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Does It Pay To Believe?

— I followed a slow line of cars Monday evening as I drove to the top of a parking garage on the UCSD campus. These people and I were arriving to hear a debate over the value of religion, but I never expected to see such a crowd for such an esoteric discussion. This was like going to an Aztecs basketball game.

Dan Barker and Dinesh D'Souza debate whether religion is good for society at the Price Center Ballroom on the UC San Diego campus. March 7, 2011.
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Above: Dan Barker and Dinesh D'Souza debate whether religion is good for society at the Price Center Ballroom on the UC San Diego campus. March 7, 2011.

Belief in God seems to be locked into the human genome. The idea that there’s something greater than us – something beyond us that created all we see – makes sense to people and gives them comfort. That’s why religious faith has survived the advance of science and the ages of reason and enlightenment.

But the official question of this discussion wasn’t whether God existed; it was whether faith in religion was good or bad for society. The debaters on the stage of UCSD’s Price Center Ballroom were conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza and fallen minister Dan Barker. Barker was a preacher for 19 years before he saw the light and became an atheist.

The flamboyant D’Souza took the podium first and pronounced his argument to be based not on faith but on reason, and it was reasonable to say that Christianity was the source of the core values that define life in the West. He said Christian civilization was the first and, for a long time, the only society where slavery was even controversial. He said humanists who claim to shun religion are denying the wellspring of their own values.

“Even the atheist is standing on a Christian mountain,” said D’Souza.

Atheist Barker argued The Enlightenment was the source of the core values of the West and religion was “divisive, untrue, unnecessary and morally compromised.” Barker said religion clouds moral judgment. People, he said, can be brutal in any case but when religion gets involved, it gets worse. One of several examples Barker offered was the conflict between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians.

D’Souza countered by saying Israelis and Palestinians aren’t arguing over religion, they’re arguing over land. Barker responded that their argument wouldn’t be so hard and violent if they didn’t believe the land was theirs because it was given to them by God.

If I had to pick a winner of the debate it was D’Souza. His most compelling point focused on secular atrocities, such as those committed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Though Hitler’s targets were the Jews, D’Souza said his rationale was racism and Social Darwinism, not religion. Brutal communist leaders were the followers of Karl Marx and, therefore, overtly atheistic.

Like everyone else, I have a bias in this matter. I’m a believing Christian and I find most atheists aggravating, not because of what they believe but because they insist their opinion is so perfectly rational. It’s not. The conviction that there is no God requires just as big a leap of faith as does the belief in God. I recall a conversation with Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society. He told me a true skeptic must be an agnostic, not an atheist, because the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven.

Prior to becoming an atheist, Dan Barker was what most people would call a Christian fundamentalist. His ministerial work included stints as a pastor for the Assembly of God and the charismatic Standard Christian Center. Though he wasn’t debating the existence of God on Monday night, he couldn’t bring himself to avoid the subject.

“Go into a children’s hospital and you will know there is no God,” he said.

Do the sufferings of children, and the unanswered prayers of their parents, mean there is no God? To Dan Barker, apparently they do. His statement was a telling glimpse into his anger with what he came to see as an uncaring deity, and then as a deity that did not exist.

Barker also made a point of how monstrous God would be, if he actually existed, by describing God’s cruel violence in the Book of Job. D’Souza argued that’s only a problem for a Christian if he believes the Book of Job is a historic text, and not a fable. Maybe Barker did take the bible literally.

At the end of the debate a few members of that crowd of 1,500 lined up behind two microphones to ask questions or harangue the speakers. One woman complained that she’d seen another debate between D,Souza and Barker and was frustrated that this one was pretty much the same. They were no closer to a resolution of the God question or the religion question.

I’d tell that person to find new ways to spend her free evenings. And I’d also say that belief or disbelief in God is something that ultimately defies reason. Spiritual truth relies on what you feel in your heart and what you hear when you’re alone with your meditations.

What did we learn Monday night? To Dan Barker, God was a fraud. To his debating partner, the universe would be a barren place if we had nothing but ourselves to worship.

“What does atheism deliver but a counsel of complete despair?” said D’Souza.

Comments

Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | March 9, 2011 at 5:56 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Complete despair? Atheism offers the same things as existentialism, the chance to take responsibility for oneself and see ourselves as independent agents.

I'm not saying God or Allah or whoever couldn't exist, and I could change my mind if I saw or felt something convincing enough, but to bash atheism as some nihilism is a crock! Come on, Tom...

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 9, 2011 at 6:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

If you ever want to really freak yourself out, here's a suggestion. You can choose either heaven or hell, or any other locale. But try to being alive in a state of eternal consciousness. You will be be awake, aware, forever, and ever. No ending. No sleep.
No calenders, no watches, no time! Just consciousness forever--eternity, infinity.I wonder if there's internet connectivity in Heaven? What language is spoken in Heaven? What's the weather like?

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Avatar for user 'Ant'

Ant | March 10, 2011 at 6:53 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Hitler was a professing Catholic in good standing with the church. I find it hard to believe that Barker didn't rebut D'Souza if D'Souza claimed Hitler was an atheist. If D'Souza indeed pedalled the old "Hitler was an atheist" chestnut, that speaks to his dishonesty (or else intellectual laziness).

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 10, 2011 at 9:12 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't think D'Souza was saying Hitler was an atheist. He said Hitler's crimes were secular, not religious. My reading of Nazi propoganda supports that. In Hitler's sick mind, the Jews were an inferior race who were undermining the genetic superiority of the Aryans. As to atheism being nihilism, you've gone beyond my philosophical knowledge. Besides, D'Souza said it, not me! I do wonder what an atheist would say to the question of what created the universe and set it all in motion. If not God, then what? To say "I don't know and don't really care" seems to lack curiousity. Incedentally, Brixy, you sound like an agnostic, not an atheist. Congratulations for being a true skeptic.

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Avatar for user 'Abe A'

Abe A | March 10, 2011 at 9:25 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

First off, committed atheist here.

I don't know, sometimes I question even the point of these type of debates/discussions.

Most rational religious folk I know believe in God but acknowledge that the bible is a book of parables. If that is the case, then what is your belief in God based on and what really is the point? I mean you can be a good person and lead a noble life without being religious. I get the comfort angle, but if that is truly the case, why push it on other people and make it a political and moral fight all the time?

I must say I love this quote from your article Tom:

“He told me a true skeptic must be an agnostic, not an atheist, because the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven.”

Proving a negative is a false argument, ask any scientist.

There is an invisible pink elephant in the room. Oh yeah, prove to me he isn’t there. See how dumb that sounds?

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Avatar for user 'Doorknob'

Doorknob | March 10, 2011 at 11:43 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I was sad that they debaters didn't stick with the topic asking if religion is a problem. Also the intended topic was "religion" not "Christianity"; sad that these prominent leaders cannot include the lessons from other religions around the world to debate these important questions. At times it digressed into questioning the existence of god, which was quite useless since neither debater had anything new to say on the matter.

Besides it isn't very critical for anyone to "finally" show evidence of god's existence, the answer is not imminent. The real issue is how one lives his life on a daily basis in the absence of an answer. A faithful friend admitted to me that his only goal in life is salvation; that’s it, that is the most important consideration for him. He behaves morally according to Christianity simply for this one goal. I feel really sad for him, what an awful way to live. Atheists follow a moral life simply because it is the right thing to do, not for some self serving goal.

Unfortunately D'Souza did not follow his commitment to reasonable arguments but resorted to much fallacious discussion which was quite obvious. For example neighboring sentences he claimed that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not about religion yet immediately claimed that Hitler's and Stalin's actions were based on religion; yes the argument always uses "atheism" as the basis, which means absence of religion and is thus still a religious basis. D'Souza discredited himself quite quickly, which was difficult for much of the audience to recognize given his flamboyant and skilled speaking style. Barker stuck to the facts with accurate arguments showing high credibility. D;Souza was often on the defensive, avoiding the debate of facts and wandering into time-worn arguments about the advantages of religion.

I also wish the moderator Mark Larsen could have fulfilled his obligation to be neutral; he admitted being a person of faith, that was not necessary unless he intended this disclaimer to provide him allowance to participate. At one point he showed real disdain to Barker which was inexcusable. Apparently Mr. Larson felt part of the show, a mistake which detracted significantly from the event.

I'll make the same comment to the writer here Tom Fudge. As a reviewer we don't care what your beliefs are, and making a claim of who won is useless and undermines much of what you wrote. We went to the debate to learn, not to dogmatically declare a winner. It isn't important; what hubris would allow any of us to think that these 2 men, or this forum would finally settle the theological issues. Somebody should have held the debate to the topic: is religion the problem, and it would have been revealed that religion creates many very serious problems both for individuals and societies.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 10, 2011 at 11:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Like Abe above I am a committed Atheist and also find these discussions almost pointless. Pointless because people are not driven by reason but more by unconscious moral intuition. They believe what they want to believe no matter the lack of evidence or even evidence to the contrary.

As an atheist I ask questions, I don't blindly follow, and when the answers don't add up, I'm not inclined to believe whatever is being sold. Furthermore, if there is no complete or satisfactory answer to some great mystery, I don't fill in the blank with "Oh, that's it then, it has to be God!"

And just speaking from the experience of a person that was made as a child and young adult to go to church and read the Bible - how any conscious person could believe the god of the Old and New Testament is some kind of Supreme Being is just beyond me. Even as a kid I found many of these stories disturbing and contradictory, and the Quran is even worse!

With so many people believing these kinds of things, it's no wonder that our world has so many problems.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | March 10, 2011 at 12:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

As the other poster noted, who cares who Fudge thinks "won?" He's a believing Christian, so...duh! If considering atheism and nihilism is beyond his "philosphical knowledge," he isn't qualified to write an opinion on the matter of the debate. He asks, "what an atheist would say to the question of what created the universe and set it all in motion. If not God, then what?" How about the Tooth Fairy created the universe? It's as likely a choice as "god" Fudge goes on. "To say 'I don't know and don't really care' seems to lack curiousity." Deciding that there is a "god," which so many do,,,and stop there, is also a lack of curiosity. Like the person who wrote of another Fudge piece, I find Fudge's work to be common in idea and expression, and as my donations to KPBS pay his salary, I contribute to public broadcasting otherwise.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 10, 2011 at 12:30 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Response to Abe A. If we are in a room and there is no pink elephant, you can see that and so can I and neither of us would claim there is one there. But I'd be surprised if either of us can "see" all of creation and conclude there is no God based on the evidence we have. One bit of reading I'd suggest to all of you is the work of St. Thomas Acquinas, who said we cannot know what God is, only THAT God is. St. Thomas owes a lot to Aristotle and his essay "Proof of God's Existence," though written 800 years ago, remains the most important logical argument in favor of the existence of God. And remember.... read the guidelines below and please keep the comments civil.

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Avatar for user 'dandv'

dandv | March 10, 2011 at 12:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom, when you say,

"I’m a believing Christian and I find most atheists aggravating, not because of what they believe but because they insist their opinion is so perfectly rational. It’s not. The conviction that there is no God requires just as big a leap of faith as does the belief in God",

are you aware this is very old and very tired, and very debunked argument? Read this, for example: http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2008/07/atheism-requires-no-faith.html . The summary is that atheism is primarily *lack of belief* in a God, which is as reasonable as lack of belief in Tooth Fairy. There is no evidence for either; instead, there's plenty of evidence against God as an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being - look up the "Argument from Evil", http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evil.html. Why don't you answer that yourself when you say,

"Do the sufferings of children, and the unanswered prayers of their parents, mean there is no God? To Dan Barker, apparently they do. His statement was a telling glimpse into his anger with what he came to see as an uncaring deity, and then as a deity that did not exist."

Anyway, this debate should not even happen. Its a moot point. In 2005, the KripkeCenter of Creighton University published the results of an extensive study on the correlation between religiosity and societal health, titled "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies" - http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.html

Here's the summary:

>

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Avatar for user 'dandv'

dandv | March 10, 2011 at 12:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

[continuation]

Here's the summary:

Tom, when you say,

"I’m a believing Christian and I find most atheists aggravating, not because of what they believe but because they insist their opinion is so perfectly rational. It’s not. The conviction that there is no God requires just as big a leap of faith as does the belief in God",

are you aware this is very old and very tired, and very debunked argument? Read this, for example: http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2008/07/atheism-requires-no-faith.html . The summary is that atheism is primarily *lack of belief* in a God, which is as reasonable as lack of belief in Tooth Fairy. There is no evidence for either; instead, there's plenty of evidence against God as an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being - look up the "Argument from Evil", http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evil.html. Why don't you answer that yourself when you say,

"Do the sufferings of children, and the unanswered prayers of their parents, mean there is no God? To Dan Barker, apparently they do. His statement was a telling glimpse into his anger with what he came to see as an uncaring deity, and then as a deity that did not exist."

Anyway, this debate should not even happen. Its a moot point. In 2005, the KripkeCenter of Creighton University published the results of an extensive study on the correlation between religiosity and societal health, titled "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies" - http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.html

Here's the summary:

"only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted."

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Avatar for user 'dandv'

dandv | March 10, 2011 at 12:45 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Regarding "If I had to pick a winner of the debate it was D’Souza. His most compelling point focused on secular atrocities, such as those committed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao."

The Hitler argument is another old flawed one. Hitler was a Christian, and his racist agenda was a religious one. He wrote:

*"What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and the reproduction of our race ... so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. ... Peoples that bastardize themselves, or let themselves be bastardized, sin against the will of eternal Providence."*

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hi...)

There were tens of millions of people killed by both secular and religious figures, no doubt. But while tens of millions were killed *in the name of religion*, the number of those killed *in the name of atheism* is vanishingly small.

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Avatar for user 'dandv'

dandv | March 10, 2011 at 12:51 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

For comparison, here's a documented list of God's killings mentioned in the Bible, each with the corresponding verses. Total, 25 million:

http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2010/04/drunk-with-blood-gods-killings-in-bible.html

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 10, 2011 at 12:51 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom Fudge makes me embarrassed for KPBS, and proves exactly my point about believers. They believe because they're told to believe.

"St. Thomas Acquinas, who said we cannot know what God is, only THAT God is."

Brilliant Tom - a compelling argument. You win again.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 10, 2011 at 1:02 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Thanks Randolph.

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Avatar for user 'Doorknob'

Doorknob | March 10, 2011 at 2:39 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I'll try to reiterate the point about "is religion the problem". Again the discussion has digressed into the existence of god. These are separate issues.

1. Existence of god.
2. Organized religion.

Organized religion depends on some definition of a god, and is associated with worship of its chosen god. But one can believe in some god without being part of a religion. Many people have some kind of spiritual belief, or some vague idea of god without being part of an organized religion (Deists for example). I don't think that these people are a problem.

But when organized religion surfaces there tends to be great problems. Religions tend to push policies or advocate positions "because it is the way of god" without evidence of course. Once a religious person feels like they have god on their side they tend to become more authoritarian than is warranted. Once again, look at the news today in Egypt, people are dying because of conflict between Christians and Muslims. Doesn't this suggest there are problems with religion? This past year the Pope encouraged Africans to stop using condoms and endure the risk of becoming HIV positive -- huh? I couldn't believe my ears. Again, religion is the problem.

On the existence of god, everybody gets to choose his own way, at least that is what our society has decided for the current times. However if people are interested in this subject I suggest reading Victor Stenger “God: The Failed Hypothesis” where he argues that "beyond a reasonable doubt" the eternal absence of any evidence of a god should cause us to lead our lives as if there is no god. Humans use the "reasonable doubt" method of making decisions in the judicial system, it is a reasonable and accepted way to make decisions in the absence of sufficient facts or a proof. Again it is all about the basis someone uses to live their lives. Some people prefer a more rational approach, some people prefer a more magical supernatural approach -- who cares, it is organized religion that is the problem.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 10, 2011 at 3:21 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Well said Doorknob, especially the part about organized religion. Your example with Egypt and the Pope are right on, and these are not exceptional events, this kind of stuff and worse happen daily in the name of "god." Is it the 21st century yet? Can we all please evolve.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 10, 2011 at 3:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

To what extent do human beings have "free will"? To what extent do human beings exercise "free will" in chooosing or not choosing to believe in that which cannot be seen nor proven--say, for example, the existence of God.
Isn't there a strong predisposition for children to "inherit' the faith of their Fathers -and mothers? Jews likely beget Jews; Roman Catholics beget Catholic; Muslims beget Muslims; Buddhists beget Buddhists; Hindus beget Hindus; Mormons beget Mormons,Skeptics beget skeptics. Therefore is not one's choice of religious belief, less than an expression of totally free will?
What is "God"? Why is God? Where is God? When did God enter the universe. Or does God transcend the universe as "it"
has been conceived in the minds of mankind; and which has changed constantly in the minds of men and woman since Adam and Eve, and Lucy. i.e. Earth is flat. Earth is center of universe. Sun is center of Universe. You and I are centers of our own individual universes. Each of us create our own universe. Each of us create our own sets of spiritual (religious beliefs). We create based strictly on the strength of our ability to have faith in--to believe
in what we believe. Action-behavior proceed forth from our personal, internal uniquely-formed beliefs--our unique reality. Reality is truly based upon our state of mind. We are predisposed to do and believe that which we perceive to have meaning, is purposeful, will bring us happiness, and is congruent with all of our previous life's experiences. As B.F. Skinner would say we are subjects of classical conditioning. We act to gain reward. We act in our own self-defined self-interest. If that self-defined, self interest includes the belief in God, well so be it.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 10, 2011 at 4:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

In more direct address to the question at hand: Religion has been powerful force for good in human history. It has been a powwerful force for evil, as well.
Humans have had a variety of religious beliefs. When religious supremacy and intolerance of others prevail, people, in the name of their religion have committed horrific crimes against others. Differences among peoples, be it in religious belief, language, ethnicity, color, ideology, etc. have sparked innumerable conflicts throughout human history.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | March 10, 2011 at 6:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom--.You wrote, "Response to Abe A. If we are in a room and there is no pink elephant, you can see that and so can I and neither of us would claim there is one there."
Abe said there is an INVISIBLE elephant in the room. So you not being able to see it, supports Abe's claim that there is an invisible elephant in the room.
Your flip reply to Randolph indicates you had no rebuttal to his point.
(Did I keep it civil? Not easy when addressing your arguments, such as "Who made it all if not god?" the "Aha!" of believers to atheists, and the easiest to counter-=-See "Tooth Fairy.")

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Avatar for user 'jakissane'

jakissane | March 10, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I'll remain an agnostic at least until Newt Gingrich is elected President. But if that happens I'll be hitting the sauce daily and switching to atheism, and I suggest y'all do the same. Otherwise it really will be complete despair!

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Avatar for user 'Doorknob'

Doorknob | March 10, 2011 at 10:17 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Can this society actually accept the truth, that religion can and does cause harm? Hey, I stand for freedom, anybody can believe what they wish, and do what they wish, as long as they don't harm others. But organized religion causes harm; can we please just admit, and accept that fact and fix it? It causes harm not only to others, but also to those who claim membership in a religion. As jaki points out, our country is at great risk if the dogmatic faithful gain more power. The faithful put religion ahead of freedom, that is a huge mistake, and hardly understandable.

All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher.
- Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
- Seneca

So rewrite the Bible, create a new one that removes the harmful requirements. Include new ways of behavior as needed, let priests get married (for gods sake). The importance that people assign to the Bible absolutely screams for a rewrite. Nobody has ever formed a convincing argument about what is so sacred about the Bible. It declares a way of life, nothing more. If it doesn't work anymore, or scholars like D'Souza and Barker can't agree on what is truth or what is a fable, rewrite the darn thing. People are dying and religions won't admit their role, and for some reason these faithful cling to things that no longer make sense. Perhaps these people are fearful of change, I don't know... Religion is a nice hobby, let's keep it on the sidelines.

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Avatar for user 'bloodandoil666'

bloodandoil666 | March 10, 2011 at 10:37 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

The Bible is full of forgeries. Jesus is a space alien, not God. I prove it all here at www.jesusbelievesinevolution.com.

But I will say one thing on behalf of Christianity. As long as Christianity governed the West, the West was a rising power. In the 20th century when the West became atheistic, the West degenerated into a bunch of murderous dumb beasts killing and eating each other during two world wars.

The Enlightenment brought Napoleon, Napoleon brought Nationalism, and Nationalism is Fascism, and Fascism is just the natural state of things, survival of the fittest, and that means your tribe or race or nation kills and eats other people first, before you get killed. The way of Darwin is Fascism, and about that, Hitler was absolutely correct. Atheism may be true, but it is a lot more scary than Christianity.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | March 11, 2011 at 9:13 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

@bloodandoil666

I can't follow your reasoning. What is really different today about the West as far as killing today per the way it supposedly was (according to you) when the West was governed by Christianity? I haven't seen much of a decline in wars from the 20th to the 21st century and we’re just getting started on this century.

The wide spread support for our previous president's venture into the war in Iraq despite the lack of evidence to support his claims of Iraq being a threat to us (along with his references to praying to god about it) leads me to believe that many people are just as delusional today as they were a century ago. Atheists do no support this kind of thinking, neither have we ever supported cannibalism???

While history is a litany of one group using it's power against another group regardless of their faith, faith has been often used to inspire the faithful to the cause and justification for it.

Darwin was not about fascism - look the word up please.

Thinking, questioning, reasoning, being logical and thoughtful are not scary things my friend - blindly following religion and fanatics is.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 11, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

This has been a great (and mostly civil) discussion. Greg... we are conditioned by our upbringings and I'm sure I'm a Christian is that's my heritage. The larger issue to me is not which religion you choose but whether you believe in God. I must say, however, that I was raised in a very secular household. Maybe my faith is a rebellion against my parents. Len... I may have misunderstood Abe A. Not sure whether I was supposed to see an elephant or not. My point is that the question of whether there is an elephant in the room is a poor comparison to the debate over the existence of God. Certainty of God's existence or non-existence is not something we can have, given our minimal ability to inspect the universe. As to whether atheists should be agnostics... you'll have to take that up with Michael Shermer, but I'll warn you that he's a good debator.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 11:16 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

ANT, try checking Wm Shirer.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 11:20 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom, I think the debate was cheapened when you have an embittered, resentful former Protestant minister on one side and a rightwing ideolgue on the other. Surely better reps of BOTH sides of the argument could have been selected--and then again, who says there's only TWO sides to this unending issue. For myself, I like what Norman Mailer once said in an interview, "I believe in a Creator God but not a god who rewards and punishes." Coincides with Erich Fromm.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 11:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

BLOODANDOIL666, Darwin never meant for that to be applied to society--as far as I understand it. Maybe Malthus is your "prophet"?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

DANDV, I think you can do better than WIKI, no? I mean there's hundreds of books on the subject and you lazily resort to WIKI! Then you take a quote, maybe out of context, and base you entire thesis on THAT! No, the Nazi racist agenda was nothing but EUGENICS--which if you know your California history--it is not alien to your own country.

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Avatar for user 'BruceinOrlando'

BruceinOrlando | March 11, 2011 at 11:58 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

"A true skeptic must be an agnostic, not an atheist, because the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven."

If you buy that statement then the position of belief is as illogical as the position of disbelief.

How about "a true theist must be an agnostic, not an Christian, because the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven"? Exact same yardstick but it sounds stupid.

Why do skeptics have to act noncommital when believers get to tout their labels? While you cannot disprove Vishu, Zeus, and Qetzcoatl - I'm certain you are not agnostic about them. Look I'm certain about something that has not been proven!

I cannot prove otherwise but would like your permission to call myself atheist.

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Avatar for user 'dandv'

dandv | March 11, 2011 at 1 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

@Missionaccomplished: again, the old argument that Wikipedia wouldn't be a reliable reference. If you actually visit the link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler%2527s_religious_views#God.2C_racism_and_anti-Semitism), you'll it has a citation, to - surprise - a BOOK!

If people would actually look up their own arguments before throwing them in a debate, we'd make much more progress.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 11, 2011 at 2:59 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

DOES IT PAY TO BELIEVE?
Absolutely!!!!!
Without a core set of beliefs, a human is basically a moral non-entity. If a person believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is because there is a emotional/cognitive payoff for doing so. Do you believe in Allah?, you do so because you have a self-defined self-interest in doing so. The same is true of Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, et al. In fact, atheists are atheists because they have a self-defined self-interest in being atheist. Why would anyone choose to believe something that is futile in their eyes, fraudulent, or anathema to their code of moral values? They would be negating their efficacy as rational beings and contradicting themselves; living in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance.So you believe as you do, because the payoff is worth the "trouble". The atheist is an atheist for the same reason a Baptist fundamentalist is a Baptist fundamentalist; THAT IS TO SAY, SELF-DEFINED SELF-INTEREST, BASED UPON CONGRUITY WITH THAT PERSON'S PREVIOUS LIFE EXPERIENCES determines our belief system. AMEN

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dandv | March 11, 2011 at 3:42 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Here's a pertinent link from Business Week about paying and (not) believing:

http://www.businessweek.com/interactive_reports/philanthropy_individual.html - Top 50 philanthropists.

Note that of the top 4, three (Buffett, Gates, and Soros) are not religious.

These people gave away between 23% and 78% of their net worth (way more than the Christian 10%) to health, education, open and democratic societies, and humanitarian causes.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 11, 2011 at 5:14 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

DANDV, thanks anyway, I'll stick to encyclopaedias, almanacs, journals and university press books. If I was grading a paper and the "works cited" was full of websites I would throw it back to them.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 12, 2011 at 12:13 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom:
You mentioned that you grew up in a mostly secular household; and yet you now are Christian in your beliefs. Are you able and willing to say what persuaded you to believe in the God of Christianity in addition to a possible reaction to your early upbringing? -Greg

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 12, 2011 at 12:22 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom:
Self-Disclosure--I am Roman Catholic, primarily as a result of the fact that both of my parents were Catholic; all of my grandparents were Catholic; the ethnic group from which I descend is primarily Catholic; I had 12 years of Catholic primary and secondary education; in addition, I like the smell of incense, like spilling my spiritual beans to a priest every so often in the "box". If I weren't Catholic, I think I would be Jewish.
-Greg

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Missionaccomplished | March 14, 2011 at 11:53 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Interesting POV on March 11, Mr. Dutch. But can one really reduce everything to psychological self-satisfaction?

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Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | March 14, 2011 at 3:18 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Greg... You ask a very personal question, but I feel liked I've raised the issue so I should answer it. I believe in God because it makes sense to me and I feel God's presence. I cannot look at this miracle of creation and not believe there is some intelligence and purpose behind it. I think science, if anything, makes the argument for God more compelling, although I don't blame ancient people for creating mythic stories to help them make sense of the reality they saw, based on the information they had. None of this requires anyone else to believe otherwise. Atheists can be atheists, Jews and be Jews, etc. We should be very thankful that we live in a country that values freedom of religion and demands that we respect other beliefs. When it comes to these questions, nobody is "wrong," and religion is only damaging when it's abused in order to win worldly things. Would we be better or worse without religion? In a way it's a moot point, because religion is a part of human life and I don't think that will ever change. We need to find our own ways to be good and do good.

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randolphslinky | March 15, 2011 at 8:43 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

@Tom - If those who were 'religious" or "believers" were vague about their beliefs - like you they only said things like "I believe in God because it makes sense to me and I feel God's presence," then religion wouldn't be a problem. But as is often the case, and it's been well said by others here, people who believe tend to have very strong opinions that they then want to force on others, either by legislative means, intimidation, or even brutality. It happens daily, even here in the US. Remember Prop 8?

People who drive around with those Co-Exist bumper stickers are just naive. Both the Bible and the Quran do not call for tolerance of "other" gods and are quite explicit in the punishment that is to be dished out on those who disobey that law and any number of other supposed laws and practices, some of which seem reasonable, MANY that do not. How does a reasonable rational person then submit to such a manifesto, creed, tenet, and then talk about feeling the peaceful presence and love of said god? Obviously many people are either cherry picking their "books" for what they agree with, or they just aren't really reading and understanding them.

So does it pay to believe? Well you may feel some advantage personally, but I believe that the world as a whole does not benefit, and in fact does not progress as well as it could socially because we have these "beliefs" that keep getting in the way of dealing with REAL issues.

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randolphslinky | March 15, 2011 at 9:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Taken today from the Minnesota Independent: "Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) is pushing for more new coal-fired power plants in Minnesota, but the Shakopee Republican is undeterred by reports about the effects of carbon-emitting energy production on global warming. His reason: He believes God will prevent the planet from running out of fossil fuels while also eliminating the harms associated with climate change."
Then there’s Glenn Beck who just went on air and said, in a roundabout way, that the tsunami disaster is just God's way of saying he's not happy with us. So this is how god operates - doesn't like how his creation is behaving so he just shakes things up a bit and kills thousands of people, women, children, the old, cats, dogs, all are not worthy obviously. Very mature way to view the world - indeed.
Of course he has good company with other believers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
How does this kind of thinking persist, and how can it be helpful to us? These men and many like them are not standing on a street corner in rags looking like madmen, they wear fine clothing, have status, power, and persuasion. WHY?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 16, 2011 at 9:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

@Slinsky, everything you say proves ONLY that there are fringe elements on all sides. Nothing more, We already know that. According to your response to Tom, a persons who follows a religious faith MUST be a fanatic or not religious at all. That is a fallacy. The individuals you point out prove nothing. There are evangelists who believe that EVEN C.S. Lewis is part of the New Age "conspiracy"! It's those same fringe elements that show up on all sides of the poltical spectrum. Lyndon LaRouche was a registered Democrat but his crackpot ideas (to the Right of even most Republicans) prove nothing because he was a justifiably ostracized lone wolf. You have fringe elements among "leaders" in the gay "community" as well-like this very bitter guy named David something I once saw on the Joy Behar Show, (wheares that guy who writes for the New Yorker, Sullivan, would be at the other end). Again, this "David" is not representative (I sure hope not) and only a fringe type. There is a huge political difference between a Jim Wallis and a Dr. Dobson, even though both are Evangelicals. Same goes for Islam or any other religion.

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Greg Duch | March 16, 2011 at 9:52 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

EXISTENCE -WHICH CAME FIRST- GOD OR MAN?

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Greg Duch | March 16, 2011 at 5:49 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Tom: I realized that you might be reticent to answer such a direct question. That is why I asked if you were able AND WILLING to respond to my query. Thanks for your reply.Well, I do believe that the answer is AN UNEQUIVOCAL MAYBE, as to whether it pays to believe in God, AND A SPECIFIC GOD, as conceived by particular religions.Throughout history, people have been MARTYRED AND PERSECUTED for particular beliefs. WHETHER IT WAS the JEWS and their bel;ief in THE G_D OF ABRAHAM, during the Babylonian Captivity, the Roman Conquest, the Diaspora, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, et al--or Christians in first-century Rome, The Dalai Lama in Chinese-ruled Tibet, Catholics, in Northern Ireland, or Shia Muslims in Sunni dominated areas. People historically have bathed religious belief in oceans of blood, in the name of THE SUPREMACY of one belief or another.
Yet to date, nobody, no human being has decisivelyproven nor disproven the existence of an all-powerful GOD-CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE. DID THE UNIVERSE SELF-GENERATE SPONTANEOUSLY OUT OF AN AMORPHOUS GOB OF PRIMEVAL MATTER, AND DEVELOP BASED UPON A MARVELOUSLY SUCCESSFUL COSMIC RECIPE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN BEINGS? OR DID A SELF-GENERATING GOD DO ALL THE PLANNING AND CONSTRUCTION WORK IN SIX DAYS OR SIX TRILLION YEARS?
DOES THAT GOD REMAIN TRAGICALLY ALOOF AND INDIFFERENT TO THE DAY-TO-DAY WORKINGS OF THE UNIVERSE, INCLUDING DISASTERS SUCH AS HAS OCCURRED IN JAPAN?--AND THE INFINITE NUMBER OF TRAGEDIES WHICH HAVE OCCURRED THROUGHOUT HISTORY? WHY DOESN'T THAT GOD INTERVENE ON BEHALF OF HIS/HER CREATION'S WELL-BEING? OR IS A GOD -CREATOR LESS THAN ALL-POWERFUL; THEREFORE UNABLE TO INTERVENE ON HUMANITY'S BEHALF? iN REPLY TO AN EARLIER POST, YES, I BELIEVE THAT HUMANS BELIEVE AS THEY DO, BECAUSE THERE IS A "PAY-OFF" IN ONE'S BELIEF SYSTEM IN THE REALM OF EMOTIONALLY, PHYSICALLY, FINANCIALLY, MATERIALLY, SPIRITUALLY
SENSE OF CONGRUENCE AND CONFLUENCE WITH ONE'S LIFE. NONE OF US ASKED TO BE BORN. WE ARE HERE INVOLUNTARILY. SO WE DO OUR BEST TO FIGURE OUT WHY WE ARE HERE INVOLUNTARILY, AND WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR INVOLUNTARY EXISTENCE ARE AFTER DEATH.-- WHICH IS ALSO INVOLUNTARY AS PART OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE.WE CLEAVE , SOMETIMES VIOLENTLY TO THAT WHICH EXPLAINS FOR US THE WHY AND WHERE TO OF EXISTENCE.
PERHAPS, SOMEDAY THE QUESTIONS WILL ALL BE ANSWERED. FOR NOW, WE HAVE TO LIVE WITH FUNDAMENTAL EXISTENTIAL UNCERTAINTY ON BOTH A MACRO AND MICRO BASIS. AND HUMANS ABHOR UNCERTAINTY...

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rjajou | March 20, 2011 at 10:07 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

"Does it pay to believe?" Society benefits from religion only if Love is at the center of it...

If anyone brags, "I love God," and goes right on hating his fellow human being, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Jesus is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both.

We love because God first loved us.

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Avatar for user 'bcspiders'

bcspiders | March 21, 2011 at 11:58 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

The concept of god/gods is outside the purview of scientific testing. Were the gods testable there would be no need for faith. If this concept is not testable then it seems pointless to argue about it. As an agnostic I am a funtioning athiest until your god/gods show up. To date in my mind and experience that hasn't happened. It always amuses me when I am accused of lacking hope, love, or despairing because I don't believe in the invisible. That has always been the snake oil argument for me. Actually, what you need to be is a human being. If you look at the various religious beliefs out there most seem to function in codifying natural human feelings and behaviors that were there before any established religion. We are naturally able to not only to have empathy, and therefore caring, for people but also for life other than our species. That has been the secret of our succes as a species. You don't need religion for that except perhaps to remind the less thoughtful that it exists. I have hope for the future, love for my family and others, and having hope I don't despair. That is human and I don't need verses written during more barbaric and superstitious times to help realize that or keep me superstitious and barbaric.

If there is a miracle in creation it might be that we are able to explain the universe without invoking the miraculous. Miracles are ephemeral things. What is a "miracle today" will be explained tomorrow and history is filled with that especially since the Enlightenment when folks began to develop means (scientific method) to explain the universe. Birth, for example, while a wonder, is not miraculous but biological and happens every moment every day from fungi to mammals. What happened prior to time zero when our universe began is not a scientific question but that does not necessitate a diety. I do believe that it is extreme ego and hubris to think that this universe was created for you. For me the universe simply is. Science give us the ability to understand it's workings which can make the universe useful to us. If ancient religous texts contained something really useful, say the structure of genetic codes, they might be important. Telling me to stone someone to death for some relatively minor infraction in planting my garden is not useful.

Finally, I must have hope and lack despair since I am writing this in the hope that it might make sense to someone.

Cheerio.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | March 22, 2011 at 3:27 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

I AM NOT RESPONDING TO ANY PARTICULAR POST. i NOTICE THAT MANY POSTS HAVE A "DEFENSIVE" QUALITY TO THEM. That is to the effect: " I believe what I believe because of my good judgment and moral rectitude (atheists, I believe, CAN BE MORALLY erect too)." Those opinions contrary to mine are just dumb or not clearly thought out." You know,--this life on earth, which none of us chose would REALLY BE BORING if we had all of the answers right now. If we had all of the answers, what would be the point of this existence??? Humans love suspense. How many times does a friend describe FOR US the plot of a novel or movie, when we interrupt them, AND ORDER THEM--"DON'T TELL ME HOW THE MOVIE -OR NOVEL ENDS." The generating power behind existence (MANY CALL GOD, MANY DO NOT.) did us a favor by maintaining mystery and lots of questions unanswered about WHY WE ARE, WHO WE ARE, WHERE WE ARE GOING; OR NOT GOING AFTER DEATH. If a person had foreknowledge that he/she was headed for eternal bliss in heaven; why waste time here on earth?? If a person knew for certain that human existence in its totality ends at death, beyond any doubt, I believe that could create for such a person an existential vacuum, strippping this life of the gift of the unknown,as well.
So for the present moment on this earth, perhaps we can agree, that at the very least, and in the words of Groucho Marx--"COGITO ERGO SUM".
TThat is a reason for joy in itself.

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randolphslinky | March 24, 2011 at 8:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

@missionaccomplished
You're like a fish swimming in water that doesn't see the water. While it's true church attendance is down in America, this country still remains very much influenced by the religious right and the kind of thinking that allows politicians who believe in such ridiculous things as "don't worry about global warming God will take care of it" to not only wield power, but campaign on this kind of thinking and win. What was Prop 8 - an agnostic movement? I've read your comments many times on issues like this and I get it - you believe in things like a man surviving in the belly of a large fish for three days, that a man collected two of every kind of animal and the world was flooded, that an angry donkey can chastise his master, etc... I get it Mission - you believe in these kinds of things and a host of other cherry picked ideas from your good book - some of us just can't. By the way, do yourself a favor and listen to the interview that Terry Gross did with Jeff Sharlet on his book "The Family," in which he speaks a length on Dobson. Yeah Dobson is a moderate - and donkeys talk.

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Dorothy | March 30, 2011 at 3:52 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

This must be some god! Instead of preventing global warming, it "lets" it happen, and has to go to all the trouble of reversing it. Oh My!

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Avatar for user 'twinbeech'

twinbeech | November 17, 2012 at 9:32 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

O.K.
Here's the deal. We humans are primates. The only thing that separates us from the so-called "lower animals" is that we have developed brains capable of critical thinking.

The problem is that we also like to fool ourselves and we like to be fooled.

For those who are not capable of critical thought, there is religion. Religion thrives on ignorance, superstition, guilt and fear.

We live in a natural world, not a supernatural world. There has never been one "miracle."

Not one.

There is some good news. People my age who believe in magical thinking are dying off. And among the younger generation, those 30 and below, 30% do not buy into the notion of a celestial sky daddy who reads our every thought. This 30 % number will increase, even as the numbers of "believers" decrease.

This is good.

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