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I think it's important to note that religious faith in definition (unshakable, perhaps irrational) and religious faith in practice can be very different things, as evidenced by theists who have "deconverted" to atheism.

Nice post, can't wait for tomorrow's. :)

Steve Caldwell

Greta wrote:
"None of these things is logically impossible, or physically impossible. (Well, except the one about being a Cylon.)"

So you've got a mirrored ceiling and you've confirmed her spine doesn't glow?


Greta Christina

Total tangent, but Steve raises an interesting (if entertainingly trivial) question. Does NOBODY in the BSG world do it doggie-style?

Sorry for the hijack, but it had to be said.


Speaking of BSG, I'm glad that they are showing more of Rehka Sharma's Tori Foster. Television suffers from a dearth of hot looking Indian babes!

And who knows, Season 4 is still young. There's always a chance that there will be some Baltar/Tori doggie action going on!

John Moeller

Excellent post. This is just the argument I've been looking for to counter the faith/lack thereof argument.


Greta, great post, as always!

There's a question you didn't ask:

- "What it would take to convert you into a theist?"

You can change "what" above for "what amount of evidence".

Personally if, for example [what most people identifies as the image of] God itself appears before me, I'd rather seek professional psychiatric advise than a church.

So, insight tells me that although we rant a lot about how difficult is to convince religious people that they are mistaken, even with tons of evidence on our favor, the converse is also true. Think about it.

Kind regards,


My favorite quote on faith comes from Mark Twain, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

It is said by Pudd'n Head Wilson in "Following the Equator", an excellent book by the way.

The Barefoot Bum

"I don't agree with certain hard-line atheists who insist that religious faith is always blind faith; that it always means refusing to question or doubt; that it always means absolute obedience to the authorities and precepts of one's religion."

And then you go on to argue precisely the opposite, that religious faith *is* always blind faith.

"But I've also known believers who do question, do doubt, do think for themselves, do have their eyes open. For at least some believers, a faith that can't weather questioning is a weak-ass faith that isn't worth having. Faith in honest doubt, and all that."

I've argued earlier that the believer's "doubt" is just as substantively and fundamentally different from skeptical doubt as the believer's faith is different from skeptical "faith".

I think it's unhelpful and confusing to use the same word to describe two fundamentally different concepts except in the most throwaway informal context (which this article is not). Just because all natural languages are somewhat equivocal does not mean that we should embrace that equivocation in formal expository writing.

The skeptic's "faith" isn't faith. It's *confidence*: belief on the basis of evidence. The believer's "doubt" isn't doubt, it's *angst*: questioning without answering, questioning and then dismissing the question.

"The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." -- Mark Twain


What an excellent entry, I've struggled to articulate this difference between secular and religious faith and you've hit the nail on the head.

Can't wait for tomorrow's entry.

David Harmon

A brilliant piece!

Even when people's secular faith leans towards the irrational -- faith in lovers who repeatedly cheat, faith in leaders who repeatedly let us down -- it still could theoretically be contradicted by evidence

In practice, a lot of those cases aren't so much about "irrational faith" so much as about post-abuse and Stockholm syndrome. Plus some contribution from non-obvious "confounding rewards" -- i.e., Shrub's early investors all got nice tax write-offs for his failures.

David Harmon

Bah, I keep forgetting no italics here. (Can you please do something about that?) The first big paragraph above is, of course, yours.

Greta Christina

""There's a question you didn't ask:

"- "What it would take to convert you into a theist?"

"You can change "what" above for "what amount of evidence"."

Actually, I did ask it, Or at least, I mentioned it. But I did it very much in passing, and it'd be easy to miss.

That's exactly what the piece by Ebonmuse that I keep referring to, The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists, is about. It's a list of evidence that he would accept to convince him that any given religion was true. I keep meaning to write a list of my own, but Ebon's is close enough to what mine would be that I just keep on being lazy and pointing to his instead. :-)


What you call secular faith I prefer to call trust or confidence, simply to avoid confusion.

Ian Lazdeck

Brilliant post, Greta. One of your best - and that's saying a LOT.


I am reminded of a post by some clown describing his *certainty* that his and only his definition of god, Jesus and the end of times BS was right, so he wouldn't *believe* any of it, unless it happened exactly how he envisioned. The reply to this, on PZ's site, was:

Imagine that a great bearded man, 10 miles tall, suddenly manifests himself on Earth, and shouts out in a voice every human being on the planet can hear, "I AM JEHOVAH, LORD OF LORDS, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, ULTIMATE JUDGE OF YOUR WORTHINESS," and he's accompanied by a flock of winged angels with trumpets, and all the birds and beasts congregate around him, bowing and acknowledging his majesty, everyone who uses his name in vain abruptly bursts into green flame and crumbles to ash (I won't even mention the horrors that descend on those who break the other commandments), laws of nature are suspended, televangelists are teleported to his outstretched right hand and stand there wearing crowns of gold, etc., etc. etc.

Every atheist will be saying "Right, well, I guess I was wrong then—there is an almighty awesome being." And we'll be rummaging in our closets for that tatty old bible we got from our devout spinster aunt years ago.

Stanley Fish, on the other hand, will be standing there squeaking, "I can see him, therefore he isn't a god."

The other posters are right Greta, you basically contradicted yourself when claiming that you where not going to call religious faith "blind". Its a bit hard to argue otherwise, when *real* discussions between the faithful and non-believers, no matter how good they start off, always, at some point, regress to the theist going, "You are right about a lot of what you have argued, especially about why I believe, but I ***know*** I am right!", and the non-believer going, "If you admit I was right about 99.9% of all of it, how the frack do you still justify believing this BS?", and the later always getting the former statement as the answer.

Greta Christina

Actually, I'm going to defend my position that religious faith isn't necessarily blind faith.

When I think of the phrase "blind faith," I think of... well, blindness. Not seeing. Either willfully refusing to look at the possibility that their faith might be wrong, or literally being unable to see the possibility that they might be wrong, or just not being very interested in looking at the questions.

Some examples: Seeing people who don't share their faith as evil (and actively trying to remove them from the community to prevent contamination). The "Those questions come from the devil" trope. Trusting whatever their religious leader says without considering the questions for themselves. "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it."

And while that kind of faith is certainly common, it's not universal, and it's not inherent to the nature of religious faith. There are believers who can see the problems of religious faith very clearly, who take those problems very seriously, and who have asked themselves very hard questions about it. And they don't stop asking them. In fact, many serious religious thinkers speak out quite strongly against blind faith.

Religious believes certainly have blind spots... but then, so do people with secular, small "f" faith. Having a blind spot, being unable to see an error in your logic, isn't blind faith. That's just the rationalizing human mind at work.

It's a fine point, I'll grant you, and we may ultimately just be quibbling about language. But I really think that "blind faith" isn't necessarily the same as irrational faith. Blind faith means not asking questions, not even being willing to consider the possibility that there are questions to be asked. Irrational faith means using a faulty algorithm for coming up with answers.

Nurse Ingrid

I think Andy raises a fair point, and it's one I've thought about a lot in these sorts of discussions.

I agree that if some 10-mile-high bearded guy appeared and started doing miracles, I'd be more likely to think that I needed some psych meds than to think that I must really be seeing God.

But I do think I know exactly what would convince me:

If our life experiences in the world were different. If, for example, people's prayers were answered -- more often than could be attributable to random chance. If the faithful really did live longer, healthier, happier lives than nonbelievers. If there were some observable, measurable, tangible benefit to being religious (other than good fuzzy warm feelings).

As long as good and bad fortune continue to be randomly distributed among all humans throughout space and time, I'm going to continue to say that I see no evidence of an interventionist god.


I'm actually in the middle of an ongoing discussion with a third person who's offered an answer to my challenge. I'll post a link once we hash out a few more issues which I've asked him to clarify. To give you an idea of the kind of criteria he's offering, though, one of the things he says would change his mind would be if we invented a time machine that allowed us to look back into the past, as if we were watching TV, and observe that it happened exactly how scientists describe it in every detail. This was a typical item on his list.

In a powerful piece of confirmation for your thesis, Greta, I asked him the obvious follow-up question: Why don't you insist on the same standard for Christianity? He said it was because "Christianity does not claim to be the result of scientific research". In other words, because Christianity *asks* its followers to evaluate its claims using a lower standard of evidence, that's what he does.

Very much along the lines of what you said would shake your faith in Ingrid, I offered him the following thought experiment:

"Let's say I suspect my wife is cheating on me, and I hire a private investigator to follow her around. He takes photos of her in another man's car and entering his apartment. When I present her with this evidence, though, she says that she loves me and I should take it on faith that she's been trustworthy. Since she's offering that explanation on the basis of faith and not claiming it to be scientific, should I evaluate it using lower standards of evidence?"

He hasn't answered so far. I think examples like these are quite useful in pointing out the difference between secular and religious faith (a difference which apologists often seek to obscure) - as well as showing the implicit absurdity of a religious person trusting in God when, by their own rules, he's done things that would be more than enough to shatter their trust in any human being.


I've been thinking about what would convince me of the existence of God -- I read Ebon's list a while ago. I think that actually a lot of the stuff on his list wouldn't convince me, at least not immediately. Faced with something like the 10-mile-high bearded guy, I think I'd look first for a brain-chemistry explanation (have I totally lost it?) and then for a science fiction explanation (I find the idea of highly-advanced aliens showing up and messing with us easier to imagine than the God hypothesis).

So what would convince me? I think I came up with a simple one: I'd be convinced if the laws of probability were consistently distorted in favour of the members of some particular religion. If randomly-occurring bad things happened to them less often than to the rest of us, and randomly-occurring good things happened more often, that would be pretty convincing!

the chaplain

Some Christians (Wm. Lane Craig and Tony Campolo come to mind off the top of my head) have written books in which they argue that their faith is reasoned and reasonable. And it is --- to a point.

I wouldn't mind if Christians said, as you did (paraphrasing here): my faith is not 100% (and it never can be), but the degree of certainty is high enough for me to accept it and work with it. Moreover, should contrary evidence force me to scale back the degree of certainty, then I will have to re-evaluate, and possibly revise or scuttle completely, my faith.

Instead, Christians often try to fill the certainty gap with "inner knowledge," or the "witness of the holy spirit," or some similar mystical dreck (woo, if you prefer). If they admit any degree of uncertainty, then, if they are honest with themselves and others, they'll have to re-examine the sources of their beliefs, which are very shaky indeed. It was precisely such hard, honest examination that decimated my religious faith.

G Felis

In substance, I think what you say is spot on in every respect. In style, I have to throw my vote in with Barefoot Bum above: Even if you explicitly say "this is the same word used two different ways meaning different things," you only encourage the very confusion you seek to oppose by talking about religious "faith" and secular "faith" side by side like this.

For my part, I find the characterization of any belief based on anything less than 100% absolute certainty as a "leap of faith" to be particularly obfuscatory. Justification for one's beliefs is not about absolute certainty, and believing a claim which is a conclusion drawn from evidence and reason does not require a "leap of faith" just because we cannot have all possible evidence and certifiably airtight reasoning. Certainty's hard to come by outside the realm of axiomatic abstractions like math and symbolic logic: In the altogether messier real world where we don't get to define ambiguity out of existence and set up all the rules and basic principles in advance, demanding certainty is a sucker's game. The demand for certainty is usually no more than a bit of cheap theatrical rhetoric when aimed outward, and a transparent bit of rationalization when aimed inward. Calling belief based on anything shy of absolute certainty "faith" - however qualified - stretches even this malleable word's definition beyond recognition. Please stop.

As someone who has argued that faith is not merely irrational but is also a moral failing (link below), I look forward to part II.

Greta Christina

Ebon: You are fucking kidding me, right?

That is so totally bass-ackwards, it makes my head hurt. If anything, it should be the other way around. Science doesn't claim to be anything but a good approximation of the truth, gradually improving over time, arrived at by flawed humans. But if religious texts are divinely inspired, then why should they be anything other than perfect in every way?

A time machine? Sheesh.


Ingrid, the problem with the evidence you mention is that is highly subjective. Believers already say that they live happier and healthier lives because of religion.

Happiness is different for every one. For some, it may mean having money. For others, having love. Yet for others, having power. And it goes and goes.

They claim that they are happier than the rest... How do you PROVE it?

About living longer, I'm sure we could name hundredths of more mundane motives (less drug abuse, less sexual promiscuity -- at least between the true believers) to dismiss the possibility of divine intervention.

Face it: before you accept evidence to change you into a believer, you'd demand to be proved without a shade of doubt. I'd do it. I'd say that exceptional claims calls for exceptional tests and keep seeking natural explanations for any "clear evidence of god intervention". And if I can't find any, I'd still insist that the natural explanation is there and that it will eventually be found by some future scientist.

I'm kind of ashamed to say it loud, but I think I can't be converted into a believer by any amount of evidence. Does that make me a fundamentalist atheist?

Kind regards,

J. J. Ramsey

"Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, 'Nothing -- I have faith in my god.'"

I see a big catch in this: what about those who've deconverted? Obviously, such people did have an answer to the question, "What would convince you that you were mistaken?", because, well, they obviously found something that convinced them that they were mistaken. Wouldn't that imply that deconverts never had what you would describe as "religious faith"?

Nurse Ingrid

Andy, I get what you're saying, and for the most part I agree. No matter what "evidence" was presented to me, I'd feel compelled to rule out just about any other naturalistic explanation before I'd be willing to conclude that there really was a God.

And that's very much in keeping with how science works. If new evidence comes along that contradicts everything we thought we knew, we don't just throw up our hands and say, "well, that's that." First we check the evidence: was the study designed well? Was the measuring equipment functioning properly? Was there some bias we didn't account for?" and most importantly, "can we replicate these results?" The more well established a theory is, the more evidence you will need to argue that it ought to be changed.

That being said, I'm confident that if there really were measurable benefits to being a believer, it would be easy to prove. And I'm not talking about whatever benefits come from the sense of community, warm fuzzy feelings, etc. that some churchgoers probably do get. I'm talking about benefits that come from God, not one's fellow humans.

Here is the study that I would propose: pick some instances of truly random bad fortune. Childhood cancer, say, or one's house being destroyed by a tornado or a flood. If you could show a real difference in the instance of such events in the families of churchgoers who prayed for God to watch over their families, versus nonbelievers, in a study that controlled for drinking, smoking, socioeconomic status, etc., that would certainly give me pause.

I feel confident saying this, of course, because I know that such a study would reveal NO such difference. And if it did, I wouldn't believe it until it was replicated many times. But I do think that if such evidence truly existed, I would be forced to rethink my atheism.

So no, I am NOT a "fundamentalist atheist." If believers have evidence, they should BRING IT. Like any good scientist, I am ready to be proven wrong.

Greta Christina

The question a couple of people have posed -- "If religious faith is irrational and can't be undermined by any evidence, then how and why do people deconvert?" -- is a good one, and it's one I'm going to have to think about more carefully. But my initial response is this:

I've read a fair number of deconversion stories, and while rational arguments and evidence often play a significant role, they don't always, or even usually, play the deciding role. They soften the ground, put deep cracks in the foundation... but it seems like the final step is often a very subjective, emotional one. People who have deconverted often say things like, "One day I was praying, and I realized that it felt like I was talking to the ceiling." And while a rational observation of contradictions in their religion often plays a large part, an emotional and moral revulsion against the horrors of the religion (such as the horrors of hell, and the unfairness of does and doesn't go there) often plays just as large a part, and in many cases more.

Interesting question. I'll have to think about it more, and do a closer study of deconversion stories.


Nope, Greta, I ain't kidding. :)

Another item on his list was "Conclusive evidence agreed upon by ALL scientists, not just a consensus of the majority of mainstream scientists." I can only interpret that as saying that he won't accept the scientific view of the world unless there's not one single doubter to be found anywhere. Again, needless to say, this is not a standard that's likely to be met in any field of inquiry ever in history; and again, it's obviously not a standard he applies to his own religious beliefs.

As you said in your post today, these three people represent the sum total of responses which I've had in the almost seven years this essay has been posted on the web. I think this is a case where the exceptions really prove the rule when it comes to the claim that religious faith is designed to be independent from evidence.


Ingrid, thank you for answering.
If I gave the impression that I accused you (or anybody else) of being a fundamental atheist, please forgive me. That is not the case. I was just talking about me.
I was only exposing my own shame on realizing that I'm no better than theist people that refuse to give up believing in presence of evidence. It seems that I won't start believing even in presence of evidence that god exists.
The experiment you mention won't work for me, sorry.
Even if stars in the sky change position to form a triangle with an eye inside (or something like that), I'd still be a non believer.
I too, am ready to be proved wrong, and have been in the past, many times. It is just that I can't imagine how atheism could be proved wrong scientifically.
It is interesting to note that the last part of Ebonmuse's commentary above: "religious faith [or lack of thereof, let me add] is designed to be independent from evidence" seems to work BOTH ways, at least for me.
Thank again to you and also to Greta for providing the means of having this excellent exchange of thoughts.

Kind regards,


I have to disagree with those who say we shouldn't use the word 'faith'. It should be used cautiously, of course, but in a context like this, where it's clear that there is a difference between what Greta calls 'secular faith' and 'religious faith', I'd say that outlining secular faith highlights why religious faith isn't necessary and what's wrong with it.

J. J. Ramsey

Greta Christina: "I've read a fair number of deconversion stories, and while rational arguments and evidence often play a significant role, they don't always, or even usually, play the deciding role. They soften the ground, put deep cracks in the foundation... but it seems like the final step is often a very subjective, emotional one. People who have deconverted often say things like, 'One day I was praying, and I realized that it felt like I was talking to the ceiling.' And while a rational observation of contradictions in their religion often plays a large part, an emotional and moral revulsion against the horrors of the religion (such as the horrors of hell, and the unfairness of does and doesn't go there) often plays just as large a part, and in many cases more."

My case may be a bit unusual, but for me, emotional and moral revulsion didn't play that big a role. As I started seeing the cracks in my old beliefs, I certainly felt freer to say, "You know, that really is pretty ugly and senseless when you think about it," about parts of those beliefs, but that was secondary. Then again, even as a Christian, I did have an answer to the question, "What would it take to give up your faith?" The answer was a natural explanation for the biblical resurrection accounts that didn't look clumsy and ad hoc.

Nurse Ingrid

Andy, no apologies are necessary. I think we are basically in agreement. To my mind, this question is simply an interesting thought experiment.

I'm guessing that you would agree that the "study" I proposed, if carried out, would not show any "God effect" whatsoever. I believe that strengthens my position, rather than weakening it.

As I have said before on other threads, if there really were an interventionist god, the effect would not be subtle. It would be glaringly obvious, and it would indeed be foolish to remain an atheist in the face of such strong evidence.

That's why I'm an atheist -- because I know the evidence isn't there.

And I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of.

Laura Deal

As a non-fundamentalist Christian I would have a problem coming up with what would make me lose my faith because my belief isn't in the Bible it's in God. I see the Bible as a collection of writings written over a long period of time by a lot of different people trying to define, explore, explain, and celebrate their relationship with God. I consider some of the writings mythology, some of it reports on historical events which have been gathered from oral reports, spoken and then written by people who are fallible and like all people, view events through their own lens. So like any collection of writings on any subject I care about, some of it feels true or partially true to me and some of it doesn't. So what I believe is based on what is in my heart. This is why I call it faith and not fact.

I question what I believe a lot and none of what I believe contradicts anything that I've learned in science class or observed in the world. I believe in evolution and gravity and that the earth revolves around the sun. I believe that shit happens and some of it is random and unfair. I also believe there is a divine energy in the world that all of us can connect to and that it can be a force for good in the world if we let it. I believe there are many ways to connect to this spirit, I find the easiest way for me to connect is through the teachings of Jesus, but I don't think that means that everyone needs to follow that path. I believe that prayer has power, but I don't believe that being "good" and praying for something always gets you what you want. I see prayer as connecting with God for guidance and support. I sort of see it as being loved and supported by a perfect friend or parent In times of trouble, your friends and family (well the family part is theoretical for me- I don't find support or guidance from my biological family) give you love, and can help you find answers to your questions but they rarely solve your problems for you- though they can offer help. This is my experience with prayer. When I pray, I sometimes find answers or solutions to my questions or problems, but mostly I just find strength and comfort.

I believe that God is powerful but only partially interventionist. I believe that not only do people have free will but nature does as well. Could God control the weather? I don't know and I don't have an opinion either way. Does God control the weather. I still don't know, but my opinion is no. Since nature and people have free will then I believe that God only intervenes when invited. I believe that only people invite it, so prayer can only bring intervention if everyone involved has agreed to be intervened with. I know this sounds like I pulled all this out of my ass, but it's actually a belief formed by my experiences and observations. For example when I was out of college working a dead end job I hated, (selling burgers) but couldn't afford to take time off to go look for another job and even if I could, I had no idea what I wanted to do. During an especially bad day at work I prayed. I told God I needed guidance, I didn't know what I wanted other than not this, I wanted to do something I would love, something important, I asked for help finding that. About 5 minutes later a woman from my church walked in to buy lunch. I didn't know her very well and I'd never seen her at the restaurant before, but I knew who she was. She got halfway up to the counter and then stopped in her tracks and stared at me like she'd seen a ghost. She walked up to me and said, "This is going to sound really weird but I think you might be the answer to my prayers." Turns out she'd been driving around town, crying and praying because the after-school program at her school was completely falling apart. She'd hired and fired a bunch of people and nobody could get the program to work. She pulled over because she needed to stop crying and eat something before she caused an accident. So she had been praying in the parking lot for strength and guidance at the same time I had been praying. She had seen me interacting with the kids at church but she hadn't been to church for awhile due to her husband's health issues so we really didn't know each other and she hadn't thought of me for the job. Long story ending- she offered me a job at her school and 20 years later I'm still a teacher. This could all be coincidence and it's proof of nothing but it feels real to me and it's one of the reasons I believe about prayer what I do. Now I also know that if I had sat on my ass praying 24/7 and hadn't also played with children in the church yard or if I hadn't rocked the job she gave me, I wouldn't still be teaching. I think free will is a gift from God and if you don't use it then you are not fully connecting to God and therefore your prayers are hollow.

I am fully aware that there is no proof for what I believe but I can't think of what could disprove what I believe. Maybe some of the prayer stuff could be proved wrong, but then I would change that part of my belief, it wouldn't prove to me I was wrong about there being a God, it would just prove to me that I don't know or understand everything about God, but I already know that, so it wouldn't shake me up too much.

So I couldn't honestly tell you what would convince my I'm wrong because the nature of my faith doesn't conflict with any reality I've ever experienced or read about. I embraced my faith as an adult who had always been a critical thinker. I was raised to think for myself and I was never a kid who believed something just because I was told so by a grown-up. I don't think something is true because it's in the Bible or because someone says God told them it was true. I look at the evidence and if there is a way to prove or disprove something I consider it a fact (with of course the knowledge that even "facts" can wind up being wrong, but still- you go with the best evidence). Then there are things that haven't been proven or disproven. With those things I go with my gut and move on with the realization that they are beliefs and shouldn't be treated the same way facts are. My gut tells me that there is a God. My gut tells me that God is love and calls on us to care for one another and strive to honor the divine within every living thing. I look at this belief and accept that I could be wrong but it's not like if somehow I'm proven wrong I will be all "Damn, I wish I hadn't tried to care for people and honor the divine in them." The truth is my faith isn't the only reason I try and care for people. If I didn't believe in God I would still believe in Good. But I do believe in God and it makes it easier to care about people I don't like. It makes it easier to care about myself. Would I still try and do the right thing if I knew there was no God. Yes, would I still think redwood trees were awesome and be filled with joy at the sight and smell of them? Yes. Would you still go on living and laughing if you had never met Ingrid? Yes. Are you glad you met Ingrid? Yes. Do you value her love even though you were a complete person before you met her? Yes, just like I value my faith. It's different, but not entirely.


Does NOBODY in the BSG world do it doggie-style?

Well, perhaps in the feministic, egalitarian, enlightened society of the futurte, people are too busy licking carpet...


@ Laura,

heartfelt, well-written post.


Andy, if you have a hard time imagining proof of a god's existence, have a look at Carl Sagan's book _Contact_. The (fictional) proof discovered at the very end dropped my jaw. That would convince me that the universe was created by an intelligence of literally unimaginable power.

Screw Clarke's third law, there is no technology *that* advanced. I don't think the abrahamic YHWH is capable of pulling a trick like that. Maybe he could fool us into thinking that we saw that evidence, but actually create it? The folks who wrote those stories didn't have the vision to imagine a being that powerful.

(Note that this proves that atheism is wrong, not that any existing religion I've ever heard of has it right.)


Eclectic, I've read the book many many years ago. The proof discovered at the end is a very good trick indeed.
While I agree that discovering something by those lines will shake my view of the universe, I always thought that you can't really draw a perfect circle using square pixels in a square gird.
Anyway, that *would* be enough or be very very close to a proof that the universe was "designed".

Kind regards,

Jesus Cake

This is a great post, very clear and concise display of the argument and differences between dogma and reason.

Generalizing here but I feel like 99% of the time an atheist and a theist get into an argument they start talking about stupid things like how all the animals couldn't possibly fit onto Noah's ark or how Jonah couldn't have lived in a whale's stomach for 3 days. These arguments miss the forest for the trees. The real issue is that of using faith vs that of using reason.


Thank you! You have a way of articulating these things which make me think, "I wish I'd written that!"

I say thank you because articles like this can be "cut-out-and-keep" arguments that I'm likely to find useful!


hmmm, Andy's probably long gone but my reading here, I'm both agreeing and disagreeing with him. Thing is, there's already so much evidence I have that does NOT make sense in the context of an involved divine being, plus the evidence that people's sanity is sometimes lost, that if all of a sudden the laws of probability appeared to change, or if apparitions just suddenly appeared, my memory of previous evidence plus seeing on the outside other people going insane would leave any rational fragment of my brain left certain that I was experiencing a psychotic break.

That's very different than to say what would have convinced me were I to have existed in another reality, one where no one ever went insane, where in fact the laws of probability did favor certain religious groups, god appeared and talked to everyone regularly, etc.

So... any sudden change in reality's appearance would be very suspect from a rational understanding for me, but that's not to say that I wouldn't have been a permanent believer or couldn't have been permanently convinced in another context. It's also not to say that there could not possibly be a rational explanation for the sudden change, just that it would have to be exceedingly convincing.

Harold Ennulat

'So now we have some pertinent synonyms for "secular faith." Trust. Reliance. Confidence. Conviction. Hope.' from your post.

The secular faith definition you offer, I have no problem applying to my Lord and my God.

My evidence is the Bible and science and what I observe around me.
Your citations of religious faith convinces me that there are lots of other definitions out there. Some of the definitions do however include the terms you cite in your secular definition.

If I may cite the NASB version of Hebrews 11:1 referenced in your article, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Note the use of the two synonyms you use for secular faith, namely hope and conviction.

This faith does not mean there are no doubts or uncertainties, but that we are willing to act on it none the less because we have nothing better to act on.

While some, perhaps even many, theist may insist that religious faith is much more of a blind faith, does it make any sense that a belief in the true God (if he exists) should require this? Even the passage from Hebrews 11:1 doesn't seem to require this.

What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.

There is one more observation that I should make. Many of these discussions give the impression that we get to choose what we believe about God. If God is real and if he has revealed himself we need to let God speak, and follow that path believing what God wants us to believe to the extent that it is possible. That said, it is impossible to convince a believer in God to believe something else, if he believes that God is saying otherwise. To convince Bible believing Christians requires undermining the Bible itself because this book claims itself to be the “word of God” (whatever that means) and has lots to say about who God is and what he wants from people.

It occurs to me that our faith systems if we have spent any time on them at all (either theist or atheist) are each a puzzle of pieces that we have fit together in a fairly complete picture, for many of us anyway. It takes more then just showing that a few pieces don't fit any more before we are convinced about our faith. For example, I have learned that for a Mormon to leave their faith after learning there is something wrong with it, averages around 10 years. That's once they are more or less convinced! (Perhaps Ms. C.L.Hanson can confirm this).

That's a lot of blogging if this also applies to the theist/atheist dialogs....

Greta Christina
What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way.

Then let me introduce you to the Skeptic's Annotated Bible: outlining in detail the internal inconsistencies, logical absurdities, and gross scientific and historical inaccuracies that are in every chapter of the Bible, and practically on every page. (Not to mention the moral horrors.)

If your "evidence" is the Bible, I strongly encourage you to get better evidence. The Bible is as reliable as Kleenex in a hurricane. If it weren't for the fact that so many people have based their religion on it for so many centuries, nobody would take it seriously as anything other than an interesting document of the culture of the time.

And if your response to the massive number of errors in the Bible is to defend it anyway and come up with elaborate rationalizations for why these mistakes aren't really mistakes... then you're pretty much proving my point. Which is that many believers think their belief is based on evidence... but when pressed about how poor and unreliable their "evidence" is, they fall back on faith, the religious version -- i.e., believing no matter what, despite having no good evidence to support the belief and lots of good evidence that contradicts it.

Harold Ennulat

Thanks, I'll look. I'm very interested in what is considered so inconsistent, etc. to cause the Bible to be thrown out whole sale.


I'm very interested in what is considered so inconsistent, etc. to cause the Bible to be thrown out whole sale.

Is this for real?? O_o

Harold Ennulat

Wow what a cool web site! I did not know anything like this existed, the entire Bible with skeptical commentary and a Christian commentary to the skeptic commentary.
And yes I am serious. I did not know that these views we so well documented. I see that there are some atheists that at least claim to have reasons for their views as opposed to just not choosing to believe because they want to make all their own decisions about their life rather then giving God authority over their life.
Greta, as for the "the internal inconsistencies, logical absurdities, and gross scientific and historical inaccuracies" identified in the "Skeptics Annotated Bible". Aren't most them already address in the Christian response?
Wouldn't you agree that the author of the SAB is just using a shot gun approach to question everything that doesn't make immediate sense? In looking at Luke 1 he questions the drinking of wine when it says that John the Baptist will not drink wine, he questions weather anyone can be just or righteous when in the first case it was talking about a range of people from “disobedient to the just” and in the latter it defined righteousness as someone who was genuinely diligent in keeping Gods commands, where just a few things I noticed. As a specific, Luke 1:20 where the angel says “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, because thou believest not my words..” were rated cruel or violent, absurd, and inconsistent as if God is cruel to take away someones speech temporarily for unbelief and to convince Zacharias about what was about to happen. This passage was also rated inconsistent because he did not do this to Mary. The Christian commentator notes how these were different. More importantly though, can’t God do as he wishes? How can anyone have more wisdom then God to call him inconsistent? Absurd: An Angel visiting someone is not your everyday experience… However can God not act as he chooses? I’m not sure how this is absurd unless one believes in advance that this is not the work of God, which is not being objective.
That is not to say that some of the questions and comments are good questions and comments.
The Christian commentator seems to do a pretty good job of answering the objections based on a review of the summary items for Luke. Most of them seemed well reasoned.
Some of them may well be "elaborate rationalizations" as you say, but all or most of them? Have you looked over the Christian comments section placed next to the SAB comments? Do these not strike you as at least plausible?
I guess the question to ask is "What is this document called the Bible?" Is it reasonable to take an ancient text and demand that it be scientific, or use western logic (it's an eastern text after all), or to demand that it record history the way we would expect today? Or does it need the church or any person to give it “a boost” or status that it itself does not claim? The Bible is what it is and we need to examine it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be or doesn’t want it to be. I trust that would be fair for both the theist and the atheist. Does this seem fair to you?


Is it reasonable to take an ancient text and demand that it be scientific, or use western logic (it's an eastern text after all), or to demand that it record history the way we would expect today?

Uhhhh... It was YOU who claimed the bible was reliable to such an extent that you would believe there is a god for no other reason than that this document is O_o

WE have never demanded this of the bible, because WE know fully well that it isn't scientific or logic or records history in a way we expect today. The only reason we keep pointing this out is because theist keeps insisting it is!

The Bible is what it is and we need to examine it for what it is, not for what someone wants it to be or doesn’t want it to be. I trust that would be fair for both the theist and the atheist. Does this seem fair to you?

Then why don't you do that? This is not a problem for atheists! That's what we have been doing all along!

"not for what someone wants it to be..."? O_o Is this the worst case of projection I have seen in some time!? WE see exactly what it is. YOU wanted it to be a reliable proof for god, which after you have read the site Greta linked, should be quite clear on that it is not! Don't you see how strange it is to first have such expectations on an ancient text, and then when shown that those expextations are absurd, turn around and say WE are wrong to have those expectations?

And your faith in god is as solid as ever I gather?

Harold Ennulat

What does O_o stand for?
I like the fact that were able to identify the most salient points.
You deny that I believe them however when I say I do. Or perhaps there is some misunderstanding. For example just because I note that the Bible doesn't record history the way we do today doesn't mean it doesn't record history at all... it clearly does. Does it get all the details right or does it use details to give general context? Or is our own understanding that needs examimination? etc...

I'm also sensing that perhaps there is the expectation that if God were to write a Book that it would be perfect? The Bible is written by people and inspired by God is what the Christian churches say.

There are principles of interpretation that need to be applied when looking at any text especially an ancient text, such as context, literary style, references to common beliefs or common sayings, historical setting... In reading over the SAB comments just in one chapter it is unclear what principles are being applied when commenting, but they seem fairly literal and often out of context. I pointed out that at least some things noted as inconsistent is doing nothing more then noting that God acts differently in different situations.... actually wouln't God not be God at all if he doesn't get to do as he pleases?


What does O_o stand for?

Sorry. That's an emoticon that stands for eyes staring wildly in unbelief at what you are reading. I guess I've just been too much in some fandoms that uses it. But yeah, that's my general feeling about this, I suppose.

I'll be busy today so I will have to get back to you on this a bit later.

Greta Christina

Harold: You don't get to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the evidence provided by the Bible"... and then, when presented with its massive body of factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions, say, "Well, it's not fair to judge the Bible by today's standards of evidence and reason."

You don't get to have it both ways. You're using circular reasoning: you're saying "The Bible is my evidence that God exists" -- but when it's pointed out that the Bible isn't a reliable source of evidence, you make excuses for it, based on your faith in God.

Which is exactly what I talked about in this piece. I quote myself: "But the things they consider 'evidence' -- namely, the Bible, and its supposed inerrancy -- are themselves objects of faith. Despite the Bible's historical and scientific errors, its contradictions, its moral atrocities, etc., the belief in its inerrancy is itself, for these believers, an unshakable axiom."

I also find it interesting that you focused in your comment on the logical contradictions in the Bible, as opposed to its flat-out factual errors in history and science. Those are what I find most compelling -- if the Bible is such a reliable source of information, why would it get actual, simple, verifiable facts so wrong? But I will address one of your points about inconsistencies that jumped out at me.

More importantly though, can’t God do as he wishes? How can anyone have more wisdom then God to call him inconsistent?

This is exactly what I'm talking about. You say that the Bible, and the actions of God in it, are reliable and consistent, and you use this as evidence of God's existence. But then, when inconsistencies in God's actions as described in the Bible are pointed out, you say, "Hey, God gets to do whatever he wants, who are we to judge?" I hate this argument for a lot of reasons -- mostly because it makes a mockery of the entire concept of good and evil (more on that in my piece The Problem of Suffering). But I also hate it because it's so circular. "I know God exists because the Bible is reliable and consistent -- but when God's actions as described in the Bible seem unreliable and inconsistent, we have to just trust in God."

I agree that the authors of the SAB point out both trivial errors and big, important ones. I sort of wish they wouldn't, as it makes it harder to sort out the big important ones. But the point remains: You said that you believe in God because of the reliability of the Bible. If that's true, then when the massive unreliability of the Bible is pointed out, then yo should be seriously questioning your faith. If instead, your response to "The Bible is unreliable" is to shrug and make excuses, then you're making my point for me -- which is that religion faith is not based on evidence, and is not falisifable.

Harold Ennulat

Greta: You are giving me lots to chew on here. Let me take what I think is your main point: My Evidence for God IS the Bible, but it is not the only evidence. Also, some of it is just definitional. For example by definition God gets to choose his actions. By definition God is smarter then we are. We just aren't in a position to question him. And besides if we do it doesn't change anything about his existence (or non-existence). The SAB commentator seems to think it does.

As for the Bibles “massive body of factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions”, I think we need to break this down a bit. I mentioned some of the principles previously. I also cited examples from Luke 1 where things called inconsistencies are not really inconsistent or at least not necessarily inconsistent, and anything miraculous is considered absurd. What would you consider a good test case to examine some specific “factual errors, logical absurdities, and internal contradictions”? I picked Luke 1 because that’s what our family was reading, but I’m game for something hard. I keep thinking of the resurrection passages because they are pretty out there.

By the way, I don't believe I have yet said that I believe the Bible in spite of the evidence against such a belief. For now I'm questioning your claim to "massive errors...." because in examining Luke 1 at least, I didn't find it very fair in the SAB commentary. If I comment negatively on everything you say in one of your articles, that doesn't prove your writing has "massive errors", Wouldn't you agree? The SAB commentary has that kind of a feel to it, not just pointing out trivial errors, but it seems clear he points out errors that we would not really consider errors.. (such as making Zacharias mute and not Mary).

Harold Ennulat

"if the Bible is such a reliable source of information, why would it get actual, simple, verifiable facts so wrong?"
You mean like the cock crowing 1, 2, or 3 times in the Gospels?
Or more like the Genesis story being completely out of wack with Evolutionary Theory?

Things like how many times the cock crowed when Peter denied knowing Jesus concerned me a lot too. However once I discovered that the Bible is 66 different books each with its own literary style and purpose written by men then this did not concern me as much. On the one hand it seems odd that they didn't get this detail right. On the other hand they all mention that Peter denied Jesus before the cock crowed the last time. It can be argued that this makes this account more believable because clearly they weren't copying each other and either did not properly recall how many times the cock crowed or did not think it important. Or possibly some of the authors omitted the extra crowing details to get to the point quicker. So is it fair to say that this makes it un-credible or does it actually make this more credible because all three say Peter denied Jesus?

The Genesis story, I can only offer some possibilities. One possibility is that it is only suppose to give an idea of what the beginning of man was like and to communicate that God created everything in a perfect world, man rebelled against God by disobeying God and eating the apple, etc. The actual creation details were taken from the best data available at the time....
Another possibility is that physical laws may have been different back then. A stretch? Yes and No. Consider this. If you were God and you could create a man, how old would he appear to be on the day you created him? If God wanted to make light and darkness without a sun couldn't he do it?
While this latter view is the view I favor, I don't hold it super tightly. It goes in the area of one of those things I don't really understand. However, I don’t have to throw all reason out to believe it when there is a God in the picture who by definition can do such things if he wanted.

My point in all this, is to point out that there are answers to many of the cited “factual errors” that allows one to have faith without just outright ignoring the evidence as I keep hearing is the only way a believer in God can have faith. I hope I’ve demonstrated there is no need to throw out reason to have faith in God.

I guess I changed the language a little from evidence to reason. The book of Genesis is the evidence. How we interpret it is by reason. (Not sure about this but I’m just now seeing that evidence and reason need to go together somehow).

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