Why do some atheists so insistent, especially the militant ones, on promoting their own atheism when it's clear that no one can conclusively prove that God does not exist? As a former atheist, I now found that God gives my life meaning, makes me happy to go through life, makes me resilient when bad things happen and allows me to forgive more and be freed from anger and resentment. I know a lot of people who found God in just the same way. Why then should militant atheists bother about our religious beliefs when God is a living person who gives our lives meaning, and when they cannot after all ultimately prove that our beliefs are just illusions? P.S. I'd like to thank Charles Taliafero for his contributions here and to philosophy of religion in general. I can't forget your answer to a question posed by a depressed atheist here (April 14, 2011) in which you said "in all honesty, i would like to welcome you back." I can really feel your words personally resonating with me, now that I once again become a...

Let me be the curmudgeon without, I hope, being too curmudgeonly. I'm glad you've found happiness and meaning. And I'm not going to say that your changed state isn't due to God. But it's at least possible that the change is due to belief in God, and not God himself. As a sort of evidence for this, people with differing and mutually incompatible religious beliefs have been known to find happiness and meaning in those beliefs, even though as a matter of logic, some of those beliefs are wrong. (If you believe X and are happy on that account, I believe Y and am happy on that account, and X and Y aren't consistent with one another, at least one of us is wrong about his actual belief.) Indeed: atheists can't prove conclusively that God doesn't exist. But that's perfectly consistent with atheism being all things considered the most plausible view—the one with the best arguments, evidence, etc. That said, I have a lot of sympathy for what you're saying. I don't "get" militant atheists. Overall, I'm...

In the context of "The Problem of Evil" can you help point me to the literature on this sub-category? Lacking this I have dubbed this sub-problem the "God for a day paradox": “If I had only some of the powers of God, I would cure cancer” Am I therefore more merciful than God? Supposedly the most merciful possible Being… Therefore is God’s omni-benevolence (not even that much is needed) itself a contradiction? How can a lesser being even think of a more merciful action (take curing cancer down to a single child; even to just answering a prayer for such a child) than God Himself? It is almost certainly possible to write a computer simulation that would, discover the “cancer mercy” action / rule on its own given an appropriate set of rules guiding “advance being behavior” This outcome would probably be another notch in favor of the Bostrom's “The Universe is a Simulation” argument. Thanks in advance, --JCN

Here's one kind of answer that a theist might offer. You might think, seeing through a glass darkly as you do, that if you only had the power, you'd wave your wand and cure cancer. In fact, however, the argument would go, doing that would bring a host of consequences that you can't even begin to foresee. And it might be that if you fully understood the consequences (remember: the universe is a really complicated place), you'd see that all things considered, you wouldn't want to do this. That may not seem very plausible to you, and I'm inclined to agree. But the larger point is that according to some theists (Peter van Inwagen, for example), if we think we know what would really be the best way to set up a universe for the benefit of its inhabitants, we're fooling ourselves. To make this a bit more plausible, keep in mind that for these same theists, our life on earth isn't the end; the apparent evils of our fleshly existence are only a part of a much larger story. I think that this is a...

Hi Philosophers, I have a burning question that is troubling me relating the religion versus science debate. I hope I articulate it well enough. Here goes. Mathematically, physicists are close to proving that a multiverse exists. Assuming they do prove this, and that as part of this proof it is deemed that infinity universes exist with both every conceivable and inconceivable possibility and outcome occurring throughout, then is it not fair to say that God certainly exists in at least one of these infinite possibility universes? Adversely, it is also fair to assume that God certainly does not exist in at least one of these universes? Then consider that if God certainly exists in at least one universe, and he is the all-seeing, all-knowing God that religion states he is, then how can he certainly not exist in at least one of the infinite universes? To say that God definitely exists is to, by definition of God, say that he exists everywhere and created everything, yet this notion within the multiverse...

I think it's a bit optimistic to say that physicists are close to proving the existence of a multiverse, but we can set that aside. There are different ideas of a multiverse in physical theory, but none of the ones that cosmologists take seriously call for showing that literally every possible "universe" exists. Rather, what's at stake is the idea that the totality of the Universe writ large contains relatively isolated sub-parts that have many of the characteristics of the physical universe as we usually think of it. In particular, the values of various physical "constants" would vary across the different sub-universes. But the important point for your question is that this is entirely about physics and has nothing to do with God. God, as usually understood, is not a physical being at all, but a being who (among other things) underwrites the existence of physical things. God doesn't exist within this or any other physical universe on the usual theological view. Put it another way: if the God...

Hello philosophers , recently in a debate with Christians , I made a point that if one claims a relationship with a God or being that can't be seen , heard or touched that they are suffering from a delusion; is this an unfair statement and if so why ?

Just to add a bit to what my fellow panelists have said (all of which seems right to me.) Even if God can't be seen or heard or touched in ordinary sensory ways, many believers would claim that they have experiences of God. There's a vast literature on this topic, but one interesting recent contribution is by the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann: her book When God Talks Back gives a detailed account of how some people, as they understand it, learn to experience God. You can read a brief synopsis HERE (Scroll way down if the page appears not to load properly.) You might say that these people are mistaken, and you might (or might not) be right. You might say that they are deluded, but unless you simply mean "mistaken," the word "deluded" doesn't add anything. There's no reason to believe that such believers are mentally ill by any reasonable criterion. As it happens, I'm not a theist. But over the years, I've come to the conclusion that many atheists have a mistaken picture of the...

Debating with a theologian over the validity of biblical condemnation of homosexuality i've been offered a sequence of arguments that seem to me circular. First argument: Divine directives 1. God has given the directive to establish the eterosexual marriage 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexuals brake the divine directive Second argument: Perverse heart 1. To brake a divine law willingly is perversion 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the Bible 3. Homosexuals are perverse Third argument: social deviance 1. To diffuse behaviours that are condemned in the Bible is a form of social deviance 2. Homosexual acts are condemned in the BIble 3. Homosexual are social deviant To me it is obvious that all these arguments implies, as a second premise, the condemnation whose validity is in question. When i have made this observation i have been offered a curios answer: anyone has a worldview that starts from certain unquestionable premise, that are in themselves circular but not invalid....

Interesting. It's true that we do sometimes rely on assumptions, premises or whatnot that we simply take for granted. In fact, it's hard to see how we could avoid doing that; otherwise we'd end up in an endless regress of justifications. We could use the term "worldview" for broad premises that we use this way, but I'm not sure the term adds much so I'll leave it aside. But there's another question that leaves an ambiguity in what you're saying. Is the theologian offering an argument that s/he think should persuade a non-believer? Or is he offering arguments that a believer might accept whether or not anyone else does? If your asking this person "Why do you believe that homosexuality is wrong" then pointing out that it's a consequence of other assumptions that the person accepts and sees as more basic is fine. In that case, he's simply setting forth the internal logic of his view. Whether or not you accept the first two beliefs, there's no circularity in saying "The Bible represents God's...

I notice that many of the people asking questions on your site are atheists. I am an agnostic; however, I can understand that many people see their religion as a guideline for moral/ethical behavior. Can we be ethical/moral without religion? If a person does not see that an ethical life leads to "heaven," what is his/her rationale for goodness?

A familiar old question! If the only reason I behave well is that I'm afraid I'll be punished if I don't or rewarded if I do, then my motives aren't moral motives at all. The fact that an all-powerful being commanded me to do something might give me a self-serving reason to do it, but by itself, it wouldn't provide a moral reason. That we can be moral without religion is clear from the fact that so many non-believers have deep moral commitments. Of course, that leaves open the possibility that they're somehow confused, but the crucial point is this: if there's no basis for morality without God, then adding God to the story doesn't change things. As for what the basis might be, there's a lot that could be said. But to take just one sort of consideration: I know that I don't like it when people treat me in hurtful ways. I also know that there's nothing special about me in this respect; my pain doesn't obviously count for any more than anyone else's. And I don't just know this intellectually; I...

Why are personal religious beliefs more respected and legally protected than personal philosophical beliefs? Could this be because religious metaphysics are more irrefutable than secular metaphysics?

I'm guessing that by "personal philosophical beliefs" you mean not just philosophical beliefs that someone might happen to hold (such as the belief that numbers exist as Platonic objects, for example) but beliefs and commitments about matters that someone takes to be of great personal significance—the kinds of things one might build one's life around. To clarify: I might think that numbers really exist as abstract objects, but if I were talked out of that belief, not much about how I live my life would change. For many religious people, on the other hand, religious beliefs are part of their core. A committed Christian, for example, might well think that if she lost her Christianity, there's an important sense in which she wouldn't be the same person. However, as you apparently recognize, religious beliefs aren't the only ones in that category. Ethical commitments are a good example. Many people with deep ethical commitments are not religious, and yet those commitments are every bt as important to...

If I'm an atheist, does it make sense to criticize the Catholic church for practices such as the exclusion of female priests? Suppose that a Catholic authority replies to such criticism by saying that there is strong Biblical evidence to show that priests must be male. Since I am an atheist, I may be unpersuaded by this argument, and still insist that the church would be more just if it gave women equal status with men. But then, if I reject this Biblical argument it seems that I may as well reject Catholicism itself. In other words, I think there is something strange in the suggestion that Catholics should improve their religious practice by incorporating certain progressive reforms. The justification of these reforms often seems arise of a view that would invalidate, not just the allegedly objectionable practices at issue, but religion altogether. Practices such as the exclusion of female priests may strike me as irrational, but then why should I care if I think that Catholicism quite generally is...

An interesting question. I think the answer is yes: there's a way to offer the sort of criticism you have in mind. It would be to argue that by Catholicism's own lights , the reasons for excluding women from the priesthood aren't satisfactory. Catholicism isn't just a closed system with no canons of evidence and argument. Indeed, Catholicism presents theological arguments for its view that only men can be priests, and those arguments are open to examination and scrutiny. Another way to put it: not all Catholics agree that women should be excluded from the priesthood. They think that the internal arguments for a male-only priesthood are weak. Whether they're right or wrong about this, their view isn't incoherent. Of course, this is just an example of a larger point. It's often possible to criticize a view whose larger presuppositions one rejects by pointing out that the view doesn't do well by its own standards. In the example at hand, there are things one would want to take into account...

During a discussion with a friend about God, a thought I found puzzling but provocative came to mind. I have discussed it with friends, and most seem to think it is contradictory. The thought was more of an argument, and it goes soemthing like this: if it is true that God in some sense is the greatest being that can be conceived, it seems to follow that God is somehow the maximum of all things (e.g. if goodness exists, God is maximum goodness). If this is true then God possesses all qualities; and if God possesses all qualities, it also seems to follow that all beliefs about God, even if they are contradictory, are true (e.g. God is a aupernatural being, God is a natural being). Put perhaps in simpler terms: if God is in some sense all things, then all beliefs about God, even those that contradict each other, are true. Is this even remotely anything that theologians/philosophers have ever discussed?

I can't speak for the theologians, but it does seem to me that we don't need to go down this path. Suppose that God, if there is one, is the greatest conceivable being. That might mean that God possesses the maximum of all kinds of goodness (though even that is tricker than it seems), but it doesn't mean that God possesses the maximum of all characteristics whatever. After all, the greatest conceivable being presumably wouldn't be a sadist, let alone the greatest possible sadist. The slide in the argument seems to be from "God is maximum goodness" to "God possesses all qualities." However, many qualities have nothing to do with goodness. There's a somewhat different argument hinted at in your suggestion: that God is all things, hence must embody all qualities. Apart from wondering about the relationship to perfection, one obvious question is what would it mean to say that God is all things. If it means that God is literally identical to each thing, then the doctrine would have nothing to...

Are there any professional philosophers that find the traditional arguments for God convincing? In my intro class, we basically blitzed all of them (like Aquinas' cosmological one, and the Kalaam one, etc.), and the class consensus was that none of these arguments worked out to guarantee a personal creator god like the one many Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in or really any deity/supernatural force. But I'm very interested to hear what the pros think about the matter!

As a sociological matter, I'd guess that most, though certainly not all philosophers don't find any of the usual arguments convincing. (There are exceptions, not least among panelists here at askphilosophers.org) That said, a couple of caveats are in order. The first is that in most intro classes, what one gets are bare-bones versions of the arguments. This is particularly clear for the ontological argument, where the most powerful versions are sufficiently complex that most intro courses avoid them, but in my experience it's true to some extent for all of the arguments . For example: there's a good deal more than can be said on behalf of versions of the cosmological argument than one tends to find in the intro to philosophy presentations. The second point is that even though arguments are important, it would be a mistake to think that most serious believers are believers because they find some argument or arguments convincing. Their reasons are broader and more diffuse than that. I'd suggest...

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