Ask an Atheist (or Christian) Series – Please Comment With Your Questions

“If you don’t believe in God, why be good when nobody is watching?”

“What would it take to convince you that God exists?”

“I just can’t imagine anyone believing that God doesn’t exist. How does that happen?”

One of our primary goals for this blog is to increase our understanding of those with opposing views in a friendly, respectful environment. What you see above are a few of the more common questions that I’ve heard recently (in person by the very few people who know my stance) regarding my atheistic position. They are sincere questions and I’ll attempt to seriously answer each them in my next few posts.

Your turn

Pascal and I have a great friendship and have enjoyed learning from one another in the back and forth discussions encompassing (a)theism, science, skepticism, the Bible, meta-physics, theology, meta-cognition, philosophy, evolutionary psychology, epistemology, how to live/love/reason, etc. His recent posts on Romans have been matched by a steady growth in blog followers – probably mostly Christians. As such, I’d like to formally welcome our new readers (Welcome!) and invite you to comment with questions for Pascal (the Christian) or Russell (the atheist). We’re both interested in addressing sincere questions from you. It is the real questions from real readers that impact our hearts the most. We take you seriously, and we learn when considering our answers and your responses.

  1. If you’re an atheist or agnostic, is there something you find unreasonable about Christianity or theism in general? Pascal has a heart for skeptics and doubters and is both kind and humble enough to respond honestly and seriously to questions about his faith (see Why I Respect Pascal).
  2. If you’re a believer, is there anything you don’t understand, don’t find reasonable, or are just curious about regarding atheism?

You can comment anonymously if you prefer. You’re safe here. Welcome. 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

30 comments

      1. Why do some atheists call Christians hypocrites by pointing out mistakes they’ve made? Christians are human, too. How can a Christian lovingly respond to the “you are a hypocrite” label? Being human is difficult. Being human and Christian in today’s society is almost impossible. Thank you in advance for responding.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The way that I’m starting to respond to such criticism is to tell myself, “just listen.”

          The problem with accusations of my hypocrisy? They are sometimes true. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so in a way I am thankful for the person who points it out to me. I realize that they may not intend a pascal-improvement-project – – but that is how I see it.

          Ultimately I think that the imperfections, inconsistencies, and sometimes outright insanity of the saints are a major stumbling block for belief. I don’t want to be that stumbling block. But so many times – – I have been.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Thank you for responding. My other question is: How do you respond in a loving way when people rip down your honest belief in Young Earth Six Day Creationism? My husband and I both have four year college degrees and people are just astonished/angered when they find out we are Six Day Creationists. How can a Christian talk to an atheist about a topic that involves religion AND “science” without WW 3 erupting?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. First – – I’m so glad that you’re here. Second – – wow. It didn’t take you long to identify one of the most divisive issues amongst believers and skeptics. I don’t have The answer, but I can share a bit of my journey. I was also raised to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis as a 6 day creation. I was, however, blessed to be exposed to some pastor/teachers who opened my heart to the interpretations of Genesis that were more common before the last 150 years. Those interpretations, including day-age and gap were endorsed in the age of a platonic understanding of matter – – that it was eternal. St. Augustine and many, many more early church fathers and mothers did not endorse a 6 day creation. I found this interesting and ultimately liberating.

              On the science front, my mother told me to learn everything that I could with diligence and to excel in the test. “You can’t get an ‘A’ by quoting Genesis” Even the Christian education that I received (half of middle school, all of undergraduate studies) was faithful to teach Darwin’s theory as understood by scientists at the time. The men and women who taught me had different ways to process it – – some with a Non-Overlapping Magisteria approach; i.e. faith is faith, science is science and never the twain shall meet. Some, however, believed that scriptures spoke to the who and why questions while science spoke to the what, when, and how.

              I’m leaning toward the latter synthesis. It is also endorsed by Francis Collins. He wrote the first book in my 2015 reading list and is the current head of the National Institute of Health. He is a credal Christian yet believes that God chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create. The institute and website that he founded – – biologos.org expands on that theme.

              What is my non-negotiable? Genesis 1:1 – – in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. I’ll never give that away. Do I respect your view of young earth creationism? Absolutely. Disrespect improves neither faith nor skepticism. Do I adopt my view of old earth creation because I want to leave more doors with skeptics open? That is an honest question that I’m still wrestling with. YEC is often a non-starter in conversations with a skeptic. As my love for the skeptical heart and mind grows the possibility that I’m compromising must be taken seriously (at least by me).

              For now, I can honestly say no. I’ve never had a hangup with the what, when, and how. I find the what, when and how to be beautiful and a witness to the invisible qualities of God described in Romans 1 and Psalm 19: eternal power and divine nature.

              I’m willing to dialogue more – – hopefully this is a start.

              Like

  1. I am not religious, yet I believe in God and am happiest when I live by spirit, not ego. I have a deep faith in an unlimited perfect source that responds to my actions, intentions, prayers, thoughts, etc. But I don’t believe it’s important what we call this source “God”. I simply use that term to refer to the unlimited Source that I believe I (and all) are part of. Our souls have this unlimited source/potential/creativity/energy that I happen to call God to give it a word/name. My question is to Russell: Do you believe you have a soul? Or that we we are all connected/ a part of One-Soul (which I call God)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My life. It is also my absolute worst argument because I’m a legitimate mess – – impatient, prideful, and a hypocrite. But I have felt the full force and wonder of forgiveness and grace. I’m learning to offer it more freely to others and to accept it myself. In time, I think that will be more convincing than my words – – although words, admittedly, mean a lot to me.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Hi Rafols,

      Thank you very much for this question. It’s a tricky one to answer accurately because, as you probably know, “belief system” can encompass my things and have many angles of relevant discussion in philosophy, epistemology, etc. I wish I had a simple, matter-of-fact answer like Pascal. He and I think differently. I often like his way better. We’re both outliers in our own way. 🙂

      For the sake of writing something approaching an answer, I’ll start by assuming that you just mean my lack of faith (i.e. my atheism). Please clarify if you want an answer from a different level of belief, knowing or outlook on reality (e.g. methodological naturalism).

      It’s challenging to find something that I would call a “favorite” argument in support of atheism. The reason is, I don’t want to rub my fellow atheists the wrong way, but honestly – I don’t want to be an atheist. From that perspective, I don’t like any of the arguments that led me here. I’m an agnostic, weak atheist (meaning I don’t hold a positive belief that no God exists, but rather I lack belief in each God claim I’ve heard due to incoherence or insufficient evidence). On top of that, belief in God seems to be a natural human tendency (for plausibly natural reasons explained by evolutionary psychology) and I was raised in an environment that fostered strong belief, hope and comfort in a specific God. I have the desire to believe in and worship the Christian God. To my dismay, I haven’t found a way to hold that God-claim as a coherent concept that might exist, and therefore be the target of that worship. I also haven’t found the Bible to be trustworthy so I can’t have confidence enough in that God to justify belief (despite my desires). As such, I find myself in the belief system of atheism through process of elimination. I don’t think Christianity is coherent and correct, and I haven’t yet heard another God-claim that is more likely correct. Deism is certainly possible in any number of flavors, but it makes to claims so it’s hard to justify faith in that type of God, partially due to Occam’s Razor.

      So, I’ll take a different tactic and now assume you mean something like, “What do I find the strongest argument supporting the idea that Christianity isn’t correct.” As Pascal knows, I’ve spent some time discussing a few of the specific issues on the blog and in person, but I don’t like writing things that will cause other people to doubt. I just want people to understand and validate that people like me can come to these conclusions without hating God, longing to live in sin, and the other cliches that make it hard to come out as a non-believer (and force me to live a double life). If you’re interested in the specific reasons I left Christianity (well, I still attend church :)), please read Why I Am Not A Christian and The Real Reason I Am Not A Christian. I’m not sure which of the arguments in those posts are the “strongest,” but most of them ultimately come down to either 1) a philosophical/logical problem due to incoherence of the Christian God’s attributes/actions, 2) and lack of sufficient evidence from trustworthy sources (e.g. in my personal opinion, problems with the Bible make it untrustworthy), and 3) physical, testable evidence of nature that makes more sense assuming explanations other than the God-belief. It’s hard to break it down to one.

      So, I’m essentially stuck in atheism. Does this make sense? 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

      1. I don’t want to rub my fellow atheists the wrong way, but honestly – I don’t want to be an atheist

        Ok, now you are officially kicked out of atheism Russell! 😉 Sorry I couldn’t resist. Seriously though Russell, I’ve met a bunch of different kinds of atheists in the past couple of years blogging and even some of the more anti-theistic ones probably wouldn’t be rubbed the wrong way by your honest statement of preference – some of them would just say they don’t feel the same way. I myself can relate quite a bit – I think it would be very nice to have more of a bigger reason for why we are here rather than just the randomness of most versions of atheism (although some Eastern worldviews probably achieve this “bigger reason” even without theism, but that’s a bit out of my league of understanding.) I’d also say there are some very scary versions of deities out there though that I certainly would think the world would be better without.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks for your detailed response Russel. I must apologize for my late reply – I have been working through a backlog of blog stuff. Along with internet problems it has been very hard to keep up.

        But I must say you have really taken the question and ran with it. I like seeing what people do with vague questions. I probably would have answered like you – I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket. I do wish I could give matter-of-fact answers like Pascal: there is certain beauty in simplicity.

        I think I understand where your atheism stems from. Your 50/50 position on God really mirrors what I use to believe for a very long time. I would describe that period of my my life as a my ‘non-theistic Christian’ period – I believed that Christ was an example for living; but the spirit and angel talk was outdated.

        If I might pry: what Christian denomination(s) had you belonged to? I ask because I was from a Presbyterian background and I think that really magnified a lot of my issues with the Bible – issues that you also seem to have. I have found that the older branches of Christianity like Eastern Orthodoxy with their community focus can mend many biblical issues.

        Thanks again for your answer. I have probably not touched on everything I could have (as yours was a very detailed answer), but I’m sure another opportunity will arise again.

        Peace be with you,
        Rafols

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was excited about this post as soon as I read it. Now that I’ve seen the first few comments, I’m REALLY excited. Commenting so I can receive notifications on future comments—and I might add my own question later (even though I would likely already know both of your answers).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. ericahcalluna, mothererased, and Rafols — excellent questions! I’ll respond to each via dedicated posts in the coming days/weeks.

    Readers — we continue to welcome your comments.

    Gentleness and respect,
    —Russell

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I look forward to up coming posts.
    Something I guess I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks is what it takes…. What it takes, or will it take to change thoughts, minds?
    Not specific to you both exactly but for the purpose of the question….
    What would make you Russell change back, have faith. Believe and fully give over your life?
    And for you Pascal, what would it take for you to lose it? Totally turn your back and lose it?
    And then, what of each others emotions…. How would you feel if either of those things happened. I gather Pascal, that you would be over joyed at Russell ‘rejoining to fold’. But what if Pascal was to walk away?
    I suppose I pose these questions, and have made them personal to you because I’d love to have this kind of conversation with people I know personally – in real life – but it just isn’t possible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People used to have pen pals. Darwin was a champion letter writer as are many other historical figures whom I also admire. I think this is the modern equivalent.

      You go by JJ, I go by pascal, etc… We use pseudonyms, but we can be personal. Let me think about the questions because they are very good ones. I’ve experienced loss and had opportunity to walk away as all believers have. Maybe I need to be more specific about why I didn’t.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. JJ – great job!

      I’ve spent some time thinking about this ever since my serious doubts began (and more generally before that). I think I’ll fold my answer into the upcoming post answering one of those initial questions at the top of this page: “What would it take to convince you that God exists?” I’ll also address your larger question about what, in my opinion, is required for someone to change their mind.

      Thank you!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is not possible to prove scientifically that there is a God or that there isn’t a God to a mind that has already decided. Nobody is neutral and unbiased that has lived for even a short period of time. Trying to get an atheist to believe in God by changing their mind is an exercise in futility. People don’t become Christians because they changed their minds or were convinced by studying pile of scholarly data, but by a change of the heart. This isn’t an esoteric statement, but a simplified answer as to how spiritual enlightenment is achieved as opposed to intellectual advancements. There is a physical and a spiritual reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Thomas!

      Welcome! I agree with some of what you said, with qualifications. 🙂 I started a response but it got too long. I’ll write a post with my thoughts in a few days and link to it in a comment below this. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

        1. WOW! You are thorough and your ability to articulate your thoughts is exceptional. I will engage in this discussion by taking a different approach. I have found that addressing an atheist is radically different than an agnostic. I will begin by quoting a famous agnostic as he expresses his feelings about God.

          “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
          We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
          Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.
          When the solution is simple, God is answering.
          God does not play dice with the universe” – Albert Einstein

          I will be back shortly.

          Thomas

          Like

  6. Russell and Pascal,

    When I read your post yesterday my mind was racing through a lot of questions to ask both of you. I decided on asking just one common question to both of you to be able to know you both better:

    • What group (denomination, organization, etc.), person, book, podcast, and/or video would you pick that comes closest to describing your own way of seeing reality?

    I realize this is a tough one because I’m not sure I could answer it myself. 😉 But still curious if either of you could answer it. One theist online told me C.S. Lewis, so that’s just one example.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Howie!

      What an excellent question! Feel free to ask more of the ones that came to you.

      Last year I would have said I’m best represented by the books Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills and Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It. Pascal has read the first of those.

      I chose Russell (Bertrand Russell) as a pseudonym because I feel like I have some similarities with him. But, the analogy breaks down rather quickly so I can’t go with that.

      I noticed that you kept Pascal busy being my twin while I was gone the last few weeks, so the answer might be you!

      Honestly, though, of all the content I’ve absorbed lately, I feel most represented by the dialogue called “(Meta)Physics” between Sean Carroll and Hans Halvorson. Pascal linked to this in his post called Two Smart Guys. You said in comment there that you’d seen it. Here it is.

      I hold both of their positions most of the time. I also identify closely with their relevant individual lectures on similar subjects which we linked to in the comments there. For example, “God is not a Good Theory” by Sean Carroll

      and what you showed me by Hans Halvorson called “Does the Universe Need God?”

      So, since you liked both of those as well, the answer still might be you. Haha. I’m not as confident in my disbelief in “some” God as Dr. Carroll seems to be, and I don’t have enough confidence for the faith that Dr. Halvorson has. I’m an atheist primarily due to process of elimination and Occam’s Razor, which I’m not sure applies to a realm outside the universe that might have “caused” it, assuming the idea of causality is even conceptually sound inside our universe (given quantum theory), much less “outside” of it. Thus, I’m a negative, weak atheist and I feel like I possess both their brains in one body – an admittedly limited version of those brains. 🙂

      I hope that gives you an indication of where I’m coming from. I look forward to Pascal’s response. I’m glad you didn’t ask us to say which group, etc., best represents the other person. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hey Russell,

        Thanks for the thorough response. The whole twin thing is totally cracking me up! 🙂 I see a lot of similarities in our thinking as well, especially in the approach of how we treat those who disagree with us.

        A lot of what Carroll and Halvorson say also resonates with me. I especially could relate to Halvorson’s “minimalist” epistemology. However, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get to thinking the existence of God is likely given that minimalist foundation.

        As far as my own confidence in disbelief goes it varies a bit day to day, but it’s never near 50/50 regarding any kind of anthropomorphic deity. I’m also quite doubtful of the traditional monotheistic personal “omni-God” version. My post here explains why.

        Regarding my own worldview, I have to confess I don’t really have a strong one. I’ve been hesitant to ever say that I am a metaphysical naturalist, but I would say that I do lean toward more naturalistic worldviews (and I’m finding that not every naturalist is the same – perhaps there really are about 7 billion different worldviews currently held on earth). I’d say that this particular video probably describes my own views quite well:

        Like anything it doesn’t perfectly match my own views and I could poke holes in some of it, but his overall message resonates with me quite a bit.

        I’ll think more on a good way to pose those other questions I have for you and probably post back here again soon. Thanks again!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for the response, Howie!

          I’ll check out this video and the post you linked to soon (busy week coming up). I want to clarify a few things in the short time I have right now. I’m 50/50 on the existence of something that we might consider a God. It’s like asking if the number of grains of sand on all the shores in the universe is even (something like a God exists) or odd (something like a God doesn’t exist). Meh. I could conceivably be convinced of his existence, but never be convinced of his non-existence. I’m less than 50/50 on each specific God-claim I’ve heard of, and the percentage goes down as the number of untestable (or ambiguous or falsified) claims increase. Each God-claim comes with properties, desires, actions, etc., each of which reduce the probability that said God is likely (at least, in the absence of any form of verification) – Occam’s Razor, etc.

          I’m not a metaphysical naturalist. I am a methodological naturalist.

          My epistemology is something close to critical rationalism (though I’m still sorting that out and have a few concerns with the premises) and I’ve found some useful analogies and natural comfort in the philosophy of coherentism. I still have a lot to learn on these subjects, and I feel extremely fortunate to not be alone in the journey. 🙂

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Howie – – Your simple question deserves and will receive more thought, but I’ll venture a quick answer until that comes. Russell was right about you being his twin. You should both seriously check the hospital records!

      The most important book in my life so far aside from scripture has been The Call, by Os Guinness. Tim Keller also has a respectful and scholarly approach to faith and skepticism that I admire.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Pascal – thanks for your reply. I’ve already read the bible, so I’m going to go ahead and read The Call after I’m done with the 2 books I’m currently reading (I’m not a fast reader so it may be a while). If you think there is a better book for me to read to understand your views better please let me know. I’ll also work on checking those hospital records in the meantime. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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