The Buddha on God, with Responses

The Buddha once made a number of remarks about God and why he discouraged his disciples from speculating about God:

On occasions, [the Buddha] expressed his opinions about creation and the role of God. When Ananthapindika, a wealthy young man, met the Buddha at a bamboo groove at Rajagriha, the Buddha made a few statements before him about the existence of God and the real cause behind the creation of beings in this world. Those views are summarized as below:

1. If God is indeed the creator of all living things, then all things here should submit to his power unquestioningly. Like the vessels produced by a potter, they should remain without any individuality of their own. If that is so, how can there be an opportunity for anyone to practice virtue?

2. If this world is indeed created by God, then there should be no sorrow or calamity or evil in this world and no need for the existence of the principle of karma since all deeds, both pure and impure, must come from Him.

3. If it is not so, then there must be some other cause besides God which is behind him, in which case He would not be self-existent.

4. It is not convincing that the Absolute has created us, because that which is absolute cannot be a cause. All things here arise from different causes. Then can we can say that the Absolute is the cause of all things alike? If the Absolute is pervading them, then certainly It is not their creator.

5. If we consider the Self as the maker, why did it not make things pleasant? Why and how should it create so much sorrow and suffering for itself?

6. It is neither God nor the self nor some causeless chance which creates us. It is our deeds which produce both good and bad results according to the law of causation.

7. We should therefore “abandon the heresy of worshipping God and of praying to him. We should stop all speculation and vain talk about such matters and practice good so that good may result from our good deeds.

For such reasons, the Buddha did not encourage speculation on the existence of Isvara (God) among his disciples. He wanted them to confine themselves to what was within their field of awareness, that is, to understand the causes of suffering and work for their mitigation. For the same reason, he discouraged speculation upon the nature of Nirvana.

Let’s take these one at a time:

1. If God is indeed the creator of all living things, then all things here should submit to his power unquestioningly. Like the vessels produced by a potter, they should remain without any individuality of their own. If that is so, how can there be an opportunity for anyone to practice virtue?

RESPONSE: This is strange objection since Buddhism denies BOTH individuality and personal virtue (there being, really, no persons to practice virtue). 

We are indeed created by God like a potter producing pots, but the Buddha’s contention that being a creature would render one without individuality is simply a non sequitur. Consider the obvious case of a great artist: is each of his works “without individuality”? On the contrary, the greater the artist, e.g. Shakespeare, the greater the variations in his productions.

Similarly with regard to virtue. There is simply nothing that prevents God from creating free creatures, creatures who can choose meaningfully between good and evil—and hence virtue and vice.  

The error the Buddha is making is in considering God only in terms of His power, and not His wisdom and goodness. That is, the Buddha is making exactly the sort of theological mistake he warns his followers about. 

2. If this world is indeed created by God, then there should be no sorrow or calamity or evil in this world and no need for the existence of the principle of karma since all deeds, both pure and impure, must come from Him.

RESPONSE: This is where the question of the Fall of Man becomes necessary.  And admittedly, the Fall is revealed primarily via divine revelation, a revelation the Buddha did not have access to.

Nevertheless, the Buddha’s  inference is false. The Fall of Man cannot be shown by natural reason, but it can be shown to be in accord with natural reason: why should it be, when it is logically possible for everyone to be good and virtuous, no one is, and most people are bad? It is obvious to all sane people—including the Buddha—that man is not what and how he ought to be. 

Unfortunately, the Buddha equates the fallen world with the world as such, and thus his doctrine can only be one of renunciation and escape from the world.  

3. If it is not so, then there must be some other cause besides God which is behind him, in which case He would not be self-existent.

RESPONSE: The Buddha is making a metaphysical error in confusing evil and suffering and sorrow and calamity with real things. The reason that the Buddha is wrong here is that God is capable of creating free beings with real choice, which opens the possibility of there being a secondary cause besides God, that is not “behind” or “beside” God.

The Fall of Man is the work of man, and man’s abuse of his freedom, in order to sin. Evil and death are the result of sin, sin is the result of human choice, and although God is the author of human beings as free beings, he is not the author of their free choices, since it would be contradictory for God to “choose our free choices for us.” 

4. It is not convincing that the Absolute has created us, because that which is absolute cannot be a cause. All things here arise from different causes. Then can we can say that the Absolute is the cause of all things alike? If the Absolute is pervading them, then certainly It is not their creator.

RESPONSE: Another metaphysical mistake.  All things within the totality of creation have a cause within that totality, within the order of nature. But God is at once the creator and sustainer of the whole totality of what is in being.  In this way, as the one who donates a portion of the Being that He Is, thus allowing all else to be, God is the source and ground and cause of all things. 

5. If we consider the Self as the maker, why did it not make things pleasant? Why and how should it create so much sorrow and suffering for itself?

RESPONSE: The Self, or Atman, is not the God, or Isvara. That said, God DID create all things as GOOD. Evils such as sorrow and suffering are the consequences of the Fall, and of Sin.  

6. It is neither God nor the self nor some causeless chance which creates us. It is our deeds which produce both good and bad results according to the law of causation.

RESPONSE: False in two ways: firstly, the Buddha is making the error of thinking of divine creation as being in time, and a “one and done.” God is our creator at every instant because he is our sustainer in being. Second, our ability to do good is radically impaired due to our fallen state. Once again, the Buddha is unaware of the Fall of Man, and consequently, despite his deep insight into the deficiency of existence, somehow believes it is within man to escape this deficiency.  But the broken man in the broken world cannot repair himself. What is needed is a RESCUER, a SAVIOR, to redeem us from our fallen state. 

7. We should therefore “abandon the heresy of worshipping God and of praying to him. We should stop all speculation and vain talk about such matters and practice good so that good may result from our good deeds.

RESPONSE: Romans 3:10-12

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

 

The Buddha’s failure to engage in proper metaphysical and theological thought results in his making metaphysical and theological mistakes. This is always the way: those who disdain metaphysics and theology end up with defective metaphysics and theology. 

The Buddha’s answer, “Do good by following the Eightfold Path and you will achieve Nirvana,” is a false answer, because no one unassisted by Grace can do good, nor is it, I repeat, within the power of the broken being in the broken world to fix itself.  

The Buddha’s rejection of the life of selfish craving, Taṇhā is good as far as it goes, but there is also selfless craving. Taṇhā is cognate with the various Indo-European words, the English of which is Thirst, and true thirst can be quenched not be extinguishing it, but with the water of life: 

John 4:14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Revelation 21:6 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.”

Revelation 22:17 “And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.”

Buddhism offers only a palliative. It is not worthless, but it can no more solve the problem of human sin, suffering, misery, and despair than Stoicism could—which was a sort of Roman Buddhism, albeit in a nobler key.

Doctrines of Resignation such as Buddhism and Stoicism must give way to the doctrine of Christ the bringer of new life, of eternal life:

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“The Burden of Proof is on the Atheist Redux” by Matt McCormick

My readers already know I don’t think very much of the concept of “burden of proof,” being used outside formal legal settings, where it has some meaning.  It isn’t any principle metaphysics or logic or ethics.  It is, at best, a sometimes useful heuristic, and in my opinion, whatever utility it once had has nowadays become outweighed entirely by its misuse as a rhetorical trope used to “cheat” in arguments.  As I have argued, it’s a rhetorical trope that combines two fallacious argumentative moves: it sets out an argument from ignorance—saying your opponent has the burden of proof is basically stipulating “I’m right until proven wrong”—and it then implicitly justifies the argument from ignorance with special pleading: “You have to prove your case, but I don’t have to prove anything,” which, when combined, yield “Whatever I believe is true, and I am justified in holding this believe, because you have not proven me wrong, and you have failed to prove me wrong, because no matter what arguments you make, I won’t accept them.”  In other words, it creates an “impregnable” position—by the ultimately tawdry trick of defining oneself to be right. It lets you always “win,” but the victories are always straw victories.

My readers also know I don’t think very highly of the intelligence or argumentation of most atheists.  See my Intellectually Dishonest Atheists on that.

But as we say nowadays “Hastag #NotAll.”

Matthew McCormick is an atheist for whom I have intellectual respect—at least in this short piece. I haven’t read anything more by him. He makes a number of points that are entirely cogent, and that atheists ought to take to heart. Since he is himself an atheist and has written a book arguing why everyone should be an atheist—atheists just might take him more seriously when he says the exact same things that I say , e.g.

  • That the ‘burden of proof,’ is, in his words, “a socially determined entity” (I say “a matter of interpersonal protocol,” which comes to the same).
  • That evidential standards are not universally fixed nor agreed upon.
  • That it is simply counterfactual to human belief formation that beliefs are atomic (unrelated to other beliefs) and default to a kind of emptiness of “not having a belief.”
  • That the atheist lives surrounded by a vastly greater number of theists who think he is wrong—often for good reasons—and that smug condescension is not doing him any favors.

With that said, I’ll turn you over to McCormick. Of course, when he says, “Anyone who doesn’t draw the atheist conclusion has probably gone off the tracks somewhere,” he’s quite wrong—but this is probably as good as we are going to get from an atheist. The emphasis is mine:

The Burden of Proof is on the Atheist Redux

by Matthew S. McCormick, atheist philosopher

I’ve gotten enough comments from colleagues, blog responders, and students to say some more about this, although a full treatment would take many pages.

First, my view is that while in the end I clearly think atheism is the reasonable conclusion to draw, and that anyone who hasn’t yet, should, the starting points for different people and the standards by which they evaluate evidence are highly variable. There simply are no universal standards of reasonableness whereby it would make any sense to say that anyone who doesn’t accept atheism is unreasonable or irrational.

My claim is not that theists have no work to do to justify their positions. Ultimately, everyone can do better than they are doing with regard to having a well-justified, coherent belief system. And ultimately, I think that anyone who doesn’t draw the atheist conclusion has probably gone off the tracks somewhere.

My position is that the burden of proof is in large part a socially determined entity.

It is naïve to think that the Cartesian model applies to human reasoning whereby we start with nothing and then build up a network of justified beliefs one at a time. That’s neither an accurate picture of how we come by our beliefs, nor is it a plausible goal for how we ought to proceed in assessing our beliefs. Wittgenstein got this much right—he said that belief comes first, then doubt second. What he meant was that as a person matures through childhood, everyone acquires a vast network of interconnected expectations, predictive principles, and beliefs about the world. The character that this starting framework of belief takes depends largely on the historical, social, and epistemic context that that person finds themselves dropped into. That context may provide them with beliefs that are false like, “Fever causes demon possession,” and inference rules that are faulty. One nineteenth century logic textbook endorses the Gambler’s Fallacy, for instance. I have a very difficult time convincing some introductory logic students that it’s a mistake. If someone has been surrounded by (authoritative!) people who endorse it, and it appears to be supported by one’s experience, and even your textbooks recommend it, how could a person possibly be held epistemically culpable for not seeing what we now know is a mistake. That would be as foolish as faulting Heraclitus for not knowing the implications of research from 21st century particle accelerators for atomic and subatomic theory.

So it’s the epistemic context that frames out the starting position for everyone as to what’s prima facie reasonable. Even during the same historical period, that will vary from context to context. Common sense to someone born and raised in the jungles of Borneo will be radically different than common sense to someone born and raised in the same era in urban San Francisco.

The fact that so many people in American culture are religious and profess to believe in God allows us to make some generalizations. The general situation we find ourselves in is one where for the vast majority of people it is completely intuitive and obvious that God exists. Many, maybe most, Americans never pause to consider seriously that there might not be a God. And for the ones who did, the implications as they see it for a meaningless, ammoral, nihilistic existence quickly make it evident that such musings are dangerous and/or preposterous. Many of them have heard of atheists and atheism—but such a prospect seems unnatural, ugly, counterintuitive, and remote. Everyone believes in God, after all. What could be more obvious?

For the most part, these are all normal, reasonable, mentally healthy, cognitively functioning adults. The atheist who scoffs that anyone who believes in God is stupid, foolish, unreflective, or in the grip of a psychiatric disorder simply hasn’t been paying attention and has been shirking their own epistemological responsibilities. This atheist is little better than the sulking and immature teenager who pouts that “Everyone is soooo stupid. They are such conformist sheep. I hate them.” I’ve been there, and I like Bauhaus and Joy Division as much as the next guy. But atheists and atheism as a movement has got to grow up. (Unfortunately, I think some of Richard Dawkins evangelical, anti-theist vitriol may represent some backsliding. Nevertheless, I sure enjoy it.)

To be fair, there are unreflective and even dumb theists, and they need to be shaken up and challenged just like we all do. But it would be a gross and irresponsible over-generalization to be dismissive of theism altogether. And now I’m making two points: one, for most Americans, theism (Christian) is the default backdrop against which any worldview they ultimately settle upon must be tested. Second, there are some powerful, interesting, and challenging arguments for the existence of God out there, and no atheist who has taken the issue seriously can claim to have secured justification for their view until they have considered those arguments carefully and figured out what’s wrong with them.

So like it or not, atheists find themselves in this hostile, or at least contradicting, environment. And that environment sets the framework of principles, rules of evidence, and beliefs from which every person has to start. Since the atheist conclusion is so deeply contradictory to the context they find themselves in, the lion’s share of the burden of proof will be on them.

The alternative view, like Flew’s, seems to be that the belief that there is no such X is always the justified, default starting point, and that anyone who wishes to conclude anything different than just having a blank slate must provide adequate proof to motivate the belief. This is outrageous for a number of reasons. You haven’t done that and probably can’t do that for a great many (maybe most) of the reasonable beliefs you have. You didn’t populate your head with all of your beliefs by deliberately and consciously starting from a blank slate and then only after acquiring sufficient reasons accepting a belief into a special circle of sanctioned views. Becoming a conscious, reflective adult capable of thinking about your reasons already required that you had a full set of beliefs about your world that you inherited from your environment and that came to you naturally. We do not have a blank hard drive for a mind, despite the popularity of that metaphor, that are written onto by experience. A web of beliefs is consciousness—they are what make a worldview possible at all. Without the context of belief you’d have nothing to doubt, no questions to ask, nothing to wonder about.

And just like reasonableness depends on so many subjective factors, evidence is not a clean, objective logical notion. It’s not that people who disagree with you have no evidence at all. What do you think you were the first person to see this singular, unambiguous phenomena in the world because you’re so much smarter than all of them? And you were the first 15 year old to think that everybody is a conformist too, weren’t you? Evidence, for the most part, is what a person takes it to be. Evidence doesn’t just exist out there on its own. Some phenomena only becomes evidence in virtue of being taken to be indicative of some conclusion by some person. And obviously, different people can take the same phenomena as evidence to contradictory conclusions. Or they can appear to be observing the very same phenomena, but they are actually taking note of very different details and drawing the same or different conclusions from it. We have discovered that there are better and worse ways to gather and evaluate evidence. But it’s not that when someone draws a mistaken conclusion or one you don’t like that they have no evidence at all. What you disagree with them about is what evidence is relevant and how best to evaluate it. So atheists need to get out of the habit of dismissing all believers as “having no evidence at all.” The believers don’t see themselves that way, and you just come off as dogmatic and irrational for saying it about them. Wouldn’t you think it was laughable if they said about you, “Well, he’s got no evidence and no reasons at all for what he believes.”

 

My Favorite Atheist Meme

So, this has got to be my number one favorite atheist meme:

Jesus vs demigods

Basically, it tries to show how Jesus is an utterly derivative mythological figure, with almost all his legendary attributes being drawn from various mythological demigods before him.

I have to say, it would be pretty persuasive … if any part of it were true.

Unfortunately, not a bit of it is. It is basically an atheist fabrication from whole cloth from beginning to end.

Here are the refutations, if you want to go through them all.  They are pretty interesting.

Probably the most interesting thing to know is that there are some parallels between Jesus and Krishna, but the dating in this meme is misleading. Krishna’s story in its original ancient form in he Mahabharata is only about 25 lines long and says almost nothing.  It really gets filled out around 200 A.D.— definitely after Christianity had reached India, which it did in the time of the Apostles, with Saint Thomas journeying there and founding one of the earliest Churches, where he remained, and Saint Bartholomew making an extended journey there. Indeed, the oldest Christian church still in existence (in the sense of church building) is located in India.

Similarly, there actually is a story of Dionysus turning water into wine, but that part of the Dionysus story is post-Christian and is a borrowing from the Christian story, in a late pagan attempt to jazz Dionysus up to appeal to Christians or even pagans, who by then had mostly lost all interest in the old myths.

Jesus vs Horus

Jesus vs Mithra

Jesus vs Krishna

Jesus vs Dionysus

And then I made this for Twitter replies. I may as well stick it on the end here:

Jesus vs demigods

The Argument from Contingency: A Brief Synopsis

Definitions:

Def 1: A contingent being is a being such that if it exists, could have not-existed or could cease to exist.
Def 2: A necessary being (or non-contingent being) is a being such that if it exists, cannot not-exist (and therefore could not not-have-existed and cannot cease to exist).

Note: I use ground-reason essentially to do the work of the German Grund, a word which neither the English “ground” nor “reason” sufficiently captures in meaning, since it unites the sides of being and knowing, the ontological and the epistemological, in one.

The Argument 

1. A contingent being C exists.
2. This contingent being C has a ground-reason for its existence.
3. If C were the ground-reason for C’s existence, C would not be a contingent being, but a necessary one, since C, as self-grounding, could not not-exist—contrary to 1.
4. Therefore, the ground-reason for C’s existence must be something other than C.
5. This ground-reason for C’s existence other than C must either be another contingent being or set of contingent beings alone or it must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
6. Contingent beings alone cannot provide a completely adequate ground-reason for the existence of any contingent being (neither ontologically as ground nor rationally as reason), so the ground-reason for C’s existence is not any contingent being or set of contingent beings alone.
7. Therefore, the ground-reason for the existence of contingent being C must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
8. Therefore, a necessary being N exists, because without such a necessary being N, C could not exist, contrary to 1.
9. The universe and every part of the universe is contingent (as is “the multiverse” and every part of it, if this concept is supposed to subsume “universe”).
10. Therefore, a necessary being N which is something other than the universe or one of its parts (or “the multiverse”), must be the ground-reason for its existence.
11. Therefore there exists a necessary being N which is the ground-reason for all contingent beings, including the universe or cosmos or multiverse, as well as all their parts, whatever they may be.
12. Et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.

Commentary: 

Premise 1: This premise is empirical but evident. As long as anything at all exists which could have not existed or could cease to exist, it is a contingent being. It is obvious that physical beings are contingent.

Premise 2: This is simply a statement of the Satz vom Grund or Principle of Ground (usually expressed in English as the Principle of Sufficient Reason), although perhaps the Principle of Ground-Reason would be better as I use it.  This principle can be expressed negatively as “nothing happens or comes about FOR NO REASON.” It is a core principle about reality, that things cannot happen for no reason at all, just as it is about reality that a thing can’t both be and not be the same at the same time and in the same respect—and because Being is like this, thinking (which follows being) has the Principle of Ground and the Principle of Noncontradiction as basic first principles.

Premise 3: Evident. If C were its own ground-reason it could sustain itself in being and never cease to be, and would thus be a necessary being; but C is already posited in 1 as contingent, so it can’t be the ground-reason of itself.

Premise 4: Also evident. Since C is not its own ground-reason, the ground-reason of C must be something other than C.

Premise 5: By the Principle of the Excluded Middle, this something other than C is either fully contingent or contains a necessary being.

Premise 6: This is the premise that would take the most argumentative work to establish and to get clear about. Since in contingent beings, existence is a property that is “passed on” from another being, if a contingent being got its existence from another contingent being, that being would have to be either contingent or necessary. In this scenario in Premise 6, no necessary beings are in play.  So one would have to hold either that there is an infinite regress of contingent beings each passing on their being to another being and receiving it from the one before—most philosophers think the idea of an actual infinite is  absurd (conceptual or abstract infinites are not).  Or the passing on of existence would have to be circular, where A causes B to be and B causes C to be and C causes A to be.  This becomes more clear, perhaps, when we look at it from the side of explanation, as the reason for C: I want to explain how C got here, so I say C₋₁ explains C, but C₋₁ is explained by C₋₂ and it by C₋₃ and it by C₋₄ … infinitely C₋∞. But this “explanation” never actual explains anything. In simply passes the buck infinitely backwards.  It is as if I wanted to know the origin of a magic book that contains the secrets of the cosmos, and someone tells me he got it from his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father … who … etc.  No matter how long you make this chain of fathers passing down books to sons, you never answer “Yes, but where did the book originate?”  We need something it terminate the infinite regress, where the “buck” of explanation can no longer be passed.  Similarly, it would be famous for the possessor of the book, Dave, to explain he got it from Mary, who got it from Josh, who, is it happens, got it from Dave. If I said to Dave, “Yes, I know Mary gave it to you, but where did it come from?” it would not do for Dave to say “I always get it from Mary, who always gets it from Josh, and I always give it to Josh. This circuit is itself the origin of the book.”

Premise 7: If it is correct, then, that the ground-reason for a contingent being cannot be nothing but other contingent beings, whether in the mode of an infinite regress (which is a non-explanation) or a circular explanation (which is a non-explanation), then it must be the case that there is a necessary being which terminates the regress.

Premise 8: Since C requires there be a necessary being N in order for C to be, and C is (premise 1) then there is an N.

Premise 9: The argument from 1-8 applies to every being without the universe, all of which are contingent, as well as the whole ensemble of contingent beings called the universe. A whole made entirely of contingent beings cannot itself be necessary, since it is susceptible to change—which a necessary being cannot be.  Someone might say that an inference from the things that make up the universe to the whole universe might be a fallacy of composition, but this cannot be the case, since the universe is an aggregate that contains contingent parts and therefore changes.

Premise 10: The same argument 1-8 reapplied to the universe as contingent. There must be something other than the universe, a necessary being N, which is the ground-reason for the universe.

Premise 11: So there is such a necessary being N which is other than the universe and is its ground-reason.

Premise 12: Bit of a joke. This is a variant of how St. Thomas Aquinas ends each of his Quinque Viae or “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God: “And this everyone understand to be God.”

As a piece of natural theology, the argument from contingency will indeed not get one straight to the Christian God—but then, it isn’t meant to. It will get is to “there is a being other than the universe such that it is the ground-reason for the universe’s existence and is in itself a necessary being, such that it has the ground-reason for its own existence in itself.

From there we can go on to flesh out what other things this entails about such a being: if we work through it will find out it is timeless, spaceless, unchanging, and perfect.

In other words, it is very certainly AT LEAST what Jews, Christians, and Muslims call “God, what Hindus call Brahman, what the Chinese call “The Tao,” what Plato knew as “The Idea of the Good,” Etc.

The argument from contingency isn’t enough to settle the theological question of what God is like, but it is enough to show that atheism is false and agnosticism unwarranted.

Intellectually Dishonest Atheists

As philosopher Edward Feser has pointed out, some atheists are simply not intellectually serious. They may be very ignorant or uneducated, directly dishonest, deeply confused, ill-informed, willfully obtuse, ideologically dogmatic, or just plain stupid; the end result is the same: it is not possible or fruitful to have a serious, rational discussion about God with such people. Here are some red flags which may alert you that you are dealing with an intellectually dishonest or defective atheist:

✅ 1. A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from a god or gods. This is a distinction 3 or 4-year-old children can easily grasp, so any atheist who claims not be be able to grasp it is either severely intellectually impaired or lying. In almost all cases, the atheist is simply attempting to conflate God with a god in order to set up a strawman and/or trying to annoy you by belittling God—while ignoring the basic conceptual distinction that all European languages mark by differentiating the word “God” from the word “god” by capitalization. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, in the entry written by atheist philosopher J. J. C. Smart:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God. I shall here assume that the God in question is that of a sophisticated monotheism. The tribal gods of the early inhabitants of Palestine are of little or no philosophical interest. They were essentially finite beings, and the god of one tribe or collection of tribes was regarded as good in that it enabled victory in war against tribes with less powerful gods. Similarly the Greek and Roman gods were more like mythical heroes and heroines than like the omnipotent, omniscient and good God postulated in mediaeval and modern philosophy.

Theists have little to no interest in discussing gods, at least not when God is the topic of discussion. If an atheist wants to discuss gods, he is free to do so, but he cannot pretend talk of gods has any bearing on or relevance to a discussion about God.

✅ 1.1 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish God from such things as imaginary friends, faeries, wizards, spaghetti monsters, Santa Claus, or other fabulous, fictitious, or mythological entities.

✅ 1.2 A persistent habit of paraphrasing religious ideas in ways which are deliberately ludicrous, derisive, or tendentious, e.g. describing the resurrected Christ as “a zombie,” or God as a “sky daddy.”

✅ 1.3 Persistent use of the fallacious “I just believe in one god less than you” rhetorical trope.

✅ 1.4 Persistent use of tendentious and irrelevant rhetorical mischaracterizations of Christianity, e.g. as “Bronze Age mythology.” Christianity, of course, dates from long after the so-called “metallic” ages, in fact from the prime of the Roman Empire, on of humanity’s civilizational high points. And Judaism, its precursor religion, derives almost entirely from the Iron Age up through historical times—not that the age of a teaching has any bearing whatever on its truth-value.

✅ 1.5 Persistent dishonest characterization of God as some kind of “cosmic tyrant” or “cosmic oppressor” (interestingly enough. the position of Satan).

✅ 1.6 Persistent dishonest characterization of God, especially in the Old Testament, as a moral monster.

✅ 1.7 A persistent inability or refusal to distinguish miracles from magic, usually paired with a tendency to attribute magical powers to nature, e.g. in such claims as “the universe created itself out of nothing” or “properties such as consciousness just emerge out of unconscious matter, because they do.”

✅ 2.0 Belief in scientism, the logically incoherent claim that “only scientific knowledge is valid/real/genuine knowledge” or that “only science or the scientific method can establish the truth-value of propositions,” claims which are neither themselves scientific nor established by science, and hence, self-defeating, and which entail such absurdities as “no human being knew anything before Europeans in the 1600s.”

✅ 2.1 Persistent claims that science, which studies physical nature by means of empirical observation and quantitative measurement, has any bearing on the question of the existence of God, who is by definition, beyond nature, not empirical, and not measurable in terms of quantity. Persistent insistence that claims about God must be proven “scientifically” or that any evidence for God must be “scientific” fall into this category.

✅ 2.2 The claim that Galileo Galilei’s run-in with the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 proves (somehow) that there is some kind of natural antipathy between either (a) science and religion, or (b) science and Christianity, or (c) science and Catholicism. This indicates a complete ignorance of the history of the Galileo affair, and is merely a recycled weaponized meme of the early Enlightenment.

✅ 2.3 Use of the non sequitur that the multiplicity of religions proves that no religion is true, either wholly or in part. By this logic, of course, one may also “prove” that no scientific theory is or can be correct, wholly or in part, since there are always rival theories.

✅ 2.4 Claiming or assuming that the atheist, a finite being who is not all-knowing, is not all-powerful, is not all-wise, and is not all-good, nevertheless is in an epistemic position to know with certainty what an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good being would or would not do or have done.

✅ 2.5 The belief the atheist knows the true or real origin of religion in human pre-history, a matter which, since it occurs far in human pre-history, we have no certain knowledge of, but only conjecture.

✅ 2.6 The peculiar belief held by some atheists that their total ignorance with respect to God and divine matters is in fact an infallible indication of their intelligence or wisdom or knowledgeableness precisely about the things about which they know nothing.

✅ 2.7 Repeated assertion of the evidently false claim “there’s no evidence for God.”

✅ 3.0 Persistent use of the burden of proof fallacy, that is, the rhetorical trope which combines an argument from ignorance (“my position is the default position,” i.e. “my position is true until proven false, so I need not argue for it) with special pleading that the atheist be allowed to use arguments to ignorance in support of atheism (i.e. “atheism is true because I am totally ignorant about God or divine matters”).

✅ 3.1 Chronological bigotry, i.e. the absurd belief that human beings who lived prior to (say) Richard Dawkins were one and all somehow mentally inferior to anyone living today, up to and including the greatest minds of the past. This would also include the belief that all human beings in the past were incapable of skepticism or critical thinking, or were somehow exceptionally gullible or credulous in a way we, the Enlightened Moderns, are not.

✅ 3.2 “Arguments” that consist wholly of posting atheist memes, e.g. “Eric the God-Eating Penguin.”

✅ 3.3 “Arguments” that consist of no more than exercises in blasphemy or obscenity.

John Ballie on “The Top of Our Minds”

Do we really need to take atheists seriously when they claim not to have any knowledge or experience of God? Professor John Baillie argues we do not.

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“The Top of Our Minds”

by theologian John Baillie

In his celebrated essay Of Atheism, Francis Bacon asserts that ‘atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man’. That it is not in his heart I have already contended; but I think we must allow that it is not only in his lip but also in his head. There are undoubtedly some men among us who not only say but also think that they are utterly devoid of all religious belief and feeling, including belief in God …. Nevertheless there have been and are some men who wold apply the term ‘atheist’ to themselves and would do so, as we must believe, with some real meaning. There are men who think they do not believe in God …. The question then arises whether men may be mistaken concerning their own beliefs. Is it possible to hold that those who do not think they believe in God really do believe in Him?

The question has been investigated in an essay which I, in common with many others, have regarded ever since I first read it as one of the most important theological documents of our time—I mean the paper on ‘Rational Grounds for Belief in God’ which was read by the late Professor Cook Wilson to an Oxford society … Cook Wilson answers the question with a confident affirmative. He is able to produce many examples of knowledge which men have possessed without being aware that they possessed it, and even while expressly denying their possession of it—cases in which ‘it is not merely that we have not become aware of a necessary element in our thinking, but we have actually denied that we have it at all’. He therefore concludes that the fact that some people ‘think they have no direct experience or knowledge of God’ is quite compatible with the hypothesis of ‘His direct presence in their consciousness’. ‘The true business of philosophy’, he submits, ‘is to bring the belief to a consciousness of itself.’

What we have here to do with is thus a special case of the familiar distinction between consciousness and sub-consciousness. All belief must in some sense be conscious—unconscious beings cannot entertain beliefs—but not all belief need be conscious of itself. We may have an awareness of a certain reality without being aware of that awareness. And we may therefore, without ceasing to be aware of such a reality, set about doubting and denying its existence—and that in all good faith. There have been people, so-called solipsists, who denied the existence of everything and everybody except their own selves. But are we, who believe in the existence of other selves, therefore obliged to allow that these other selves are not really and directly present to the consciousness of the solipsists? There have been other people, so-called subjective idealists, who denied the independent existence of the external world. But are we others, who believe in an external world which is objectively presented to our consciousness, therefore obliged to allow that it is NOT so presented to the consciousness of the subjective idealists? We should not dream of allowing these things. Why then should we, who believe in God, think it necessary to allow that because some men, the so-called atheists, deny the existence of God, God cannot therefore be directly present to their consciousness as He is to ours? We should say that the solipsists and subjective idealists are as conscious of their neighbors and of the world about them as we are, but they have been misled by false and confused philosophical argumentation into a meaningless (though doubtless quite sincere) intellectual denial of their existence. We should say that though they deny the reality of their neighbors and of the world about them with THE TOP OF THEIR MINDS, they believe in them all the time in the bottom of their hearts. Why then should we be precluded from occupying the same ground with regard to the so-called atheists? There have even—and this, unlike the others which I have mentioned, is one of Cook Wilson’s examples—been people like Hume who denied the reality of their own selves …. For we who do believe in the reality of our own selves would not only refuse to allow that Hume’s self was not real; we should also refuse to allow that Hume was not conscious of its reality; the most we would allow being that he was not conscious of being conscious of it—that he had argued himself into an intellectual denial of a self-consciousness which actually was every whit as fully developed in him as it is in the rest of us.

It may possibly be objected that the case of the atheists is not entirely parallel to that of the solipsists and subjective idealists or of skeptics like Hume, in that these do not deny their acquaintance with the experiences which we others interpret as involving the direct presence of our fellow men and the external world, or of our own self-hood, but only deny the correctness of the ordinary interpretations of them. I should hold, however, that exactly the same thing is true of the atheistical denial of the direct presence of God. The Christian believer may indeed often be found pointing to experiences which he claims to have had and which the unbeliever can truly say that he has never had; but I am sure the commoner case is that the believer finds God in experiences which the unbeliever would equally claim to have had, but which seem to him susceptible of a purely humanistic or naturalistic interpretation. The believer finds in the most familiar experiences of life a meaning and a presence which the unbeliever does not find in them; and it is on this basis alone that he is able to proceed to those further experiences which the unbeliever cannot have at all.