Friday, July 12, 2013

Why agnosticism is irrational

agnostic (n.) Look up agnostic at Dictionary.com
1870, "one who professes that the existence of a First Cause and the essential nature of things are not and cannot be known" [Klein]; coined by T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), supposedly in September 1869, from Greek agnostos "unknown, unknowable," from a- "not" + gnostos "(to be) known" (see gnostic).
 
atheist (n.) Look up atheist at Dictionary.com
1570s, from French athéiste (16c.), from Greek atheos "without god, denying the gods; abandoned of the gods; godless, ungodly," from a- "without" + theos "a god" 
 
I've come across many blogs and sites that contend that atheism is an irrational position because we can't know for sure that gods or a God does not exist. For the purpose of this article I would like to inform the reader that when I use the term God with a capital G I am specifically referring to the Judaeo Christian deity and when I don't capitalize I am referring to gods in general. 

From the outset I would like to inform the reader that I am an atheist who affirms that gods and God specifically do not exist. I am a firm believer that in this case at least absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It is my opinion that there are certain issues that can be answered definitively without the necessity for holding back judgement based on the origins for instance of a religious tradition or belief. 

Let's elaborate first what it means to be an agnostic. As in atheism the "a" has a negative connotation and can be interpreted to mean without or as is pointed out in the definition for agnosticism not. Basically what the agnostic claims is that the existence of God or gods cannot be known because of insufficient knowledge or evidence to make a positive claim for or against the claim of the existence of gods. To an extent I agree with this definition. For instance I am of the opinion that no one can definitively prove or disprove the existence of God. This is definitely an agnostic position but I take my view a step further. 
 
Since this blog is mostly about the Christian deity I will focus on him for the most part, but this same argument applies to all gods. Due to years of research and my own personal studies of comparative  religions and religious origins and beliefs, I have come to the definite conclusion that God does not exist. There are several reasons which I will seek to outline in this post.

The first and most telling reason to me is that conveniently God if he exists does so outside of space and time and beyond the reach of scientific scrutiny and inquiry. We can't put God in a test tube and if we were to take the Bible as a revelation from this deity to man he is elusive on purpose. In the scriptures where most Jews, Christians, and Muslims get their concept of this God you read incredible tales about the exploits of this deity and his interaction specifically with the ancient Hebrew/Jews. We read of the parting of the Red sea or the sea of Reeds. The global flood, creation, the origins of languages, all narrated in fictional tales which are quite frankly the way myths and traditions are made. 

Yes, there is some actual history intertwined in some of these narratives but that does not validate the extraordinary claims of a deity's intervention in human affairs. The ancient Hebrews claimed in these tales that God spoke from a mountain with a thunderous voice, he accompanied them in the desert as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night! He struck people dead on the spot for disobeying him, he caused natural disasters like the nine plagues he supposedly inflicted on Egypt. 

These tales are fantastical because they are the creations of man and obviously reflect within them the most common beliefs and superstitions of the day. The authors of the Bible claim that they obtained their knowledge of this God by inspiration or some kind of divine revelation. But if we are to take revelation as a valid means of obtaining knowledge then we run into a huge problem. What of all the other so called sacred texts from around the world whose authors claim to have been divinely revealed by the god or gods of their choice? If we accept that the Bible was revealed to man by God then we must extend that same benefit to all the other religions claiming revelation. The next problem is that all these revelations from all these deities are vastly different from one another. So which one is correct? Some like the biblical deity threaten eternal damnation for those who refuse to worship and believe in them.

The world is also chock full of creation myths that span every culture and society one could imagine. It is my belief that religions are rooted in ancient superstitions and myths and have nothing to do with any real deities or gods. There is no proof of God because he only exists in the hearts and minds of those that choose to believe in him. This is obviously why you can't prove what only exist in the mind. Man can imagine many things but just because he imagines them does not make them real. I can imagine a goddess with voluptuous breasts and the sexiest body I can think of. I can dress her in my favorite clothes or better yet naked. I can love her or fear her and create her story to intertwine with actual events in our time. This does not make her real in any sense. This is the stuff of fiction; how books are written and movies scripts are made.

God and gods in general being the creations of men and whatever a fearful and ignorant mind can imagine does not make those imaginings true. In fact, they don't even seem probable. Why doesn't God make any appearances today? Not to individuals but to whole nations all at once. The fact that I don't know or even may never know how life evolved from nonliving matter or how the universe came to be does not lead me to delve into myths to explain what at this time is not yet known. 

Here is a question for my readers and those that may oppose my views on this matter. Do you believe that leprechauns exist? If not, then why? We don't have evidence that they exist but they have existed in Irish lore for quite some time. We have heard many conflicting tales about them. In some tales they are harmless and benevolent and in others they can be quite dangerous and mean. To my knowledge not too many people have a problem with dismissing these creatures outright. Why? Because although there is no evidence of their existence we are sure that they are derived from traditional lore and have been invented by men. Why should gods or even the biblical God be any different? Remember that yesterdays gods, beliefs, and traditions, have for the most part become today's myths. The Bible and the Torah need to take their place in the category of myths along with all the others where they belong.

In the case of agnosticism is it reasonable to hold off judgement regarding the existence of leprechauns? Is absence of evidence not evidence of absence in this case? If your answer is no then you are being hypocritical. Because if you were true to your agnostic position you would also acknowledge that leprechauns, fairies, sprites, angels, demons, gods, big foot, ufo's, the Kraken, all the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology, the boogie man, the mothman, the tooth fairy, Santa, etc. must all probably exist since we don't have enough knowledge to make a decision to the contrary.

In conclusion, the evidence we do have points to the nonexistence of God. When you realize that God is a myth based on a rational review of the traditions surrounding beliefs about God and the origins of myths themselves. I'm not a big fan of probability theory because based on it anything no matter how ridiculous can be given serious consideration as probably being true.

Note: All word definitions are taken from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

30 comments:

  1. Instead of leprechauns, why not use the example of extraterrestrial life as your example?

    Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?

    Well, we have no evidence of it, but logic dictates that it is a possibility, so... I can't say.

    Hmm, agnosticism.

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    1. Because it is incompatible with the examples I have given of myths. Extra terrestrial life can be anything from intelligent life forms to microscopic life forms etc. You can be reasonably agnostic about that because it can be compared to something we do know to exist such as life itself in its many varied forms and have something to compare it to. What's so impossible to believe that there might be some other forms of life in the universe other than ours?

      The opposite is true about gods or God. No man has ever seen gods or even the biblical God for that matter. There are claims to having seen them but they are just that claims. Their so called revelations are only revelations to them. To the rest of us they are just hearsay that we must choose to believe in or disbelieve. Thomas Paine made a good case for this in The Age of Reason.

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  2. I like to think the term agnostic atheist is somewhat of an oxymoron.
    How can you claim to not believe in god, then turn around and say that you don't know if a god exists or not.

    You are either a believer or a non-believer in my opinion.
    Like all matters in life, people just want to stand out from the rest.

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    1. I agree, I think all of these terms don't help matters any. All they do is add more confusion to what i think should be a simple matter. Now you have positive, negative atheism,agnotic,brights etc. It is my opinion that there really is no need for all these definitions. As you said you either believe or you don't.

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    2. The two terms are used because a/theism and a/gnosticism are separate things that when used in conjunction with each other provide different meanings. Theism/Atheism is about accepting or rejecting the claim that a god exists while being gnostic/agnostic is a stance on knowledge. A gnostic is someone who claims to know something with absolute certainty while someone who is agnostic claims that they cannot know for sure. You could deny a claim based on the lack of evidence but still not be absolutely sure that the claim is entirely false.

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    3. You have a really weird defintiion of agnosticism (and gnosticism for that matter). I have seen it floating around on blogs and on places like reddit, but it's not at all how the term is used in serious academic writing. Agnosticism isn't merely a "stance on knowledge." Agnosticism refers to the conscious position that metaphysical questions are beyond our capacity for understanding or discussion and that as a result, it is irrational to take a position affirming or denying any metaphysical claim. To Huxley, and in both common and scholarly usage, an atheist is someone who actively denies the existence of gods.

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    4. Thanks for the lucid and very clear explanations of the four terms you wrote about. I just think that the more terms we add to all this the more confusing it becomes. I don't even think that the question does God or gods exist is even a valid question. The reason for my position on this is that we have no experiental knowledge of what a god would even be like. Would it be a personal god as described in some of our so called holy texts? An impresonal god or force that cannot be known or described in words?

      I am pretty sure that when it comes to the biblical deity there is a high probability that he does not exist. When you consider the source; ancient myths and later transcribed oral traditions you can pretty much bet your life on the notion that he is as mythical as the thousands of other gods man has created for himself.

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  3. Great posts! Most atheists are agnostic atheists. However, I agree that the whole thing just muddies the waters. I think many people use the term 'agnostic' because it's socially acceptable or they're in between not being sure and realizing that they're an atheist. I accept the fact that I can never be 100% sure there is no deity, but I'm 99.99999999% sure that every God I've ever read about is pure man-made myth. If there were a God of some type, I don't think it would resemble anything we find in the Bible. I also don't think it would mind us asking for evidence or get bent because we use our rational critical thinking skills before believing baloney written over a thousand years ago by people who would have considered the wheelbarrow emerging technology.

    Joining your site and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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    1. Thanks Canadian Atheist and welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy some of the other things you find here and look forward to interacting with you on other posts and comments.

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  4. @Illustrated Dream Diary

    I am only using the terms agnostic and atheist in this post as they relate to the question of the existence of the biblical deity or the existence of gods. An agnostic simply states that we cannot know with certainty whether gods exist. An atheist does not believe that gods exists. Both terms have been abused brutally by history and have been confused greatly.

    " To Huxley, and in both common and scholarly usage, an atheist is someone who actively denies the existence of gods."

    This is absolutely correct and that is exactly my position. In the past and even today gods have been used to understand things we did not understand. Today we even have a formal name for it: the god of the gaps theory. But this so called theory has been around since the dawn of man. Gods are the invetions of man, the history of religious beliefs of the world confirm this. Why should the biblical deity be treated any differently? I think that the reason is that we suffer from cultural bias when it comes to the god of our nations choice.

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  5. Wow. I didn't expect to be this impressed with the article. But, here I am. Well done. After being in and out of the Christian Faith and living in fear of breaking away for good, I finally made the move 4 years ago. I haven't believed in God for many years. The family patriarch was a Baptist Minister in Northern, KY. He started several churches, a few still stand and operate. It was a very difficult to decision for me.

    The number one reason that I walked away was strange. I started reading scripture, putting myself in the shoes of the writer and began to understand why many of the stories were written the way they were written.

    I suppose that there are moments when I still wonder if there is a creator. Frankly, the idea of ancient aliens seeding our universe is much easier to imagine than the Judeo Christian God as described in the Christian Bible.

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    1. "Frankly, the idea of ancient aliens seeding our universe is much easier to imagine than the Judeo Christian God as described in the Christian Bible."

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Tim. I actually agree with your statement regarding aliens. If intelligent alien life existed and they were able to visit us and somehow have developed space travel in such a way that time and distance did not affect their trips it would be awesome. The fact that they were biological organisms is far more possible than that they would be of some immaterial substance existing in some supernatural plane which would be impossible to prove existed.

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  6. "I suppose that there are moments when I still wonder if there is a creator. Frankly, the idea of ancient aliens seeding our universe is much easier to imagine than the Judeo Christian God as described in the Christian Bible."

    Considering the size of our universe alone, statistically speaking, there should be other life out there.

    However, that wouldn't stop religion. They would say something had to make those aliens.

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  7. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
    You sought such evidence aside from what already is provided in the Bible. This is evidence of the devil working in you bra. Can't you see, it's as old as Adam and Eve. He did it to them. The had all knowledge of good from God in the garden, but the devil, enticing them to be like God, to eat of the tree of knowledge of good AND EVIL. See, God knew we couldn't know evil and not allow it, as He can.
    How I believe this happened:
    Imagine the fruit. We don't know what it was, but most any of them can apply to this. In my mind I use an apple. So, imagine being told this beautiful apple is not good, and your mind not being diluted with what we now call common knowledge about apples, they accepted that completely. However, the devil enticed Eve and she took and ate. Now, use an inquisitive mind here, the thought processes that were born from having observed this bad thing and then overcoming fear by way of temptation were profound. It is red on the outside, beutiful, but when I take a bite it's a juicy white color. So what I see on the outside is not what's on the inside? Eureka! And it tastes good! God was lieing? What else is he lieing about? Now I have to question everything...
    So now, having been led away from faith by temptation, man is constantly struggling with it because of the way the things we are tempted with please our body. These things are evidence to us of how pleasing they are to our body, and therefore must be good right? Not necessarily, but if I can get you to consider this, maybe then we can enter into the discourse of how what we do affect others, and our inconsideration is effectively counter to love, which is what God is anyway... So if you are telling me you don't believe in love, you are effectually perpetuating your conquest to discover that God does not exist, because you haven't let God(LOVE) into your life openly. I'm not trying to bash you, I just hope that I can say something that makes sense.
    And please, I love to debate. We don't have to have anger to have a difference of opinion!

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    1. "So if you are telling me you don't believe in love, you are effectually perpetuating your conquest to discover that God does not exist, because you haven't let God(LOVE) into your life openly."

      Please take the time to read my deconversion story before making baseless assumptions about my background and my search for God.

      http://chatpilot-godisamyth.blogspot.com/2013/04/my-complete-deconversion-story-all-13.html

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  8. I like to think of agnosticism as a limbo between not wanting to let go of ridiculous beliefs (theism) and atheism. From personal experience I really went searching to find the "real" god when I left Christianity, and at that time I labelled myself agnostic. Now I am an atheist as all evidence shows no god.

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    1. I always find it insulting when people accuse me of not looking for god with my heart or hard enough. But I now think that since the gods are all derived from myths and the imaginations of men it is reasonable to conclude that they don't exist.

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  9. But if we are to take revelation as a valid means of obtaining knowledge then we run into a huge problem. What of all the other so called sacred texts from around the world whose authors claim to have been divinely revealed by the god or gods of their choice? If we accept that the Bible was revealed to man by God then we must extend that same benefit to all the other religions claiming revelation. The next problem is that all these revelations from all these deities are vastly different from one another. So which one is correct? Some like the biblical deity threaten eternal damnation for those who refuse to worship and believe in them.


    It seems that you take the data about different revelations and different spiritual experiences as being disconfirming of each other (e.g., especially because they contradict). But what if it's the case instead that each of these different revelations and different conclusions drill from similar experiences, but that the experiences are such that they cannot be described adequately? So, as people try to put words to what they experienced, what their experience meant, and what their experience leads to, they will necessarily get the wrong "details" down, they will necessarily have to interpret their experience through cultural lens, they will necessarily add baggage to the experiences, etc.,?

    Here's the kicker: what if the people having the experiences recognized their inadequacy to convey their experiences? What if they said things like, "God works in mysterious ways" or "God is ineffable" (literally: "too great or extreme to be expressed in words") or "the Dao that can be spoken of is not the true Dao" or "the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon" or "the map is not the territory" or "we see through a glass, darkly"?

    What if, then, the goal isn't to find "which one is correct" as in an "either/or" perspective, but try to recognize the commonality that cannot be captured fully, and that when people try to capture it, they inevitably only get a "part" and limit the unlimited?

    "Do you believe that leprechauns exist? If not, then why?

    ...

    Why should gods or even the biblical God be any different?

    ...

    In the case of agnosticism is it reasonable to hold off judgement regarding the existence of leprechauns? Is absence of evidence not evidence of absence in this case? If your answer is no then you are being hypocritical. Because if you were true to your agnostic position you would also acknowledge that leprechauns, fairies, sprites, angels, demons, gods, big foot, ufo's, the Kraken, all the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology, the boogie man, the mothman, the tooth fairy, Santa, etc. must all probably exist since we don't have enough knowledge to make a decision to the contrary.


    Are leprechauns claimed to have the relevant characteristics of gods or the biblical God? It doesn't seem like this is to be the case. For example, leprechauns, for all the supernatural aspects they may be ascribed, are typically described as finite, material beings in material space. On the other hand, typically, gods or God is not described in such terms, and in fact, many people describe gods or God in completely different terms -- infinite, immaterial, timeless, outside of time and space, etc.,

    So, the question is more like: what is the sort of evidence we should expect for leprechauns? Do we know? What is the sort of evidence we should expect for God? Do we know? Is it the same for both?

    If any of the beings you mention are described with materially different descriptions, then it may not be hypocritical to reject one and fail to reject others.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Andrew

      Regarding your first point about interpreting revelations I entirely dimsiss that argument. Whatever diety is behind it should make sure that it is conveyed properly thus eliminating the problem of it being interpreted incorrectly.

      "On the other hand, typically, gods or God is not described in such terms, and in fact, many people describe gods or God in completely different terms -- infinite, immaterial, timeless, outside of time and space, etc.,"

      It's not about the qualities ascribed to leprechauns or gods that matter here. My argument is that they are both inventions of men and derived from myth.

      In fact,regarding the qualities you mentioned regarding gods do you know of anything in existence that has those qualities? We might as well just be making shit up and calling it god. Which is exactly what has happened here anyway.

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    2. I guess it's fine if you dismiss my first point. It just seems to me that now you're trying to paint gods/God into your own image, so you are always at risk of only dismissing a strawman, rather than any real thing that may or may not exist. Which if you want to do that, that's OK, but there will always be the counterargument there.

      I will just say that in many religious traditions, free will is seen as paramount to existence, in such a way that the deity being proposed isn't really obliged (and may not have the capacity) to "make sure that it is being conveyed properly thus eliminating the problem of it being interpreted incorrectly." In another sense, it seems surreal and absurd to think of a deity that would force people to have a certain understanding of him/it/her.

      "It's not about the qualities ascribed to leprechauns or gods that matter here. My argument is that they are both inventions of men and derived from myth."

      I guess we'll just disagree. The qualities ascribed lead to different evaluations, is what I'm saying. If you reject the analysis of qualities outright, then you're pretty much begging the question as to whether it's hypocritical to reject one and not reject another.

      In fact,regarding the qualities you mentioned regarding gods do you know of anything in existence that has those qualities? We might as well just be making shit up and calling it god. Which is exactly what has happened here anyway.

      Well, here's the thing: the entire idea about gods is that they/it/he/she/whatever are claimed to be like nothing we know in existence.

      In many traditions, God is simply the "plug" for claimed logical necessities (e.g., the necessary ground of all being, etc.,) It's true that these formulations of god don't necessarily get one to the Judaeo-Christian God (which is why various religious traditions will assert revelation on top of those logical arguments.) So, I mean, I can see how you would say it's "just...making shit up and calling it god." But from another perspective, it would be, "seeing what is necessary from certain logical axioms and then calling that concept God".

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  10. "Well, here's the thing: the entire idea about gods is that they/it/he/she/whatever are claimed to be like nothing we know in existence."

    That's because it's made up. Based on this theory anything I can make up in my mind is a probable answer to those things I don't know.


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    1. When you have something you have made up that resonates with folks, then more power to you.

      (note, not saying that that would be evidence of anything, just that people fail to appreciate the stickiness and persistence of certain ideas over others.)

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  11. This was a great article. I'm uncomfortable with the word Atheist, and I've preferred to call myself an Agnostic. I've even gone so far as to call myself an agnostic atheist. But your article is spot-on. Thanks for writing it!

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    1. You're welcome Byron I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

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  12. Experimentally, I began to be rather open about my atheism a couple of years ago, and somewhat surprisingly, none of my friends have been all that surprised or shocked. There should be nothing wrong with openly declaring one's disbelief in gods. The mistake many (both believers and non-believers) make is to capitalize the word "atheist." It is not a proper noun! It is merely a descriptive term for one who chooses not to believe in fairy tales. Giving it an upper case "A" has the unintended but unfortunate result of making others look at atheism as a cultish alternative "religion" -- which it is most certainly is not.

    I am happy to be an atheist, and no longer concerned that some may be put off by that terminology. Since I have no doubt about the non-existence of god or gods, to describe myself as an "agnostic" would be dishonest.

    BTW, two of my good friends are retired christian ministers, and even they are able to tolerate my point of view, even if they don't agree. Friendship can and should run deeper than one's belief system (or lack thereof).

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  13. But Bible accounts, said to be myth, are being proven out archaeolically.

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    1. I'm not sure what you are referring to but archaeology does not confirm the scriptures. In fact, there are two great books on it that you may consider. The first one is 'The Bible Unearthed' and the next one is called 'The Mythic Past.

      One thing you need to understand when it comes to biblical archaeology is that theists are in general dishonest about it. They search for evidence to back their preconcieved beliefs. Secular archaeologist use and entirely different approach and they let the evidence speak for itself. They don't try to interpret the evidence in light of the scriptures. This difference is pointed out in both the books I have recommended for you to read.

      When people tell me that archaeology confirms the truth of the scriptures then I am sure that they have been reading the wrong books on archaeology. Archaeology actually disconfirms a lot of what used to be believed because of what was written in ths scriptures. For instannce there was no great exodus of Jews out of Egypt, Jericho had no great walls, there is no evidence of the Jews sojourn of 40 years in the desert, there was no evidence at all of the Cannanite conquests, and the list goes on and on.

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    2. "But Bible accounts, said to be myth, are being proven out archaeolically."

      That claim would require a great deal of citation.

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  14. Hi Chatpilot. Just joined your blog today. You have definitely proved to be a good communicator and tolerant and instructive in your replies to others. So many other blogs I have viewed seem to devolve into comments like seen on many YouTube replies; namely, people being disrespectful and resorting to name calling or closed mindedness to avoid addressing an issue.

    I recently admitted to many people that I share the atheist sentiment in my beliefs towards religion. I used to be a member of an evangelical church, but eventually reasoned my way out of the God virus that infects so many in the world. I wish religious people could realize the freedom from guilt and angst over the afterlife and religious dogma that atheists enjoy. To use a biblical quote; "It was if the scales fell from my eyes" !

    Anyway, for me, as a police officer for 40 years, I look at the claims of religion like being a member of a jury involved in a trial. I find the proof put forth for the existence of god/gods as not credible to pronounce "guilty" for their existence.

    Do I wish it were true that some all loving god did exists and that we really can have an afterlife full of no misery or pain like the present world?. Of course I do, but, as the apostle Paul said, "When I became a man, I put away childish things(ie beliefs)"

    Anyway, thanks for your blog. I look forward to future postings

    Robert

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    1. Thanks Talos, and welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy the posts and comments you encounter on here. Every once in a while I get an antagonistic commenter and I try not to let a discussion devolve into insults but it happens. Usually when it gets to that point I just try to agree to disagree or just ignore the commenter altogether. I have been known to block and delete offensive comments although I don't like to do that.

      I try to answer all questions as honestly as I can and in a way that can be understood. The goal of my blog is to share my experiences and to also inform new atheists or former believers who are in between or undecided. Once again welcome aboard and make yourself at home.

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