If you get into a discussion with Christians about their faith and you tell them, often reluctantly because you just know where it’s going to lead, that you don’t share their belief in a deity on account of there being no evidence for one outside of the human imagination, it isn’t long – if they haven’t done so already – before they start quoting ‘scripture’ at you.
Among their favourite verses, along with ‘For God so loved the world…’ (John 3.16) and ‘for a man to lie with a man… is an abomination’ (Leviticus 20.13) is Psalm 14.1: ‘The fool hath said in his heart there is no God’. And having cited it, they stand back in smug triumph, having put you firmly in your place and clinched the argument.
But the Bible would say this, wouldn’t it? It’s in its interest, and in the interest of those who wrote it and believe in it, to rubbish those who don’t buy into its fallacies. Christians who quote this verse, and others, are wilfully refusing to accept that you don’t recognise the ‘authority’ of their magic book. What they are really saying is, ‘You don’t believe in my God or the Bible, but I’m going to use it anyway to ‘prove’ my point.’
Why do they do this? Can they not see the futility of it? It’s like my quoting from ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas to demonstrate that, whether they like it or not, Santa Claus is watching over them to see if they’re naughty or nice. But referencing one make-believe source does not prove the existence of another. You have to believe in Santa Claus to begin with, as children often do, to believe the poem is an accurate account of his activities. So it is with the Bible. It only has significance if you already believe that God exists. It won’t of itself convince you that he does.
The Koran has its own ‘the fool hath said in his heart’ verses. Loads of them. Christians might like to consider whether a Muslim telling them ‘the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve’ (Q8:55) would persuade them that Allah is the one true God, and that they’re idiots for thinking otherwise. It wouldn’t, of course, so perhaps they’d kindly stop wasting their own time, and ours, doing the same to atheists.
The best response to a believer who tells you ‘the fool hath said in his heart there is no God’?
‘If even a fool can see it, why can’t you?’
I agree with the point in your post that it is silly to quote parts of the bible to support the assertion that God exists. Those who only have such a comeback are extremely poor debaters.
I would further observe however that all Christians are not the same. The term Christians was first termed by Ignatius of Antioch to refer to Catholics. After the reformation however it became used for lots of different religions even though such denominations believed opposing doctrines. I mention this because i think it is important to be more specific. What denomination of Christians only quote Scripture to respond to you? I am glad I’m not one of them!
Although I agree with the point of your post that to simply say God exists because the Bible says so is inadequate, I disagree with your assertion that “there is no evidence for [God] outside of human imagination”. Everything outside of the mind that exists is evidence.
Finally, I think it is important to note that to assert that “there is no God” requires as a pre-requisite a definition of ‘God’. What is it that doesnt exist? What are the qualities of the God you dont believe exists? Which of the different religions description of God don’t you believe in? I for one don’t believe in the Muslim description of God, the God of certain Christian denominations, the Hindi God, the Roman Gods, the Greek Gods and many more. I do however believe in one God with a certain nature and attributes.
Thank you for writing, Tom. Can I reassure you that your version of God is included in my rejection of the divine? I know you see him as different from the versions that other Christians believe in, and those of other faiths too, but he isn’t really. He’s a variation of an imaginary figure.
When discussing God with Christians, they frequently say, as you do, ‘but my God and I are different; we’re not like all those other believers because we don’t do this or that, or we do do this or that, and that’s what makes us different.’ But it doesn’t really. You all believe in the God of the Bible and in Jesus as his Son and your saviour. That’s both specific (i.e. non-believers and adherents of other religions would not say this) and universal (amongst Christians). If you’re saying you don’t believe these things, then can you really claim to be a Christian?
When I’m writing about something Christians have said or done I do try to link to instances of them doing so (as in my new post today). I concede I didn’t in the one you’re responding to, but I have encountered ‘the fool has said in his heart there is no God’ so many times – in blog comments, web-sites and from street preachers – that it seemed reasonable to make a general point about it. I don’t know what denomination those who use it are – they don’t usually say when they’re threatening me with CAP-LOCKED Hell and telling me I need to ASK JESUS TO SAVE ME NOW. And, I have to say, I don’t particularly care what denomination they are; that’s a nicety that matters only to Christians themselves.
Finally, why do I have to define which God I’m dismissing? You say ‘everything outside the mind’ is evidence of your God’s existence. So why is it not also evidence for the existence of all those you don’t believe in? As Stephen F Roberts says, ‘I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.’
Hi – thanks for your reply.
My main point was that i agree with your point that those who quote scripture as proof of God are not being logical. I further agree that those Christians who respond in caplocks about hell and asking jesus to save you now are not only illogical but come off as hysterically so I disagree with their tact as much as you.
My second point is that the word Christians is now inadequate to help hone in on what we’re talking about when we talk of God. I only mention this as you talk about Christians in a generic way which is inefficient as it could well be that when we get down to the nitty gritty in your non-belief of your perception of a Christian version of God that I actually agree with you. I am a reasonable and honest man and i see no reason to think you’re not too so logically it would follow that we would arrive at the same conclusions if we used sound reasoning and clear language.
You say that My christian version of God is really much the same as other denominations and you dismiss all versions of God in the bible and secondly of jesus as some sort of saviour and thus it doesnt really matter what my take is. You then go on to ask “why do i have to define the god i’m dismissing?”
The answer to that question is similar to Stephen Roberts point – we could end up agreeing on a vast majority of things and be needlessly and inefficiently arguing about stuff purely due to a lack of clear language and definitions which blunt our ability to accurately reason.
Although I therefore agree with Mr Roberts thrust, i disagree with his final conclusion. Understanding why i disagree with other versions of god is important to understand why you do but it doesnt follow that i will be left with no belief in god – that conclusion depends on the details involved not a general statement on understanding others positions. I can believe that 2+2 = 5, jonny can believe 2+2=6, fred can believe 2+2=7 and you can believe 2+2 = 4. By understanding jonny, fred and your positions i can indeed come to the understanding that i am wrong, but i can also come to the understanding of what is correct.
So in answer to your question of “why should i define what god i dont believe in?” the answer is that that is what reasonable people do to understand their own and others position and test it with reason to see if it is sound. It’s how human beings learn and mutually help each other arrive at new knowledge or reaffirm existing. To not do so is just people shouting their opinions as loud as they can and is vanity.
Explain your position to me so i can understand it. If it is too large and complex and detailed to do that, give an overview and then sequentially we can deal with each point before moving to the next (even if we havent arrived at consensus). Does that sound reasonable?
Yes, it sounds reasonable, Tom, but you’re actually asking the impossible. I think you’re making the assumption I have a concept of God in my head that I then proceed to reject. I don’t. I’m not an atheist in that sense. Rather, I see no evidence for any sort of god and therefore I conclude there aren’t any. I’m not an atheist who doesn’t believe in God, but one who doesn’t think there’s a God to believe in.
The physical universe doesn’t demonstrate or prove God, just as it doesn’t demonstrate or prove any other fantasy figure. The physical doesn’t demonstrate the non-physical, nor the visible the invisible, nor the tangible the intangible, nor the natural the supernatural. There is, therefore, no evidence that god exists independent of the human imagination.
However, if I were to do as you ask and set about defining god, his first characteristic would be that he was supernatural. That is, he would exist outside the physical universe though presumably he would interact with it in some way (otherwise he would be undetectable and unknowable.) And so he falls at the first hurdle because there are no supernatural beings. There is nothing supernatural, full stop. There is nothing beyond or outside the physical universe. Yes, there are aspects of it we don’t understand but even so these are physical aspects, not supernatural ones.
It follows that if there is nothing supernatural then there can be no supernatural God (or gods, or angels, or demons, or spirits – Holy or otherwise – or ghosts.) So you see, there’s no point in going further; if these things don’t exist, any attempt to define them is futile.
Thanks for your reply. I ask that you say what you mean by God because it determines what you mean when you say “I dont believe in God”. For you not to believe in it you MUST have some notion of what you mean. I’m basically asking you to explain your position with reasoning which requires a definition of what you dont believe in first and then your reasoning why with reference to the that second. For example I dont believe in Centaurs and i don’t believe in them first because i have a notion of what one would be and second, reasoning why i dont believe in their existince. The definition however is a pre-requisite so much so that i CANNOT say I don’t believe in Centaurs unless i have a notion of what a centaur is.
You do however say that although you’re not sure, the ‘god’ you dont believe in is a supernatural being. You say you don’t believe in supernatural beings and therefore you dont believe in this definition of God. You then go on to define a supernatural being as a being that lives outside the universe but interacts with it. You say that nothing is outside the universe and so there is no supernatural being and ergo no God.
Have I expressed your position correctly?
I have much to say on that but I just want to make sure that i understand your position clearly before investigating together using reason. 🙂
Well, that’s close enough, I guess. I’d rather say I ‘know’ there are no supernatural beings rather than I don’t ‘believe’ in them; evidence is crucial and there is none for supernatural beings.
Your mission now, should you choose to accept it, is either:
demonstrate that my definition of God is somehow invalid;
present evidence that a God as I’ve defined him really does exist;
provide evidence that God as you define him/it exists. While you’ve pressed me for my definition of God, I note you haven’t provided one of your own.
Good luck with all that.
Hmm… so you chose not to accept your mission. Too much for you, I guess.