know. Probably because they witness highly unlikely events a lot (miracles do happen).

> People working in health-care have an easier time believing in God

I know a great many doctors, nurses and other health-care workers and I don't know a single one who believes in any gods. Maybe it's just a UK thing, but watching good people die painfully and slowly is fairly destructive to blind faith in an allegedly benevolent god.

> miracles do happen

[citation needed]

> watching good people die painfully and slowly is fairly destructive to blind faith in an allegedly benevolent god

How about the other way around? ... people surviving with all odds against them.

> [citation needed]

I think I just gave you one.

> How about the other way around?

The occasional lucky survivor does not somehow balance out the rest.

> people surviving with all odds against them.

Sometimes people survive when doctors think they won't. The human body is remarkably resilient. That makes it unlikely. Unlikely != miracle.

One in a million miracles happen about once in every million times.

1. I'm not sure why forcing yourself to believe in god (if that is even possible—I don't think it is) helps in times of tragedy. One, you know you're just telling yourself stuff to make yourself feel better. This, in itself, can't feel good. Two, it is not comforting to know that there's this benevolent god up there who exists but is doing nothing to stop your tragic situation.

2. I know of no documented miracles. In fact, such a proposition is unproveable, as is the claim that "miracles do happen".

> 2. I know of no documented miracles. In fact, such a proposition is unproveable, as is the claim that "miracles do happen".

Thing is, anything can happen ... it's just a matter of probability. Think of any impossible event (like an angel, i.e. a shiny humanoid with wings, integrating in front of your eyes) and that's possible. It's just highly unlikely.

In that light I consider miracles to be very unlikely events. Life on earth is such an event, especially since we haven't found proof that life exists on other planets yet, although we have found the proper conditions (like water).

And if life exists on such a planet, did it manage to evolve like us? This is even more unlikely since we may not have the means to observe bacteria from a distance, but we could observe artificial lights and non-random radio signals coming from other planets.

And then ... if we manage to build interstellar ships and expand to other planets, that will be prof in itself that no other intelligent beings managed to do that ... simply because aliens had a lot of time to expand to earth before we appeared (after all, if you have enough room to expand, the growth rate is exponential).

You can say that life happened by chance, but currently intuition suggests otherwise.

Not only that ... but the miracles you witness everyday stop being miracles. Babies being born are a miracle, simply because this probably doesn't happen in any other of the billions of galaxies. And you being able to transcend your original condition and reason about such things is another.

>- It would be great if this were true (Yay afterlife/alternate worlds!)

Why can't you do enough in one life? Craving for an afterlife is the pastime of procrastinators.

On the matter of proving nonexistence, this is possible. The problem lies with the definition of a god.

Whenever you try to proof anything, you assume the world is causal/deterministic. An omnipotent influence is therefore also deterministic. This makes any god equal to a law of nature. Define your 'law that is a god' and it can be proven to exist/not-exist in theory.

- It would be great if this were true (Yay afterlife/alternate worlds!)

Must there be a God for there to be an afterlife?

My thoughts are that religion and God is about, or at least originates from a desire for, the afterlife. Hence, deathbed conversions, the focus on heaven, hell, and eternal damnation. Thus God -> Afterlife, and the converse is not really focused on.

I am not an adherent of any organized religion, but this question is puzzling:

Where did stuff come from? There are two possibilities, either 1] it was put there, or 2] it was just there to begin with.

God is an easy solution, but then where did he come from? Same problem.

Maybe there are other possibilities that our brains just aren't able to process at this stage in our evolution.

Anyway, before anyone says "the big bang", isn't that the explanation of how stuff got where it is, rather than how it came to be to begin with? It started with a singularity, where'd that come from?

That is a classic philosophical question.


>God is an easy solution, but then where did he come from? Same problem.

God isn't made of matter and does not experience linear time.

(We can't comprehend the answer to this question).

How do you know?

Maybe there are other possibilities that our brains just aren't able to process at this stage in our evolution.

Voila. You nailed it.

This can be turned around ... maybe our brains aren't able to process the existence of God.

I think this was about the ability to understand a fundamental concept.

The fundamental concept of a god can be easily grasped by small children. There is a powerful being. He controls physical laws. How hard is that?

It is hard to sustain such understanding ... all children believe at some point in Santa Claus, but that's only because they receive gifts (or fear punishment in the case of God) and they believe in general whatever the parents tell them to.

Einstein's theory wasn't believed by the public until it was proven.

So yes ... if God exists, our primary senses cannot perceive Him, and although I have reasons to believe He exists, all of them are subjective, but as our species evolves we may actually be able to.

Who is to say that our concept of things "coming from" places even corresponds to anything real with respect to the origin of reality? Why must we presume that the universe has a definite point of origin in space and time?

What came before the singularity is a great question.

It's delicious to theorise for fun.

One day we may even figure it out.

Hmm, mostly agnostic eh? Looks like a startup could shake things up here. Let's bootstrap a new religion! http://god.ly has a nice ring to it.

languages, frameworks, etc are the religions around here. Do you believe in node.js? jquery? git?

mix it up with some virtual currency and you're ready to rock the IPO

ok I clicked that link. http://god.ly

Aha, here's why it hasn't been squatted:

Strings shorter than four symbols long are to be registered directly under .ly ONLY through Libya Telecom and Technology in the upcoming period to guarantee that registrants have Local presence.


Luckily God is omnipresent, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Secular Humanist, so I filed under non/agnon/etc.


My opinion is that the argument FOR the existence of God is just as philosophically bankrupt to argue AGAINST the existence of God. Best answer: I don't know.

Secular humanism covers the majority of my values without ascribing to any dogmatism. I have a feeling a lot more people are actually secular humanist, but may not know it.

Secular humanism feels too much like a brand name for a set of ideologies I may or may not fully agree with. I don't really need anyone else to come up with a brand name for my ideology, especially since it changes every week or so when I meditate for two hours and do my Bayesian updates. (Joke).

Where's the vim option?

I considered it, but then I would have to add Emacs, and then I'd have to add Lisp, and it would've just gotten messy. ;-)

falls under paganism with emacs.

Where's the Cowboy Neil option?

Wrong website :-)

Missed Paganism (or 'Paganism/Newage', as I frequently see it, much to my annoyance).

Also, I bet there's at least 14 people here who would fill out 'Jedi' on their census form.

Is Paganism a religion, or a large collection of (now defunct and poorly-understood) religions?

What are the ontological claims of paganism? Precisely which supernatural beings does paganism assert the existence of?

There's actual paganism, which is gone. If you ever hear someone say "nobody seriously thinks Thor exists anymore", they're talking about paganism.

In recent decades, people (for whatever reason) decided to try and restart paganism--if you meet a "pagan" today, they're actually following one of these reconstituted religions.

I personally have trouble taking neopaganism seriously, largely because I've never known any serious neopagans, only disaffected suburban teenage girls who wanted some excuse, however flimsy, to be nonconformists. I've known people who took religion seriously, and I've known neopagans, but I've never met anyone in the intersection set. So my perception of neopaganism is quite dismissive.

If your only experience of OSS was Richard Stallman, you might dismiss everyone who contributes to open source software as a bearded lunatic.

There's a lot of very serious and studious Pagans out there, but they don't tend to be as obviously 'look at me, I'm SPOOKY' as the kids you're talking about. For a trivially easy to find example, consider the Pagan Federation. In Scotland they work with government interfaith groups and are consulted for things like religious diversity training material and non-denominational chapels in hospitals.

Most Pagans I know look a lot more like RMS than someone who shops at Hot Topic.

I guess my other problem with neopaganism is the same problem I have with all new religious movements. Any religion is irrational, but older religions at least have the excuse that you were likely born and raised in them, and the wider society may in fact pressure you into taking them seriously. If you're nonconformist enough to reject traditional religion, being taken in by nontraditional religion makes you more of a mark than the typical Christian.

Modern Paganism (or 'neopaganism', but that's a mouthful and unnecessary when it's obvious from context you don't mean ancient paganism) is really an umbrella term that covers a pretty wide range of religious beliefs and practices.

There's Wicca, who believe in most of the things you see in the 'Idiots Guide' books to Witchcraft, there's various different breeds of reconstructionists who take archeological information about the ancient Pagan religions, fill in the many blanks to make it more appropriate for modern life, and have a go at that. They might believe in anything from the Norse pantheon to the Greek one.

There's Druids, who are proper nature-worshippers and really do perform ceremonies at Stonehenge, when they get a chance in between all the hippies.

There's technopagans, who believe in the spirit in the machine.

LeVay Satanists tend to get included under 'Paganism', although they might object. Same with Discordians.

It's an eclectic group.

that's a precise number to bet

thanks now I'm picturing a stealthed YC startup with exactly 14 employees, and their business is making and selling light-sabres

His Jedi-sense told him it was 14.

upvote you I will! for the Karma is my ally, and a strong ally it is

oblig. Einstein repeatedly argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary. No such faith comforts the software engineer. Fred Brooks, p. 184 The Mythical Man-Month 2nd ed.

It's interesting to me that several people I greatly admire in comp sci/technology are religious: Fred Brooks, Knuth, Larry Wall and Clayton Christensen (The Innovator's Dilemma).

To me, one aspect of the idea of God is as a workable label for all the things I don't know (especially those questions I know not of; the doors I have not suspected exist; the things my philosophy does not dream of; the unknown unknowns). Also helps me to seek questions (define problems) even if I can't imagine knowing the answer (finding solutions). It helps me to just let it be.

Another aspect is political: human beings, like other apes, tend to organize around a dominant male (and even chickens have a pecking order). When groups grew in size due to agriculture and civilization, this scaled to super-dominant males - gods embodied in persons (I'm thinking ancient Egypt). This was dangerous. The next innovation was to transfer that "super-dominance" to a person who doesn't actually exist. This is safer, and of course this imaginary personage can embody all those ideas an actual human can only move towards but never attain. Although wars were still fought in the name of a God, there was a separation. That's a theory of mine anyway. Feel free to poke holes, build it up, tear it down (esp with evidence).

Most people are religious and that number is only decreasing recently, thus one should expect a certain number of luminaries in any domain to be religious.

Looking through history and trying to discern intent is a difficult thing to do. I don't think any of the development of God(s) as a concept was done with much long term intent but was likely as most things are done the result of mutually beneficial agreements made on the spot to secure wealth and power between the parties to the agreement.

Basically, stuff happens and then people talk their book, each gains a number of supporters and the interested parties create a consensus or official truth that best meshes with the official truth from the previous event. The magna carta wasn't signed because the King or Parliament had some love of freedom. The opportunity existed for a power grab and they took it. Even the Declaration of Independence was heavily watered down after it reached committee. Sure, Jefferson and Washington might have been true believers but most of the signatories were want to exclude things that would negatively impact their bottom line. (eg. abolishing slavery). Look at the list of grievances it's mostly about money.

> the result of mutually beneficial agreements made on the spot to secure wealth and power between the parties to the agreement ... Look at the list of grievances it's mostly about money.

This is a very superficial perspective, born of a bad recollection of history.

Christianity gained dominance and power during the fall of Rome, a movement born on the streets of a decaying society, with the Christians prosecution having the negative effect of drawing the attention of the public ... a public which was hungry for a saner sense of moral values.

The power grabbing taking place was only to secure their freedom of religion, at least initially.

Of course, as with all religions ... Christianity was used to control the masses and did ended being used for power grabbing. But that's mostly because uneducated masses are stupid as cows ... and you can credit the translated Bibles for people's willingness to learn how to read.

I didn't mean it to be with long-term intent, but similar to the adoption of a technology: groups that use it prosper, and others join them, or copy them, or are out-traded, outnumbered or conquered by them. There might not be any conscious thought at all, except - they look cool, let's copy.

That's all fine as long as you don't make the leap from "my imaginary friend is useful" to "my imaginary friend is real".

I would however assert an unnecessary semantic overloading -- why use a word (God) that has so many assumptions built into it? Invent a new word, and confuse fewer people.

> That's all fine as long as you don't make the leap from "my imaginary friend is useful" to "my imaginary friend is real".

You seem to assume that the later is a bad outcome. Also you can't really have a useful "imaginary friend" if don't believe he's real, or do you?

> why use a word (God) that has so many assumptions built into it? Invent a new word, and confuse fewer people.

Because God is word with a clearly defined semantic and definition ...

  the supernatural being conceived as the perfect and omnipotent and 
  omniscient originator and ruler of the universe
All unanswered questions about the Universe or God start with the most important question ...

  considering the law of Action-Reaction, how did it all started?
Which has the nice property that has the answer to all unanswered questions. And if you're going to answer that with "some superior, omnipotent being (whose existence we can't comprehend) did it all", then it's philosophy 101 ...

  there can't be two unsurpassable beings each of which is God
So why have another word with a watered-down meaning for it?

Not to get all solipsistic, but we can only validate our ideas against our experience of reality, not objective reality itself. If the imaginary friend is part of your experience of reality, and indeed something that you seek to experience because of its usefulness, what's the significance of the distinction you made above?

I realize you're speaking generally rather than addressing the comment you're replying to, but I did say "the idea of God".

Honestly I think it's a cultural thing. It's easier to just leave what you don't know to an unknown thing called "god". That's just laziness imo and fear, and probably hope that we are somehow immortal.

So the more we know, the fewer thing remain to be labeled 'god'...

I am an atheistic Jew. A Jew can be defined as a member of the religion or as a member of the ethnic group; this often causes confusion.

Especially when someone claims to be a member of an ethnic group because their parents were of the corresponding religion.

Yes. I think there is also a confusion about what is an ethnic group (breed versus culture).

I think I'm willing to entertain the idea of God on a philosophical level, but not on a practical day to day life level.

How could you? The idea of God by itself is just a weird metaphysical claim like "maybe we're all actually in the Matrix"--okay, I fully admit that possibility, but there's nothing I can do about it, by itself.

Which is why theistic religions don't stop with God. They say things like, "God exists, and he says don't eat pork. Seriously. DON'T EAT PORK." That's actionable.

To be fair about the Biblical food and health mentions, it was more a health guide for the ancient world than anything else. Deuteronomy 23:9-14 are about cleanliness and Leviticus 11 covers the food.

Yes, but the whole God thing is just to motivate people not to eat pork. Apparently, people are more willing to do what they're told if you claim the instructions are of supernatural origin.

I find it strange to separate philosophy from practicality. If your philosophy does not have practical implications, you're doing it wrong.

I'm also not a pagan nor a Christian, but I celebrate their Christmas holiday.

But that would be for either traditional or cultural reasons, not philosophical reasons.

Interesting question. I have lot of theories regarding religion and I wonder if the HN community is interested discussing them.

Just one question now (for Atheists): Why don't you believe in God. Do you have a good reason? Is it because it doesn't interest you? Is it because of a scientific theory that proved to you that God don't exist?

From someone raised in the Christian church:

I was taught from a very young age certain things about God and man: that God was all-knowing and all-powerful; that God was the creator of everything; that man was irrevocably prone to sin and therefore needed a savior; that God chose certain people to save; that heaven was the ultimate destination for those who were saved; etc...

As I grew older, I began to realize that other people had substantially different beliefs from the ones with which I had been inculcated. This was a realization only because I had been intentionally isolated from people who thought differently from my parents and educators. I noticed that what these different belief systems had in common was their moral program. All Abrahamic religions, and many others, prescribe how people ought to behave. But this moral program is not much different from common sense under conditions of abundance. The ways in which they differ are more interesting and are mostly tuned to ensure their adherents perpetuate the system.

So, with this in hand, it became readily apparent that the bulk of organized religion was a historical artifact from the time when peoples of old were figuring out how to treat one another (back at the emergence of what we term "civilization"). It is possible (and in my opinion, now necessary) to separate moral education from religious indoctrination since, ironically, much of the unrest in civilization is now caused by the differences in religious prescription rather than differences in morality.

Either that, or religious thought reeks of delusion and lacks any evidence whatsoever for what it claims. Seriously, I don't know any religious person who can demonstrate any reason for their belief other than indoctrination. Prove me wrong.

Faith is the belief in what you can't prove. From a strictly rational point of view, it's a kind of madness, and the gospels explicitly point it out.

To use a source I'm sure you know, in I Corinthians 13 there is an apparent contradiction: even if you act piously, you act in vain if if you don't feel love. The religious experience is emotional and visceral, not logical. It comes before codes and rules. From this perspective, Pascal's Wager is irrelevant: if you don't follow a moral code because you believe in it, then you won't fool anyone, much less an omniscient God.

I'm not familiar with this contradiction. Could you explain further? Where does it mention it's important to "feel" love? I've always thought it says "have love" - as in your pious nature is pointless unless you are capable of loving; as in it serves no purpose because it will not be acted upon. Similar to the idea that knowledge is pointless unless used. Or ideas are pointless unless executed...

You're correct in that it uses the term have instead of feel, but my understanding is that it's the other way around: "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." In other words, if you act only because you expect a reward in the after-life, or because you want to show how pious you are, or simply because you are self-destructive, you aren't practicing true charity. I believe this is a deontological argument, but I'm not really equipped to discuss theology or ethics.

I'm still not understanding. Christianity isn't a works-based religion, and so the passage referring to "profit" on an eternal scale wouldn't make sense. By "profit me nothing", I understand it as meaning: personally I am not in any way becoming a 'better' person through the good works that I am doing (regardless of whether the consequences are good), because I myself am not doing them for the right reasons (that's where the deontological part comes in). I've never understood this as meaning one should have good intentions because one will be rewarded in the after-life.

Anyway, we're digressing. If you agree that it says "have love" (or charity), why in the first place would you take it as "feel"? They're two very different things.

I agree with your interpretation, and I was just extrapolating and making some logical jumps in the process. The point is that, from this point of view, a person can't rationally choose to be good. She can go through the motions, but if she doesn't have the gift of unconditional love (agape, the original Greek word), she's just losing her time. My take from this is that the act without the gift (which is internal and emotional, hence "feeling") is just as moot as the gift without the act (as described in Matthew 5.)

I'm not sure your example proves your assertion. This isn't sarcasm, I simply don't follow your reasoning. I will acknowledge, though, that the scriptures certainly do assert (Hebrews 11:1) the distinction between faith and proof.

I was using the word "prove" ironically. My actual contention was that believers lack not just proof, but also reason. They act certain, but cannot explain their certainty except with self-referential argument. It was this inability to maintain coherence that finally undid my faith.

I see. The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so. There's no logic to follow here. So how can people be so sure? As I said, it's because they believe deep down in their emotions, not in their logical mind. You can't be convinced; you have to be converted.

EDIT: What I'm trying to say is that Christianity isn't meant to be intellectually satisfying. It's about flesh and blood, as you can see from the Holy Supper. Christians ritually eat the Messiah to be united with Him.

Given the poll results, it seems like you're preaching to the choir ;)

>much of the unrest in civilization is now caused by the differences in religious prescription rather than differences in morality.

[citation needed]

Most of the unrest in civilization has the same source it's always had: fighting over wealth and/or power. Often leaders of these fights will claim some religious reason but what you have to ask yourself is; if you took religion out of the equation would they stop fighting or would they come up with some other reason.

I presume what you had in mind was the US vs. Iraq/Afghanistan but given that we know there were no terrorists (nor WMDs) in Iraq what "religious" component was there exactly? There are some pretty obvious "power" components though.

If you truly are interested in being proven wrong or at least have your beliefs tried, there are plenty of books out there on non-religious people becoming religious.

I don't believe in God because I've never heard a good reason to believe in God. I find it odd that you presume a need for a good reason to not believe in something. If I did need such reasons, I'd need a good reason to not believe in invisible pink unicorns, teapots in orbit around Saturn, and many other things. (Apologies if I've misinterpreted you.)

Good answer. It means that you are ready to believe if there are a really convincing reason; which is what I'm looking for.

But my question was mainly to check if you are not believing for a specific reason. A simple reason is "If God exist, why doesn't him make his existence CLEAR, without ambiguity by some kind of magical power or miracle."

Of course, with a convincing reason I'll believe, that's the definition of "convincing" :)

I don't think non-believers "not-believe" for a specific reason, just as believers don't believe for a specific reason.

It just seems highly unlikely that there's a "god". Just as it seems highly unlikely that there are aliens from another planet living among us, or that I can levitate by merely willing it to happen. Quite unlikely, but happy to be shown/proven wrong :)

or quantum

Let's assume that neither of us know if God REALLY exists...don't you think it might be safer to hedge your bet and believe in a god - for the afterlife?

What will it cost you to believe in God while you are alive? Nothing.

What will it cost you if there really is a god and you chose not to believe? Could cost you eternity. So why not believe? The upside is (in the worst case) the same as not believing, but the downside (in the worst case) could be eternal damnation.

This is ofcourse assuming that the person that does exist, believes in the right god.

"So why not believe?"

How is it that easy? We're not picking a team to support in the Finals series. The idea of believing in a "god" to me is as foreign as believing in a tooth fairy. When an employee of mine is openly religious, it is to me akin to him espousing a belief in something purely fantastical - tooth fairy, Santa Claus, etc. His choice and I don't deride it, but to me it is all entirely bizarre.

When I look at mysteries of our existence, of the creation of our universe, at no point does any fibre of my being whatsoever think to consider that a god-like higher power might be behind it all.

And even if you could force yourself to believe, without doubt, which god are you going to believe in to guarantee yourself some sort of 'eternity'?

Might not be the best idea to comment on your personal feelings regarding an employee's religious affiliation. It'd suck to have a HN post submitted as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit.

Edit: Why the down-vote? The parent has his company and website in his info. No idea what it's like in AUS, but in the states, if someone was fired and there was any ambiguity regarding the reason, this comment could be be admissible in court to demonstrate a prior discriminatory attitude toward people based on their religion.

Thanks for the reminder - obviously it's something that some people might be concerned about and if I wanted to play it especially safely, I would.

I don't discriminate against the guy. We are open about our positions and can discuss it at the right times, but all it is, is a difference in belief in one aspect of life (admittedly, a big aspect of his life). I pay him more than I pay myself and he is an invaluable employee who does great work for me. I think the only way he'd lose his job here is if I ran out of work for him to do!

I am just framing my perspective so that a religious person might comprehend it. e.g., Santa Claus is an identity that some people believe in at some point but not at another, and at that later point they (hopefully) have zero doubt about their belief.

To get it further back on track: If I suggested that you (marcamillion, not frederick) believed in Santa Claus to get better presents, how would you even do it? You know Santa doesn't actually deliver presents with his reindeer, right? You'd stake your house and life on it, surely?

The question about believing in Santa...as in...how do you do it? That's a very interesting question. I never thought of it like that before. The truth is, I don't know the answer to that.

Given that I don't know how to believe in Santa, I can't say I would stake my house and life on it.

I was saying that you'd stake your house and life on Santa Claus (as the entity that delivers presents to every child in one night with his reindeer) not existing. Not even the smallest bit of doubt enters your head. You are absolutely 100% confident.

That's how many atheists feel about the god considered by most Christians. Short of some insane brainwashing, it's just not possible to force yourself to "believe" just in case it proves useful later.

By that logic you'd need to believe in every single religion at once to hedge your bet, since most only promise the afterlife to adherents of their specific belief system.

That aside, how can you say it'd "cost nothing"? It would cost me my integrity.

Another debunking of this argument: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZpJ7yUPwdU

It'd also cost you a lot of Sunday mornings, at least if you did it properly.

"What will it cost you to believe in God while you are alive?"

Time. Money. Freedoms.

This is basically Pascal's Wager. The main criticism, I think, is that you could be "hedging your bet" on the Christian God, when the actual God could be from a different "religion". Some religions place a lot of emphasis on their god being the one and only.

My preferred counterargument to this (Pascal's Wager) is that assuming there is a god, professing to believe in him just to avoid eternal damnation is more likely to damn you than being honest. Does believing for the sake of belief count as belief? (see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavkas_toxin_puzzle) which feels related)

And there is the problem of 'multitude of religions' which other people (and you) have mentioned.

Actually this is an age old logical fallacy called Pascal's Wager. Because it is just as likely for there to be a anti-Pascalian god as there is to be a pascal friendly god, then belief in god is a zero sum game from the point of view of all things being equal hypothetical logic.

This is known as Pascal's Wager.


Very interesting...never knew about this. Thanks!

Quite simply, there is very, very little reason to believe in any type of "god". Sure, there's stuff we don't know. But trying to explain that away with some type of "god" thing doesn't cut it.

I find it quite baffling that anyone can believe in a god, actually. I mean, surely the logical inconsistencies in pretty much all religions must bother you? And moving away from organized religion, why would you believe in a "god"?

Quite simply, there is very, very little reason to believe in any type of "god". Sure, there's stuff we don't know. But trying to explain that away with some type of "god" thing doesn't cut it.

Quite good. We have a brain, we should analyze things and not only accept them as they are.

I find it quite baffling that anyone can believe in a god, actually. I mean, surely the logical inconsistencies in pretty much all religions must bother you?

A very good reason. The inconsistencies in religions are huge and spawn lot of doubts.

Much for the same reason that I don't believe Gollum (Lord of the Rings) or Harry Potter exist. For the same reason that I don't believe that there is a Giant Invisible Teapot in outer space (Russell's teapot).

Just so you know, it wasn't always this way. I used to believe in Allah (as a Muslim).

Hang on, so The Teapot isn't real??

Calm down everybody! Teapot is real and it resides in Utah, not in space.

Well, from a purely philosophical standpoint, I tend to agree that I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. As such, I used to describe myself as an agnostic.

However, more recently I have recognised that underneath that, deep down I just don't believe that there is a God - while simultaneously acknowledging the unprovability of this belief. So I now self-describe as atheist, and the reason why seems to be a deep-seated feeling that the theory of the existence of God just doesn't sit right. A non-God Universe is just somehow more... elegant.

It's also worth pointing out that I don't see a good practical reason to believe in a God, either. Since the God-theory makes no testable predictions, it is of little value in explaining the world around us. Explaining the past in terms of miracles perpetrated by an ineffable being gives us no guide for what to expect in the future, and is thus not worthwhile, even if it is correct.

Not only does it have little value in explaining the world around us but it encourages people just to accept the world around them as is and not attempt to understand it better.

I strongly disagree. I think some forms of religion, Christianity included, are very good at explaining how to understand the world and the forces (especially good and evil) at work in it -- and it encourages its adherents to change the world for the better.

I also happen to think that these religions' interpretations of the world are wrong.

Hmm, well I would separate moral guidance and a knowledge for how things around us works. On a moral level some of religion's teachings are great,

I personally though don't take more than that from religion and think that it promotes being content with knowing less about our world and universe in order to make it's stories and non moral teachings more relevant.

I agree with your stance, but I disagree that religions don't encourage adherents to understand the world. As I said in the GP, I think the way they encourage adherents to understand the world is mistaken, but it still exists!

Personally I think even if God exists, religious people are still wrong. They're 'sucking up to God' instead of getting on with their lives on their own terms (ie. not accepting anything for which they have no proof).

Most people value religion because of its moral lessons (see PG's essay on relgious 'package deals' - I think it was in Why Nerds Are Unpopular), and perhaps fear the 'moral vacuum' of a godless world. But personally I have no trouble deriving morality from logic/reason and empirical data, so I have no need for religion.

For the record I think most of the Ten Commandments are valuable lessons regardless of their divinity.

The short answer is "no proof".

But I'm always amused at how religious people always drop back to arguing the existence of God. The existence of God by itself is a useless metaphysical claim. There's the physical universe. I get that. We can use science to figure out the physical universe. I get that. If you attach a caption to the universe saying "by the way, an all-powerful deity made this", how exactly does that matter?

Religion gets the real work done when it says, "the all-powerful deity doesn't want you buggering other men or eating shellfish." OK, you started with an unproven metaphysical claim, and then used it to try and convince me to change my dietary and sexual habits. You've gone from vacuous to inventing unproven reasons not to bugger other men or eat shellfish! That's the thing about religion I question the most! It doesn't matter whether God exists. Once you start making actionable claims that rest on the idea of the Almighty approving or disapproving of my behavior, that's where I actually start to disagree with you.

For the same reason that theists only believe in their concept of god, all the other options failed to convince them for whatever reason. We just have a higher standard of evidence, and nothing in the entire pantheon of theistic mythology has managed to sway us. Frankly this is less a reflection of the diamond sharp analytical abilities of the atheistic and more a reflection of the woefully inadequate nature of the theistic epistemology.

That said, what I'd like to know is why other people actually believe this? If you were to find your holy text in a cereal box and read it in totality now, would you truly think it a divinely inspired text? Or is it simply an ancient perspective hangover that has not diverted enough attention to it's structure to warrant a full critical analysis?

I expected even more of a skew toward atheism than I saw here, actually.

There is no reason to believe in a god, and no evidence to support it. I'd like to know why people do believe in a god, as not believing in one is fairly easy.

So, a question to your question, is there a good reason you believe in it (assuming you do)?

Edit: petervandijck said it better above me.

I'm a deist because I find several of the philosophical arguments for God's existence compelling. Specifically I think the arguments from fine-tuning and the intelligibility of the universe are strongly in favor of God's existence. The Leibnizian and Kalam cosmological arguments are moderately in favor, and the arguments from morality, desire, and religious experience are weakly in its favor. Between those seven arguments, I'm about 80 - 90% sure some sort of God exists.

Of course, there are plenty of reasonable people who don't find them compelling. There's a lot of room for individual judgment in this area, and the subject is so incredibly complex that I don't find it surprising that thoughtful people come to completely different conclusions.

Could you elaborate a bit on the 'fine-tuning' and 'intelligibility' arguments and why you consider them strongly convincing?

I think the thread expired some time ago, but since you asked I'll attempt to explain my reasoning on the fine-tuning of the universe. There are a number of physical constants in the universe that if altered slightly would result in a universe unsuitable for life. For example, there's the expansion rate of the universe which is slow enough to allow stars to form, but fast enough to stop gravity from pulling everything back after the big bang. We also have the abundance of carbon in the universe, and somewhere between a handful and scores of others depending on who you ask. The best book I've read on this phenomenon so far is Martin Rees' Just Six Numbers. With the exception of one author, I haven't seen anyone dispute that the universe at least appears to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. Instead the counterarguments focus on alternative explanations for the the fine-tuning.

I think the best counterargument is the multiverse. In fact Rees argues for this explanation in the final chapter of his book. It's important to differentiate here between the multiverse as a scientific and philosophical concept. My problem with the multiverse as a scientific concept is that it's not currently testable, which I think excludes it from the realm of science. That said, just because something isn't testable doesn't mean it is wrong, and God certainly isn't in the realm of science either. So I think both God and the multiverse have to both be approached from a philosophical standpoint. My problem with the multiverse as a philosophical explanation is that we then have to explain where the multiverse came from. This is moving somewhat into the Leibnizian cosmological argument, but God is understood by the monotheistic and some philosophical traditions as a necessary being, which is something that exists eternally and is effectively its own reason for its existence. I have yet to see an author make the case that the multiverse is philosophically necessary. Or to put it differently, the multiverse as a proposed explanation isn't foundational for existence in the way that God is generally conceived to be, and has less explanatory power (in a metaphysical sense).

There are a number of other counterarguments, which I think range from bad to not quite as good as the multiverse. I'd be inclined to address them, if not for the fact that I don't think anyone's reading this thread anymore, and even if they were I'm approaching the TL;DR point.

Keep in mind that when I said I thought this was a strong argument for the existence of God I didn't mean I find it one-hundred percent convincing, but that it is strong relative to the other arguments I've encountered. I think it is at least possible that a multiverse exists and is necessary for reasons we can't comprehend. To clarify, I find the combination of the seven arguments I mentioned above gets me to about a 2.3 on the Dawkin's Scale, but if I only had fine-tuning I think I'd be somewhere around a 4 or 5.

Well there is evidence but it's not evidence that you're presently accepting. The Bible is a sort of evidence and people's testimony is as well.

For my part I believe in God because he speaks to me regularly and I'm the last person you'd expect that to happen to. I was minding my own business when I started hearing from God. Everyone I knew at the time was totally shocked and it took me over two years to accept what God was telling me (i.e. that the Bible is for real and I would do well to listen to what he's saying through it to me). I read Nietzsche and Russell in college and enjoyed them. I didn't really like Christianity as a religion much but I was nice to Christians I met and didn't really argue with them much. I didn't believe in anything but was respectful to everyone in other words.

My life now is defined by me trying to connect with God and make the most of my time here. I'm not trying to earn anything but I'm working because my God works all the time on my behalf. If God is my father then doing what he does is only the right thing to do if I'm actually his son. I split my time between serving adults (pastoring type stuff), children (Sunday school stuff), and the poor (I run a temporary food pantry). I also run a business to support my family, help my community, and build wealth. I keep busy and wouldn't change anything.

For me not believing in God is pretty hard even though I've seen some pretty bad things happen to people in my community that we prayed to turn around for over two years in one case. The only thing to do in the face of massive disappointment is to continue on. I've seen amazing responses to prayer and some big unanswered prayers too. Jesus prayer before he was arrested was unanswered as well. I take some comfort in that.

Life is pretty complicated and there are no easy answers especially when it comes to God and a life of faith. For me the stakes of life were raised considerably when I started following Jesus. It's not easy but it's not me to figure it all out either. The only faith I argue for is a living faith with a deep connection to a living God. I'd encourage to learn about that faith--not the faith that people say is found in books. No one in the Bible lived that way why should you or anyone else?

> I split my time between serving adults (pastoring type stuff), children (Sunday school stuff), and the poor (I run a temporary food pantry). I also run a business to support my family, help my community, and build wealth. I keep busy and wouldn't change anything.

Lets say, for the sake of argument. You don't believe in god. What would stop you from doing the above things you mentioned? Would it be fair for me to make an assumption (and I apologize if I am wrong), that you are not necessarily doing those noble things because you think those things will help people, but possibly you are doing those things to appease your god so that you get a better after life.

Assuming my above assumption is right (again I apologize if its not), do you see the inconsistency in your morality?

Nothing stops me from doing anything but I did none of those things prior to following Jesus. So the notion of the motivation behind works is important to understand. Also I typically give myself a B- to a C+ for what I do. I'm not always great at it.

Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is just work. Faith and works is a living faith supported by a living God. If you have faith but do nothing in response then you should work that out. If you have no faith and works Jesus says that you already got your reward and you're all set. He has nothing to give you. I pretty much summed up the book of James in the Bible.

As for the afterlife everyone who follows Jesus gets a pretty awesome deal and while there is some hinting at a bonus for doing well it's not really that interesting because level 1 heaven is pretty awesome. There is a law of diminishing marginal utility after all.

So to be clear works get you little and faith is the source of everything.

How did you know it was god? How did you rule out being mad and hearing voices?

I haven't entirely. I accept that's still quite possible.

I was told to read the Bible and after reading the gospel of Matthew I was told that what I was reading was reliable and to be trusted entirely.

And so you have no difficulty with this? I haven't been in your position, so I can't be certain, but I like to think that the first thing I would do if I was hearing voices would be to seek some sort of reliable independent corroboration, and failing to find it would be deeply troubling.

You have presented the only religious argument I can't actually argue with. I can only humbly say I haven't had the same experience as you, and if I did, I would freak out.

I think you're being too generous to this kind of argument. I'd say it's "the only religious argument I can't immediately dismiss".

One way of proceeding to argue with it, for example, would be to say, "how do you know you're not mad?".

[Amusingly half way through writing this comment, this radio programme started: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/pZ-Jq-iaTOia... It's about an object that apparently people used to use to talk to god!]

I tend to avoid arguments that can't possibly convince my opponent, though if the objective is to convince a neutral third party I guess that might be a promising argument.

The other side of that sword is that the personal religious experience argument isn't especially convincing to others, either.

The only way I know about to get started is to pray which is hard for anyone. Say hi sometime. If God is there he'll say hi back.

You know what freaks me out? The idea of seeing an angel. No idea why but it freaks me out good. I hear kids often say they see them and it freaks me out whenever they tell me that. I am no one a kid would ever try to impress mind you. I just hear these things because kids are so free to share with you. Weird I know but I don't want to see one till I am dead.

This whole crazy stuff started while reading GEB if you are familiar with that book. I really was minding my own business.

This sounds like you just started having an internal dialogue with yourself labeling the personification on the other end of your consciousness as "god". If this is the case, and this is really all it takes to qualify as having "spoken to god" then probably the vast majority of humanity have done it. They could even push it a little further and say ludicrous stuff like the bible is true, etc etc etc.

I admit that possibility freely. I'm not sure what you're trying to say that I didn't already. I do claim the Bible is true as well based on these experiences.

I'm not sure a 22 year old programmer goes from reading Russell and Nietzsche one day to following Jesus the next day without something having happened. Whether that's psychological or spiritual something happened to me.

Sure, I grasp that, I'm just puzzled as to why you jump to the conclusion that requires logically inconsistent supernatural phenomenon rather than than the one that just requires garden variety mental illness?

Not trying to offend you, in your shoes, I'd like to think I'd pick door number two.

In other respects I didn't act like someone with mental illness. Most mentally ill people have trouble functioning in society and contributing in a meaningful way.

These experiences didn't let up for two years and I found myself feeling strongly pulled to do things like buy Bibles and attend church. Eventually I did both of those things and my life only improved from there.

I'm not so sure that anything I believe is logically inconsistent. I believe that God intervened in human history in a big way and in such a way that makes it possible for me to approach him with confidence.

I was minding my own business when I started hearing from God.

What is that like?

God is the nicest, happiest person you'll ever talk to.

If you ask him how he's doing he's always doing great. If you ask him how you're doing he always say you're doing great. I've asked him this immediately after doing something I knew was pretty stupid and God seemed unconcerned even though I asking him hoping to get corrected and some guidance on the issue. He told me that he wasn't too worried about it.

The actual sensation is pretty weird. I'm not the most gifted person at hearing from God but if you ask him to he'll talk to you and say some pretty cool things. I freely admit that I could be a crazy person talking to myself of course. The reason I believe otherwise is that I'm not the crazy person type and I hear weird things from God. I'm always expecting him to be mad at me or disappointed but he never is. The story of God's people is that they always expect one thing and he's working another way. It's the Wire when Marlo says "You want it to be one way-but it's the other way."

I want it to be religious way (i.e. doing things to make God happy or at least less angry) but God has things setup another way. If you have a kid you can sort of understand but it seems like God sees us like we see our own children. I'm happy watching my daughter do just about anything and I think God is happy seeing me do just about anything too. Yesterday my two year old daughter comforted two crying boys and cheered one of them up pretty well. She really cares how people are doing and wants to make them feel better. I think God reacts the same way I did when I saw her do something good-he couldn't be happier just like I couldn't have been happier. She didn't earn my love there but she made me very proud of her.

Hope that helps a little :)

Yes, thank you for describing.

I personally cannot imagine a creation made by pure hazard to be this beautiful. I know that beauty is subjective. But i find that nature is so wonderfully created that -- for me -- it's hard to believe that there is no artist behind it. Like, when i see a nice piece of code, i know that there is a really good programmer behind it. :-)

Ok, we agree that there is a universe, and we find it beautiful, that's pretty easy to believe for everyone but the most depressed among us.

Why explain that beauty away by adding a god-figure in there? Isn't the universe even more beautiful and majestic without a (fairly silly) "outside creator" explanation?

Your explanation also logically doesn't make sense. You say: I can't believe there is nothing behind it. But then what is behind God? Who created him? You can believe that? It's logically inconsistent, and makes me think that perhaps you haven't thought this through very well.

There's a similar argument around consciousness. The naive interpretation of consciousness is always: "there's a little man inside my head doing the thinking", a little "me", something that represents the self. But then, who is the little man inside the head of the little man? Same flawed logic. The latest thinking/science now says that consciousness just "arises" from processes in our brain. And the "me" is mostly an illusion. Which is, funnily, quite close to the Buddhist interpretation of the self.

So what about us? Who created us? Our parents. Them? Their parents. But wait -- eventually, even with evolution, something had to create the first molecule. Right?

Everybody has to have a starting point from which they have no clue how it got there.

One side has decided that it had to be God. The other? The Big Bang? (Where'd it come from?)

The "where'd it come from" clause can terminate successfully at the genesis of time proper, to define a time prior to time is to posit a time where there was still time, ergo...

"Big guy in the sky was hanging around in void and created it all" posits nothing about the nature of time, and in fact infers that time is eternal and has always been, as big guy in the sky is eternal and has always been, that's why it's not logically inconsistent to point out that the god hypothesis simply raises more questions whilst taking a competing theory to the genesis of time proper does not fail in the same way.

No. It can't.

Where'd time come from?

Define the concept of "from" without time?

By what method did the color blue arrive at it's current physical location in space, also, what does it taste like?

I realise the above sounds cryptic but I'm just trying to give examples of how concepts are intrinsic to their own space to a certain degree, time as a spatial dimension of the universe terminates by definition at the genesis of the universe, so what came "before" has no more meaning than the taste of the color blue.

might be time to reread Timeless Physics http://lesswrong.com/lw/qp/timeless_physics/

That's basically a first cause problem which neither science nor religion has an answer for. I think we will not get to answering that anytime soon, or ever. Maybe we're just not up to that task. We know a lot about space and processes that go on around us, but in a scheme of big things we basically know nothing. All of the hard questions are still unanswered.

What is a nature of spacetime? We have a model to work with it, we have a model to measure it, but what is it and why is it?

We have a model that explains how space could come out of "nothing", but that nothing is still a quark field (if I remember correctly from watching a video from some astronomer). So what is the nature of that quark field, where did that come from?

There is always that first cause / prime mover at the end of every question, not to mention again that we know nothing on topics of great importance without even coming to a roadblock of first cause/prime mover.

Religion puts first cause/prime mover as a recursive feedback where it is the source and the end aka God. Which, ah well I don't know... takes faith :D There is also vast amount of religious writings throughout history amongst various religions that overlaps in content.

I'm not on either side basically. I accept I can't know for sure first cause/prime mover, I know I can't be cock sure in anything of it. Hence, I think it's best to have a romanticized view of things in general to keep my own spirit up and creative. If that particular view to someone is abrahamic god, allah, brahma, forgotten realsm or whatever - so be it. I suspect that the ultimate 'truth' is whatever you make of it, because in the end that is only thing that matters to you/your mind, what you make of it.

As for "The latest thinking/science now says that consciousness just "arises" from processes in our brain.". That's just one view which is not prevalent in science of mind yet, because our understanding of consciousness has not moved anywhere beyond philosophy yet. Consciousness is a weird thing, core consciousness that is (self-awareness, 'self') - not intellect around it, which we can view via fMRI. Consciousness is known that it can have only two states, conscious and unconscious. That's it. It can't be altered via medicines/drugs, it can't be divided, brain traumas/operations can't alter it (various injuries, removals, even hemispherectomy). Nothing can alter it. It can be only turned on or off. Weird thing, huh?

Recently there has been some breakthroughs in quantum biology (look it up, interesting stuff). But as I've said, our understanding of our consciousness hasn't moved from philosophy to hard science yet (I have a hunch it never will, but we'll see). I also came across nice site where various themes like this are covered with numerous talkers from both sides of a fence (hell they even have Minsky :) ), look here: http://closertotruth.com (warning though since it can dive into heavy philosophy+logic).


here look at this what Geroge Lakoff has to say about it http://closertotruth.com/video-profile/Why-is-Consciousness-... (watch it 'till the end!) and what others have to say about same question: http://closertotruth.com/topic/Why-is-Consciousness-Baffling...

Who created him?

I just believe he's eternal.

So you find it hard to believe that nature/the universe can just "be", there has to be an entity that created it, but you find it easy to believe that God can just "be", correct?

Pretty sure it'll be a "Yes".

A quick note, you find it easy to believe that the universe can just "be" when everything you have ever seen has had a creator. (Whether you believe in science or God, it does, the creator just differs.)

Both have an equally frustrating leap of faith, you either have to believe in God, or that something can come out of nothing.

Hang on: there's not much leaping of faith in believing that the universe is. That's observation: I think therefore I am.

Where we differ is that I accept that I don't know where we come from, you think you do (ie. from God). One doesn't require a leap of faith, the other does.


We are built by natural selection to fit into this universe. Our perception of beauty seems like a useful hack to find our way in this universe. Probably recycled by the brain to be used for very different things (from sexual attraction to finding tasty food) and maybe even misfiring at times (when listening to music or reading poetry).

I think that if I were all-powerful and all-knowing I could have done a much better job with it.

Are you referring to The Big Rewrite around the time of Noah?

"Plan to throw one away, you will anyway."

What do you mean by "believe"?

Does it mean considering that an idea you hold in your mind is a valid conceptual representation of some aspect of external reality?

Or does it mean to value an idea in itself, irrespective of its relationship with any autonomous external reality?

I personally find existing religions I have looked at (mostly Christian religions) insatisfactory and haven't found the need to dig too deeply into what else is out there. I am fine with not knowing why certain things are the way they are without replacing it with faith.

As I find with many atheists, I believe there may be some higher power, but it does not affect my daily life (outside of the way in which religious beliefs have become societal norms or vice versa).

but I personally find existing religions I have looked at (mostly Christian religions) insatisfactory and haven't found the need to dig too deeply into what else is out there.

You should take into account that those religions appeared hundred, yet thousands of year before you. They are custom made for the population of that time and they should have basic ideas that their brains can understand. So those religions may not meet your expectation. But, this in itself, is not a reason to say "God doesn't exist". You should dig somewhere else.

As I find with many atheists, I believe there may be some higher power

Scientifically speaking, there are not sort of "higher power".

If you traveled back 2000 years with a helecoptor, or modern weapons, or a bulldozer - you'd be a higher power.

At least until you ran out of fuel... ;-)

You should make a movie about it. You could call it "Army of Darkness".

I totally agree and I do not believe God doesn't exist explicitly; I just don't rank finding the answer as a high priority in my life right now. Having recently taken up taekwondo, I am intruiged by Buddhism, Asian religions, and other alternatives to Christianity.

ps: at some point this discussion will mention the difference between Europeans and US Americans :) The importance of "god" in US culture is quite astounding, really.

Hmm, well. I am from the ungodly Netherlands and have been living in Florida for about 9 years now. From what I can tell, the European media sure like to paint the US as a very religious country (among other things); and certainly, many Americans feel like they are, or pretend to be. At the same time, many of those same Americans do everything their god forbids, and apparently seem to think this is perfectly OK, assuming they give it much thought at all.

I am not looking to criticize Americans here, but I think in everyday life, there isn't all that much of a difference with less religious European countries, in spite of the apparent emphasis on religion here in the US.

In the USA it is culturally and socially acceptable to be "religious." Many individuals take up a religion for acceptance one way or the other, without harking to the power of it. So basically, they slap a name on themselves, and go to church off/on.

You cannot tell religion till it is unpopular, and oftentimes till it is persecuted.

<<In the USA it is culturally and socially acceptable to be "religious.">>

Ah, yes. In some European countries, this is much less the case. I noticed that in the US it's perfectly normal for the president (or other public figures) to say that they have been praying, for example. In the Netherlands, if the prime minister said that nowadays, people would look at him like he's pretty weird, or at least old-fashioned. =) (Even if that prime minister belongs to the "christian democrat" party.)

(It wasn't always like that, by the way; only a few decades ago religion played a much more important role in politics, with separate political parties for every major christian denomination.)

You cannot tell religion till it is unpopular, and oftentimes till it is persecuted.

Great point. It's hard to tell if someone really believes in something when professing belief in that thing is universally expected in society.

Occam's razor.

Is your disbelief in God solely based upon Occam's Razor? If so, could you elaborate on it a bit?

Not solely, but mainly. The following is by no means a iron-clad tight argument, but here goes.

When the concept of God is invoked, it is usually not precisely defined. In various interpretations, it is a life force permeating the universe itself, or a being that is benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient, or a being that has a "personal guiding light" relationship to every individual human, or a force that was "the prime mover" that setup the conditions of the universe just right, wound up the spring and then let it go, and has never interfered since, or rarely.

So, we postulate the existence of an ill-defined 'thing' or 'being' that has multiple unrelated purposes: to establish an explanation to questions about physical reality which are unexplained by current scientific knowledge; to establish a moral society; to establish a system of personal ethics for an individual human; to establish a sense of security and purpose in an evil and impersonal universe. Mind you, in the most common statement, all of these postulates are untestable in principle, under the guise of "well, if it was testable, it wouldn't be faith, would it?"

So, Occam's razor, in its Wikipedia form, is that an explanation with the fewest new assumptions is usually the correct one. An explanation that requires assuming an entity with multiple qualities, where each one of those qualities is untestable in principle, fails with aplomb.

How do you go about weighing assumptions? I imagine not all assumptions could be worth equally. What is that scale and how do you determine it? An interesting quandary also arises out of contemplating the weight placed on the assumption/belief whether Occam's razor is true in the first place.

The belief that Occam's razor is true is based on its explanatory power when it is used in scientific exploration. Assumptions are weighed positively when they have predictive power, and belief in God has notoriously low predictive power.

Interesting. Thanks for the response.

If one obtains answers to a number of questions (meaning, morality, afterlife, etc) by postulating the existence of God, is the nonbeliever exempt from having to answer those questions?

In pursuit of the answers, the nonbeliever must make new assumptions outside of simple nonbelief because simple nonbelief doesn't provide answers. Doesn't Occam's Razor then side with belief in God? I am not referring to simple belief in some higher power, but Biblical Christianity.

I believe that those questions (meaning, morality, afterlife, etc) are essential to a coherent worldview and are human questions rather than religious questions.

The nonbeliever is not exempt from having to answer those questions. The reason that Occam's razor is on the side of the nonbeliever is because the nonbeliever's answers to those questions are unrelated: on the standard humanist worldview, how the universe was created (stuff that we don't know anything about but we hope the LHC will tell us) has absolutely nothing to do with what moral choices one makes in life (utility maximization). In other words, those two answers are "simpler" because they are not linked as compared to an answer that links the two by saying "well, God is responsible for those".

I don't believe in any kind of gods, as we have no scientific claim that it exists and people have been looking for millennia.

But even if I did believe that there would be something up there, I don't believe in a Christian God - in fact I know such a person couldn't exist - because the bible has so many contradictions in it.

Well, this kind of question is usually asked when someone is trying to force me some specific moral rules or kind of behavior, based on an idea, that if I believe in God, I'm somehow obliged to accept some specific set of moral rules (not that there were just a single one) or respect authority of some church or so on. In that case, I say no, to avoid it.

Otherwise, it's just a personal feeling about an English word. Which doesn't have much meaning to me. I have some workable idea about what God should be for me, I can even believe in it, but I guess it wouldn't make any sense to you or anybody else -- and I still remain an atheist :-)

Believing in God as an all-powerful deity can be refuted with logic alone, but that's not what makes me an atheist: it's mostly out of disgust at what organized religion has done to humanity. Religion in itself can be a source of good or evil, but I am convinced the power structures inherent in organized religion can only trend towards evil.

In the specific case of the roman catholic church I believe the pope should be arrested & trialed for crimes against humanity, stripped of his powers; vatican city should be dissolved & any claims of diplomatic immunity should be rejected. Never gonna happen though.

Which god?

Religion interests me a lot I just don't feel any need to elevate it to a super natural level. Lots of stories have moral messages but we don't worship Obi Wan as a real person who existed a long time ago in a galaxy far away do we? I guess science probably replaces the super natural element for me completely. As a non-religious person I follow most or all of the ten commandments in my everyday life. (most of us probably do) I don't do it based on the fear/promise of the super natural.

cats have four legs, but Gods has four letters. Sometimes a word is only a word and when a word isn't a pointer it is futile to discuss whether it dangles.

Why do you believe you understand what exist means? (Edit: Uh, or why don't you?)

I don't believe in God because there is enough evidence in the world to suggest that the universe is relational. In a relational universe, everything that exists does so within the boundaries and parameters of that universe -- not outside of it. We have a sufficient understanding of the universe to understand that a being so described as "God" doesn't exist. Such a being would have to exist outside of that universe which is beyond existence and therefore cannot be said to "exist" by any definition of existence.

People are afraid that they might have it wrong, so they allow themselves to assert that since they cannot disprove the existence of "God" or some other inexplicable thing, then it could exist (or as some will further conclude, does exist). This little bit of fallacious logic can allow one to conclude that anything could be possible. It's rooted in the fear of uncertainty.

Still others will believe in an ephemeral "God" which they attribute to the unquanitifiable or undetermined aspects of the universe. Many scientists who also claim to be religious hold this view of the unverse (as far as I know). They will find "God" in their pursuit of the prime numbers, unexplained quantum phenomena, or some other mysterious corner of existence. However, I also find this view fallacious as the relational model of the universe will keep these "believers" continously finding new "Gods" all the time. We will figure out the prime numbers eventually, and there are more and more quantum phenomena explained by very solid theories.

It's like people with ghost stories. I know lots of people with stories about their encounters with ghosts. I've never seen one. I've looked and never seen one. Every story about ghosts usually involve a single person and rarely have witnesses. Why is that? If ghosts exist and are part of the natural order of the universe, why haven't I seen one? Why aren't they as normal as birds, trees, and air?

Any charlatan will generally be able to fill in the blanks here. Ghosts only make themselves known. I can't see them because I don't believe. Without any evidence for the existence their nature cannot be known so a person could attribute any sort of story about the nature of ghosts. So really the only real attribute about ghosts is that they make for useful literary devices.

Similarily, if "God" is a natural part of the universe (and indeed created the whole thing) why are any of us debating whether "God" exists at all? It's precisely because "God" doesn't exist that we can debate endlessly about the nature of "God" and it's existence. Our fear and uncertainty will permit us to assert the possiblity of "God"'s existence.

I have no such fear.

What I do fear is the culmination of such uncertainty and fear organizing into legally-recognized institutions that brow-beat the public into tolerating their beliefs.

your question is exactly the kind of thing I was afraid a religion poll on HN would devolve into. let the endless debate & flamefest involving religion/God begin.... (runs away)

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