Saturday, March 31, 2007

Evangelism by Atheists and by Christians

One definition of evangelise is to "cause to adopt a new or different faith." In the broadest terms I would propose that this would mean that an unbeliever who encourages a believer to leave the Christian faith in favor of faith in a purposeless, naturalist world is evangelising. I know that this last could be seen as bordering on fighting words, but I don't mean it to be. It is just one more case of trying to take an evenhanded look at the issue. I suggest that in general there is no difference between my effort to convert someone to faith, and an atheist's effort to convert someone to no faith.

On the other hand, I would argue that there are consequential differences. Some of these might even have ethical implications.

I think it can be fairly argued that, at least in America, there are huge benefits to being a Christian. In fact, atheists seem to commonly feel that they are victimized by their minority status in this country: Can't be president, money says God, etc. So, to the extent that being a part of the majority has advantage, being a Christian has at least that one.

In addition, joining something usually has great benefits for humans. It might be Rotary, the PTA, or a book club, but getting together with others who share common ideas, goals, and such is generally good. Joining a church can be said to offer some additional benefits with regard to care and nurture, community sharing of resources, accountability, and a steady flow of teaching on subjects almost 100% of the population would agree are good: love, forgiveness, peace, golden rule, helping the poor. Excellent evidence that church going has benefits is that so many do it.

There are some pretty clear other health and well being aspects to belief in the Christian faith. I won't detail them here, but most of us know what the claims are.

To the extent that an atheist or unbeliever of any kind intentionally attempts to persuade a believer to stop believing and quit his church, these benefits all stop. They might be able, in some cases, to be replaced by Rotary, classes on love, etc., but there is great risk that the end of a person's involvement in church can be detrimental.

Of course, since no one knows or is likely to find out if there really is a Heaven or Hell, the evangelistic atheist also strips that person of his hope of heaven and of heaven itself (if there is one.)

The Christian evangelist, on the other hand, is pretty clear that bringing a person into the fold will imbue them with all the above benefits, plus heaven. If there turns out to be a black void instead of heaven, no one gets hurt.

I almost hate to use the analogy, but it kind of reminds me of the teacher or aunt who decides to take the initiative in telling a 4 year-old that there is no Santa, while the parents were planning on doing so at 8. My fear of using this analogy is obvious, but in the case of Santa, no one suggests there is a real being. In the case of God, many believe He exists, and no one can prove he doesn't. So the person who takes the intiative to destroy faith does so only because, like the teacher or aunt, he thinks it is important to expose the truth (as he or she understands it.)

Whadya think?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This doesn't seem to be all that different from Pascal's Wager.

Kit

bernardo said...

Kit's right.

I have one more point to add: How one evangelizes what they evangelize is very personal. Two atheists will evangelize atheism in at least slightly different ways, and two Christians will evangelize Christianity in at least slightly different ways.

For example, I have talked with some Christians who point out that Christianity will not make your life easier, since you won't get to be so selfish and you will always be reminded of your imperfections, and you won't become richer or more successful or even necessarily happier after becoming a Christian - you'll just become better, and have a better afterlife. Even as an atheist, I think this is not a great way to look at things, since I think Christianity does help people be happier, and it makes them WANT to (not "have to) do good, unselfish things.

I evangelize atheism in a way that I think is different from pretty much any other vocal atheist (which is what makes me believe that my book will not be entirely unsuccessful). All I want to do is remind Christians (and other theists) that they made leaps of faith, that any "truth" found as a consequence is only true/valid if the leaps of faith are correct to begin with, and that it's worthwhile to try and understand why some people want to make those leaps of faith and some people do not. In other words, I just want to show that atheism COULD be right, and that theists should be more honest and self-exploratory in understanding why they prefer to believe in God. (And yes, most atheists should be more honest about the nature and consequences of the assumptions they make, as well).

So when you say "evangelizing", you could be talking about some very different kinds of things, some of which are much less likable than others.

And one last note: As you probably know, "evangelism" comes from "evangelium", which is one way to refer to the Gospels, and means "good news". One could object to the use of this word to describe the promotion of atheism, not only because what is being promoted is not the Gospels, but also because atheism is not really "good news"... ;]

Randy Kirk said...

Kit,

Of course it resembles Pascal's wager. But it moves it to a new level. I might want to kill my neighbor. No big deal. All in my mind. I might tell you of my idea. Bigger deal. If I try to persuade you to do it with me or instead of me, really big deal.

Anonymous said...

Bernardo,

Why isn't atheism 'good news'? It should be if you are promoting it. what are the advantages?

bernardo said...

I did not mean that entirely seriously, but...

Does theism help people be happier? Yes. Hope of heaven, life is part of a greater plan, etc.

Is theism necessarily true? No.

So telling people that there might be no heaven and that the universe is meaningless and uncaring is something they might not find pleasant - i.e. it's not "good news". Unfortunately, though, I cannot pick my belief system based on which one has the most advantages or which one makes me happy; I have to pick the one that seems like it's true, given my experiences in the universe and so on.

Hey Skipper said...

If theism did not make claims to possess absolute truth, there would not be any need for non-theists to press their point.

Hey Skipper said...

Anon:

There is a problem with Pascal's wager.

It seems all the gods that demand worshipping are very sensitive about wrongly directed worship.

So, Pascal's wager is valid only if it is self-contradictory. It is not a wager if you possess the correct information in advance, and if you don't the position is no better than disbelief.

(In fact, since revealed texts treat faulty featly much worse than no fealty at all, absence of belief may be the best option.)

Anonymous said...

"Of course it resembles Pascal's wager."

Then why present it to nontheists in the first place? Especially nontheists who know the problems with Pascal's Wager.

See, if there is a God, and he can't stand christians and sends them all to hell, then being a christian evangelist is an awful thing to be, right?

I don't think I ever evangelise atheism for two reasons:

1. I don't particularly really care if other people are atheists or not. As long as theists keep their theism to themselves (I know, that ain't happening), I'm ok with it.

2. To me, all "atheism" is is a lack of theism, so there's nothing to convert people to. At most, I would be "deconverting" people. Unfortunately, for some people, the only thing holding them back from being monsters is their theism, so I don't want to "deconvert" those psychos.

3. Ok, so there's a third item: I don't feel it's my place to actively change how someone thinks, except for when their thinking is dangerous.

Kit

bernardo said...

Kit,

1. I care that people not think I am crazy, stupid, ignorant, dangerous, immoral, or unreasonable. So I talk about atheism in order for theists to realize we're not crazy. Both Christians and atheists could be doing a better job of this.

2. Maybe "converting" isn't the right word. Maybe "questioning one's assumptions" or "being introspective about one's beliefs" or "trying to find the causes and reasons for faith", or at the very least "coming to see that one's opponents are reasonable and intelectually honest". Those are all fine things to do, even when what you are trying to justify is the LACK of a belief.

3. I could quote someone inspirational who says that there won't be change in how people think until the people who see the need for the change go out and work for it. Or I could point out that faith could be seen as a slippery slope that leads to people flying airliners into skyscrapers. But I'll be more selfish and refer you back to "1": I don't like people thinking I'm crazy, so it's worth going out of my way to explain my valid (if uncommon) viewpoint.

Randy Kirk said...

Right thinking Christians (there are some who may claim to be Christians who are not, and there are some in any group who may be heart and soul believers, but whose mental, emotional, or glandular systems are out of whack) only desire to convert others because they believe they have something incredible to offer. No different than any other sales proposition where there is an honest passion for the product or service.

In some other religions you only find folks being forced into the fold or facing heavy indoctrination from an early age. In some cases, there is no alternative.

Kit, almost anyone who doesn't have an axe to grind will agree that there are advantages to being a Christian as posed in the post. Therefore, the Pascal portion of the wager becomes only the afterlife part. And we can't really know that. Thus, we are really only talking about what we can glean from the evidence in front of us regarding the afterlife.

Anonymous said...

"Kit, almost anyone who doesn't have an axe to grind will agree that there are advantages to being a Christian as posed in the post."

Well, saying "almost anyone who doesn't have an axe to grind..." is poisoning the well, which bothers me, but anyways.

Sure, there are advantages to being a christian. There are also plenty of disadvantages. Obviously, for me, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages, which is why I'm not a christian.

"Therefore, the Pascal portion of the wager becomes only the afterlife part. And we can't really know that. Thus, we are really only talking about what we can glean from the evidence in front of us regarding the afterlife."

Exactly what verifiable evidence exists of an afterlife at all?

In your post you wrote: Of course, since no one knows or is likely to find out if there really is a Heaven or Hell, the evangelistic atheist also strips that person of his hope of heaven and of heaven itself (if there is one.)"

That's why I pointed out the Pascal's wager part, and why I gave the example of "what if god hates christians and sends them to hell?" There are many viewpoints and descriptions of heaven and hell in this world, and they don't all match yours.

Lastly, you said, "There are some pretty clear other health and well being aspects to belief in the Christian faith. I won't detail them here, but most of us know what the claims are."

Sure, I know what the claims are, but of course I don't accept those claims, and I think there's a big difference, from my experience, between what christians as a whole claim to be their point-of-view regarding certain issues (drugs, sex, smoking, diet, etc), and how individual christians actually act.

In short, as with a lot of your posts, my surprise isn't so much with what you write as it is with what you write as being persuasive to nontheists.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

Kit,

I can agree with the proposition that there are advantages and disadvantages to almost anything. I can understand that you have made at least part of your decision to not be a Christian based on your weighing of benefits both ways. However, ultimately I suppose you still had to make a leap of faith that God and Heaven don't exist (Pasal.) I would imagine that in this very blog you have received information about God and Heaven that has caused you to evaluate your position with regard to both the practical and the philosophical decision you have taken. As you read and reply, you may find some things strengthen your own sense of truth, and other things might knaw a bit at that notion. At least these are the things I deal with, and I suspect it is true of most curious folks.

I used the modifier "axe to grind" because in my discussions with atheists over the past 26 years, it is rare to find those who don't say something like "I would like to believe in heaven," or "I like that America is dominated by Christians and Christian heritage." There are some who would harangue for an hour in the opposite direction, but they are in the tiny minority of my experience.

Briefly on evidence of afterlife:

Bible says so. Jesus apparently spoke of it. Several in the Bible have had various experiences of it.
There is a human "sense" of it that is pretty pervasive. Of course, we now have folks with their blue tunnel experiences (I'm not very persuaded.)

I totally appreciate that God could be even more perverse than you think He is, and be purposely telling folks to trust him, only to then send them to hell. However, logic dictates otherwise. Therefore, the post was merely asking the question with regard to what we can know, not what we can't. Thus not Pascal. Then we throw in Pascal, but once removed. In other words, not your decision for yourself, but rather you attempting to persuade another. (Which I know you said is not part of your agenda.)

Of course there is a difference between what Christians say and do, but we can be pretty confident that they don't do them as much or to such a degree as those who are not "real" Christians.

Anonymous said...

"However, ultimately I suppose you still had to make a leap of faith that God and Heaven don't exist"

No, I never made that "leap of faith". Randy, outside of religious belief, there is no good reason to believe in a heaven or a hell. It's like me saying that you made a leap of faith that three-eyed leprechauns don't exist.

"I would imagine that in this very blog you have received information about God and Heaven that has caused you to evaluate your position with regard to both the practical and the philosophical decision you have taken."

Actually, no, not at all.

See, here's the thing, Randy: you're not saying anything different from the stuff I used to say back when I was a fundamentalist christian. If I don't buy into the same points of view that I used to have, why would I buy into these same points of view when described by someone else?

"As you read and reply, you may find some things strengthen your own sense of truth, and other things might knaw a bit at that notion."

The only thing that I've really been noticing through my reading and replying is that you take what I say, put it through the fundamentalist-christian filter, and then reply with, "Kit, you seem to think this" which drives me a bit nuts, because it's always drastically different than I actually think, and what (I feel) I wrote.

Anything regarding my opinion on ID is a great example of this.

Again, nothing you've said regarding God or spirituality has changed my point of view because it's exactly the same stuff I used to think, so these beliefs are not the least bit new to me.

I used the modifier "axe to grind" because in my discussions with atheists over the past 26 years, it is rare to find those who don't say something like "I would like to believe in heaven," or "I like that America is dominated by Christians and Christian heritage."

I was confused by this statement, because I can easily see atheists saying, "I would like to believe in heaven" (I would certainly say that, for example), but I can't see atheists saying that they like that america is dominated by christians (I'm going to ignore the "christian heritage" because that is very much under dispute).

This goes back to my classic question of "just exactly who are these atheists that you supposedly talk with??"

Regarding afterlife, you said:

"Bible says so. Jesus apparently spoke of it. Several in the Bible have had various experiences of it."

I'll ask AGAIN, "why would you even present this to a nontheist? Why would a nontheist care what the bible says?"

Seriously, Randy... why do you present that to us? If I was a muslim, and I said you were going to hell, and you asked why, and I responded with "because the Qu'ran says so", how persuaded would you be??

"I totally appreciate that God could be even more perverse than you think He is, and be purposely telling folks to trust him, only to then send them to hell. However, logic dictates otherwise."

Randy, why does logic dictate otherwise?

"Of course there is a difference between what Christians say and do, but we can be pretty confident that they don't do them as much or to such a degree as those who are not "real" Christians."

Randy, are those bagpipes that I hear?

Kit

Anonymous said...

I said,

"Again, nothing you've said regarding God or spirituality has changed my point of view because it's exactly the same stuff I used to think"

Actually, that's not completely correct. There are quite a few opinions you've stated that I've never had, such as your point of view about how "sex kills". When you've talked about this, all that's occured is that you've "dispersuaded" me to agree with you, because I find the arguments to be so bad and so full of fallacies that I'm a bit offended that they're being presented to me as persuasive arguments.

Fortunately, I've been through this a lot, so I have pretty thick skin for that, although it still does blow me away from time to time.

I guess my point is that, if you've changed anything about my viewpoint, it's to strengthen my opinion that christianity (and the arguments for it) is completely full of BS.

With all due respect.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

In fact, we have to make lots of leaps of faith as to what doesn't exist. I now am told to make a leap of faith that there will not be a new ice age. I make a leap of faith that the Mormon founder did not unearth a special hidden treasure that gave him new revelation. There are 1000's of leaps of faith that are necessary on the negative side as well as the positive.

Kit, I think you missed my meaning regarding how reading things here or elsewhere might effect your pov. I assume, based on what little I know about you, that you are a seeker of truth. You haven't got it all sewed up yet. Unlike Al Gore, you don't believe that the arguments for all truth are over. Thus, if you are anything like other open minded seekers of truth, you at least momentarily brush over even lame arguments and reinsert the results into your world view.

You are 100% right that my WV is now hugely determined by 22 years of devotion to Biblical Christianity, but I just read "The Selfish Gene," I subscribe to Wired Magazine, and I visit dozens of atheist blogs where I hear the other side. Hopefully it would take a lot to tip me back, but it might just take one new piece of especially compelling evidence. Maybe for you, there is no evidence that could cause you to believe in a spiritual dimmension again. I propse that this is a great loss for you if you have closed off that entire spectrum of potential.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

I think that you and I use drastically different definitions for the term, "leap of faith", so I'll have to simply agree to disagree with you about that.

To believe in a "spiritual dimension" again, I would first have to know what the heck a "spiritual dimension" even is. One of the problems is that, when I was a theist, I used to use terms like this all the time, because they have a pseudo-meaning within the group. The problem is that, once you exit that group and the underlying faith, those words get critically examined... and my discovery was that I was full of hot air and using words without practical definitions.

It's like when people say, "price point". What the heck's the difference between the terms "price" and "price point"? There isn't any! It's just a fancy way of saying "price". Same with "we'll leverage our knowledge base to take it to the next level." Lots of ill-defined, empty jargon words that are used to say something without actually saying anything.

All in my opinion, of course.

Lastly, I'm not so much a "seeker of truth" as I am a "seeker of people who think differently than I do". Having said that, I do agree that I certainly don't have it all sewn up yet, or that I'm anywhere close to doing so, or that it's even possible to do so.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

Leap of Faith. Accumulating evidence for a proposition about which it may be impossible or almost impossible to know for certain the "truth," then taking the final step of accepting the idea as truth and acting on that belief. Big Bang would be an example.

Price point. A specific strategic price where a marketer is attempting to position his product. If my competition is at $3.99, and I want to create the perception that my product is superior, but still competitive to the other product, I might try to create my pricing at wholesale and dealer to end up hitting a $4.95 price point. If I want to beat his price, but my costs are almost identical to his, I might try for a $3.79 price point.

I'm sure you'd agree with me that defining terms is critical to debate.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

As I said, you and I use drastically different definitions for the phrase "leap of faith", so I'll agree to disagree about this issue.

At the very least, I can promise that you'll never see me write "leap of faith", and I would appreciate it if you would please not use it when writing directly to me.

I can see the difference between "price" and "price point", but the term still bugs.

Regardless, that wasn't my point. Please ignore my comment about "price point" and instead please focus on my point about "moving forward, at the end of the day it's all about making an action item out of leveraging our knowledge base and taking it to the next level."

To me, that's what terms like "spiritual dimension" are like, but I'm certainly always willing to read or listen to a functional definition.

Lastly, yes, I agree that defining terms is critical to debate, but only when those term definitions are agreed upon. If agreement cannot be reached, then I prefer to remove the term entirely from the debate.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

Kit, what is your definition of leap of faith?

Anonymous said...

Well, it begins with my definition of the word faith as "belief in something without, or in spite of, the evidence".

It seems to me that we disagree on that definition, so we also don't agree on the definition of "leap of faith", which to me would be equivalent to "an action based on faith". You might agree with that sentence, but since we don't agree with my definition of the word "faith", our sentences have two different meanings.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

The first definition of faith in the online dictionary is "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing."

The second definition is roughly your definition.

So I would propose to you that people rarely have the kind of faith you have defined. Even folks I know that are pretty simple (in general intelligence) seem to want to ask very relevent questions about their faith in God.

I will agree with you that the kind of faith folks have in "God" is different than faith in not having their dog die from the top dog food brand, but there is a very real sense that everyone is only one bad experience or one great argument away from changing their view on something even as important as God.

Anonymous said...

Randy,

What's your opinion of the following definition for the word "faith":

"The substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."

"but there is a very real sense that everyone is only one bad experience or one great argument away from changing their view on something even as important as God."

If you say so. I would tend to disagree, for myself at least.

What theists tend to not understand is that there are actually three steps I would have to take to believe in the God of the bible (or the Allah of the Qu'ran, or whatever):

1. First I would have to become a theist. That is, first I would have to believe that one or more gods exist.

2. Secondly, I would have to become a monotheist, in that I would have to believe that only one god exists... no more and no less.

3. Lastly, only then could I become a believer in a specific god, such as "God" or "Allah".

I've found that too often theists think that nontheists can go directly to step three from step zero. I think this is because that's how it happened for most of them; they were raised in the belief of a very specific god (or gods, for the hindus), so they never went through steps 1 and 2.

Just my experience and two cents.

Kit

Randy Kirk said...

Your comment is very useful and thoughtful. However, I think if you asked 100 folks how they went from belief to unbelief or vica versa, you would find that there may have been some kind of intermediate steps, but there was a tipping point. Commonly those tipping points were the ones I alluded to.

In other words, you might be in a conversation with someone whom you greatly admire. They might provide a new way of looking at Jesus or experiencing Jesus which would cause you to have an aha moment, or to feel His presence in a way you never did earlier. Then you wouldn't need step 1 and 2. I'm not saying this will happen to you. I'm saying it has happened to millions.

I like your faith definition very much, but it is only part of the picture. It has to be tested, but it needs to be strong enough not to bend in the wind. Much much more.

Tom Foss said...

faith in a purposeless, naturalist world is evangelising. I know that this last could be seen as bordering on fighting words, but I don't mean it to be.

Then why do you misrepresent atheism? Atheism is not "faith in a purposeless naturalist world" it's "lack of faith in a god."

I love your neutral/bad comparison. It'd be like me saying "a believer who encourages an atheist to leave rational thought in favor of blind, irrational, unproven faith in an invisible, wrathful, micromanaging prima donna in the sky." If you were at all interested in the "common ground" you discuss in the sub-head, you'd stop knowingly and obviously mischaracterizing the opposing viewpoint. This is not "evenhanded," and you know it.

Joining a church can be said to offer some additional benefits...a steady flow of teaching on subjects almost 100% of the population would agree are good: love, forgiveness, peace, golden rule, helping the poor.

And with those benefits, it offers guilt, pointless rules, division, threats of eternal punishment, more guilt, justification for horrible atrocities both within and without its doctrine, blind trust as a virtue and independent thought and inquiry as a fault, and an impetus to give up rational thought for blind obedience.

I can teach my kids love, forgiveness, peace, the golden rule, and philanthropism without the nasty baggage.

Excellent evidence that church going has benefits is that so many do it.

Argumentum ad populum: just because many people do something doesn't mean it's beneficial. Substitute "eating fatty foods" or "smoking" or "driving SUVs" or "not going to the doctor or dentist on a regular basis" for "going to church."

There are some pretty clear other health and well being aspects to belief in the Christian faith. I won't detail them here, but most of us know what the claims are.

We know what the claims are. Are those claims substantiated? The research is rather conflicting on that subject.

To the extent that an atheist or unbeliever of any kind intentionally attempts to persuade a believer to stop believing and quit his church, these benefits all stop.

The benefit of being part of a majority group stops. The benefits of having a social gathering like church need not stop; it's easy to join a freethought or atheist community, or to join a secular organization which offers the same benefits. You mentioned the PTA or a book club, and there are myriad other organizations that don't require belief in magical deities in order to provide validation. Getting taught basic values is mostly a benefit for the young, and it can be gleaned quite easily from the parents. I haven't seen any conclusive evidence of health and well-being aspects to participation in Church or Christianity that aren't conveyed by any pursuit which provides a feeling of enjoyment, self-improvement, and self-enrichment. That hour on Sunday would be just as beneficial if spent jogging with a friend or reading a good book (one, perhaps, not filled with atrocities and pointless rules).

his hope of heaven and of heaven itself (if there is one.)

And most atheists will tell you that such hope was false in the first place. Furthermore, the atheist removes the false fear of Hell as well. Even if you think hope of Heaven and fear of Hell are justified, removing them both provides no net change, since they balance each other out.

And by removing this false hope of an unproven afterlife, the real sources of hope and happiness in everyday life are not diminished by wishing for some better world beyond, or by seeing the current world as somehow fallen and tainted with original sin. Atheism allows people to find meaning and enjoyment in a world that most Christians treat as the unfortunate waiting room on the way to eternal blandness.

Incidentally, to Bernardo, I'd consider "hey, no one's actually watching you over your shoulder, waiting for you to screw up so he can spank you for eternity. You can enjoy masturbating again!" to be very good news.

it is rare to find those who don't say something like "I would like to believe in heaven," or "I like that America is dominated by Christians and Christian heritage."

To the former, there are things we'd all love to believe. I'd love to believe that bullets will bounce off my chest and that I can fly at supersonic speeds. I'd love to believe that there's a magical man in a red suit who delivers free presents to me every winter. I'd love to believe that after I die, I'll spend eternity reading good books on the beach and not having to worry about getting them wet or sandy. But I don't believe those things because there is no good reason to believe those things. Your argument is a justification for believing anything which may make us feel good, whether or not it is true.

Sorry, Randy, but I guess I care a little too much about the real world.

To your latter point, I have never heard an atheist say something like that. In fact, quite the opposite. I have frequently heard atheists correct theists on your delusions of America being a "Christian nation" or founded in "Christian principles," and it's nice to see that you've somewhat amended your language on that, even if the sentiment is still there.

Bible says so. Jesus apparently spoke of it. Several in the Bible have had various experiences of it.
1: This is all from one source.
2: What good reason do we have to believe this source? Not only are the Bible, Jesus as quoted in the Bible, and others as quoted in the Bible, completely factually wrong on many claims, but just because a book makes a claim does not mean that said claim is true. I have books that claim there is a school for witchcraft and wizardry in England, that there is a magical land where hairy creatures called Hobbits have adventures against evil warlords, and that if I'm in a tough battle Athena and Apollo will assist me against my enemies. "It's written in a book" is not reason to believe something. Show me some actual evidence of an afterlife, not just third-person first-century hearsay and potential fiction.

There is a human "sense" of it that is pretty pervasive. Of course, we now have folks with their blue tunnel experiences (I'm not very persuaded.)

What sense would that be? The same sense which tells us that the Earth is flat? Or the sense that tells us that our race is superior to others? Again "people believe it" is not a valid reason to believe something. Whether or not people have some mysterious "sense" of the afterlife, particularly if that sense is supposed to be something like near-death experiences (which are quite succinctly and clearly explained through the biological structure of the brain and what happens to it as it loses oxygen), is not proof of the afterlife's existence. It's only proof that people will believe lots of comforting things for no good reason.

Leap of Faith. Accumulating evidence for a proposition about which it may be impossible or almost impossible to know for certain the "truth," then taking the final step of accepting the idea as truth and acting on that belief. Big Bang would be an example.

FSM, give me strength.

1. Faith is belief without evidence or in spite of evidence. "I believe that unicorns exist" is a statement of faith.
2. Not believing in something is not faith. "I do not believe that unicorns exist" is not a statement of faith.
3. Accepting something because there is evidence for it is not faith. "I believe that horses exist" is not a statement of faith.

So, to recap:
"I believe that God exists" = faith
"I do not believe that God exists" = not faith
"I believe that the Big Bang happened" = not faith.

Quick crash course in Big Bang theory: when it was discovered that the universe is expanding, various measurements and calculations were made which extrapolated that expansion back to a point in the past when all the space and matter which make up the universe was concentrated into a singularity. One of the predictions made by this model was that there would be cosmic background radiation, corresponding to a specific mathematical graph, which presented a picture of the unevenness of the early universe. Later, some scientists found that cosmic background radiation, and their measurements of it fit the graphical prediction so well that the error bars were too small to be seen on the graph. When a theory explains the observed phenomena and makes testable predictions which are subsequently verified, that constitutes good reason to accept that theory.

There's a saying in atheist communities, and it varies from person to person, but it goes something like "if atheism is a faith, then is 'not collecting stamps' a hobby?" or "if atheism is a faith, then is baldness a hairstyle?" or "is 'nothing' a drink?" etc. Atheism is a lack of faith, a lack of belief. And even if someone were to make the stronger claim "I believe that no gods exist," it's a reasonable, non-faith claim, until some evidence is shown to believe in gods.

Incidentally, quite the contrary to your claim that few would accept the latter definition of faith, when talking about things like religion it's the generally-accepted definition. I learned it in a theology class, and it's necessary to keep from equivocating evidence-less "faith" in gods and evidence-based "faith" that the sun will come up tomorrow, or that your neighbor isn't going to kill you. That latter idea is more like "trust."

As far as your tipping point stuff, I've commented before that I think your analogy is flawed, and I think most atheists would agree that "tipping back" is not a matter of just needing one more thing. Deconversion is a change of mindset; most atheists adopt an outlook on life which values critical thinking, evidence, and reason, and which devalues the blind faith and thoughtless obedience of theism. That's something that would be rather more difficult to overcome than your "tipping" analogy suggests.

What it comes down to for atheists, to co-opt your Santa Claus example, is that encouraging someone to deconvert is like telling a 40-year-old that there is no Santa, because no one ever bothered to break the news to him, and because everyone else in his support structure also continues to believe in Santa, even though the presents stopped coming long before they were born. Suddenly, Mr. 40-year-old isn't so scared of being put on the naughty list and getting coal for all eternity, he isn't worried that Santa's watching him when he's sleeping and awake.

You're right, no adult seriously suggests that Santa is a real being. It's nutty to believe that there's a magical being that you never see, who watches you all the time, can be everywhere at once, knows everything about you, and judges whether you're good or bad, and rewards or punishes you accordingly. No one in their right mind would believe such a thing, right?

To paraphrase a popular quote, we're all atheists about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Atheists just take another step and reject one Santa Claus more than Christians do.

Tom Foss said...

Leap of Faith. Accumulating evidence for a proposition about which it may be impossible or almost impossible to know for certain the "truth," then taking the final step of accepting the idea as truth and acting on that belief. Big Bang would be an example.

One more thing on this "Leap of Faith" nonsense. You talk about the accumulation of evidence and then a final step to accepting the idea as truth. And then you present a scientific theory as an example. What you fail to realize is that science never takes that "final step". All scientific knowledge is tentative, based on the best available evidence and with the tacit recognition that other evidence may suggest that a different theory is better.

It's not a matter of "belief," it's a matter of "acceptance." I don't believe the Big Bang theory, I accept it because it best explains the observations and is best supported by the evidence. There are other, less well-supported hypotheses, and someday we may find more evidence which points instead to one of them. But we always accept the theory which is best supported by the available evidence.

The concept you call here "truth" simply does not exist in science. All science is about that accumulation of evidence and acceptance of the ideas which are best supported by that evidence.