Guest Blogger: No Forbidden Questions

December 16, 2011 — 83 Comments

Hey everyone!

I’ve got a great guest blogger for you today.  With the battle over Christmas in full swing again, with the armies of Christians defending their holiday against the onslaught of “holiday” celebrators, I thought I’d do a little fraternizing with the enemy.

For several months, No Forbidden Questions has been one of the few atheist blogs in my blog reader.  NFQ, as she calls herself, comments here regularly, and what she says is always thoughtful and challenging.  If you want your Christian apologetics to get a workout, read her blog.

Today, I’ve got her here to ask her just what the deal is with all these atheists trying to destroy our sacred holiday and make baby Jesus cry.  Good stuff.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a female graduate student in my mid-twenties, working on a PhD in the physical sciences. I also happen to be an atheist, which means that while I don’t claim 100% certainty that there are no gods, I haven’t been convinced to believe in any so far and I don’t see any reason to suppose that a god or gods exist.

A lot of Christians feel that Christmas and Christianity is being attacked, primarily by atheists and secularists.  Do you think that is the goal of the atheist community – to destroy Christmas?

Haha, no, of course not, no more than it’s the M.O. of Christians to “destroy” Ramadan or Diwali.  I’m not going around encouraging people to celebrate Christmas.  But I think many Christians perceive it to be an “attack” when non-Christians request that public schools and government not endorse specifically Christian beliefs and practices, or when private businesses choose to acknowledge the existence of non-Christians by saying “Happy Holidays” to their customers. By all means, exercise your religious freedom, but remember that this freedom doesn’t include forcing other people to endorse your beliefs.

I recently heard a prominent atheist say that atheists need to “come out of the closet” and help make atheism as mainstream lifestyle, if you will.  Do you think being an atheist today is at all like being a homosexual or other marginalized groups of previous generations?

Obviously there are some major differences, but the coming-out aspect definitely applies. This analogy is made all the time in the atheist community.  Here’s why: when you don’t know someone from a minority group, it’s easy to believe all the scary things you hear about them.  As soon as you find out that your neighbor, your babysitter, your doctor, or whoever is actually in that minority, the negative stereotypes start to evaporate. Over the last few decades, this has been working well for LGBT folks.  It could work for atheists too.

How do you feel about living in a largely Judeo- Christian culture?

I don’t mind it most of the time. All religions incorporate a fair amount of common sense principles for how to behave, so while we take different routes to get there we often end up agreeing on the take-away points. I definitely value and endorse being kind to other people, fostering loving and supportive families, not murdering people, not stealing, and so on. Living in a society founded on those values is a-okay by me.

The part that’s actually upsetting is the condescending attitude toward atheists that so often comes along with these values. The phrase “person of faith” is used as a compliment, which might as well be rephrased as, “That person is super not-atheist, hooray!” Denouncing your political opponent as an atheist is a reasonably effective campaign strategy; there are even a few state constitutions that still formally bar atheists from holding office. George H.W. Bush, before being elected President, actually said that he didn’t think atheists should be considered American citizens. Not gonna lie … this kind of stuff hurts.

Do you feel that atheism has or needs a public face, an evangelist of sorts?  Do you think guys like Christopher Hitchens represent mainstream atheists? 

I think a lot of religious people will find it abrasive and insulting any time an atheist is willing to say, “I don’t believe your religion is true.” Traditionally, atheists have shied away from making public statements like this, so it feels extreme and offensive when a few people actually do. It seems like all it takes to be branded a militant, fundamentalist “New Atheist” is to admit to being an atheist at all! Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheist writers do say some over-the-top things, and I don’t support everything they say, but I think most of the flak they get is primarily because they’re open about their nonbelief.

Of course, there is a certain sense in which these people are different than average atheists: they’ve chosen to make atheism a huge part of their professional lives. For most of us, atheism is just one more thing we believe, alongside views about politics or philosophy. Priests obviously care on average a lot more about Catholicism than do their parishioners. Politicians care more about political opinions than do the members of their party.  That does mean that if people think Richard Dawkins is a typical atheist, they’ve got the wrong idea.

Tell us a bit about your blog.

I blog at No Forbidden Questions, which is why I go by the initials NFQ. I took the name from an awesome line in Carl Sagan’s critical thinking primer, The Demon-Haunted World: “There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths.” Religious beliefs are often taboo, but I believe supernatural claims should be subject to the same questioning and investigation as any other statement about reality. If we talk about what we believe (or don’t) and why, we’re more likely to figure out what’s actually true. That’s a conversation I want to be a part of.

Check out NFQ’s blog and tell us what you think!  Are Christians being big babies when it comes to atheists disagreeing with us?  Do we have it easier in America as “people of faith,” or are we just being pandered to?

83 responses to Guest Blogger: No Forbidden Questions

  1. Hi NFQ and Matt,

    Well, this is a refreshing change for the holidays. Welcome to our world, NFQ. I’ve often noticed your comments on Matt’s blog; thought provoking stuff.

    You’re right; if Jesus is not true, then there’s no reason on earth to believe Him. That makes sense.

    I’ve scanned your blog but I’m too dense (or too shallow) to get deep into it. The questions that bother me most are personal rather than intellectual: Where am I going and why am I in in this handbasket?

    Anyhow, I’m glad you wrote this guest post and I wish you joy and a Happy Holiday.

    John Cowart, a rabid fundamentalist

    • Hi John, thanks for your nice comment. If you feel up to getting deeper into my blog some other time, I’d love to see your thoughts and reactions in the comments over there. I guess I do lean toward intellectual arguments rather than what you call personal ones; I just don’t see how we could talk about “where we’re going” without first establishing that we are in fact going somewhere.

      I hope you have a very merry Christmas. :)

  2. This person reminds me of the character Worldly Wise from The Pilgrim’s Progress; all full of reasonable sounding words that, if heeded, lead inevitably to death. And Matt, shame on you for entertaining such lies and giving them a voice here. I assume it was because of the delusion that this makes you “open minded.” It does not. Would you allow Satan to preach from your pulpit? It is not reasonable to be an atheist, it is treason to the person of God Himself.
    As for NFQ, I’m sure you consider yourself to be a reasonable, open minded person.You say you haven’t been convinced to believe in any god so far, then you have not actually looked at the evidence or you’ve closed your mind to it. Let me just take the book of Daniel to prove it to you. It is historically without argument that the Book of Daniel was written centuries before Christ. By calculating the dates from the book of Daniel we can know to within a week what day Christ died. The lack of precision comes from the difficulty in correlating different calendars. So how, if there is no God, did a man living hundreds of years before Christ not only predict his death, but the day of his death? This is in addition to the dozens of other prophecies fulfilled in Christ that basically read like a newspaper account of his activities all written centuries before He ever existed. To say you have not been convinced there is a God after looking at such evidence makes you a fraud. You are not open minded, the Bible says that your eyes have been blinded, your ears deafened and your heart hardened so that you cannot see truth.
    The truth is that there is a God, perfect and holy and just who will judge us on one of two standards on the final day. Either under the law of the Ten Commandments under which we all stand guilty, or under the Grace of Christ who took the punishment for our sins for us. You will not deny He exists on that day.
    To all here who want to be open minded by giving ear to the doctrines of devils (which is what atheism truly is), 2 Peter 2:1,2 says “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways.” We were warned this would happen and commanded not to even listen to false teachers. So, STOP IT! SHUT YOUR EARS FROM THE LIES OF THIS MADWOMAN! She is a teacher of lies (though I’m sure you believe them NFQ, they remain lies). On the day you stand before God her beliefs will not sound so reasonable and if you continue listening you stand in danger of falling into the same judgement she will partake of if she is not brought back to her senses.

    • James, do you think NFQ hasn’t heard all those cliched “apologetics” before?

      Look, I purposefully did not even ask about atheism as a philosophy or belief or debate the evidences for either side. I wanted to get a perspective on what atheist life is like in America. If you want to reach people like NFQ, you have to know how they think. It’s not about me being “open minded.”. I don’t think anyone really wants to be open minded. We just use that term as a weapon, accusing people who disagree with us as being “narrow minded,” delusional or stupid and backwards.

      • Yeah, the whole “use a text that someone already doesn’t believe in to prove the existence of something that they don’t believe in” tactic isn’t terribly effective on atheists.

      • I actually sort of love this comment. Until about halfway through I thought it was a parody, and a good one at that. Ah, well, that’s Poe’s Law for you.

      • In reply to all who replied:
        I’m sorry you find these apologetics to be cliched. Do you know of many people so defending the truth then? I don’t. All I know of are people giving atheists like NFQ a fair hearing, trying to understand what their life is like and so on.
        I admit, my defense is quite weak. I actually used historical accuracy as the basis of my argument and while a good weapon, is not nearly as sound as what I could have used, were I better skilled. This is shown by the fact that NFQ disregards the historical accuracy of the Bible as demonstrated by her comment. Particularly, to answer Abby Normal’s claim, in fact the best argument I could and should have used would be to simply quote scripture. There is no other weapon for piercing the hearts and souls of those deluded by the enemy than the Word of God. And so, though I’m poor at it, let me explain why the Bible IS true:
        Hebrews 6:17-19 17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us: 19Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil
        This proves that God who is unchanging cannot lie and so His Word, every word of it, is true.
        Now Abby Normal and others may say that this does not prove anything to one who denies the existence of God. Well, in fact, that is not my aim. You see, if some fool denies the existence of the sun, I do not make it my aim to prove them wrong, I merely point out the truth and should they continue in their folly, there are many more who may believe the truth if once told.
        Here’s proof that judgement is coming:
        Isiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
        NFQ, I don’t consider you a Satanic madwoman. While you work for Satan, you are not his and will not ever be his. You belong to God. You are mad to deny His love, and mad to deny what is clear truth. A truth which you KNOW to be true as demonstrated by Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” The truth has been made known to you and up to now you have rejected it, being blinded by lies diguised as reason. It is not too late. Open your eyes and see the glory of God which shines in all the world around you.
        To the rest of you, I warn you again, not one word of any false teacher is to be listened to. We are not to learn their ways, not to embrace them or to find them. Here’s a cliche for you, You do not learn what counterfeit money is by studying counterfeits, but by studying the original. You do not need to know ANYTHING about atheists that isn’t already revealed in the Bile. And you don’t need any other weapon to defeat them either. It’s time we stopped the mouths that spread lies and began spreading the truth.

        • James: The Qur’an says that Islam is the only true religion. If I quoted the Qur’an to you as proof of that, would you convert to Islam?

          • No, because I can read the Qur’an and find many ways in which it contradicts the Bible, and even contradicts itself at times. The Word of God is true. It has been attested to by God Himself who cannot lie. It tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] prof”itable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” So we have confidence that the Word of God being true, I may quote it to you and expect that you would believe it. In fact on other places we are told it is alive. If I were to quote just some book to you and expect you to believe it then of course that would be foolish, but John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So we know that the Bible, the Word of God, is in truth, God Himself. And so the quoting of it to you is not merely the quoting of mere words, but showing you God Himself. In the hearing (or in this case reading :) ) of that Word, you are confronted by God Himself. You may choose to disbelieve as you would the Qur’an or Harry Potter, but in disbelieving, you call God Himself a liar.
            The problem is not, as you would have us believe, that there is no REASONABLE way you have found to believe the Bible is true. The problem is that sin in your life has caused you to reject it’s words. No one who believes on the Word lacks credible, logical reasons behind their beliefs, the Bible does stand up to scrutiny and has for centuries. It is those who lack belief who have found their reasons and arguments to have been proven false time and again. So forsake the sin which blinds you and embrace these words, for they are life!

    • Hi James. I appreciate your earnestness about your beliefs, but I have to say you don’t understand where I’m coming from at all. I read a lot of Christian apologetics as well as things written in favor of many other religions. I’ve blogged apologetics book reviews, as well as breakdowns of various Biblical passages to explain why I don’t believe them to be historically true and/or why I find them morally repugnant.

      Matt’s right that your points are rather cliche, and you’ve probably heard the responses just as many times as I’ve heard echoes of your comment. But just in case, I’ll give you the punchline: even if the book of Daniel did accurately predict something that happens later in the Bible, it’s not sufficient evidence — any more than something that happens in the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring foreshadowing the events of The Two Towers is evidence that there really is a Dark Lord Sauron.

      I’m sorry that you think I’m a satanic madwoman. I actually think you’re right that we should be cautious about false preachers (although I came to that conclusion before I had read the Bible). I hope you give a little bit of thought to how you decide which preachers are false and which ones have the right message.

    • I actually found the guest post very convicting. Making atheists feel like outsiders and being condescending to them is no way to bring them to Jesus. The reason, I think, this needed to be posted was not to teach lies, but to expose how we’re handling other people’s beliefs wrongly. We must remember that we are just like them. *We* are all “atheists”. Just because we accepted God’s grace doesn’t mean we’re better, it means we’re in a better place, but we are still the same sinners. God washed our hearts of sin, but we still produce it, to be washed off again and again in a perpetual cycle. Compassion breeds love. Jesus didn’t eat with sinners because he wanted to advertise their “lies”, he ate with them because he loved them.

  3. The initial part of this interview reminds me of a blog post I just wrote entitled “The War on Christmas.” (

    With that being said, I really appreciate this interview and I’m excited to add NFQ to my blogfeed. =)

  4. “Are Christians being big babies when it comes to atheists disagreeing with us?”

    It depends on the atheist (guys like Hitchens were pretty jerky about it, IMO), but I think for the most part the answer is yes.

    I mean, ultimately, how much control do ANY of us have over someone else’s relationship with God (or lack thereof)? Absolutely none.

    I think all that an individual Christian can really do is focus on his or her own alignment with Christ, and the lifechanging aspect of that relationship should become evident to everyone–THAT is supposed to be the proof of Christ’s existence.

    Getting defensive and belittling people who disagree with you (*ahem* as evidenced in previous posts) is not showing Christ’s love and is counterproductive.

    “Do we have it easier in America as ‘people of faith’?”

    Absolutely-if you’re a person of the “right” faith.

    Think about it–in the last election when the candidates made an appearance at Rick Warren’s church? Could you imagine the cuffuffle that would’ve happened if they’d been asked to speak at a mosque? Do you think they would’ve shown up? Heck, if they’d been asked to have an audience with the pope there would’ve been a significant portion of the country having kittens.

    Despite what Fox News may say, America is the easiest country on the planet to be a Christian in. (Well, a particular brand of Christian, anyway.)

    Any time I hear someone going on about how Christianity is being “attacked” in the US, I’m tempted to invite them to try going to China and seeing if they have an easier time.

    • “A portion of the country having kittens.”

      Ha! Is that a saying that I’ve missed?

      I think evangelical Christianity has changed our faith because now a “sign” of your faithfulness is how “bold” you in evangelizing with our t-shirts and wwjd bracelets. And the harder we push, the further behind we seem to fall.

      • Oh, I’ve got a mess of sayings just like that one. I’m not terribly old but I sometimes think I ended up with the soul of a hillbilly grandma.

        • You DO have a mess of sayings, including “hillbilly grandma!”
          Do you know what it means to get “tangled up in your nightsheets?”

        • FWIW, I have totally heard people say “having kittens” before, used in the same context as “getting one’s panties in a bunch” or “flipping a s***” (not sure what the prevailing attitude is towards cussing in your comment thread, playin’ it safe). Rock that inner hillbilly grandma, Abby.

          • My favorite part of the whole exchange:

            My Christian brother, following the example of Christ’s sacrifice, compassion, and humility, calls NFQ a fraud and a madwoman.

            NFQ, in all her satanic debauchery, politely and civilly declines to type a swear word out of deference to the beliefs of her audience.

            Great post, Matt. Cool idea. Nice to meet you, NFQ. James…I’m not sure we’d get along.

  5. Hello, NFQ!

    Maybe a little off topic (or a lot) but I wonder if atheism as we see it now is a result of Protestant Christianity. Before the Reformation, you had to at least pretend to follow whatever church was ruling your area. Now everyone must reach his or her own conclusions and belief is not tied in with whether you live or die this week. So one can explore one’s beliefs and think about things and draw conclusions without the most severe repercussions.

    Notice there are no real groups of Muslims, even in America, who are “out” with this conclusion of atheism, probably because those people have a nasty tendency to become dead. (So far as I know! Or maybe they are very secret.)

    I am not sure if our current climate makes for a stronger faith (because one must choose it for himself in a culture that is not always God-honouring) or makes for people who are less likely to become Christians.

    I think some of this “happy holidays” fighting is about keeping and maintaining some semblance of a Christian CULTURE and isn’t really about Jesus at all. And I disagree with atheists but don’t think they’re my enemy. Actually. I think Christmas is a very pagan sort of thing and ought be avoided, but my family and about 99.999% of the world doesn’t so I guess I’m stuck.

    I refuse to “like” the Keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas stuff on facebook, tho’. That is just a step too far. :)

    • Hi Happy Elf Mom. (Your name is so adorable, I had to say it directly.) I’m not sure if I would have chosen the Protestant Reformation as the particular turning point that shaped atheism as we see it today, but I think you’re absolutely on the right track. The more that people can “explore [their] beliefs and think about things and draw conclusions without the most severe repercussions”, the more we see religious diversity, including openly nonreligious folks. I think in the US I’d chalk it up to the First Amendment and legal protections of church-state separation.

      On the flip side, I’ve heard some people argue that more widespread irreligion in countries like the UK is largely a result of having an official state church. It’s easy to get cynical and indifferent about it, and so on. (The US may have a bunch of outspoken atheists, but we are vastly outnumbered by even more outspoken evangelical Christians, who the First Amendment also protects.) Maybe there’s an atheist-fostering sweet spot between theocracy and secular government, where there’s a somewhat moderate/liberal official religion and nobody gets the death penalty for nonbelief. I’m really not sure. It would probably make an awesome graduate thesis project in political science or international relations, though. :)

    • Oh absolutely. The war over Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. It has everything to do with American patriotism as some people interpret it.

  6. Question:
    Is your belief in non-belief purely intellectual?

    • Jillian, I’m not going to speak for NFQ, but I will speak for myself.

      I am not sure what you mean by “Is your belief in non-belief purely intellectual?” So here’s my attempt at rephrasing your question. Are you asking: “Are you _really_ an atheist for intellectual reasons, or is it because you don’t want to believe in God?” If that’s an incorrect reading, please correct me.

      Answering that question, I will say for myself that my atheism is not based on any sort of desire for there to not be a God. Rather, I have seen no reason, intellectual or emotional, to believe in God. This does not mean that I feel like I know the answer to every tough question — I don’t. But humanity has answered thousands of questions whose only answer use to be God, and the answer has always been a confirmation of the natural, not the supernatural.

    • I share Erika’s uncertainty about the question. What is the alternative to an intellectual belief, in your view? I suspect you may be asking whether I had some bad experience with religion that prompted a “deconversion” experience. If that’s your question, my answer is no – I simply don’t believe the claims of Christianity (or any other religion I’ve heard of) as a description of the real world. I base this on logical arguments and the available evidence. I guess that’s “purely intellectual,” but it’s also how I (at least try to) form all my beliefs. That’s why I’m not so clear on the alternative.

  7. I really loved this post!

    As a Christian, I have been increasingly irritated with the whole “take back Christmas” thing that happens every year. I mean really, yes Jesus is the reason I celebrate this season, but um, are we really completely unaware that many other faiths have religious holidays around the same time as well? And there are a few secular holidays as well. I just don’t see how a store clerk saying “Happy Holidays” is some infringement on me or my “rights”. In fact, pretty sure that isn’t a “right”. ; )

    And? Someone being openly Atheist is not an affront to me. It’s like we are afraid it’s a disease that can spread or be caught. Chill out people. Asking questions and hearing what other people think and believe isn’t going to cause people to rampantly deny Christ. Sorry if this is off topic or slightly soap-boxey, but I’m so tired of my fellow Christians trying to shut down discussion about faith questions. My husband is teaching a class on the Old Testament on church, and he went in to some questions that many Christians have debated regarding authorship, dates, etc, and he was told by another member that it was too dangerous to bring this up because it might lead the others astray. Seriously, if we can’t ask questions openly in a safe environment like a Church Sunday School class, what happens when we meet these questions in other places, completely unprepared.

    Ugh. Sorry. This might be a sensitive subject for me right now.;)
    Thanks for the guest post NFQ– I really enjoyed it!

  8. I’m sorry for the unclarity of my question. Fyi, my thoughts are unclear for me, so that’s probably why my questions are unclear. That is also why I prefer spoken word over written word. There’s tone & body language that goes with any conversation, that I cannot communicate online. I am not trying to be defensive, but inquisitive.
    What I meant was when you look at God (or your unbelief in God); do you only look at the intellectual ‘arguements’ for or against?
    Why I ask is that a lot of my faith is emotional. I contemplate nature, and think of God. Why is there beauty, and not just function?
    I contemplate emotions, and I think of God. Why does love elate and also crush?
    I contemplate humanity, and I think of God. Why are some people the nicest people on the planet, and others cruel?
    I contemplate the grand scheme of things, and I think of God. How do all these puzzle pieces fit together?
    I was wondering if you contemplate the non-intellectual side of ‘does God exist’? Why do I exsist?
    Stuff like that.

    • I do ask myself a lot of the questions that you mention. But I have to admit, the jump to God seems like a real non sequitur. It’s a big leap from “some things are beautiful and some things are grotesque” to “there must be some omnipotent being who willed the universe into existence” (let alone to add, “who sent himself in the form of his son to die for us to fix the fact that generations ago, some people broke rules that he made while knowing they would break them” …). There are certainly some aspects of life that I don’t have nice, neat answers to. But rather than making up some magical being that provides answers (to some extent), I’m content to say, “I don’t know.”

      • Honestly, I strugge with the big questions of my faith. “who sent himself in the form of his son to die for us to fix the fact that generations ago, some people broke rules that he made while knowing they would break them” I get your point.
        But I also think that a ‘big bang’ would not have created something as magnificent as the Grand Tetons, and something as simple and delicate as a Columbine flower. There seems to me to be more than just a ‘bang’ to create such a world of beauty. And how does science explain emotions? How can my son, whom I love so intensely, do things that make me so angry?
        What about music? I think that is one of the most complexing aspects of life. Music can do things to the human soul that are simply unexplainable.
        Bottom line, I think the unexplainable is where God fits in.
        I don’t understand many things of the Bible. So that is why lean on the experiences of my faith, where I have felt the presense of God in my life. That is a hard one to qualify.

        • Opps, that was me, I’m on a different computer and wasn’t logged in.
          And since we are being honest, can I tell you that defining my faith as ‘making up some magical being that provides answers’ is a tiny bit offensive? (just a tiny bit)

          • Oops! Really Matt, would it kill you to add a spell check to your blog?!?!?!!

          • Sorry Jillian. :) I’ll start looking for a plugin. But i can tell you that Google Chrome Internet browser features a built in spell check. Since I made the switch, David has had far fewer opportunities to taunt me.

          • Sorry, that was more blunt than I should have been. Let me try to clarify/rephrase.

            Essentially, my position is that there’s no basis for believing in a god. You can contend that the concept of God comforts you as you wonder about big questions. I don’t disagree that that concept can have that effect on people. But I believe in things I think are real — I don’t believe that only the things that make me happy exist and the things that make me sad are fictional. If I don’t think there’s evidence for God’s existence in the first place, “it gives me a satisfying feeling” or “it answers my questions” just isn’t going to change my mind. To me, it still feels like making something up and defining it as “the entity that answers unanswerable questions.” Like, okay, but you haven’t really changed anything but the definitions of the problem.

        • So, the thing I’m struggling with in responding to this comment is the fact that science does have explanations for how mountain ranges form, how flowering plants evolved, and so on. It’s rather oversimplifying to say that “the Big Bang” couldn’t have caused them – there are a lot of physical processes at work.

          Why do we find beautiful things beautiful, why do we find rudeness or injustice angering, why do we find pleasure and pain in different aspects of life? I think these things too, but sometimes I’m not even sure these questions make sense. It’s like saying, “Why is purple?” Who says there has to be a “why” at all?

          To some extent, I can answer that symmetry is a mark of health in most living creatures, and neurology researchers have found that our brains respond with pleasure signals when we see symmetry — that’s “beautiful” in a lot of contexts. The things that make us want to stay in a situation, or leave a situation, are easy to understand as evolved responses to certain kinds of stimuli. (Someone’s threatening to hurt you -> run away, someone with this reaction will survive and pass on their genes. Someone offers you gifts -> stick around, this person will thrive.)

          The bottom line answer I have, though, is that I won’t posit a “god of the gaps” just to have something sitting inside the gaps in my knowledge. You say that “the unexplainable is where God fits in” — I think if we look back at human history, we see gods getting pushed out of these “unexplainable” regions as science allows us to explain more and more. For now, I’ll leave my gaps empty, and fill them only when I have compelling evidence to do so.

          • I would REALLY love to sit down with you and have a conversation, rather than an online dialog with hours/days of gap. I don’t even know if you’re still on this, but…
            I don’t believe in God to “Make me happy”. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Jesus calls me to love my enemy. Doesn’t make happy.
            Jesus also tells me to take care of other people. And give my money. And think of everyone else before myself. Sheesh. Deny myself? Where is the happiness in that? Oh yeah, in not being a self absorbed, self inflated person. Hmm, Jesus doesn’t endorse a narcissistic society.
            Of course science has an explanation for the ‘how’. I didn’t negate that. But science does not have an explanation for ‘why’. There is a ‘why’ whether you think that there should be or not. It’s there. Why do we have stimuli? Why do we have pleasure receptors? Why do we have taste buds? Why do we have a fight or flight response? To ignore the ‘why’ is to ignore ourselves. It is the ‘why’ quetions that drive scientist to understand the ‘how’. But it doesn’t answer the ‘why’? Scientist have strived for years, and failed, to answer the why. And I just saw an article on the ‘God paritcle’. The gaps are there, and have been for thousands of years. You can ignore them, or contemplate, like I do, the ‘why’?

    • Retired Prodigy Bill December 24, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Here’s my version, Jillian.

      I contemplate nature and think. Why is there beauty, and not just function? And this leads to wonderful thoughts about beauty AS function, and research into history and how standards of beauty have changed over the years, and interest in consciousness and culture. And how waist-to-hip ratio seems to be one enduring standard of feminine beauty across cultures. No evidence of Thor appears during this process.

      I contemplate emotions and I think. Why does love elate and also crush? And again there is the history of something (love, in this case) and the various ways it can be, and has been, defined, and the troubling questions of how rational thought has only been around for an eye blink of time, evolutionarily speaking, and how all humans make the majority of their decisions based on something other than thought. No evidence of pink unicorns appears during this process.

      I contemplate humanity and I think. Why are some people the nicest people on the planet, and others cruel? And this leads to the fascinating concepts of groups versus individuals, and the Stanford and Milgram experiments and situational behavioralism. And I think about how religion makes moral behavior more difficult. And I consider outliers, for while I, along with Sam Harris, think that there are definite, valid moral answers, the fact is that there are behaviors some outliers consider “cruel” (such as telling the truth) that I don’t consider cruel at all. No evidence of Allah appears during this process.

      I contemplate the grand scheme of things, and I think. How do all these puzzle pieces fit together? Having had a career based in various elements of cognitive science and phenomenological reader/user response theory, I’ve a pretty good handle on consciousness and information transmission. Having dealt mostly with memetic evolution, biological evolution and cosmology are much more fascinating for me. No evidence of any kind of Middle Eastern god, whether in one part or three, appears during this process.

  9. Interesting blog. I love this sort of discussion. However; it always comes down to my beliefs are better than yours. That’s wrong too.

    The Kingdom of God is one of power, not talk. Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, transforms lives, regions and cities.

    1 Kings 18 is a classic power encounter, and God wins.

    For those those the believe, it a chance to adore our Savior, and for the rest it is a day off.

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Really good article. I think it’s great the Matt did this. Different religions (or lack thereof) fight so much, but then they all claim “we want to convert people to our religion.” That idea started the Crusades. I think it’s great to see where two “incompatible” beliefs join together for something. Even if it just is a single article. So many Christians point at Muslims and says, “They’re terrorists” or atheist and say “They’re of the devil.” But it reality “they” are all just people like everybody else.

    Great post!

  11. Well, being honest, I didn’t see anything here that I haven’t heard for years.

    The thing that irritates me is to see statements like this: “By all means, exercise your religious freedom, but remember that this freedom doesn’t include forcing other people to endorse your beliefs.”

    The same people making statements like that are forcing their anti-belief beliefs on the rest of us when they take court action to keep us from expressing our views in a public arena. They want the world to cater to their position…forcing us to their position usually through the force of government.

    Everyone tries to force others to their beliefs. Whether it’s through voting, laws, coercion, etc…everyone has their beliefs that they think are right and want to have others follow. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that atheists are the only ones who aren’t trying to push their belief system on others.

    • Jason, I think you’re missing the subtle difference between “atheist” and “secular.” What I advocate for is a “secular” government — that is, one which does not concern itself with the religious beliefs of its citizens. A secular government would not privilege certain religious groups by giving them a special soapbox or monetary subsidies, and it would not punish certain religious groups by making them ineligible for certain benefits or prohibiting them from speaking their piece. I have never heard of anyone in the US who is advocating for a sort of “atheocracy,” in which the government requires its citizens to not believe in any gods.

      Christians, just like everyone else, can express their views in the public arena all they want. No one is trying to take that right away. But you do not have a right to demand special status exempting you from government regulations everyone else has to follow, special funding to subsidize your religious traditions, or a special government-provided megaphone through which to shout your beliefs. This is the nuance I was trying to express with that sentence you quoted. It’s like the prayer in public schools debate — some people just don’t get it. Children can pray in school if they want to, and many do. But when teachers (in public schools, employees of the state and authority figures over students) try to lead students in prayer, it crosses that line of church-state separation because it lends extra government-backed authority to that one set of supernatural beliefs.

    • Point taken, Jason. But maybe we keep trading the same words back and forth with atheists too. No one is going to change their minds, and we keep just digging our heels in. Maybe we keep hearing the same things from atheists because it’s how they really feel.

  12. Very interesting. Thanks to Matt and NFQ!

    I try not to be threatened by other beliefs, in fact, I like the sharpening that happens when discussion is brewed by the difference.

    NFQ, as a Christian, I want you to be a Christian because I love you and want you to know the peace/love that I know in Christ. If, when I read your blog, I come across as anything other than loving, remind me of this comment. And I apologize on behalf of those of us who can’t get over our threatened feelings and attack you – that’s not what we’re called to.

    • Thanks for the apology. Of course I don’t hold all Christians responsible for the attacks perpetrated by a few. At the same time, though, I really wish that more moderate Christians would speak out against the often hateful rhetoric and actions of the extremists.

      Don’t worry, I’m really not one to be threatened by disagreement either. If I’m wrong, I want to be told that I am! Even better if you are willing to help me understand why and how I’m wrong. Any comment on my blog that is aimed at that goal will definitely be looked on as well-intentioned. :)

  13. Not trying to rehash anything, but regarding James’ comments: My understanding, as a Christian, is that the term “false prophet” is directed at an individual who claims to be a Christ-follower but spreads untruth about Christian beliefs and teaching, all the while convincing others that the teaching is true. If that is the case, how is NFQ a false prophet? She is not a Christian nor is she attempting to teach us a variant of Christian theology or doctrine. Am I overlooking something?

    Furthermore, should a dialogue with someone of a different belief system really shake our faith so much? My husband struggled with the idea of a supreme being for a while, and when he told me, I reacted poorly. His honesty about his struggles and disbelief led him to point out – in love- that perhaps MY faith was not as strong as I thought if it was so easily shaken by his disbelief. It made me take a hard look at my own beliefs, and that journey has made – and is making- our faith and our marriage stronger. If Christians truly, radically believe in God, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, even when we don’t know the answer.

  14. Not to quibble, but… Okay, I’m quibbling. Wouldn’t the young lady be more accurately described as “agnostic” rather than “atheist” inasmuch as she says she sees no compelling reason to believe there are gods, or God.

    She is, though, entitled to choose her camp and call herself whatsoever she wishes.

    To NFQ, thank you for your comments, and may your holidays be cheery and bright!

    • Good point, vanilla — many people misuse and misunderstand these terms. I think the best way to talk about religious belief is to talk about two variables, one for level of certainty (gnostic to agnostic) and one for … well, “camp” as you call it. I am an “agnostic atheist,” meaning that I don’t claim to have proof that there are no gods, but that a lack of gods seems to me like the best bet description of reality. Most religious people I encounter are “gnostic theists,” meaning they claim to have absolute knowledge that their god does exist, but “agnostic theists” are certainly out there (probably most often in the form of Deists).

  15. Not much of a comment person but Mr. Poteet mentioned a few things that really bother me both as a Christian and a debater. Rather than go into a lengthy argument of any kind I just wanted to point out that – As a Christian I can read, listen, watch a myriad of religious/philosophical stand points and have it enlighten only my understanding of the world AND not affect my belief in God. Its the same way I can watch a 100 Kung-fu movies and have no real fear that I might one day actually become a Ninja.

    • Right on. I think that this sort of attitude (not yours, James’s) says much more about the person who wants to do the quarantining, than it does about the thing they want to quarantine away … I felt like I’d written about this before, and (yess!) I eventually dug up this old post from last year. “Look at how willing an individual is to learn about beliefs different from their own, or how willing they are to allow their followers to do the same. I maintain that their willingness is directly proportional to how reasonable their beliefs are, and in turn, how seriously we ought to take them.”

    • @ THE Shelby
      So, I’ve pointed out just one of the many verses that warn us against listening to false teachers, show me your verse from the Bible where we are encouraged to entertain a myriad of religious/philosophical stand points to enhance our understanding of the world?
      That NFQ is implying by her answer to you, as are you, is that I refuse to listen to any of the worlds arguments because I’m somehow afraid it will shake my belief in God. Far from it, in fact, the more grounded I become in the the Truth, the less I have to fear that some cunning argument of the enemy may sway me from reason. I don’t warn you not to listen to the reasonable lies of atheists because I’m somehow scared of their arguments, but because the God who is All Wise has commanded me not to listen to them. This is reason enough. If the God who is Wisdom says not to do something then it is foolish, however reasonable sounding NFQ and people like THE Shelby and Matt make it sound, to listen.

      • @James

        Okay, I probably shouldn’t, but I’ll bite…

        “So, I’ve pointed out just one of the many verses that warn us against listening to false teachers, show me your verse from the Bible where we are encouraged to entertain a myriad of religious/philosophical stand points to enhance our understanding of the world?”

        –It might not completely fit the bill, but Luke 6:27-36 works for me.
        Or, how about “walking a mile in the other man’s moccasins”? Why is that such a difficult concept?

        “I don’t warn you not to listen to the reasonable lies of atheists because I’m somehow scared of their arguments, but because the God who is All Wise has commanded me not to listen to them.”

        –For someone who’s been commanded not to listen, you’ve posted an awful lot of responses on the matter.

        –What I’d also like to know is, what alternative do you suggest?
        Atheists like NFQ exist. No amount of regurgitating scripture at them is going to make them go away–and these are real people, not “madwomen”, not supernatural minions of Satan, not bogeymen, but fellow creations of God. Your neighbors, actually. (And what have Christians been commanded to do to their neighbors?)
        You seem to suggest that Christians are supposed to cover our ears and scream “la la la” whenever an atheist says anything. How exactly does that further the kingdom of God, hmm?

        And, by the way, you didn’t say anything about M.’s argument (above) that NFQ doesn’t even fit the definition of a “false prophet”–care to comment?

        That’s all I’m going to say because I admittedly have a nasty temper and have a hard time staying civil when the internets get heated. I know nothing you read on here is going to change your mind about anything, but I just wish guys like you would figure out how to show some danged humility once in a while.

        • I really love your response! I didn’t think anyone would notice the fact that I’m really not commenting here because I think I can convert a hardcore atheist, I’m commenting here because of Matt and because of the other readers and commenters…and to be honest, to get a little practice in actually wielding the Word in this context as before I always relied on reason (such as my first attempt with proving the historical accuracy of the Bible.) It’s important that we see the true way to approach people like NFQ is not through false “love” or reasonable arguments but through the Word of God and that alone.
          Which makes most of the rest of your comment disappointing. I read your scriptures and they reveal not only that you can’t find a verse to support the point, but also that you believe that I’m attacking NFQ. Far from it. NFQ is not the enemy here. The powers behind her beliefs are the enemy and that’s one good reason why only the Bible itself can avail in the contest of ideas. NFQ is simply following the natural progression of a life outside of Christ and as such, I have no problem with her at all. I try to point to the Truth, but all in all, I care very much about her and only wish that I were able to pierce the darkness that covers her eyes.
          The people whom I’m actually wielding this mighty weapon against are Matt and the others here who call themselves Christians and apologize for the truth and allow those in open rebellion to our King to have a voice. The Bible clearly teaches that we are not to listen to false teachers but to reprove and rebuke them and show them the truth. (Incidentally, while I did use a verse about false prophets, I was not intending to say that NFQ is a false prophet, but pointing out what our response to any false teacher should be.) If Paul could rebuke even Peter sharply for his error, surely good Christians standing upon the word of God may rebuke those who are clearly walking contrary to it by entertaining the seemingly reasonable words of atheists.
          Your error stems from your utter lack of understanding of Love. God is Love, therefore all that He does is done in Love. So when God Himself casts untold millions into the lake of fire to burn in utter agony for eternity that too is Love. Love for the truth, love for justice, love for all that is right and holy and good. And it is love that rebukes the sinner and warns them of the penalty awaiting them and warns “Christians” of entertaining false teachers in opposition to the clear command of God. What you have seen really is love and if you believe the Word of God and what it warns is the end of those who live as NFQ then you would do what God commands–turn a deaf ear to the lies, confront those who speak such lies with the Truth, and warn all within earshot to stop their ears, pick up their sword and battle the lies with all their strength. This IS love. It is the love God showed when He poured out the full fury of His wrath on Jesus instead of you.
          As for what I suggest, I suggest, towards those outside the faith like NFQ, we simply follow Christ’s example of confronting people with their sins and using the Word to convict them. Like He did with the woman at the well, Like He used the commandments to point to the hidden sin in the Rich Young Ruler. Unbendingly insisting on the utter supremacy of the Word. Relying on it alone. And towards those who seem to be in the faith, following Paul’s example with Peter and Christ’s example with the Pharisees. In all cases standing on the Word alone, which you seem to feel is not enough. It is. God’s Word is God Himself. Show them God. It is enough.

          • I know I probably should just let this go, but I am so blown away by the argument you are making that I can’t help but ask, one more time.

            James, you say that Christians should “confronting people with their sins and using the Word to convict them”, that “God’s Word is God Himself. Show them God. It is enough” — that this is the Jesus-approved method of effective evangelism. Why, then, would you not be convinced if a Muslim quoted the Qur’an to you, telling you that your unbelief in Allah’s word as revealed to the prophet Mohammad would condemn you to eternal damnation? You responded to that suggestion by talking about internal inconsistencies in the Qur’an and contradictions between the Qur’an and other knowledge that you have. Why is that a good approach to respond to Islam, but an unacceptable approach when responding to Christianity?

          • @NFQ (There was no reply button on your reply)
            1. It won’t work to simply present the Qur’an because the Qur’an IS false. For instance, if I showed you a dollar bill, but there were problems with it, say on one corner it says 3 instead of $1, there’s a couple of words misspelled, whatever, well you’ll have to do a lot more than show me that dollar to convince me that it’s legitimate. On the other hand, I can show you a real dollar bill and I require no further proof of its genuineness. You can either take it from me and spend it or reject it.
            2. The Bible claims to be the very words of God (Previously referenced 2 Timothy 3:16). It also claims that the existence of God has been shown to everyone (Romans 1:20). In other words, I dispute your premise that you or anyone else does not believe in God. I’m not trying to prove the Bible is true, I’m telling you what the Bible says about the condition of your life and the inevitable conclusion of that life. That’s why I need do nothing else but cite scripture itself, because your problem is not really that you lack evidence that there is a God, but that you have rejected His rule in your life.
            See? It all makes perfect sense now! LOL. I know you probably won’t see it that way, but this IS the true position a Christian should take. We need not prove there is a God or that the Bible is true, but simply confront everyone with the Truth and allow them to either accept it or not. This is not because we lack evidence, but because to debate the truth as if there were some reasonable way to debate whether God exists cheapens the Truth. There have been many, many arguments about the truth of the Bible through the centuries, and they’re all eventually proved wrong. Not through people doing a better job debating the Bible, but simply because it’s true and so any supposed evidence to the contrary must inevitably be shown to be false. You will too. The question is will you accept the Truth on this side of life or the next?

          • Another atheist here, linking from NFQ’s blog. I don’t ordinarily intrude on the blogs of believers, that would be rude, but since the topic of discussion is non-belief, in this case I think it’s appropriate.

            James, your tactic of trying to beat non-believers over the head with mountains of quotes from your bible is not only ineffective, it’s counterproductive. Most non-believers in the US are ex-christians. I was raised christian, and my pastor suggested I read the bible. So I did, thinking it would be a great way to learn more about god. I read it twice, carefully, with an open heart, cover-to-cover, in two different translations. You know what happened? I realized that it’s a human book, full of human flaws, and no more perfect or inspired than the Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, or any other “holy book” out there. And I realized that I didn’t believe it. And from the many other ex-timonies I have read, my experience is not unusual.

            So, when you come at someone like me with your page after page of bible quotes, you are just reminding me how glad I am to be free of basing my life around one ancient text. And I automatically tune you out. So who benefits from your preaching? Not us. Bible-thumping may be scoring you brownie points with your god, but it does not reach de-converts.

  16. I didn’t say that I ‘entertained a myriad of religious philosophy ‘ which implys that somehow I consider everything I hear to be a potential truth -that just isn’t the case I said that I could listen, as in the sound waves can hit my ears and I can comprehend its meaning (which is mostly because I speak English) and not have my views or believes changed.

    The bible pushes us to Love one another (Mark 12:31) and its also pretty clear about what it defines as Love ( 1 Corinthians) its only when we understand one another that we can truly Love one another. Take NFQ I seek to understand her point of view so I can better Love her and through Love SHOW her Christ not demand her to acknowledge its supremacy. Christ loved all kinds of people, surly kind of people, tree hugging dirt worshiping kind of people, and he changed them not because he could tell them how wrong they were and how false their beliefs are but by showing them how much he loved them and how great that love is.

    My concern is not that YOU don’t listen because it might shake your faith but that you feel like OTHERS cant listen because it might shake their faith. I mean really thats what we are talking about here. If you were just worried about yourself you would have clicked your browser and zoomed off to another webpage because you feel its inappropriate for yourself that you listen to False Prophets. Instead you made a comment and supported that comment with scripture because you dont want OTHER people to listen. And the only logical reason is because you fear that they may be lead away from Christ. I mean you can possible think you’re Gods moral hall monitor and your sole purpose is to make sure everyone follows the rules. Do you go around checking peoples shirt tags to make sure they don’t wear mixed threads too??
    ( Leviticus 19)

    Lastly God makes it very clear that without freedom there is no Love. The creator of the heavens and earth could surely make us all love and worship him its well with in his power but instead his divine plan was that we all have a choice and free will so that when we bowed before him in would be in Love….real Love not coercion.

    As a side note thanks for keeping the ‘THE’ before my name intact, every time I see it I just cant help but smile. :)

  17. HI NFQ! I have read your blog in the past when you have left some interesting comments that make me wonder if you are really trying to find God or if you are just putting in your perspective on the topic.

    One of the things I appreciate about Matt’s blog is that his purpose seems to be to keep us Christians on our mental toes and to keep us from falling into the pit of Christanese where we totally check out from the world and keep God’s grace to ourselves. I have not always liked his choice of guest bloggers nor have I always agreed with what he has said. However, I have to say that when I have wrestled with ideas or concepts, either in this blog or elsewhere, I find my faith has become stronger and I have a better idea of what I believe and why. The original apostles tell us to continually test what others say against what the Bible says and to throw out what doesn’t align with scripture. I do not consider NFQ to be a false preacher, but an honest atheist, which I actually prefer.

    I have enjoyed NFQ’s comments on previous posts because they do keep us thinking and I have enjoyed reading this post. I think it is interesting and admirable that she tries to break things down into reasons and is willing to wait in faith that all things will be explained eventually by science. My dad is an athiest who believes the same thing. In some ways, we Christians are the same way because we don’t understand everything, especially not in the Bible (or am I alone in this?) but must wait until God’s final revelation, Jesus’ return or our death to get the bigger picture. One of the things I love about God, however, is that He created both science and art. He has given us, as humans, a love of order and reason and a love of beauty. He gave us curiosity and inspiration. This is regardless of whether we acknowledge Him or not. And just as He allows us to test and know the world around us better, He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. NFQ, I know that you are not at that point now, but I pray that at some point, you will be.

  18. Excellent post, Matt.

    I have followed (and enjoyed) NFQ’s blog for some time – it’s nice to see you taking the time to talk to her here.

    James Poteet II:

    You said:

    “On the other hand, I can show you a real dollar bill and I require no further proof of its genuineness. You can either take it from me and spend it or reject it.”

    But just because you are convinced that your dollar bill is genuine, doesn’t mean that everyone else is. And at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is not decided by popular vote, opinion or dictatorial fiat.

    It may, in fact, turn out to be the case that you are wrong about your dollar bill. Most counterfeits are, after all, pretty convincing.

    The best way to decide this issue is to approach it as the novice would: someone who has never heard of either Christianity or Islam (someone who has never seen a dollar bill, be it real or fake).

    Such a person would approach the problem with no prior biases toward (or against) any given religion, and would therefore be willing to recognize the inconsistencies and errors in each, and judge them appropriately.

    Otherwise, you might as well ask someone who loves the color blue to decide whether a green or blue dollar bill is the genuine one. They’ll hastily deny that the green one can be genuine, because it’s such a terrible color. Frankly, that seems to be what you’re doing here.

    • John 7:17 This is what Jesus said about how we can know if His words are true: “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.”
      I’m afraid the person you describe, the novice, doesn’t exist. You are born with a prejudice against God and must be reconciled to Him from the sin nature you are born with. Openly considering all religions and weighing them equally as if they all have some merits and faults is false. All other religions are measured by the standard of the Bible because it alone is truth. Or how will your novice decide which is right and which is wrong? What will be the standard? You are correct that the one who loves the color blue will make the wrong choice, how then can you be certain that you are not someone who loves blue? Only the light of the Truth can show us our hidden prejudices and blindness. There’s no where else we can look to that will show us our true natures and the true nature of God. The Bible is that standard and therefore it does not require that we submit it to the world for their judgment and approval, but rather that we must submit before its judgment.

      • James:

        “You are born with a prejudice against God”

        There is no evidence for this. Rather, it appears that people are generally born without even knowing what God is – they really are born novices. Religion is instilled in people by their parents and community. It is learned.

        Furthermore, people generally adopt whichever religious tradition they happen to be born into. This should give you considerable pause for thought, but it seems you are too far down the rabbit hole to notice.

        “All other religions are measured by the standard of the Bible because it alone is truth.”

        The sheer hubris of this statement is astonishing. What you should really say is that *you* measure other religions by the standard of the Bible because *you believe* it to be the truth. It is plainly false that the non-Christian population of the world (i.e. most of the 7 billion people on the planet) follows this protocol.

        To claim that your religion is the true one because its holy book says it is, is a classic case of circular reasoning. NFQ has already tried several times to get you to see this, but you come back each time with the same circular reasoning as your defense.

        Interestingly, you refuse to say anything about our assertions that the Bible is plagued by the same sorts of inconsistencies as other holy books – perhaps you are afraid that by engaging in this debate, you’ll have to defend what you know to be indefensible.

  19. James,

    After reading through the discussion on here, I do understand and agree with some of your argument. I think we’d all agree that we must be careful what we lend our time, attention, and thoughts to, because ultimately, that is what we will become. Your admonishment to focus on truth and be careful what (or who) we as Christians listen to is a worthy warning, especially when given in love. Christ does call us to be “in the world but not of it.” How we live that out is subject to our personal relationships with Christ and the subsequent convictions and callings regarding what we watch, listen, engage in, etc. That is a discussion for another time.

    I believe you’re sincere in your argument, just as I think NFQ is equally sincere in her stance. I do want to point out – in Christian love -that I think it’s your approach, not your belief, that is flawed. Batting comments back and forth with NFQ and other commenters will get us all nowhere. I venture to say that most of us are frustrated by your implied attitude of anger and condemnation, not by your faith in Christ or your personal convictions regarding lifestyle. John 3:17 says that Christ came to save the world, not condemn it. Christ himself condemned only the religious leaders; he offered mercy, grace, and love to unbelievers.

    I’m a writer by trade, and I moonlight as a college composition professor. One of the skills I teach is recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies. You have a tendency to use circular reasoning (aka begging the question), which tries to offer proof by using another version of the argument itself. Because I believe that you sincerely want to reach others with the truth and love of Christ, I have to tell you that this argument style is going to get you nowhere. Not only will this effort offend and isolate others, it will ultimately lead you to anger & frustration because you won’t be effective in persuading others.

    One of the most challenging graduate courses I took was ethics. Our professor was a Christian, but she did not allow us to use the Bible in our arguments. I was initially offended and afraid. How could I defend my stance if I couldn’t use the truth I’d been taught all my life? What truth was there if not the Bible? Ultimately, though, a semester of learning ethical approaches, correct argumentation, etc. helped me to better organize and communicate my argument. If all truth IS in Christ, then learning ethical arguments will only serve to strengthen our faith and our witness.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m simply saying there is a better and more convincing way to approach this discussion. Again, I believe you’re sincere and I don’t question your relationship with Christ. Should you defend your beliefs? Absolutely. But without the right approach, I’m concerned your words, however sincere they may be, will only be heard as clanging cymbals. It would be a shame to waste such passion on a world that is truly hurting for love.

    • Yes & amen! I could copy and paste this reply to use in almost every argument/discussion I’ve seen online in the Christian blogosphere and Facebook.

    • @ Kieth and M.
      First let me address the supposed anger you hear in my words. I would hope that you hear from me no anger whatsoever towards NFQ. Far from it. My heart breaks knowing that in all likelihood, nothing will ever break through to convince NFQ of the truth. This saddens me greatly. There is anger, however, at the “christians” who apologize for the truth and who defy God by giving credence to those who are in open rebellion to His Word. My King is such that none that claim to serve Him should ever for a moment entertain the words of traitors to His cause. So yes, within my love and hopes that some might hear, there is anger.
      Second, Kieth claims that we are born novices without any knowledge of God. In addition to Romans 1:20 which I’ve already used, Ephesians 2:3 says, “among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” Many other verses also attest that we are sinners from birth since the fall of Adam.
      Finally, since you (and others here) are critical of my “circular arguments” let me say once again that I am not (except for my very first post which was foolish) trying to convince anyone. I am not making any argument to prove the Word of God is true and I reject any such claims that anyone should. You are right that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but if you read on in John 3 you see that that is because the world already stands convicted of sin. Jesus came to provide the solution, but until people are shown their natural depravity and sinfulness then telling them of the solution will do no good.
      I’m afraid the person who told you to try and prove the Bible without using the Bible did not understand what the Bible says about how we are to approach the world. Once again, you labor under the misconception that I’m somehow afraid to engage in a debate on the scriptures. Far from it. I’ve studied the history of the scriptures, I know how we arrived at the canon of scripture and know, with certainty that every bit of historical evidence backs up the truth of the Bible. It has never and CAN never be proven false. I don’t fear debate, but my wise God has commanded that we NOT engage in such pointless wrangling. One of you (I can’t find it again now) has mentioned that I must be afraid that if I entered a debate with an open mind I might change my beliefs. I don’t fear that for me, but there are some who might be swayed by the cunning lies of the enemy. That is why we are commanded not to listen. We should not endanger our souls by giving ANY ear to the lies from the enemy. You can say this makes me afraid to engage in debate, fine, I’ll live under your misconception, but I will stand firm on the day of judgment.
      I pray that someday the church will return the pure truth of the word and stop listening to such nonsense, not the nonsense that NFQ has been deceived by, but the nonsense that those who supposedly follow Christ have been deceived by.

      • “…I’m somehow afraid to engage in a debate on the scriptures.”

        I doubt many non-believers would have any interest in engaging in a debate with you about your “scriptures”. We’ve had that book shoved down our throats our whole lives, why would we want to discuss it with you? We’re barraged with it on a daily basis. We’ve already heard, repeatedly, what all the preachers and apologists out there have to say on the subject; I doubt you would have anything new to add.

        What’s often challenging for a believer is to tackle the difficult questions of life without hiding behind “scripture”. Throwing a bible verse at every challenge is easy, and it avoids having to really think things through. A much more interesting conversation starts when a believer puts down their book, and starts to talk about what they actually think, instead of what their book says they should think. You might use the lessons you learned from your book to guide your thinking, but you should use your own brain and come to your own conclusions about life. If you believe your god created you, why would he give you a brain if you weren’t supposed to use it?

        (I’m not actually talking to James here, because I don’t think there’s a chance he’ll listen. He’ll say I’m evil, and throw a few more bible verses around. I’m talking to the other believers who might be reading this, and who might be interested in engaging in real conversation with de-converts and other non-believers.)

        • Wow, and I’m the guy accused of being angry and frustrated :) . You should understand that I love debate and chasing down the reasons and hows and why’s of life–perhaps too much in fact. But the debate has to start from faith. If you don’t believe in the God who created the whole world and who wrote down for us the answers to all the questions we struggle with, then the “argument” or debate can never reach any kind of meaningful conclusion.
          You say we should use our brains to come to our own conclusions about life. But this just reveals a lack of faith (and by faith I mean the confirmed assurance of the fact of God.) Any conclusions I use my own brain to come up with that aren’t backed by the Bible are by definition wrong. We’re to use our brains to figure out what the right answers are and those can only be found in the Bible.
          But what are the hard questions? Let me take one of the hardest; Why is there suffering? Is there any way you can reason your way to a meaningful answer? Haven’t philosophers throughout history been attempting to answer that question without any real success? But the Bible is clear on why there is suffering. There was no suffering before sin and all suffering is a result of the fact that we are separated from the perfect life God had in mind for His creation in the Garden of Eden and the perfect life His children will live after this life is over. Whether it’s starving children in Africa, 9/11, or an innocent child born addicted to heroin, the root cause in every case is this sin nature and the fact of sin in the earth. But there is more to the answer than that, because we also know that God does not let a moment of that suffering go to waste and always works to bring good out of even the worst moments in human history. So we see a more complete answer to the problem of suffering. (And I’m by no means claiming this is THE complete answer.)
          But you cannot arrive at this answer from any human reasoning. You MUST rely on the Word to understand not only the difficult questions in life, but all the small everyday questions as well. I’m no more hiding behind a book than a history teacher hides behind a textbook when they’re trying to explain the Civil War. It’s a fact. It is Truth. And no matter where else you look for answers you will be unsatisfied because you will discover them all ultimately empty.

          • You are right, James, the debate has to start with faith. Why are you spending so much time beating up both people of faith and people who don’t have faith? You are trying to shoot your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when they don’t agree with theological details when Christ says that the world will know that we are His by our love, not by our theology. If some of us are in “doctrinal error”, trust God to show us our error as we follow Him instead of trying to take His place.

            And why are you bludgeoning people who have no faith with the Bible when they are clearly not ready to receive it? Do you REALLY think this will bring them closer to God?

            Two of the fruits of the Spirit are kindness and gentleness and a third is self control (Galations 5:22-24). I personally would appreciate it if, in the future, you would demonstrate these qualities in your comments.

            Happy Advent!

          • @troll
            2Ti 2:17 NKJV – And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort,18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

            You mean like Paul did here? Or like he did when he rebuked Peter? It is only love that causes a doctor to point out cancer in a patient. Hatred would be to conceal it. I have not bludgeoned anyone here, but if you feel I have, point to the error in what I have said, because the Truth is more important that whether anyone’s feelings are hurt.

            And remember, Jesus said that we would be judged with the same judgement that we use to judge others. You bludgeon me for my supposed errors, while judging me for bludgeoning others for theirs. How will you not be judged before God using the very judgement you have used to denounce me? Repent! Troll before that judgement comes.

            But rest at ease in that I forgive you and pray that God does not hold your comment against you in any way, knowing that you are only repeating the things you have been taught. Rather, let God show you the Truth so that you may join the King in spreading the light, rather than shunning those who proclaim the good news.

          • @James

            You are not Paul.

            And you are certainly not God.

          • Well the comments seem to be running even more heavily now towards attacking me personally (no I am NOT God lol) than actual focus on our beliefs and faith and what is right and wrong. That doesn’t profit anyone so I’m out. I really did enjoy this opportunity to defend the faith and hope someone heard in it the ring of truth and will maybe re-examine the things they’ve been taught about how we’re to live our lives in this world. There are a lot of great teachers who do it far better than I do, especially Paul Washer and Eric Ludy.
            I leave you with one last verse that describes God’s feelings about the religion being practiced in America today. Malachi 1:10 Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

  20. Perhaps I can add that it takes a great deal of faith to subject your beliefs to the full rigor of debate, rather than trying to wall them off.

    • I’d say not faith, but courage. If you actually subject your beliefs to the full rigor of an honest debate, then that has to include a chance that you might change your mind about something. (Otherwise, it’s not really a debate, it’s just preaching.) For a lot of people that’s too scary to face. So they put up mental walls, cover their ears, shout “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”, quote the bible, and do anything to keep from having to deal with really difficult questions.

  21. @Alias – feel free to use!

  22. Just wanted to say – one of my best friends is an atheist, and I’m a pastor. :) I for one do not view all atheists as being part of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, etc) as my atheist friend is one of the kindest and most loving people I know.

    That said, I guess I have a different perspective about why the “New Atheists” are being attacked… in my view, it’s not because they’re voicing their beliefs and they’re opinions about there being no God, it’s because they’re like the fanatic fringe of every religion (or in this case, non-religion). They come out with hateful comments – calling people who follow a faith tradition things like “stupid” and “ill-informed,” etc. (Richard Dawkins actually has a website that lists all the reasons Christians are stupid)

    I have no issues with people who don’t share in my beliefs and always enjoy good conversation with intelligent atheists, agnostics, buddhists, Hindus, etc. But when the Dawkins group claims that having faith goes hand in hand with stupidity, that’s where I take issue. The science he relies so heavily on has a tremendous tradition of faithful people who have helped with its advancements. But according to him, people like Sir Isaac Newton were apparently just uninformed idiots because Newton spent as much time writing commentaries about scripture as he did about math and physics.

    So I think both Christians and Atheists feel a certain amount of “attack” going on when the only voices being heard on both sides are the fringe fanatics.

    • **Correction – sorry, it was not Dawkins who had the site listing all the reasons Christians were stupid… the site is from someone named Niilo Paasivirta and titled “101 Reasons to Hate Those Stupid Christians”**

    • Rebekah:

      “The science he relies so heavily on has a tremendous tradition of faithful people who have helped with its advancements. ”

      Yes, many good scientists also happen to have been religious. But being a good scientist doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily applied the tools of science to your religious beliefs to see if they’re valid.

      Newton was into alchemy, too. He may have been a brilliant man who excelled in one particular area of investigation, but he did not excel at all things he did.

      As a scientist myself, I held religious views for many years. I was able to do this by keeping religion separated from my scientific work. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to question religion – religion had always been a part of my culture, and I simply accepted it without much thought.

      That all changed of course, and I’m now an atheist, but it certainly does demonstrate how conflicting views can be held in one mind.

  23. I’ve been following this post and the comments on it and something has been bothering me, but until just this morning I didn’t figure out what it was.

    This has to be the most hate-filled post I’ve read on the internet in awhile.

    Not because of the comments or the debates with James or anything like that, but because of simply this:

    A beautiful woman, with friends, probably family, a mother, father, brothers, sister, college friends and professors that probably have interestedly watched her grow over the past year or so -

    She’s standing there, about to walk into a burning house.
    However, she doesn’t believe in fire, or water.
    But she is still going to walk into a burning house (at least to the perception of all who call themselves Christian and believe Christ did not lie).

    And here we all sit, discussing with her the rationality, the logic of not trusting in water. As though we should listen to her feelings of whether water and fire might really just be emotional concepts or states of mind.

    When, if we fully believe, we should be weeping, we should be jumping up and down saying JUST TRUST ME!!! THERE IS FIRE!!! PLEASE COME BACK! PLEASE! PLEASE COME BACK!!! PLEASE TAKE THIS WATER, PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!
    And then, after failing to convince her, we should go to the only One we know that might could pull her away and plead with Him for her. Dear Father, In Jesus Name I stand before You redeemed, and only by YOUR great mercy do I not sit here doubting the fire and water myself. PLEASE Father, OPEN THE EYES of NFQ and let her see the salvation available to her, let her see the fire awaiting her Lord so that she will be afraid. Oh LORD Father, PLEASE SAVE HER before she no longer can turn back from the fire. Please LORD. PLEASE!

    Instead, we leave our comments regarding whether someone is using the water right, or whether we should argue better and be better communicators, and then power off the computer and go to sleep, or to watch Seinfeld on tv perhaps.

    It leaves me wondering if maybe NFQ isn’t the only one here that doesn’t believe in fire and water.

    • Normally I would not reply with a lengthy post, but you gave us a story, and I’d like to reply back with another story. A story about how it feels to be a non-believer in a world full of believers who use arguments like the one you just used.

      The Parable of the Meadow

      Once there was a Humanist sitting in a beautiful meadow on a sunny day. The meadow was full of wildflowers and butterflies, and she was enjoying a cool glass of lemonade.

      Suddenly, a True Believer ran up to her and yelled “FIRE! RUN AWAY! YOU ARE WALKING INTO A BURNING BUILDING! YOU’VE GOT TO RUN AWAY NOW!!!”

      The Humanist said “What? I’m just sitting here, I don’t see any building, and where’s the smoke?”

      Just as the True Believer was about to answer, another True Believer ran up to her and shouted “DON’T LISTEN TO HIM, HE’S WRONG! IT’S NOT A FIRE, IT’S A FLOOD!!! YOU ALL HAVE TO COME WITH ME IN MY BOAT RIGHT NOW OR YOU’LL DROWN!!!”

      Before the Humanist could say anything, a third True Believer came up. “THEY’RE BOTH WRONG!! IT’S NOT A FIRE OR A FLOOD, IT’S A TORNADO! ALL OF YOU HAVE TO COME IN THIS BUNKER WITH ME RIGHT NOW OR YOU’RE DOOMED!!!”

      The Humanist said “Wait, you can’t all be correct. And I can’t do all those things at the same time! How do I know which one of you is right?”

      They all three said “BECAUSE IT SAYS SO IN MY ANCIENT BOOK!!!”

      The Humanist said “That’s no help, you all have ancient books. How else can I know?”

      They all three said “A VOICE IN MY HEAD TOLD ME! AND I FEEL IT IN MY HEART!!!”

      “You still all sound the same. How about some real evidence? There’s no smoke, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and it hasn’t rained in a week. Until one of you can show me something real, I’m going to have to assume that none of you is correct.”

      They all three said “THE OTHER TWO ARE LYING TO YOU! I’M THE ONLY ONE WITH THE TRUTH! YOU JUST HAVE TO TRUST ME!!!” Then they began fighting amongst themselves, still yelling, and beating each other over the head with their books and holy symbols. Then more True Believers arrived, each variously proclaiming tsunamis, hailstorms and onrushing trains, and joined right in the fight, each bellowing that they had the only truth, and attacking all the others.

      The Humanist stood up, picked up her lemonade, and shook her head. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to go find a quieter meadow.” And she sadly walked away from all of them.

  24. I agree.
    Mark 16:15-20
    And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

    16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

    17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

    18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

    20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

  25. For the record Ubi, I believe you probably haven’t met a single Christian. Or maybe 1 or 2. But not many. But you’ve met an entire world/church full of people that claimed it.

    In reality, the true Christian would be able to tell you about the fire dangers ahead, and if God was drawing you to Him, to safety, you would suddenly SEE that there was danger ahead. You’d be able to see HEY, I’m not right with God! He’s AGAINST me! THIS IS BAD!

    I’m sad Ubi, that your story is so true. Because I’m a Christian. A real one. One seeking the power of God and the scriptures in their absolute fullness.

    And I can’t find a single church to go to that would let Jesus in.

    The church I just left brought their softball team up on the stage for us to applaud, it entertained their youth with “turkey bowling” and there’s a special church here in my town that celebrates the fact that they have a huge carousel.
    I’m a CHRISTIAN and I’m achingly hungry for gospel and fellowship with believers, and sick and sad that the “gospel” message today is such a pitiful all-about-me gospel.
    I want Jesus.
    I WANT JESUS! Where is HE?

    If I, as a believer can feel this way, it’s just painful for me to imagine non-believers looking at us and wondering if any of us really do have the answer to the pains, hurt, and brokenness, and questions that they’ve faced.

    I know it’s hard to believe, and you don’t see it in the church or in all the arguments, but Jesus is the answer.
    He’s just not very well represented here – in my life or others.

    • I’ve met lots of people who felt with all their heart that they were a “True Christian” just as you do. Including some who later deconverted. I’ve never seen any sort of “sign” that was better than wishful thinking and parlor tricks.

      Imagine if you were looking at a roomful of Muslims. All of them say “I am a “True Muslim” and none of these other people are”. How would you begin to judge which of them was a “True Muslim?” Or would you just say to all of them “I think your beliefs are untrue, so there is no such thing”?

      If your god exists and knows everything people are thinking, then he knows exactly what sort of evidence I would find completely convincing. If he’s all powerful then he’d be able to produce exactly what I needed to see. And if he’s benevolent, then he’d want me to know that he exists. But so far, nothing. So either your god for some reason wants me to think he doesn’t exist, or he actually doesn’t exist.

      I’ve even made it really easy. I have a “pass phrase”. It’s something that would never come up in normal conversation. I’ve thought it to myself many times, really loudly, but never written it down or told any person what it is. If someone comes up to me, says “I don’t know what this means, but god told me to say this to you” and then says my pass phrase, that person will have my undivided attention. That person I will listen to. No guarantees that I would choose to follow your god, but at least I’d have evidence that he’s not imaginary.

  26. Ubi, you make me want to guess a thousand phrases. :) I love your honesty on this because I’ve done the exact same thing with God so many times. He’s done enough physical things in my life that I absolutely believe Him, but every once in awhile I just want Him to do something that says my name. I was in physical pain once, many years ago, with a small infection, and a man touched my forehead and prayed for me almsot just in passing by and I felt heat all through my body and instantly the pain was gone.

    I’ve never forgotten that experience.

    I’ve seen many things I’d classify as a miracle (a court case I recently had no hope of winning for my foster-soon to be adopted-daughter) but nothing compares to that powerful moment.

    What your comment makes me think of is “Lord, I believe – Help Thou my unbelief.”

    Because I don’t think you’d spent that much time thinking out loud to yourself if you didn’t at least hope it was possible. Mustard seeds grow.

  27. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “hope it’s possible”. The christian version of heaven sounds horrible, and I would not want to spend eternity praising a being who came up with the “judgment based on belief” system your preachers describe.

    My standards for the kind of evidence I would need to see are extremely tough. That’s because people are easy to fool, and the easiest person to fool is yourself. I’ve learned a lot over the past years about how people fool themselves, and how logical fallacies and cognitive biases cause us to jump to inaccurate conclusions. So I’m very careful before I “believe” anything.

    I think the probability of there being any sort of a god is extremely small, and the probability of any one particular god existing is much smaller than that. I don’t spend any time hoping there is one, and I’m not holding my breath that some god will show up. Life is short, and therefore all the more precious. I have other things to fill my time with.

    I didn’t come to this blog to be converted or to deconvert anyone. I came to help you understand a little more about non-believers, and why we react to believers the way we do. Even though the number of people in the US who self-identify as atheists is fairly small, the percentage who give their religious preference as “none” is around 20%, and growing. We’re your neighbors and your co-workers and your relatives. Most of us are very nice people. (Sure there’s a few jerks, but there’s a few jerks in every group.) We’re not going away, and it’s apparent that we’re no longer going to be quiet and pretend we don’t exist. If you try to understand us a little before you bash us with your bibles, we might just get along better. Thanks.

  28. I believe in helping other people. I believe in working towards a common goal of a better world. I believe in loving each other, even the ones that are hard to love, and forgiving whenever possible, yet holding people responsible for their actions. I believe in raising children that will make the world a better place, whether in a small way or maybe in some great way. I believe in hope. I believe in cultivating a spirit of gratitude, everyday, for life is wonderful, but short. I believe in tolerance and understanding, which includes understanding oneself, maybe through prayer or meditation or other quiet reflection. I believe in taking action towards these goals, however it will not come about in any sort of magical way. Nothing supernatural. I am an atheist :-) and a very happy one.

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