Sketches on Atheism

Paranoia, meet theism. Theism, this is paranoia… your biological father.

hancock-joseph-man-with-umbrella-under-a-regional-rainJust so there’s no doubt: Anthropomorphic theism is about as natural as tennis rackets, ice cream cones and bikinis. It is neither automatic nor inevitable. No religion has emerged twice anywhere on the planet, no single deity has been envisaged by two populations separated by time and geography, and not a solitary person in history has arrived independently at Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Scientology or Judaism without it first being taught to them. That is an inalienable, unarguable truth. Theism (the progeny of far older generations of pantheism, Totemism, paganism, animism and the oldest of them all, ancestor cults) is nothing but the latest imaginative appendage to have grown out from (culturally-centric) superstition; itself nothing but the elaborately dressed-up residue cast off from blunders in causation and correlation. That’s all superstition is; irrational mistakes in cognition where we observe one event (B) happening after another event (A) and assume A is responsible for B. Upon sensing a storm approaching my wife’s deeply superstitious great grandmother would, I’m told, crawl beneath the kitchen sink and furiously beat pots and pans together until the lightning and thunder had passed. Not so surprisingly this method of chasing storm demons away worked every time. The storm would pass. The reasons why, of course, differed according to whom you asked.

“The General root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other.” (Francis Bacon)

Like theism, superstition is however also not natural. It will not rise instinctively like hunger, and no two populations will arrive at the same irrational fears. A monstrous, head-exploding, palm tree bending sneeze on the Banks Islands of Polynesia is cause for serious concern as someone is certainly talking badly of you, but for the Maoris in nearby New Zealand the same roof-lifting nose orgasm is reason to celebrate because someone fun is surely about to visit. PF-paranoiaThe tripwire for superstition is cultural, it’s anthropological, but this is not however to say there isn’t a physiological trigger buried deep inside the genome that kicks the door open to culturally-centric superstition and through that paves the way for its uglier but more organised cousin, religion. There is, and it’s spelt  P  A  R  A  N  O  I  A.

Granted, on first inspection most will say paranoia, like superstition, is simply an unwelcomed cognitive clusterfuck, the information processing equivalent of a shipwreck, and in many ways it is just that. It is however an unavoidable, preordained shipwreck hardwired into each and every one of us… and for very good reason: the madness served us extremely well at a time not that very long ago when even the strongest of us were counted as snack items. A breeze bending blades of grass could easily be attributed (albeit in this instance incorrectly) to a stalking lioness and all the dangers that it implied. Danger is bad, and to get ahead of it we, as a species, played it safe and erred on the side of caution. We learnt to jump before (possible) peril arrived. The causal associations made between the unpredictable movement of grasses and the presence of danger (to use this example) was a good thing, a promotable skill, a biologically useful adaption that was slowly but surely etched into our genome. To put it simply, our evolutionary path rewarded the lesser of two evils whereby the cost of paranoia was deemed lower than the cost of scepticism which, if wrong, extracts a painfully high price: namely death. The sceptical hominid might see the bending grass but take a moment to then survey surrounding trees and see if they too were bending. If they were then the probability of wind causing the movement of the grass increased but did not necessarily rule out the presence of a hungry lioness. Wrongly attributing the bending grass to an approaching lioness ninety-nine times out of a hundred was, it appears, far less costly than being wrong once. The paranoid lived on to practice (or fend off) increasingly bad pick-up lines whereas the brazen sceptic tired of jumping at the slightest rustle met a less than pleasant demise.

In a sentence, nature beatified the neurotic.

A tendency to make quick albeit mostly false associations was deemed more evolutionarily beneficial than more reliable but equally more time-consuming rational scepticism. There was a price to pay for this inbuilt paranoia, anxiety and suspicion, but the price was evidently considered tolerable in the face of the more costly alternatives. We are, as such, biologically predisposed to this neurosis. Paranoia is, at a genetic level, our default setting: the natural state of a human being at rest. Bending blades of grass are observed, synaptic nerve endings fire and the observation is linked to past events where the pattern of bending grass is followed by a blinding flash of sandy blonde fur and hazardously huge feline paws. What happens next is entirely involuntary. Up top there is a not-so mild biochemical explosion and norepinephrine floods the brain; the neurological equivalent of someone yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre. Adrenal glands go off like solid rocket fuel motors and adrenalin saturates the sympathetic nervous system. Neurons in the visual cortex spark off at triple normal speed and time appears to slow. Faster than thought the liver dumps its store of glucose into the blood. The heart and lungs snap into overdrive flooding muscles with oxygen, and with that the body is near-instantly prepared for Flight or Fight: a survival mechanism that has changed little, if at all, through the last 830,000 generations.

That’s just the way it is and I can no sooner change that than I can change my eye colour. Today as I walk my dogs an abrupt rustle in the tall grass will make me jump. The likelihood of a lioness leaping out might be remote, a mouse is more probable, but my natural, pre-programmed bias to making the quicker and cheaper false association is there, ingrained. My speedy (life-preserving) reaction, which I’m not shy to admit might include yelping like a little girl, I can thank some deep time relative – perhaps Australopithecus afarensis – for. However, simply because some 830,000 generations ago this neurosis was deemed less expensive than careful scepticism does not mean there hasn’t been a hidden cost slowly accruing in the background; an expense steadily but surely building up like silt behind a once useful dam wall. The truth is there has been, and that cumulative cost is our stubborn attachment to superstition: the nucleus of theism and all its unnatural nonsense.

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315 thoughts on “Paranoia, meet theism. Theism, this is paranoia… your biological father.

  1. Wowza! Hope you’re feeling freshly starched and clean. 🙂 Congratulations, you deserve this. For the man who hates awards, you’ve landed the big prize, I’m proud of you. Best of all you don’t even need to answer questions – so bask in this honor and enjoy.Hugs

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  2. I really envy you. I’d love to be a happy aetheist, but SOMETHING, like the speck of grit in an oyster, won’t let me,It’s totally irrational- or perhaps beyond the rational- and it works for me. It gives a needed shape to my life. You’re lucky to be so sure that you’re right- but then creative doubt/faith hasn’t let me down yet.

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  3. I apologize in advance for the lengthy response, but I do have several comments and observations to make:

    First, this argument commits a form of the genetic fallacy, which claims that just because you explain how something may have began, that definitively explains how it did begin. But this is a non-quantifiable assertion, and so we must label it as such. This is speculation built upon presupposition, with little extant evidence. And whatever evidence is available hardly presents a slam dunk case. Academic consensus on the rituals and reasons for many of this early information is not uniform. The strongest assertions, again, are built upon the strongest presuppositions. Not that this is bad, but it must be taken into consideration.

    Also, the arguments in this post are bordering on ad hominem and poisoned well arguments, to say that contemporary superstitious people give any credence or understanding to the actual formation. In a sense, the argument sometimes poses this philosophical proof: “Hey, doesn’t this paranoid event look silly? Therefore, you don’t want to be associated with religion, and all religions started from paranoia.”

    Before going any further, we must realize that you and I have two different worldviews and, therefore, different presuppositions. You presuppose that a god does not exist, and therefore you read all data through that lens and arrive at satisfying results. I, however, presuppose that God (from a Judeo-Christian worldview) does exist, and so I arrive at different results from the same data. Now, at this point, we could go back and forth giving philosophical proofs, which might take a lot of energy and ultimately be fruitless. Of course, I am willing to do this for fun, but we are all too busy I’m sure. I did want to post this, though, because people of faith might find this blog post and, in my opinion, be lead astray by arguments that I think are anything but airtight, which is how you have described them (this is not an attack on your intellect or the argument itself, more just a comment on the claims made about the argument). I think that a more open and humble approach could serve the post well. Some of your comments definitely show your humility, which I do appreciate. We are all faced with the same mysteries and uncertainties, after all.

    And now, a quick case study:

    My own conversion wasn’t one of superstition, paranoia, or any other fear-based thought system. I was, one might say, a content atheist enjoying recreational drug use (well, more abusive than that probably) and loose sexual morals. I am NOT saying that those things are equivalent with atheism at all, friends. Just being transparent to show that paranoia isn’t a necessary precursor, and I am exhibit A. Now we can perhaps say that I was under the cloud of a cultural, or evolutionarily ingrained paranoia that led to my conversion, but I wouldn’t agree with that either, at least not in any deterministic way. I unintentionally picked up a book in a friend’s office that I assumed, from the cover, would be a good atheist read. When I opened it up, I saw that it was actually a Christian apologetics book. I decided to read it anyway, since I had only really read from one side of the debate. Well, needless to say, this book sent me on a larger quest, and through this intellectual pursuit I came to strong belief in the person of Christ. That was not the end of the journey, and it still goes on today. I think both sides to a disservice to the other when we assume that ignorance is the basis for their beliefs. After this conversion, I received my B.S. in biology from Purdue and was also able to take several religion and philosophy classes, along with the regular biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and calculus classes. I found my appreciation for God and belief in God strengthened. Surprisingly (considering some of the disinformation about “secular” education), several of my science professors were Christians. Not all of them, but many of them.

    And quickly, while I don’t disagree with an idea of fight or flight (which, again, we would arrive at through different presuppositions), I would question that every thread of paranoia is built into our genetic code. How much if this is taught behavior? For instance, some people do jump at the possibility of a mouse. Had you not grown up in a culture afraid of rodents, would you have the same reaction? So which reaction is taught – the one that is afraid of the mouse, or the one that isn’t? Or is it neither, are we neutral toward the unknown at first? We can use this example for any fear. It is advantageous for lions to hate hyenas, and yet when lions are raised with hyenas, they live as one family (which has been demonstrated in captivity). I believe the leap for insights you’ve gained in this realm to theism is quite a leap, indeed. And your claim that theism is unnatural is more in agreement with mine. If a Creator did create, then that Creator would be outside of nature, existing before it, and be unnatural. The only option for atheists would then be to say that theism must be entirely natural, not divine, not existing without but only within. And although it is a little off-topic (but definitely related), I believe that Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” would be helpful here, although I do realize that you have self-identified as an atheist, and not necessarily a naturalist.

    I do thank you for your post, though. You do have a gift for writing, and I thought you were incredibly funny as well! My post could potentially be a chance for back and forth dialogue, but I was hoping more to just post it as a counterpoint. At this point, I don’t know if either one of us could be convinced by arguments to change opinion, considering we may have heard all of the arguments before. I know that there would be no arguments that could change my mind, but this should not be confused with close-mindedness. Holding convictions for good reasons is hardly close-minded. And I would say the same for you, that you seem utterly convinced, but are not close-minded. And at this point, any plea made toward you (at least, any non-divine plea) would probably be ineffectual. I guess stranger things have happened, though.

    If I do post on more blogs posts here, I promise to keep them shorter 🙂

    Respectfully,
    Derek

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    • And in reference to the “unnatural” comments I made, that is “unnatural” in one sense of the word. My beliefs would obviously have God in nature in some sense of the word. I was only arguing the term on the basis in which I believe you have used it.

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    • Hi Derek, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

      Right off the bat I think you’re drawing too strong a line between the correlations. Brevity is a skill, but don’t presuppose that there isn’t a PhD dissertation or two lurking inside each sentence. I don’t have a PhD in anthropology so this post may be viewed as the best effort to produce mildly amusing art from academia. Your cautionary points though are sound, although I would draw your attention to the broadness of the statements issued. The main point being our tendency to make quick, albeit most false causal associations, was deemed more evolutionary beneficial than careful scepticism. This, in itself, is not paranoia, rather the platform upon which paranoia is erected. Said in another way, we’re predisposed to paranoia… and that is a natural state.

      Now, you say I presuppose god doesn’t exist. That is actually the default position. Every child is born atheist. Theism is new information superimposed over the default. Now, as there is no evidence for the gods we must assume the gods do not exist. The positive claim, the gods exist, bears the full weight of the Burden of Proof… and so far no deity has ever been proven. Until that happens the negative, no gods exist, is the only rational position to hold. If you have some new information on this matter I’d be happy to review it with an honest eye. Absolutes are irrational, so I’ll always leave that 1% room for doubt and be prepared to shift my position as new information comes to light.

      Cheers, and all the very best
      J

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      • Your points on paranoia are well-taken, and I would not want to argue for paranoia not being a helpful evolutionary tool. I would only caution on the determinative side of things.

        As far as atheism being the default position, I would disagree with that. Every child is born atheist, in a sense, although I would prefer saying agnostic here. Every child is also born not believing in their mother, who feeds them daily. They don’t know because they can’t know because they can’t yet comprehend. They don’t believe in mathematical truths, but they do exist.

        What one must wrestle with next is that, regardless of where a people came from and their specific paranoia-triggers, they all develop some idea of the divine, or harmony; a good and a bad, desirable and undesirable metanarratives. This goes beyond simple “hot water burn baby” type of paranoia, though. The ancients, although ignorant of the sciences that we now have today, made philosophical assumptions based on what they saw. And they arrived at particular independently, but they did all arrive somewhere. Now perhaps this is collective memory, but that will not be easy to prove. But more on this in the next paragraph. We can either attribute this entirely to the outcome of natural selection, or see it as an outcome of being created in the image of God, and having a heart oriented toward a relationship with God. The difference is in specifics, which can be explained in more detail, but I will table that now for the sake of focus.

        You would make the claim that having no evidence of god (which many would disagree with) means you can’t prove god’s existence, and therefore it is the default position. I would agree, that any god’s existence is impossible to prove, but it is also impossible to disprove. And looking at the evidence of orderliness and fine-tuning in the universe, many are faced with a shift in the burden of proof (it must now be claimed that the undeniable appearance of fine-tuning to sustain life is a random process of trial and error within shifting environments). Any claim is subject to the burden of proof, positive or negative. But one could state your claim positively, if that would make it easier to argue from. For example, “Material is all that exists” or some other sufficient statement. One would eventually have to argue away the appearance of fine-tuning and and of original causation.

        And another evidence, at least from my worldview, is that Jesus is a proof for God. Now in order to prove that, we would have to get right back into the issue of Scripture reliability, which is a huge and separate topic (one for which the books I recommended on the other post would be helpful). Interestingly, Christopher Hitchens (who I loved reading and listening to) said one time that he really didn’t care if someone, in fact, DID die and then rise from the dead and then ascend to the sky — he still didn’t think that meant he had to accept that the person was the Son of God and therefore had to be agreed with. So ultimately, each argument will not be completely convincing on its own, but I think some of these are at least interesting to at and ponder. And the reason I recommend reading the actual works of people from opposite viewpoints is because many times the views attributed to them by their adversaries are only broad-sweep caricatures.

        By the way, where do you reside? I will find your bio page later hopefully. I ask now because I have English friends and Australian friends who use some of the same language, which has really confused me and made it more difficult to stereotype people based on their geographical location, haha!

        Oh, one other thing I loved about Christopher Hitchens: a shared affection for Bob Dylan. Chris will be missed! He was in a very good documentary where he traveled around with a Christian apologist and they had several debates together. It is called “Collision” and is available for streaming online for free. Definitely worth a watch. Perfect date night movie 🙂

        Blessings (or good luck, haha),
        Derek

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      • Hi Derek… sorry to say, but every child, without exception, is born atheist. There is no “in a sense” here. It’s a rigid truth and this alone quashes all notions of all gods.

        Now, you didn’t provide any proof for your particular god, just an observation that the universe behaves in a particular way and not another. That is evidence for the universe (and life finding its way within those parameters), nothing else. Sorry, but you’ll have to do much better than that to advance some concept of the gods. 🙂

        I’m Australian but I live in Brazil. Peace.

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      • Yes, I didn’t give any particular evidence for my particular God, just because the discussion here seems to be more focused on “a god” in general. However, our discussion in the other thread (“puff goes Jesus”) is more about particulars. But again, there are many things that babies don’t know about when they are born, but that does not mean they don’t exist. Again, they don’t believe because they can’t believe because they can’t know. There are many things that we still don’t know about now, as adults, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means that we don’t know. Some people know what quarks are, some people do not … does that mean they don’t exist? No one was born believing in them. So are they aquarkist or are they agnostic with regards to quarks? And there is much now that is still not understood about the nature of quarks. So do scientists stop believing they exist, or do they understand that they don’t know completely? I really think you are confusing the idea of atheism with necessary agnosticism due to the brain development process. Scripture says that the heavens and earth declare His name, and I believe this “general revelation” is a reason for universal understanding of divine necessity. Now as for comments made about Christian claims being nonsense, I have purposely not latched onto that antagonistic bait because believing can only come through faith and understanding. But one must be willing to understand first. I think in light of what I presented here and elsewhere, it at least merits another investigation from you, using some of the sources I have mentioned. You did mention looking at some of them before, but you may look again. I feel that if you would look again and internalize some of the data, a lot of our discussion here would probably not need to take place. And hear me, I say this with the most humble and gentle of hearts, and not in any way attempting to come across as superior or holier than thou. But I would urge you to take another look into the person of Jesus, and his claims. Look into apologetic issues, starting with the two Strobel books (but using references in the book to further study if you would like). And at the end of that journey, ask yourself the famous question posed by C.S. Lewis: Was Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or Lord? Bart Ehrman adds another option with “legend”. Now I know that many you and probably many of your readers would answer liar, lunatic, or legend. But again, I urge a wrestling with reputable sources that would run counter to your own opinions. Go straight to the horse’s mouth if you will.

        Now I have read much from my earlier atheist years, and even now, from many of the “new atheist” camp. But I don’t want to seem like a professor who only gives homework but does none of his own. Is there anything that you would prefer I read, perhaps an area you feel I’ve overlooked in my own knowledge? I would be happy to engage with any seminal texts that you enjoy. I would even be willing to write my honest thoughts on it afterword and perhaps discussing what we read. This doesn’t need to be over the message boards, though. If you’re interested, I would be up for it.

        I once had friends on ICQ from Brazil back in the day through a Guns N’ Roses chat group. I believe her name was Gabrielle del Bianca, and I think she said she was the aunt of a famous supermodel there. Of course, you can create whatever bio you want on the internet, so who knows 🙂

        Cheers, mate

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      • Scripture also says Unicorns exist (Isaiah 34:7) 🙂

        Now, I appreciate your appeal, but sadly nothing you’ve presented so far merits any further investigation. You’ve not advanced the cosmological argument. You’ve merely inserted “god” without an explanation why. That’s amateur apologetics at best.

        I have no “homework” for you. If a person chooses a non-rational path then that is their choice. Unfortunately for you it comes with all the baggage of failed apologetics. The fact that apologetics even exists is proof your religion is wrong. I however wish you every success. You sound like a decent human being, and as a humanist I applaud that.

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      • I think you need a modern translation, not the King James Version. No unicorns, sorry 🙂

        And like I said previously, we could go back and forth on philosophical proofs, but that wasn’t really the point at this juncture. I would certainly be up for that, though, but I feel your are now bored with me, haha! We were mostly discussing flaws in your own argumentation, which I criticized as being severely speculative without any hard (or soft) data. But that is fine. I see that we have reached the end of our discussion. When one persons says “well, I don’t need to say anymore because you have failed, but good luck” then that usually means “I can’t refute this, and I want it to stop now”. I find that most of your criticisms of my posts are on points I haven’t attempted to make, which is another decent strategy, but I don’t think I am the one who needs to try harder and has failed in his approach. But I still urge you to continue to dig deeper.

        And defending something isn’t proof that it isn’t true. Do you know what lots of scientists do? They defend their theses! And all of their theories are based off of interpretations of data that are defending their hypotheses. This isn’t unique to the Christian faith. But again, a clever redirect.

        Okay, now I’m getting mouthy, and after you gave me a compliment 🙂 I do hope I have come across as a decent human being. You have as well. I wish you all the best.

        I just want to add that where I speak above I really don’t mean to criticize you as a person. I only criticize the perceived strategies. But I could be wrong about your motives. Perhaps my experiences that lead me to think those ways are flawed, and I don’t want to seem like I am attacking your character at all.

        The best to you and yours,
        Derek

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    • @ Derek
      A Christian must accept that Jesus is God but to understand Christianity means to realise that this is a lie.

      Accept it or don’t. It wont alter the fact that it is the truth.

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      • I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this, but if it is a theology issue, I would prefer you contact me to discuss it outside of this blog. This probably isn’t the right venue for a discussion on Christian theology 🙂 And I’ve taken up my fair share of space on here as it is!

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      • Let me elucidate..and John will have no objections, I assure you.
        If I understand correctly, you are a Christian and the primary tenet of your faith is that Yashua is the god of your faith/religion, Christianity.
        If you understand the history of your faith you will know that godhood was bestowed upon him by the church,promulgated into law, by Theodosius which opened the floodgates to declare every opposing viewpoint heresy, which saw the attempted eradication of all dissent including , in some cases, near genocidal campaigns.
        This religion was then exported across the globe and enforced on local indigenous populations by the likes of the Jesuits among others.

        So,I reiterate.
        A Christian must accept that Yashua is God but to UNDERSTAND Christianity means to realise that this is a lie.
        I hope this is clear enough?

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      • Ahhh okay, thank you for your clarification! Now, of course I disagree and would consider myself well-versed in Scripture and Christian history (even the ugly stuff!) … do you want the long answer or the short answer? 🙂

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      • Dereck, Hi. While you and the Ark are working away here there’s an excellent post over on a blog-pals site. She’s an atheist, a former evangelical, and really knows her stuff. She used to teach bible studies. i’d be interested to hear what you think of her easter post… when you get a chance, of course. Cheers! Link below.

        http://clubschadenfreude.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/not-so-polite-dinner-conversation-easter-the-supposed-events-and-implications/#comment-987

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      • Sure, I’ll check it out soon! But just like I told Ark, I’m no longer on Spring Break, so my free time has dropped drastically 🙂 But I will definitely get back with you.

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    • @ Derek

      ”Ahhh okay, thank you for your clarification! Now, of course I disagree and would consider myself well-versed in Scripture and Christian history (even the ugly stuff!) … do you want the long answer or the short answer? ”

      Ahhh. Well, that depends. I will take either if it is an historical answer.
      But you can save your fingers if any part of it is polemic, or out of the, William Lane Craig Handbook of Evangelical Apologetic BullDust. Because, believe me when I say, I have heard every angle, every shred of dingbat philosophy, epistemology, and every Theological Two step you can imagine.

      So give it your best shot, and I mean that sincerely for you might actually have something, right?
      But I will say up front, I wont even bther with a polite reply if it smudges the lines or ventures into doctrine to try and justify historical fact.

      Go for it, Derek. I have my coffee. I am sitting comfortably.Let’s see what you got.
      The floor is yours…

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      • Okay, first I must mention two things:
        1) Earlier when I was posting back and forth with John, I was on Spring Break and had a little more free time. So it may take me longer to get back to you each time now that I’m back in classes.
        2), I can disagree on grounds of Scripture and on grounds of early church history. But if I’m hearing you right, you would prefer that I stick to history. I will mostly do this, but to understand the history, what the Scripture actually says is important. Regardless of what Theodosius did, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the early church though, will be important.

        So I hope to get back with you within 1 or 2 week with a full response, once I can give it my full attention! Thanks for your patience.

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      • “I can disagree on grounds of Scripture and on grounds of early church history. But if I’m hearing you right, you would prefer that I stick to history. I will mostly do this, but to understand the history, what the Scripture actually says is important. Regardless of what Theodosius did, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the early church though, will be important.

        So I hope to get back with you within 1 or 2 week with a full response, once I can give it my full attention! Thanks for your patience.”

        I don’t have any preference as to how you reply. But if you use scripture my response will have you running for your tissue box, I guarantee it. There is nothing in scripture that can be irrefutably backed by history as it pertains to your argument.
        Without being presumptuous you look a bit too young to be skilled in the way of apologetics, and I doubt you could do a better job than William Lane Craig, who is a monumental prat.
        As far as scripture goes, Ehrman is the go to man for this and the complete rubbishing of any notion that Jesus was divine.
        Archaeology you must look to Finklestein and Herzog.

        So bear all of the above in mind before you put ‘pen to paper’ as I promise you if you offer up together some sort of piss-willy philosophical treatise on Christianity and why it must be true based on dickheads like CS Lewis and the inerrant word of your god, and some half arsed interpretation of the gospels then you are going to get short shrift from me, Derek, I assure you .
        For your own sake, tread lightly.

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      • Sorry for the length of time it has taken to get back to this. I can’t promise any quicker reply in the future, either. I’ve stayed busy with school and have taken on extra jobs, so free time here is not in ample supply. That being said, looking back over the last comment. I have serious doubts that this will be a civil discussion where attempts to understand are pursued, but I hope I am wrong about that. But for that reason, I’m sure this will be a short discussion.

        1) What do Scriptures say that Jesus claimed? What do the letters say that Jesus claimed? – The Scriptures and letters clearly claim, when properly understood in their proper contexts, that Jesus is God. Some of these claims are obvious, but some of them are subtle and require an understand of particular contexts. Some of them, too, aren’t properly understood unless one has a grasp on Greek grammar. I can give examples if necessary. And it doesn’t stop there. The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (somewhere around the late 2nd century BC). Many of the words used for Yahweh in the Old Testament, translated into Greek, are then used for Christ. These are words that the faithful would have dared not use for anyone other than the true Lord.

        2) What was the conflict really? Not over whether he was God or not, but how much of a God he was (homoousion, homoiousion, or heteroousion; same God, similar but different in some ways, or different but still divine). Everyone could see that it was plain that he made claims to divinity. And the actions recorded of Jesus make that plain. But as the church grew, it started to formulate things and try to find “orthodox” teaching. This was all starting before Theodosius. The problem is, in the 1st century, the writers probably clearly understood Scripture better, but dn’t feel the need to make a “systematic theology” of these things. They mostly had pastoral concerns of having a “good witness” to those around them. The only thing you could argue on here is that the texts have been corrupted beyond repair, which is a ridiculous claim. If this needs to be a discussion on textual criticism of the New Testament, then we can go there as well. But just to mention quickly, most of the “changes” to the NT that many authors sound the alarm about were just attempts to clear up the grammar as it changed through time. And if one manuscript used an article as a pronoun (which was fairly common), and then a later scribe decided it would be easier just to use the pronoun as the practice of using an article for a pronoun subsided, then these alarmist scholars would count every single instance of the actual pronoun being used (because, remember, it is being copied from the version now where a scribe changed an articular pronoun to just a pronoun) is counted as a “mistake”. The numbers are inflated to say the least.

        3) Just because bad things happened following, that does not mean that the pronouncements were false. Just because it was made “official” then, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t presumed true in the Scriptures. The point is, the actions taken to secure it don’t render it false, it just renders the actions abhorrent and unfortunate. But the problem here is more about the church becoming intertwined with the state, which definitely began to take hold with the conversion of Constantine (or “conversion”).

        So the argument falls apart before we even get to Nicaea and Theodosius. They attempted, at Nicaea, to formalize and come up with a “right” answer to a difficult problem that probably wasn’t so difficult in the 1st century. We have to keep in mind that many of the small, more confusing details were probably understood in their time, and the glaring realities presented (such as Jesus being God) were absolutely understood. And since those are easy to see, the small minority of difficulties are usually interpreted within that framework of what we know for sure. And the homoousion group wasn’t the only one grasping. The heteroousion group was actually more powerful following the pronouncement of Nicaea, which was a surprising move. But they eventually lost out. Now whether these were guys fighting for what they thought was of the utmost importance and was right, or whether they just wanted power politically and militarily, is really secondary to the whole argument. To sum up, the argument from the beginning commits two fallacies: ad hominem and red herring.

        But to clarify, I am not justifying the acts of person of Theodosius I. But the acts, and the person, don’t render the doctrine incorrect, which is your hypothesis. I am not using doctrine to justify historical fact, as you have wished. But to say that one of the central claims of Christianity is false because of the actions taken by Theodosius to impose the Nicene Creed on the Christian world is to use historical fact to disqualify a doctrine, which is just as fallacious.

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      • Point 1.
        Not a single (non-Christian) biblical scholar will agree with this. But William Lane Craig might smile and nod.
        Your response is biased and unsubstantiated. Next you will be telling me that the OT prophecies were fulfilled.
        Sorry…this is a
        Fail.

        Point 2.
        Mark is the only gospel worth reading as this was the basis for Matthew and Luke. John is pretty much a waste of time for this issue.
        The long ending in Mark is almost universally acknowledged to be a later Christian add-on. Therefore no Resurrection.

        Therefore:
        Fail.

        Point 3.
        Even before Nicaea there were many versions in circulation and almost anyone could claim their version/text was divinely inspired. The drive toward canonization was largely because of Marcion.
        What followed is history, and Constantine and that other lying sack of shit, Eusebius played a significant role in ensuring the rubbish you read today was the only authorized version of the bible.
        They made it up, Derek. Sorry sport.
        You are once again trying to be clever but you are not being intelligent.

        Therefore, once again.
        Fail.

        Like

      • Haha! That is a funny response, and one I am now used to from atheists. I’ve found it is mostly a waste of time to even try. You refuse to actually look at the context of the times, consider the flow of orthodox Christianity from the Apostles through the Fathers and to the early church, or take seriously Greek grammar, textual criticism, historical reaction to Jesus, or anything else that is a non-rhetoric talking point. But your non-serious and non-engaging response is automatically suspect, which is actually very sad. I’m not even sure why you asked the question in the first place if you already “knew” the answers. But, you have some nicely placed sarcasm and you’ve succinctly ridiculed my response, and I’m sure that will be good enough for the Barnes and Noble theologians and philosophers of the world.

        But I will pray for your eyes to be opened. I sincerely want you to know that you’re loved by the One who created you. Please embark on a serious quest for truth and choose your authors wisely. Many who dislike WL Craig still cannot refute him. But that being the case, there are many other available authors to choose depending on your particular qualms.

        This will be my last response, so you may have the last words. I’m sure they’ll be very humorous and condescending! Many blessings to you. I really do mean that.

        Like

      • Craig is an ass, and most people have refuted him.
        Twits like you just don’t accept it, that’s all. He is an anachronism. Furthermore are you aware that like many of his ilk he is obliged to sign a contract of employment that states he acknowledges the biblical text is inerrant? The literal inspired word of god?
        WTF! This is the 21st century.
        At some places in the States students must sign as well! Do you realise how this stunts positive uninhibited inquiry?
        Licona also had to sign one and when he released his book in 2010 where he stated the zombie apocalypse didn’t really happen there was a minor uproar in evangelical circles and demands for him to write a retraction. This one sentence was the only issue in his whole book.One Damn sentence!. He didn’t write a retraction and was summarily fired from his position.
        And we all thought the Inquisition was over, right?

        Guess what I think of your evangelical posturing Derek?
        Silly Person.

        Like

  4. My word, I loved reading this. I am exploring different theories myself after being recently shaken from my Christian upbringing due to some serious thought on the issue. Particularly, the troubling contradictions within scripture itself.
    This post was an interesting piece to consider, so thank you for sharing! Also, as an aspiring Journalist, I am extremely impressed by your writing style and structure. Spectacular and inspiring.

    Like

  5. Well written and interesting read. I have long held the belief that God is a necessary creation of the mind. A way to make sense of things we could not previously comprehend, and then later a way to impose the will of one man over another. I find the idea (alluded to by one of your commentors) that the universe is orderly therefore God exists, ludicrous. We have no idea how long or how many universes it took for this one to arise as it is. It is here because it became this way when it did and we arose to bear witness. As much as I wish I could believe in a God, it just seems so ridiculously unlikely as to be laughable as a belief.

    Like

    • I stand with you on that observation!

      I like the way you put it, “we arose to bear witness.” It reminds me of Brian Cox’s explanation for life: “Life is the universe trying to understand itself.”

      Like

  6. I’m always chuffed when I find an article that is informative, well-written, well thought out, and manages to entertain too. I like your style.

    Like

  7. 1) religion has nothing to do with superstution.
    If there is no such thing as God then how is it posible that a man Muhammad PBUH was given a book which contained scientific facts which the world came to know after more than 10 centuries later. How is it possible that the Book years before the event predicted that withen the near future both Muhammad PBUH will be triumphant over the Makkans and the Romans will defeat the Presians at a time when it was almost clear that the roman empire is too weak to compete with the persians. this was so clear at that time that when these verses were revealed a Makkan bet 100 camels on it. he said that if this prophecy becomes true he will give 100 camels and vice versa. I ask, how is it possible that The Holy Quran contains the stories of people with which the arabs were unaware of. People say ,God forbid, that Muhammad PBUH wrote the book or dictated it, but they dont know that he did not know how to read or write.

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    • Scientific facts, huh? Ok, I’ll bite… Provide examples of the scientific “facts” you speak of.

      He bet 100 camels!!! ONE HUNDRED CAMELS!!! Ah, but were they virgin camels?

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  8. Rather exceptional post…loved it (Great comments also)…One question, curious of your thoughts..who do you think is the more superstitious person…the person whose potential event “B” is negative…or the person whose potential event “B” is positive?

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    • Cool question! You’d think the positive would be remembered more strongly, but as we’re a fearful lot an equally valid case could be made for the negative. I wrote a paper once a while back on sports superstitions, and most of those seemed to be erring on the positive side. After free balling all the way to winning the French Open Andre Agassi never wore underpants ever again in a professional tennis match. So, I guess the stronger urge is to repeat the positive which, by default, defeats the negative outcome. That’s just a guess, but it’d be interesting to get solid numbers on it.

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      • You can refer to Dr Zakir Naiks Book Islam in the light of Modern science.
        I think you know that in the past people used to say that the moon has its own light, now in this context The Holy Quran has used, in Surah Nooh , the word munir which , in Arabic means reflector.

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      • Nice try, but epic fail. Anaxagoras (c. 510 – 428 BCE) was the first to postulate the moon was a refractor of the suns light…. 1,000 years before Mo.

        Sorry, but you’re going to have to do much better than that. And, no, I’m not going to read a book just because you suggested it. You made the wild claim so I’m expecting you can back it up.

        So, over to you…

        Like

      • In the past people used to say that an atom is indivisible but The Quran says in Surah 34 ayat 3 (nothing as big as an atom or SMALLER then that or larger than that shall be able to escap his sight)

        in the past people thought that all the mountain are above the ground and there is nothing underneath it but The Holy Quran says (haven’t we made.. the mountains as nails) I expect you to know that more part of a nail is under the object then the part above it.

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      • Furthermore about seas The Holy Quran says (we have made two waterbodies and although they meet there is a limit which they can not cross) (Surah 55) here it is mentioned that when sweet and salty water meet the sweet water can not cross a specific limit and vice versa. when a river flows into a sea for sometime all the water remains sweet and then comes the limit and water after that is salty.

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      • Ok, I stand corrected. My fingers typed too fast. Now admit you’re wrong about the moon…. the idea was in existence ONE THOUSAND YEARS before Mo and you’re just full of Muslim evangelical bullshit.

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      • Surah 24 ayat 40 mentions (in the deep sea there is darkness over darkness such that if a man spreads ovu his hand he can not see it ). if u have knowledge of history you can tell that the fact that light in a sea is in layers such that the top layer is lightest below that there is a layer which is darker and this continues till in the bottom a person can not even see his hand if he spreads it out. this is a recent scientific discovery probably in the 18th or 19th century.

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      • Look, fella, admit you got the moon completely assbackwards wrong. Go on, admit it…. Your Koran is dead wrong and I just proved it to you.

        Do you have the balls?

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      • Brother you are making your life so difficult here, before he starts quoting the koran he has to prove that his god exists and that Mo isn’t legend.

        To postulate that mo was illiterate whereas hadiths say very well he was married a rich merchant wife who made him the manager of her business and this means, if he existed, he had an opportunity to learn from the Greeks, Syrians and Romans. Arabia claimed to be birth place of Islam wasn’t in isolation.

        The Koran itself is evidence of this borrowing. It has stories of the OT prophets, tells the birth of Jesus and even the angel who is claimed to have revealed the message to Mo is Gabriel who can be traced back to the NT. Why they short of angels?

        He can twist any verse in the koran, as apologists and theologians are wont to do to explain anything he so chooses.

        And when he talks about things such as seas, the koran is composed in the 8th and 9th century C.E, a lot of scientific learning was going on in schools in Rome, Athens and Asia and this could have been by the Caliph Uthman whose reign the koran is composed so no wonder it may not be out rightly outrageous as the christian version.

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      • I don’t think he’s coming back, Noel. I hope he does, though. Please join in if it happens. Sadly, it appears courage (and brains) is as sorely lacking in the Muslim apologist as much as it is in the Christian.

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      • The meeting of two water bodies is not an observational fact. it is true that it is somewhat observable but i challenge you to bring historical proof that people knew that there is actually a frounter betwen the two waters. this is a recent scientific discovery.

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      • please answer to the comment related with the mountains. i repeat The Holy Quran says “and we have made the ground as a floor and the mountains as nails” for your information most of the part of a nail is under the earth. This is a recent scientific discovery that only a small bit of mountain is over the ground and the rest is underneath.

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      • Look Mohammad-man, let me make this perfectly clear: I am not going to entertain any of your verses until you admit Anaxagoras first figured out the moon reflected the suns light ONE THOUSAND YEARS before your prophet raped his first little girl.

        Do that and then we can move forward onto debunking the rest of your poetic gibberish.

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      • The Quran was revealed in the 5th century and if you dont believe in this the origional copy of the Holy Quran still exists in Topkapi Musesum in Istanbul. the book is by the name “The topkapi manuscript” you can find the images on the inttenet. Please tell your friend makagutu to keep quiet if he doesnt know anything.

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      • I will keep quiet.
        So you say it was revealed in the 5th Century and your prophet lived in the 7th Century, to who then was it revealed in the 5th Century?
        Please do read any classical works by the Greeks and Romans on the nature of the universe.
        Do you know what a circular argument is? You are quoting the koran which says it was revealed by god to prove god exists? Tough luck with that but I suggest you listen to a philosophy lecture on argumentation before you proceed. You are getting too deep into the mud here.
        On the question of quran and mountains what sura is it?

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      • They knew two water bodies could meet. There were settlements between Tigris and Euphrates, to say that such a confluence is a recent scientific discovery is rather absurd.
        I know many people don’t like wikipedia, but it is a starting point in looking for other references and here we have something on light refraction.
        And I forgot to ask how you came to the conclusion I don’t know a thing. There is one thing I know, that we can’t know anything for certain.

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      • For a person who believes I know nothing, you really are doing poorly in the knowledge sector. When you say the original is in a museum, original in what sense? If the koran was memorised and got written together almost 100 years after the death of the prophet what do you mean by original?

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      • It was not written 100 years after The Holy Prophets Death. it was written only 4 to 5 years later in the caliphate of Abu Bakr RA. He himself had memorised the Holy Quran and any verse was not written until it was verified by trustable people who were known to be the closest companions of the Holy Prophet PBUH and were considered to be reliable

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      • Pedophiles are those who without the consent of the child get into a relation with them. First Muhammad PBUH formally married Aisha (RAA) secondly Aisha RAA did not object to this marriage, nor did her father, or her mother, or her close relatives object to it so who are you to object on this. Then it is you athiests who believe in rights of LGBT and these kinds of hidious acts, then why is it that you object to a formal marriage.

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      • the matter of fact is that the only difference between consummating a marriage and rape is that marriage is legal and the latter is not. and for your information Aisha was married to Muhammad PBUH. The point is can you find evidence from her later life which can by used that she RAA was unhappy with the marriage, or that even once in her life or afterwards she (God forbid) criticize Muhammad PBUH. well if you do not it means she was happy with the marriage.

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      • Are you seriously saying it’s perfectly fine to rape a woman if she’s your wife? What sort of perverted medieval backwater do you live in? Do you think it’s OK to bash women, too? What about so-called “honour-killings”?

        Now, let’s get something straight: a six year old girl is NOT up for marriage. She’s a SIX YEAR OLD girl! A nine year old girl is NOT up for sex. She’s a NINE YEAR OLD girl! Your Mo was a straight up Pedophile: a sick, perverted rapist of children. And he was also clearly a liar as he didn’t even know that Abraham and Moses weren’t historical characters.

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      • Out of curiosity, how do you explain Mo “not knowing” Abraham and Moses were fictional characters?

        How did he make such a tremendous historical blunder?

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  9. Pingback: This Liebster Award | nuriandnerdpower

  10. “I can disagree on grounds of Scripture and on grounds of early church history. But if I’m hearing you right, you would prefer that I stick to history. I will mostly do this, but to understand the history, what the Scripture actually says is important. Regardless of what Theodosius did, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the early church though, will be important.

    So I hope to get back with you within 1 or 2 week with a full response, once I can give it my full attention! Thanks for your patience.”

    I don’t have any preference as to how you reply. But if you use scripture my response will have you running for your tissue box, I guarantee it. There is nothing in scripture that can be irrefutably backed by history as it pertains to your argument.
    Without being presumptuous you look a bit too young to be skilled in the way of apologetics, and I doubt you could do a better job than William Lane Craig, who is a monumental prat.
    As far as scripture goes, Ehrman is the go to man for this and the complete rubbishing of any notion that Jesus was divine.
    Archaeology you must look to Finklestein and Herzog.

    So bear all of the above in mind before you put ‘pen to paper’ as I promise you if you offer up together some sort of piss-willy philosophical treatise on Christianity and why it must be true based on dickheads like CS Lewis and the inerrant word of your god, and some half arsed interpretation of the gospels then you are going to get short shrift from me, Derek, I assure you .
    For your own sake, tread lightly.

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  11. Pingback: Paranoia, meet theism. Theism, this is paranoia… your biological father. | hdthefog

  12. Funny how I arrived at this particular post of yours last. Beautifully written. May I borrow your hat to doff at your wordsmithiness? Nice observations, you almost convinced me 😉

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  13. great read. to simplify further, its not exclusively paranoia but fear where most theism resides. fear of the unknown, of death, of after life, or simply of irrelevance. as much as superstition is rooted in fear, so do the more evolved forms of theism.

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  14. A well argued essay, John Zande. Made me look back on what I thought about all this as a child. I must’ve been lucky to have non-church-going-tho-proclaimedChurchofEngland-parents. I thought all the bible stories were just stories. Then I studied prehistory and social history and discovered that there were people with much groovier creation yarns, and that many of the bible stories themselves had much earlier roots (e.g. Epic of Gilgamesh).
    And more recently I’ve thought a lot about superstition. There’s perhaps a missing link in the argument between paranoia and superstition. i.e. The superstitions that are often attributed to traditional people, aren’t always superstitions. In other words, people don’t necessarily believe in them in any concrete sense. They are metaphors that are useful tools in the psycho-drama of maintaining social order in communities that do not have ruling parties, dictating prelates, or self-appointed potentates.
    Unfortunately or not, these are quite effective means of social control (cursing someone is a good example in that it is meant to mess with people’s minds and provoke apology, restitution etc) And when societies grew big enough to support a class of non-labouring individuals who often called themselves priests and set themselves above the rest (while still depending on the lower orders for their sustenance and housework) they found such methods of control and power-mongering very useful. Psycho-drama rules – stories with bells and whistles, and much sleight of hand, and huge suspensions of disbelief. It’s also how fiction writers make a living (or in my case, don’t make a living), and how TV companies keep everyone mindlessly glued to soap operas. All part of the same storytelling mechanism. And we keep falling for it… 🙂

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    • “people don’t necessarily believe in them in any concrete sense. They are metaphors that are useful tools in the psycho-drama of maintaining social order in communities that do not have ruling parties, dictating prelates, or self-appointed potentates.”

      Brilliantly said, Tish. I like that a lot.

      Like

  15. Pingback: conspiracy theories, self-fulfilling prophecies and a fat reality check | violetwisp

  16. Pingback: The conversion of Derek C | oogenhand

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