An Atheist Talks to Her Mother

I’ve recently run across a letter from a young atheist to her religiously devout mom. It’s poignant and well-expressed. See: Letter to My Mother

Roger Christan Schriner

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Arguing about God’s Existence: Which Side Won the Debate?

This is an updated summary of a debate about the existence of God in which I took both sides of the argument. For the full text of the debate, see the previous several posts.

If someone cannot argue for both sides of a controversial issue, that person probably does not understand the issue. So “debating with myself” is always a useful exercise. I began the debate by assuming the role of a Christian minister, “Pastor Chris,” and I responded to the pastor as the atheist, “Dr. Schriner.” Pastor Chris quoted atheist Daniel Dennett as saying that religion helps people deal with challenging life issues. Later he returned to this theme:

“Schriner never denies that the vast majority of people have sensed the presence of this sturdy support, for centuries, all over the world. The overwhelming testimony of this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ speaks far more eloquently than the outdated arguments of atheism.”

Dr Schriner then strode to the lectern:

“That great cloud of witnesses is a whole lot smaller than Pastor Chris thinks. I realize that the vast majority of Americans say they believe in God. However in Canada around 20 or 30% are atheists or agnostics. In the U.K. it’s 30-45%, and 65% in Japan.”

Dr. Schriner then critiqued the claim that the universe is “fine-tuned” for intelligent life: “My opponent never responded to the idea that there could be an infinite number of universes, many of which could not support life.” And he added: “I admit that religion does some people some good, and probably belief in leprechauns was helpful to some of the ancient Irish. But if religious people were in touch with a supreme goodness, they would tend, as a general rule, to be morally superior to us ‘heathens,’ and they are not. Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s comment rings true: Without religion ‘you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.’

Pastor Chris had the last word:

“As a religious person I get laughed at for believing in fairy-tale mythologies. But when scientists dream up wild stories about there being an infinite number of undetectable universes, all the secular humanists solemnly nod and agree. There is only one reason these bizarre multiple-universe scenarios get any press. People see that if this is actually the only universe, then it looks like the universe was fine-tuned for our benefit. Some great creative power intended for us to be here.

Looking back at this debate about deity, ask yourself what you experienced when you heard something plausible that pushed against your own opinions. What did you feel inside? If you discover what happens when a good argument disturbs your belief-systems, then you can learn to notice your own mind closing, and perhaps learn to prop it open.

And here is an idea that is obviously true but difficult to fully accept: There is no objective place where we can stand and say, “Now I can see who is right about deity.”

Many people believe they have attained The Truth about God. Some say it is quite clear that God is real. Others find it equally clear that atheism is correct. But there is no “tie-breaker,” no super-objective vantage point that settles this dispute.

It would be more comfortable if we had certainty about this important subject, so that all people who are good, smart, and well-informed would agree, but that is not where we find ourselves. We cannot dismiss either the testimony of intelligent and well-informed believers or intelligent and well-informed unbelievers.

Both theists and atheists are speculating, and that is unavoidable. But theists, atheists, and agnostics who understand that life is deeply mysterious and who sincerely search for greater truth are kindred spirits in spite of their differences.

Roger Christan Schriner

P.S. I would be happy to debate the existence of God in any public setting. I’ll take either side. Contact me by commenting on this posting.

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Pastor Chris Has the Last Word

This is the next-to-last installment of a series in which I debate with myself about the topic, Resolved: That a Personal God Created the Universe. When I make this presentation I wear an ecclesiastical stole as “Pastor Chris.” As the atheist “Dr. Schriner” I doff the stole and put on glasses. Dr. Schriner has just offered his final remarks, so here is the pastor once again. He begins by commenting on the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. (For more on fine-tuning, see the October 2 post.)

As a religious person I get laughed at for believing in fairy-tale mythologies. But when scientists dream up wild stories about there being an infinite number of undetectable universes, all the secular humanists solemnly nod and agree. There is only one reason these bizarre multiple-universe scenarios get any press. People see that if this is actually the only universe, then it looks like some great creative power intended for us to be here. Continue reading

Wrapping Up a Case for Atheism

For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing the text of a presentation in which I debate with myself about whether a personal God exists. In the previous installment, the theist, “Pastor Chris,” concluded by saying that “Dr. Schriner”

“never denies that the vast majority of people have sensed the presence of this sturdy support [theistic religion]. The overwhelming testimony of this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ speaks far more eloquently than the outdated arguments of atheism.”

Now the atheist, Dr. Schriner, replies:

That “great cloud of witnesses” is a whole lot smaller than Pastor Chris thinks. I realize that the vast majority of Americans believe in God. However in Canada around 20 or 30% are atheists or agnostics. In the U.K. it’s 30-45%, and 65% in Japan.* Besides, he is supposed to prove there’s a personal God. But in a survey of sixty countries, only 45% thought a personal God exists, so those who believe in a personal deity are actually in the minority.** Continue reading

The Pastor Strikes Back

My recent posts are based on a presentation I sometime make in which “Pastor Chris” debates “Dr. Schriner” about whether God exists. (I take both sides, wearing an ecclesiastical stole when Pastor Chris speaks.) So here is the pastor once again:

How sad that such a smart fellow as Dr. Schriner has to fall back on such outdated atheistic ideas. It is so “Twentieth Century” to proclaim that the grand march of science is closing every gap in our knowledge. Today new discoveries are opening up astonishing new mysteries! At one time we had no idea that the laws of nature are fine-tuned for the existence of life. Not all scientists have realized this is so, but it is revolutionary to hear brilliant physicists say the cosmos seems precisely designed to make our existence possible. Schriner quotes Bradley Monton to dispute this idea, but Monton himself is an atheist, so he’s hardly unbiased! Continue reading

More from the Atheist

This is the third post in a series in which I debate with myself about whether God exists. Skeptical “Dr. Schriner” has just spoken, and now the atheist gets to speak again. Why? Because in a debate, the negative side has an inherent advantage. It’s almost always easier to poke holes in some theory than to prove that this theory is true. To compensate for this handicap, the affirmative side needs some compensating advantage. One way to do this is to let the affirmative begin and end the contest. It’s very helpful to have both the first word and the last word on some topic. To make this possible, Dr. Schriner, who denies the existence of deity, makes his initial presentation and his first rebuttal in sequence, one after the other.

Returning to the lectern, Dr. R. C. Schriner will offer his first negative rebuttal:

Pastor Chris thinks the laws of the universe are “fine-tuned” to support intelligent life. But physicists say there may be other universes, perhaps even an infinite number of universes. Only a few of these systems might happen to be suitable homes for living creatures. If these creatures didn’t know about all the other universes, it would seem as if “the” universe was specifically designed for their benefit. “Wow, how come everything is arranged so precisely for dear little me? I guess there must be a God!” These creatures would be very lucky to live in a cosmos that supports life, but someone has to live there and be amazed at their good fortune. Besides, the fine-tuning argument is speculation on top of speculation, because we still have so much to learn about cosmology. Continue reading

Dr. Schriner’s Case for Atheism

(I recently made a presentation at a Unitarian Universalist church in which I debated with myself about whether God exists. I’m posting it here, one speech at a time. For details, see my post from September 29. At this point “Pastor Chris” has already spoken in favor of deity, and here are opening remarks by “Dr. Schriner.”)

Thank you for your interest in this vital issue. Today I will show that there are no sound reasons for believing in an invisible cosmos-creator, and that there are good reasons to reject this theory. And my first argument is simple. The concept of God is superfluous. We don’t need it. People used to explain everything they didn’t understand by saying God did it, but this gives us a “god of the gaps.” As the gaps in our knowledge keep getting smaller, there is less and less reason for the God-hypothesis.

But even beyond this obvious point, I want to make a more daring claim. We can tell that there is no personal God by looking at the behavior of those who believe in God. Continue reading