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There’s probably no God?


New Zealand is following other countries in having an “atheist bus campaign”. Atheists are raising $NZ10,000 to mimic the UK campaign and place “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” on several buses in major New Zealand cities. Approximately 12 buses in Auckland, 8 in Wellington and 4 in Christchurch will feature the ads for 4 weeks. Television presenter Mike Hosking caught organiser Simon Fisher on the hop with his first question “why bother?” Hosking, who thinks there probably is no God, cannot see the motivation or purpose for the campaign – and Fisher reacted as if he had never thought of this most obvious of questions. That was soon followed by Jo Kelly-Moore, the Vicar of St Aidans, in Remuera, clearly running circles around Fisher’s weak points.

Rather than fear, or tut-tut, this campaign, I welcome the opportunity for some serious dialogue. One of my followers on twitter interestingly pointed out that Fisher’s language echoed the Alpha course. Alpha may be OK for introducing people who have no idea about Christianity to it – but please can we not stay at the level of alpha – please can we move on towards kappa or further. The website of the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign, over which (rather than the soundbite TV debate) they have full control – does not appear to give an adequate definition for “God” which the site is dedicated to stating “probably does not exist”. The discussions, which I am welcoming, may help Christians to move beyond rather simplistic definitions of God (alpha) towards the classical definitions in which God is not merely “a supernatural being” alongside other beings (“supernatural” or “natural”) – as if adding God to this coffee cup results in now having two “objects”. And with the rather regularly trite comment that atheists believe in merely one less god than Christians do… Hence, Christians and other theists, may be enriched by this discussion into deepening the expression of their faith, revisiting the apophatic tradition (alongside the more common kataphatic approach) of Christianity, emphasising the transcendent nature of God (alongside God’s at-Christmas-time-particularly-appropriate immanent nature).

Let’s have some nuanced discussion, rather than the popular Richard Dawkins approach of pitting the best of science against the most simplistic, childish, flat-earth theism, where every few sentences Dawkins drops a clanger demonstrating his lack of reading of any theist up to beta, let alone kappa! Let’s acknowledge the great damage that bad religion and bad theology and bad spirituality have done. But I don’t see Dawkins giving up sex or money just because of the great damage that sex and money have done in human history! And let’s not pretend that Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong are particularly good exemplars of the USA version of this campaign which had the slogan: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Are those atheists an explanation of what “good” means in a world without a god? Can you be good for goodness sake? Or do we need help to be good? And might being good (for goodness sake) be a sign of God – rather than a denial? Fisher’s slight of hand without any explanation, that “atheism” means “humanism” certainly needs justification. It seems to me that it is belief in God and the sacredness of God’s creation that leads to valuing human life – it will take a lot more than a tweet-length bus slogan to convince me that atheism naturally leads to people caring for others as a consequence.

There’s also a need to tidy other definitions:
Theist – believes in God
Atheist – believes there is no God
Agnostic (type A) – believes it is not possible to know
Agnostic (type B) – “I don’t know…”

Also the word “belief” can do with some clarification. Belief in God as a solely cerebral affirmation is a relatively new usage. “I believe in God” is originally more about trust, about commitment – in the sense of I believe in democracy, I believe in the All Blacks. Certainly “I believe in Jesus” has nothing to do with the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth which is accepted by all but the most extreme of scholars – yet popularly, and amongst some young people, they equate belief in Jesus alongside belief in the tooth-fairy, or at this time, Santa.

Alongside the atrocities of religion, let’s also list off some of the positives: art, music, science, technology, literature, genetics (Dawkins take note), the concept of the Big Bang (a real shock originally mocked by atheists), Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven,…

Alongside the need to clarify the definition of “God”, we are invited to clarify the nature of “God”. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” is based on an impression of an almighty punishing ogre in the sky. As Kelly-Moore made crystal clear in the TV interview, nothing could (should!) be further from a Christian perspective of God, a God who is love.

So, in summary, let’s not react against these ads – they are a wonderful opportunity not only to deepen our own reflection, but to clarify the misunderstandings between us. Atheists can be prophets, challenging the idols that Christians present. And just as God does not agree with all done in God’s name – however frequently and fervently God’s name is repeated – so God is not absent from atheists’ lives – however frequently and fervently denied.

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In passing, spend four minutes listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

Through the way where hope is guiding
Hark, what peaceful music rings
Where the flock, in Thee confiding
Drink of joy from deathless springs
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown

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56 thoughts on “There’s probably no God?”

  1. It’s a surprising cop-out by the atheists who are promoting this ad campaign both here and abroad that they can’t actually come out and say, There IS not God. Probably? What are they afraid of?

  2. If they say there is no God, then they are making a conclusion. A conclusion that they can not backup with anything concrete. They will make fool of themselves by publicly and officially stating this. It seems/is very arrogant and they don’t want that. This is a PR thing.

    So these days they prefer to redefine ‘atheist’ as a lack of belief in God … it’s not a belief that they believe that there is no God … so my car is an atheist too, for it lacks any belief including belief in God.

    good luck in trying to educate them that atheist is a belief.

  3. Bosco – not entirely sure I followed all of your post but thank you. It has certainly given me more to think about personally – at a time when my core faith is being thoroughly challeneged anyway.

    Interesting to note that in the UK the campaign has had little impact from what I can tell.

    But like you, I welcome the discussions it creates even though I don’t have all the answers.

  4. ‘There probably is no bus, now get off your mat and walk’

    Being a part time London-dweller, I saw these busses. I call it an aspect of living in a secular state.

    The ‘New-Atheism’ discussion is one that, at best, irritates me due to it’s lack of proper scholarship (Dawkins). But a lot of believer rise to the bait, and get into these silly discussions which really lead no-where.

    It’s all nonsense to me.

  5. Well said. The way I read it is that saying “there’s probably no God” is the opposite assertion to “there is a God”, not “there is God” – the indefinite article making all the difference. We have long exceeded the idea of God as “a being” or indeed an anything and now lean towards more conceptual attempts-at-understandings (how does “the sum of all experience” float your boat?).
    God is not some superman, whose existence needs proven or otherwise; yet God is meaningful!

  6. So these days they prefer to redefine ‘atheist’ as a lack of belief in God

    I’m not sure which `they’ we’re talking about here, but in my limited experience, atheists like to think of the term in two strengths-of-argument: weak = “no belief in God” (eg failure to see evidence); strong = “belief in no God”.

  7. I could be open-minded and have a rational discussion about religion and God, but this is impossible with most atheists. It is their “I’m right and you’re wrong” mentality that prevents it. So much time, effort, money being put to trying to debunk and destroy others’ beliefs. And the thing that bothers me the most is the mocking, using such terms or comparisons as “flying spaghetti monster” or comparisons to Santa and the tooth fairy. I am a Christian, but I’d never go out of my way to mock another person’s religion and be offensive. Have a discussion about the negative vs. positive aspects of religion through out history and present time? I’m there. Use sarcasm and an intense, almost obsessive desire to stop me from believing? Not interested.

  8. Interesting to see what’s going on – faith wise – halfway ’round the world.

    I agree with @Mike above. Why stick the “probably” in the phrase? Are even the atheists trying to hold out some hope?

    Bear in mind, some of the most interesting discussions I’ve had with atheists have also included some form of the following conversation:

    Me: “One of the problems I see is that we’ve devolved the world into so many shades of gray and choose not to recognize that there are absolutes related to right and wrong.”

    Atheists: “But there are no absolutes since there is no God.”

    Me: “So, you don’t believe there are any absolutes?”

    Atheists: “Absolutely!”

    To be fair, I’ve only gotten that last answer once or twice.

    But, I do get into the quick discussion that simply by stating there are no absolutes is an absolute statement – thus negating the whole argument.

  9. Oh, how boring. I expect a lot more from New Zealanders than blindly copying what everyone else did last year. Where’s your imagination? And how about something a bit more culturally specific like “THERE’S PROBABLY NO BILBO BAGGINS.” Or would that be a heresy too far in your neck of the woods.

  10. Cynde Jackson Clarke

    Great topic! I’ve been doing a lot of reading so that I am able to educate others when faced with this kind of discussion or position rather than just saying I believe because I just do.
    and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is my FAVORITE! so are Celtic Women!!!!

  11. The reason for the probably, as I undersfand it, is that the Advertising Standards Agency in Britain insisted on it. This might have been so that it was not too offensive or polemical!

  12. It’s interesting that people are assuming it’s the Christian God. From what I’ve been reading they’re more looking at it from the point of view of addressing there probably being no god. Meaning any god. The signage is all-caps which is misleading.

  13. I recently attended a humanist funeral and was struck by two things:

    The attempt to rubbish the opposition. I’ve attended many Christian funerals and can honestly say I’ve never heard atheist beliefs being trashed.

    I was interested to hear things that self-respecting atheists should not believe. The minister gave the departed what he called a ‘blessing’ he addressed the deceased as if he continued to exist.

    He quoted the ‘Jacobean poet’ John Donne saying that no man is an island…any man’s death diminishes me…send not to ask..for thee. Which could have just about been acceptable if he was referencing one of Donne’s poems (Holy Sonnets perhaps) but of course he was quoting from one of the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral’s sermons.

  14. Hi Thomas, your article reads: “Television presenter Mike Hosking caught organiser Simon Fraser on the hop with his first question “why bother?” Hosking, who thinks there probably is no God, cannot see the motivation or purpose for the campaign – and Fraser reacted as if he had never thought of this most obvious of questions.”

    That’s a rather uncharitable view of events Thomas. And presumably you mean Simon Fisher.

    Of course assuming that silence means you’re right isn’t sensible thinking, and it reminds me of what creationists viewed of Dawkins answer to a question about increase in information in the genome http://bit.ly/1EP65a

    @Mike “I agree with @Mike above. Why stick the “probably” in the phrase? Are even the atheists trying to hold out some hope?”

    Your use of the word “hope” is an interesting one. Why would hope have anything to do with it? Atheists don’t bend the world to what we hope it might be, that’s wishful thinking.

    Instead “probably” is about being intellectually honest about the limits of human knowledge. To say there certainly is a Christian God or certainly isn’t a Christian God, or there certainly are Unicorns or Zeus (or certainly aren’t) would be a position of faith.

    So there’s no evidence that distinguishes the Christian God from Zeus, Scientology’s Xemu, Wotan, or a million other gods that people have felt in their lives.

    For an explanation of the campaign see this writeup here


    1. Thanks Matthew for correcting my Fraser to Fisher (& doing so by your giving me a new name also LOL!) – I’ve corrected the post.
      As to your “teapot atheism” & “going one god further” in your own post linked here – that is exactly the populist, simplistic approach of Dawkins that I hope this campaign will allow us to move a bit deeper than. It is very “alpha”. Let’s move towards “kappa”. I have already highlighted that “belief” is more than “acknowledge existence of” – and that God, unlike your teapot analogy, is not an “object” that can be added to another to increase the number of objects by one.

  15. I have had a number of quite interesting discussions with followers of Dawkins.

    It has not been difficult to develop an argument, based on their premises, that they rely on blind faith for their position. It is upsetting to them when they recognize the end point of their logic — but they cannot refute it and do not try.

    As the discussion progresses it is usually interesting to find they do not admire Dawkins as much as one might expect. They recognize the weakness of his position and recognize he is a bit of a wild-haired ideologue.

    That aside I believe there is money to be made. Church schools could sell space on the side of their buses. It is a way to earn money and show tolerance that reflects a deep faith. The pitch to the atheists would be that given it is a matter of probability, they might as well hedge their bet by displaying the sign while making a donation.

  16. @Bosco Peters

    Well the ‘teapot analogy’ isn’t at all about whether the Christian God could be added to or subtracted from like an object, but rather it’s a statement about human judgment and how we have distinct and contradictory ideas that we must choose from. These ideas may be supernatural or not, hence a physical teapot in orbit around the sun where some people say it doesn’t exist and some people say it does exist.

    So the ‘teapot analogy’ isn’t about how gods operate and whether they’re divisible but rather it’s a statement about how humans acquire knowledge in a sea of competing ideas.

    If someone were to say they’re “sitting on the fence” when it comes to the issue of the existence of unicorns it would sound odd to us because there’s no evidence for unicorns. Yet we don’t say we’re agnostic about unicorns, we just say they don’t exist. Atheist about unicorns more accurately fits how most people feel about the idea of unicorns.

    So the ‘teapot analogy’ is more about how we as humans acquire knowledge, and whether we are ‘agnostic’ about unicorns or ‘atheist’ about unicorns when we don’t have any proof. It’s not about supernatural effects.

    Now we may consider whether religion is different to other ideas like unicorns or celestial teapots. It seems that you may think it is difference because you’ve talked about spiritualism (and please excuse me if I’m wrong on the following, I don’t know if you do believe this and I’m new to this website).

    If your view on spiritualism is that the various religions are merely glimpses of a Christian God, or perhaps that the Christian God is the wrong name for some underlying spirit/ghost, then how do you resolve competing ideas in religions (homosexuality, abortion, the other hot topics!) or manufactured religions like Cargo Cults or Scientology? Isn’t it true that humans are capable of feeling spiritual when there’s nothing there, or do you think Cargo Cults and Scientology are taping into something?

    The teapot analogy is about
    Mostly it’s the

    Certainly you can “increase the number of objects by one” when ywhat people believe in.

  17. @Bosco Peters
    Hmm… Looking a the OP it is headed up with the name Thomas, however clicking it takes you to another post though. No where in or around the OP does it credit you as the author. It’s an easy assumption to make. I made it myself.

    As for the ‘alpha’ and ‘kappa’ labels I’ve always thought the Alpha courses where a blight on the Church. They just feel to cultish. :/

    1. Ah, Morgan, I see – it looks to some like Thomas Merton wrote this post? Well that should help increase its popularity 🙂 The previous and next posts are just put up there automatically by the wordpress theme (Matthew has exactly the same on his site that he links from here). The author of this site is not that far from the post – see “about” tab.

  18. Wake ppl, there is a God. I am sorry if you do not believe. I do, nothing can chance that. Alto of my views have changed throughout my life, but one thing has ALWAYS remained the same and that is my faith… faith in God & His very real existence. I dont think something as magnificent and intriguing as the Human being could have come out of no where… Think about it, if there is no God, then there would be no ethics… no morals… no feelings (happiness, love, etc). There would not be anything. God is love, God is peace… God is everything. Just my opinion.

  19. @Matthew I hope you might explain what you mean by “supernatural” and “spiritualism”.

    The teapot and the unicorns are (possible) physical objects you can detect and analyse using scientific methods. You can add a teapot to this cup & now have two “objects”.

    “Feeling spiritual” is a feeling – able to be detected and analysed by scientific methods.

    God is neither physical. Nor an “object”. You cannot use scientific methods to detect or analyse God. You cannot add God to this cup & now have two “objects”. God is not in the category of teapots and unicorns. There is no analogy.

  20. It is true that the “New” atheists engage but a caricature of authentic belief. And they, in turn, offer us naught but a caricature of a more philosophically rigorous atheism.

    Those of us who subscribe to a radically incarnational view of reality certainly want to affirm that humankind can indeed be good for goodness sake. We can and do pursue truth, beauty, goodness and unity because such a pursuit is its own reward. Of course, we also view our existential orientations to these intrinsically rewarding values as transcendental imperatives. We believe that humans can recognize and realize these values without the benefit of special divine revelation. So, we acknowledge the possibility of an implicit faith even as we maintain that, with an explicit faith, believers can move more swiftly and with less hindrance toward these values on life’s transformative journey.

    I enjoy natural theology, metaphysics and philosophy but acknowledge that beyond our evidential, rational and presuppositional arguments, which, at the most, establish the reasonableness of faith, it is our existential experience of God that gifts us with a confident assurance in the things we hope for. Beyond our abstract speculative formulations and cognitive propositions, it is our participatory imagination that best engages reality, not just religiously but also scientifically and philosophically and relationally. This imagination is shaped and formed by liturgies of the mall, the marketplace, the stadium and our worship, where we learn (and finally decide) to most desire one Kingdom or another.

    So, we do not even want to deny that one can live a life of abundance and realize life’s great values without an explicit belief in God (even as we have our own faith-based interpretations of why this may be so and Who makes this possible). Neither would we deny, however, that a life of faith is a life of SUPERabundance, enabling us to journey more swiftly and with less hindrance along The Way.

  21. @Bosco Peters

    Again Bosco you seem confused about what the ‘Teapot Atheism’ is actually about.

    It’s not about supernatural beliefs such as gods (Zeus, Thor, etc.) or trying to measure them scientifically. Like you, I agree that there’s no way to objectively detect and analyse any gods.

    Teapot Atheism is instead a statement about how we decide anything in life and what the default position is. Are we all agnostic about faeries, or do we just say they don’t exist until it’s proven otherwise.

    As religion seems to be a touchy subject, imagine if I said that there’s an dinosaur in my garage but I wouldn’t let you see it. Would you be agnostic about the dinosaur or would you simply say it doesn’t exist until shown otherwise?

    Now what if the dinosaur is a dragon? http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm

    1. @Matthew
      With respect, I do not think that I am at all confused about the epistemological methodology of the Teapot Atheism analogy. I am merely highlighting that whilst it is applicable to your other objects: faeries, dinosaurs in garages, dragons, etc. It is totally inapplicable to God as God is not an object. “Existence” is not predicated of God in the same sense as it is predicated of, for example, a teapot.

      To use other examples: the number three or beauty are in two different categories again. In what sense do you understand the number three existing? Or beauty existing? Or are you atheistic about those as well. What epistemological methodology do you use to test for or deny the existence of three or beauty? And before you start putting God in the same category as three or beauty, may I stress again that the apophatic tradition and the insistence on the transcendent nature of God means that placing God alongside three and beauty may be helpful pointers but they are merely signposts and not the destination.

      Using your single Teapot Atheism methodology epistemologically you cannot prove
      * that anything exists beyond your individual experience of it – you may be a brain in a vat being fed data to give the illusion (cf. the Matrix)
      * that these other 6ft columns of protoplasm with interesting results to stimuli that you encounter all around are persons in the sense that you perceive yourself to be
      * that the laws of nature will in the future be anything like you have perceived them to have been in the past (yes they always have in the past – prove that therefore they will in the future)
      * that your friend/partner/spouse actually cares about you/loves you
      * that you have any freedom (limited though it be) to type the letter s or to choose the letter p

      You will need to convince me that you actually live by Teapot Atheism and use that solely as your epistemological methodology for all of your life – not merely blog discussions.

  22. Regarding the use of the word ‘probably’;

    They’re using that word because they’re being honest. They can’t be 100% certain. No one can. That’s where science comes in. But in this area there’s no way to use science to test for God.

    I think anyone that claims with 100% certainty when it comes to faith is either delusion or arrogance.

    I don’t know with 100% certainty that God is real, but I have faith that he is.

    I think it’s commendable of them for using ‘probably’ where they are. It suggests there’s hope for them and that should they find faith they’re open to it.

  23. Hi Matthew,

    “As religion seems to be a touchy subject, imagine if I said that there’s an dinosaur in my garage but I wouldn’t let you see it.”

    Except that in the case of The Holy Bible, it contains testimonies and eye witnesses accounts of many people stretched across thousands of years (long before The Birth of Christ).

    The teachings have been embraced and defended with/by many lives till today.

    Would you die to defend your belief that there is a dinosaur in your garage?

    Atheist arguments really have not progressed much. Same ol comparing silly thing with God.

    On the other hand, Theist argument has. Check out Kalam cosmological argument: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

  24. This as far as I’m aware is the only time the 25% (and growing percentage) of Kiwi’s who have no superstitious beliefs have ever bothered to unite and say “we are here and an integral productive part of society.” and open debate on religions role in the new millennium.

    More so now we have religious zealots threatening our way of life and safety of our fellow citizens.

    Reminder to all it’s not atheists who fly planes into buildings crying “Dawkins is great.”

    Reminder to all the most peaceful and prosperous nations on the planet are the most atheistic.

    The message is appropriate – the more definitive ‘There is NO God’ having been banned by the bus companies as too controversial.

    For those that get upset about the message – how do you know what God it is the advert is referring to for staters?

    One imagines if the adverts say said there is probably no “Zeus” or “Apollo” you would agree.

    It could be one of the thousands of Gods and not the one you happen to subscribe to – the chances are very small given the number.

    I have offered $1000 to anyone who can give me a definition of God (refer my blog for conditions) and no one has even come close to giving me a coherent explanation.

    On the weekend I had a Seventh Day Adventists knocking on my door and a flyer for The Alpha Course placed in my letter-box – so advertising ones beliefs or lack of them is a two way-street and not one of you has a problem when it is the superstitious who are advertising their hocus-pocus rather than atheists who say they don’t believe or need it.

    Have a good Northern Winter Solstice (a.k.a Christmas)

    I’m getting naked all day on the 25th.

    Peace to all mankind.


  25. Good examples, Bosco.

    In one’s anxiety to annihilate metaphysics & God-talk, one does away with natural science and common sense. So, scientism, logical positivism and radical empiricism have all been considered philosophically bankrupt.

    We cannot prove empirically and demonstrate logically 1) common sense notions of causality 2) the existence of other minds over against solipsism 3) reality’s intelligibility over against an epistemological nihilism 4) “first” principles like noncontradiction and excluded middle 5) a rational and ordered cosmos 6) and so on.

    This type of skepticism is indefensible because one ends up sawing off the epistemological branch where one’s own ontological eggs are nested. We all, then, move forward with a fundamental trust in uncertain reality. In other words, we believe these things in order to know more things. For some, this trust remains nowhere anchored and paradoxical (cf. Hans Kung). For believers, it is justified in God as we believe in Him in order to know even more. This is not so much a way to think about any part of reality, in particular, but a way of interpreting the whole of reality, in general. Science was largely birthed in the cradle of Christianity and stillborn elsewhere (cf. Stanley Jaki).

    In the much more philosophically rigorous arguments, one’s concepts are carefully disambiguated and divine attributes are deliberately predicated (univocal vs equivocal vs relational). As you point out, in our attempts to increase our descriptive accuracy of a God-concept, we must be clear whether we are proceeding through a) affirmation [kataphatically] or b) negation [apophatically]. Terms used to define the reality (not existence) of God employ only negative properties, hence such attributes are not logically impossible to coinstantiate in our arguments (God’s goodness and omnipotence). This not only guarantees the conceptual compatibility of any attributes we employ in our conceptualizations of God but avoids any absurdities of parodied logic (unicorns and faeries). This is not something that can be explicated and made accessible in this space but for any who want to dig deeper, look here.

    In the end, proofs regarding primal realities like God-concepts and self-subsisting quantum vacuum fluctuations yield only Scottish verdicts, unproven. The arguments are not unreasonable though. They are eminently reasonable. One has a great deal of epistemic warrant in leveraging one’s fundamental trust in uncertain reality into a trust in One who grounds that trust. Such a belief is what is known as a 1) forced (not to choose is to choose), 2) vital (regarding our most insistent longings and ultimate concerns) and 3) live (philosophically reasonable) option. God is not an object of our finite senses but the ground of reality: primal being, primal cause, primal ground, primal goal, primal destiny, primal law, primal value.

    In Christianity, we meet Him in the concrete lived experience of Jesus Christ and His followers, who have articulated the truth we have encountered in creed, celebrated the beauty in liturgy, preserved the goodness in codes and laws and enjoyed a fellowship in authentic community. It’s more so a participatory reality than a cognitive thing. It’s like knowing one’s hometown even if it is difficult to draw a detailed map for someone else. Sometimes, it’s like knowing your beloved but not being able to put into words the reasons for your love with its just-because-ish-ness. Being in relationship to Jesus and His church is a reward in itself, just like the intrinsic rewards one gets from pursuing truth, beauty, goodness and unity, which is why we ascribe such attributes to God and call them divine.

    One can pursue and realize some truth, beauty, goodness and unity without a belief in God and many apparently do. I can only say that my relationship to God is very much like that and that I suspect we are all articulating and celebrating these realities best we know how. Life is good, ain’t it?

  26. If as you argue: “God is neither physical. Nor an “object”. You cannot use scientific methods to detect or analyse God.” Then one has to ask what the relevance of god is?

    If he is unmeasurable then he can have no physical effect on the world and is thus as pointless in our daily lives as a supernova in a remote galaxy.

    If you argue that he has a “personal” or “emotional” effect on the world (in the case of inspiring people to be good). Then the actual conceptual definition of god is irrelevant as the same effect could be achieved with any number of conceptual falsehoods that we could tell each other to inspire decent behavior.

    To use one of your earlier examples. If the existence of god can have no measurable effect other than behavioral in it’s followers, then he might as well be “Santa” or “the tooth fairy” as any “protagonist” in the mythological story is interchangeable to achieve the same social result.

    And throughout human history this is seen to be the case as society mixes and matches to the god(s) or godess(s) of the time.

    The actual existence or non-existence of such a being is irrelevant by your argument and only the story and the results matter.

    Why don’t we just drop all the silly mythological stories to justify decent behavior and just progress down a humanist path without the un-needed lies and fear?

  27. Also in reply to your argument against the teapot

    “I am merely highlighting that whilst it is applicable to your other objects: faeries, dinosaurs in garages, dragons, etc. It is totally inapplicable to God as God is not an object.”

    Then I think you really need to define the “god” we’re talking about here. Or your defense of _any_ religion is identical and the argument that any religion is false or true becomes meaningless.

    By your argument if any non-entity god is defensible we might as well be worshiping Zeus or Hecate for all the difference it would make.

  28. @Bob
    “Except that in the case of The Holy Bible, it contains testimonies and eye witnesses accounts of many people stretched across thousands of years (long before The Birth of Christ).”

    And yet, isn’t it strange that in a time of mass media, omnipresent cameras and communications technology there is a rather long running absence of any visual evidence or eye witness testimony?

    You would think that if god had spent most of his time burning bushes and leveling cities like he did in the old testament we would still be seeing such behavior today? Yet in a time when we are un-precidentally connected and able to collect evidence and measure things beyond our ability to ever do before, suddenly god has gone very quiet hasn’t he?

    It all seemed to happen around the time the bible was written then nothing since? Seems awfully suspicious to me.

    If God really does care about us and want us to be good, why hide? Why not provide evidence? No Christian has ever really answered this one to me satisfactorily. If god really is “working in mysterious ways” by hiding from us… then isn’t that a bit crap? I mean that’s really rather setting people up to fail.

    And lets not even get started on the “Problem of evil” in a world with an infinitely good god.

  29. Most human knowledge does not advance from strict formal argumentation. Especially realities like truth, beauty, goodness and love are not proved through syllogisms. So, too, with God. If God could be reduced to a mere object of sense-perception, then, in principle, by mere definition, we’d not be dealing with God.

    Still, through various apologetics – evidential, rational, presuppositional and existential – arguments have been devised for God. The arguments are numerous. Any given one of them, alone, as a strand, cannot really do much heavy epistemic lifting. Taken together and wound as individual strands into a cable, the individual arguments form quite a strong and resilient cable of belief. This is analogous to a cumulative case approach in legal theory where one is weighing the preponderance of the evidence, or seeking an even higher level of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not result in a final, unequivocal proof, which is why, with integrity, we refer to it as faith.

    This faith is not unreasonable. It is at least equiplausible vis a vis other putative accounts of primal reality. Here we can apply an equiplausible principle, which impels us to choose the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing existential response, when confronted by two equiplausible accounts requiring pragmatic or moral action. For example, if we are in a dark yard and see something on the ground that could be either a snake or a stick, we shall treat it as a snake and leave it alone. Or, we may encounter an uncertain universe and wonder if it is friendly and decide that one with God is a more beautiful and life-giving notion. Now, beauty does not lead in a truth-conducive manner directly to truth. However, as scientists, we do recognize its truth-indicative nature, which often leads indirectly to truth via symmetry, elegance, parsimony, simplicity and so on.

    Humankind has found the cumulative case for God very compelling, overwhelmingly so, this despite the theodicy problem of reconciling a good God with evil. This is resolved thru formal arguments by employing only negative predicates (mentioned earlier). But, in the end, any good theodicy will retain an element of mystery, which is to recognize that it will remain not wholly satisfactory. Jesus did not come and answer any of the questions posed in Job or the psalms about suffering. At least, He did not deal with same propositionally. Instead, He responded by suffering with us and affirming reality and God’s goodness.

    Many accept the notion that God, in His utter fullness, had to shrink in order to make room for creation. Many process theologians view God as participating in reality’s unfolding with us as free co-creators. In fact, reality’s probabilistic rather than deterministic nature makes room for our freedom. True love requires true freedom. True freedom allows for love’s rejection, which is evil. From this perspective, the question changes from “why is there evil” to “what am I going to do about it.” At any rate, I believe that if the cosmos was any less ambiguous for us and any seemingly less ambivalent toward us that our belief in God would come very close to being coerced, thereby limiting our freedom of response and resultingly diminishing our love. Again, as it is, humankind finds the cumulative case for God to be quite compelling despite theodicy issues. One could argue we’re very close to being compelled the way things are.

  30. We know from semiotic reality, in biosemiotics and the coevolution of language and the human brain, for example, via Baldwinian evolution, that there can be a downward causation without the violation of physical causal closure. This is to recognize and affirm that a tacit dimension in reality can be ineluctably unobtrusive yet utterly efficacious via an implicate ordering. By analogy, we do not need to locate divine causal joints to reasonably interpret reality as being influenced by God via a divine matrix which controls the initial, limit and boundary conditions of reality. The classical distinctions between primary and secondary causality are not only as viable today as yesteryear but are even more understandable in terms of modern semiotic science.

    Imagine a rock flying into one’s yard over a neighbor’s fence and breaking a window and inflicting other physical damage. We can only examine its effects. We may wonder if it was thrown by a child or an adult or a lawn mower or a baseball pitching machine and rule out all of the above possibilities based on known physical parameters regarding the velocity, acceleration, mass of the object and so on. We are employing, then, an apophatic approach, increasing our descriptive accuracy by saying what the CAUSE was NOT based on effects as would be proper to other known causes. Analogously, for the cosmos as a whole, God would be such a cause for that effect (the cosmos) as would be proper to no other known causes. And we would predicate of this God all manner of apophatic attributes (not this, not that) and analogously suggest, via kataphatic attributes, only what he is LIKE via metaphor.

    To wit, God is non-contingent, non-dependent, not subject to contingent laws, not natural, not logical law (a number, a mathematical truth, a Platonic form or some other abstraction), not spatiotemporal, non-finite, not deficient in any sense. Again, one needs to look at this definition to see how it is immune to parody and logically valid as a modal argument.

    Interestingly, some would say that this God would be unrecognizable to folk theologians and the average believer, which may be true. It is, however, the God of the early church fathers, classic medieval philosophers, mystical theology and modern day theology, Whom ordinary folk access existentially through prayer, liturgy and community, even if not via formal construction. The average believer is employing kataphatic metaphors, of course, along with some concrete historical experience of Jesus and church community.

  31. It is interesting so far in this very good discussion, and thank you all for your positive contributions, that those arguing for atheism appear to be following certain pre-set lines, rather than actually engaging with the material in this thread. Those arguing for theism are responding to specific points made. No theists here have so far presented an exclusivist position, as it is termed in Philosophy of Religion, yet that is assumed in the arguments presented by atheists here. No theist has so far distracted the thread as atheists have by talking about different religions, rather than focus on the question at hand, “There’s probably no God?”

    Thanks John for raising this thread from the alpha level of God being a “supernatural being” that I was wanting to move away from as I mentioned at the start, towards kappa and beyond, also for the link which adds the Ontological Argument, recently interestingly revived by Gödel and others, to the Cosmological Argument mentioned above (also recently revived, as noted there). I think, John, Paul in a comment above was offering $1000 you might like to claim ☺ (although he did switch from seeking a “definition” to wanting an “explanation” – whatever an “explanation of God” might mean).

    I do not think I need add anything to John’s response to your idea that only that which is measurable can have a physical effect on the world and thus have a point in our daily lives. As to your inability to find a single Christian who can explain why God “hides” – that, surely would be covered in the most basic apologetic text you must have turned to? CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters Chapter 8 surely must be known to many Christians that you have turned to – to pick just the first simple very well-known text that springs to my mind.

    If there are new points not covered in the comments above, I hope people will continue to add them. Otherwise, thank you all again for the positive tone of this thread, and let us hope that this quality of discussion continues when the actual advertisements are run.

  32. Attention atheists, please research the kalam argument and William Lane Craig. It explains how the latest cosmological scientific theories are in support existence for a cause for the whole physical universe.


    Stop using play on words and old fallacious arguments. If you’re really interested to know the truth, then start digging into philosophy and modern scientific findings. Read from both sides or you will just be fooling yourselves.

  33. @Bosco
    Are you censoring the posts? There was another post addressing the use of the word “probably” that I posted after the comment about them having crossed the $20,000 mark.

    I’ve got a screen capture of it with the “awaiting moderation” banner so I know it was posted okay.

    1. In relation to some of the comments, it is worth being reminded that the concept of the “Big Bang” was first proposed by a priest, Georges Lemaître, when the scientific community presumed that the universe was eternal (steady state). So much so that, while Fr Georges called his proposal “the hypothesis of the primeval atom”, others mocked his idea, with Fred Hoyle sarcastically calling it his “Big Bang” theory. It has only been a little over four decades that atheists have had to agree with theists that the universe had a beginning and have been scrambling ever since to make sense of this – every theory I have seen has tended to require more complicated acts of faith than the elegant, simple acceptance that God is.

      I don’t know what you thought I would find in your post contrary to the comments policy (linked from my original post) – I only run this site voluntarily, by myself, & in spare moments – because it is such a popular site it receives a lot of spam (over 10,000 currently). I thought that was all well explained in my comments policy. Doing a search for “probably” I managed to find it and it is now on the site.

  34. Thanks John Sobert Sylvest. I empathize with Atheists to some degree, the god that many Christians promote is not the one Im familiar with either. My God cares not a jot whats advertised on the side of buses – Hes more concerned with what inhabits/inhibits the passengers. Gandhi said something like ‘Of Jesus I have no doubts but of his followers I have my concerns’. I have the greatest respect for many a great thinker/ orator on the things pertaining to our faith – but unlike Christ, their data is questionable. Sorry Bosco – that was rattling around in my head and I had to get it out 🙂

  35. @John Sobert Sylvest
    Do you chose not to worship them for the same reasons? i.e. a lack of evidence for their existence in the first place?

  36. My point was that some atheists are as such, because some christians are the worst manifestations of the things pertaining to the Christian faith. Atheists are no threat to any faith – its zealous christians that worry me. The God I worship is the God of gods…its not complicated. Other gods must exist or who is God the God of…? According to Scripture there are other gods but our focus is on the God of them all.

  37. @Patti Lao-Wood;

    Do you really think that atheists are such because of over zealous Christians? Given the plethora of religions that are out there there should be ample options for them to pick from if they’ve been scared off of Christianity.

    Do you not think that they are that way more due to a lack of any tangible or measurable evidence for gods, the supernatural or “higher” beings?

  38. @Morgan

    I cant speak for all atheists nor can I speak for all Christians but some atheists are rightly put off seeking the Christ because of overzealous Christians. Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists etc are no threat to Christianity – the Gospel is in the hands of Christians regardless of anything.
    Serving humanity does not mean converting humanity and the ‘plethora of religions’ you refer to, has nothing to do with ones compulsion to follow a particular ‘god’ ..the plethora only adds favor to the atheist argument. A glut of anything on the market does not add value!

    And in my humble opinion – Christians ARE the tangible and measurable evidence of a very present God…unfortunately some adopt the pose and very little else.

  39. Hi just a point regarding the idea that atheists define atheism as a “lack of belief in God” Whatever method they like to use to refrain from making a positive statement regarding their beliefs, they still have to posit a worldview that makes sense. They still have to find answers to- origins, morality, meaning and suchlike questions otherwise it is just an empty sound they make.

  40. Matthew Holloway said regarding the wording on the bus ads: “probably” is about being intellectually honest about the limits of human knowledge…

    If it’s not about advertising standards then it’s about the history of the atheist/theist debate.

    I used to think that it was silly for people to believe there was no God on the grounds that for any to make such a claim implied they had an absolute and ultimate knowledge of the Universe. Atheists who know the history of their position know that this is no longer a tenable position to hold because they were too often reminded of its absolute claim on knowledge by consistent theists. That is intellectual honesty.

    However now I hold a different view, even soft atheists are not intellectually honest because the view they hold is contrary to what an “intellectually honest” person would agree to. The universe “declares the glory of God” but the soft atheist suppresses what his “intellectual honesty” should tell him because he (with an internal bias) is at war with God. What is most common in the atheistic arsenal is a strong dependence on science, the imperical method, the laws of logic etc. What they don’t acknowledge is the fact that on assuming the scientific method they are already prejudging the existence or non-existence of God. That method itself assumes a random/chance universe as its basis.

    1. Good to have you visit, Madeleine, and I appreciated Matt’s post and the discussion following. My post was only really about one of the billboards, and I’ve been thinking about the other two – with some similarities with Matt’s points.

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