A Convesation With Students

I had a long visit with some local college students the other evening.  It is not everyday students are interested in talking to an old guy like me.

The event was attended by people of all ages.  After a little small talk one students ask, “Is it true you are with the Red River Freethinkers.”  That opened the floodgate.

The first question was, “How can I tell my parents I no longer believe in Jesus or God?”  I told him to wait awhile to be sure he knew where he stood on this matter.  Sometimes people, while they are young, change their views on things, I said.   He said he had been through all that and was very confident about his decision.

A beautiful young woman began explaining her journey to nonbelief.  She said it started with thinking about hell.  She began to wonder why clergy and people of deep faith are so certain about hell.

“I mean, all of us do some good things and bad things.  Do they get different weights or what?  And then there is this whole thing about the cross that is such a stretch.  Someone died a couple thousand years ago for sinners that are alive today?   And, if I believe and worship that person, I get a pass on all sins?  How can anyone be sure of all that? This is  going to be tough on my parents.”

I wish there was some magical way to make it easier for these students and their parents to navigate their ways through disagreements over faith.

26 Responses

  1. ******** And once again, Jon, If you are right and I am wrong, you have gained ******** nothing and you have lost nothing, and neither have I. But if I am right and YOU are wrong, then I gain enternal life and you lose everything. You do not seem to want to accept that …..

    1. S. L. 12:55 “You do not seem to want to accept that…” That is correct. I do not accept it because you have incorrectly stated the costs and benefits.

  2. entech

    In one of Dawkins rare funny moments, and, on the subject of ‘coming out’. He tells of a mother who told her son that she could understand him not believing anymore but was shocked that he had become an atheist??


    1. David 7:34 I think it was Sam Harris a while back that wrote we should no longer use the word “atheist”, but substitute with something else. Atheist seems to pump in all manner of imagery, people who hate Christians, who are closed minded and so on. I talked to PZ Myers (famous atheist blogger) once when he was here about the word atheist. He said that since he is only 99.9% certain there is no deity, he is not technically an atheist. But, he says, the word makes people so mad he cannot resist using it. The only “justice” is that the term “Christian” seems to be sliding into an uncomplimentary sterotype. It would be better if neither term was associated with attributes that are inaccurate.

      1. Wanna B Sure

        Yes, some words have bagage, and that bagage creates confusion and misunderstanding. For example, Capital C -Catholic vs small c-meaning universal, not the institution. Capital T as in Tradition, (as another source of revelation), vs small t in tradition, (as in custom). The one probably most misunderstood, and abused is the word “evangelical.” This word has a perfectly good content, in that it it means ” bring good news.” In the pure sense, for example, good news could mean that the flood in Fargo is over. In the traditional sense, to evangelize would be to spread good news. The Atheists could use this word in this context too. In the past, to be evangelical in the Christian world has been seen to share the Good News of Salvation through Christ. Recently however, many of the post reformation churches have taken” Evangelical” to mean something more than the message, and the sharing of it, and have converted it to a noun, a system/method, and a quasi denominational concept. Some of the excesses within these groups distort, and are not representative of what has been the meaning, and content of being evangelical. Today, churches of the Reformation have had to shrink away from using this” evangelizing” word due to the offensive abuse of a perfectly good word. For them, if used, they become guilty by an assumed association,( some of whom have been radicalized,) which is not true. Most will not recognize the difference between a capital E, and a small e.

        1. entech

          A little further down this thread is a discussion of ‘faith’. Another word that changes it’s meaning according to who uses it. Bible and Scripture are a couple of words that are rarely used in their wider sense of book and writing.
          There must be a lot of unnecessary argument and disagreement which could perhaps be resolved; if a common definition could be found.

          1. Wanna B Sure

            Oh, I pretty much agree with you. Another consideration is ; the understanding of a given word not only varies by the user, but the use of a “word” changes in the understanding of it over the years, (living language). This is the reason Latin, (a dead language) is used for clarification of terms for the sake of uniformity.

  3. doubtful

    These young people would really benefit from having it pointed out to them that God and church are not at all the same thing. There are an ever growing number of people who believe in God but want nothing to do with churches. Churches involve dogmatic beliefs that many people can not abide even though, or maybe because, they believe in God. This is by no means an either or situation, and in fact there is no reason to make a decision at all. There are a huge variety of established belief systems as well as all the varieties we can concoct in our own thinking. A healthy person will investigate them all, thoroughly, and that probably must include being convinced of the correctness of various positions at different times in life. I would think that a free thinker would be expressing some of this variety instead of promoting one belief system. It is interesting that PZ Meyers will admit when pushed that he can not know there is no God but he acts as if the belief that there is no God is the only one open to a rational mind.

    1. He’s 99.9% sure and he still has to operate in the real, everyday world. I’m less confident that I’m going to reach the other side of the street every time I step off the curb, but I still manage my 6 block walk to the office everyday.

      I’m with you on the God does not equal church front.

          1. doubtful

            There is no calculation that determines the existence of God so there can be no numeric probability of God’s existence. Meyers is really stating his faith in a different way. Science can not prove or disprove the existence of God, so that number is meaningless. Meyers merely has faith that God does not exist.

  4. That’s a stupid and demeaning mis-definition of faith.

    What he has is no evidence of God’s existance.

    If you want to take the numbers out of the analogy. What I have is some evidence that I can get hit by a vehicle or bicycle while crossing the street.

    1. doubtful

      Now I am at a loss. Why is it stupid and who is it demeaned? PZ Meyers believes that there is no God. He is taking that on faith and he regularly influences our youth with his belief, while using his occupation of scientist to lend credibility to his statements, even though they are not scientific.

      1. It’s backwards and I think it demeans anyone who has faith in anything. Faith takes no account of evidence. The presense or absence of evidence doesn’t make any difference. This is absolutely not Mr. Meyers position. He is explicitly examining evidence and drawing a conclusion, that’s not faith. Additional evidence may change his conclusion. That’s not faith either.

        1. doubtful

          Actually the lack of evidence is my point entirely. He would like people to think that there is evidence that his belief is based on evidence but it is not. The evidence does not exist. I have to respectfully disagree about it demeaning anyone.

      2. entech

        The noun faith has two basic meanings:
        One has connotations of trust, confidence, honour and loyalty. As in ‘a promise made in good faith’
        The second refers to belief. From the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,” Belief in the truths of religion as contained in Holy Scripture or the teachings of the Church”, and, “ The spiritual apprehension of divine truths. Often ascribed to the exercise of a special faculty in man, or to supernatural illumination.” This is quite an old (1932) dictionary and later definitions start talking about belief without proof etc but I would be happy to accept the unqualified definition.
        Now, scientific truths only remain truths as long as they make reliable, reproducible predictions.
        If you say you have faith in science it means that you have confidence in scientific facts and trust that if disproved they will no longer be considered facts.
        Religious faith is as described in the dictionary definitions.

        Attempts to conflate the two meanings are disingenuous at best. It is demeaning to person making the claim that the two versions of faith are the same; it is a shallow rhetorical device. Or perhaps I am being to kind?

        1. doubtful

          My use of faith does not refer to faith in science. It refers to faith in his belief that God does not exist. This is a position that is not supported by science. I have said this numerous times now and some of you still think that Meyers position is scientific. It is not scientific. Science does not deal with the question of the existence of God.

          Faith in Jesus means faith that Jesus was as he claimed. Faith in Scripture is faith that the Scriptures are as they claim. Faith in the Catholic Church’s interpretation of scripture is again faith that that interpretation is correct. They are not different meanings, much as you might like to think they are. If you find that demeaning you probably need to inspect your faith more closely.

          1. doubt 5:22 This accusation the atheists have “faith” that a god does not exist is made all the time. I just do not understand how, when an atheist like Dawkins, explains very carefully in about ten pages all the minute details as to how he does not see any evidence of a god, that that can be summarized and paraphrased into, “I have faith there is no god.” He he had once said this, of something like it, that would be something different.

          2. entech

            For a very long time the religious view was dominant in Europe and the near east, even in 17th century Britain it was thought that it was impossible not to believe in god. It was not until the 18th century that people began to declare that they did not believe in anything divine. Religious faith implies a belief system pretty much as described by Doubtful @5:22. The basis for faith is some kind of internal knowledge that it is true, true that God exists. Along come the atheists who say I don’t believe that your ideas are correct and there is no basis for your faith. Some become quite insulting about it, this provokes the schoolyard type reaction, “yeah, well you got faith yourself”.
            It does not take faith to reject the truth of your faith. The theist says God exists, the atheist says I don’t believe you, and there is no proof of your claims. The theist says well prove me wrong. There should be only one response to this and that is: You are the one making the claim for existence; you are the one that must convince me.
            As someone on the outside looking in, someone who thinks this is just one of many possible hypotheses, one of many creation stories I think the atheists are wrong to make so much fuss, they are giving credence to the ideas by arguing so fervently against them.
            I think it is somehow at least a little dishonest to say, “I have my faith and religion”, and, when someone disagrees to say, “Well you must have your own faith and your own religion if you reject mine”. It is not required that a replacement be declared, alternate hypotheses perhaps but not a concrete example.
            Of course, you are right in saying science does not deal with the existence of God. Science can only deal what it can observe and make a claim on what it can reliably predict and replicate. If someone says that his denial of God is based on scientific proof then he is as wrong as the person that accepts that existence on no proof.

  5. entech

    It may be of some use to this debate to consider that the Hebrews and even the early Christians were considered atheists, by the Greeks and Romans and other groups. This would be because they rejected the gods of these other people. In this sense everyone is an atheist to someone.


  6. doubtful

    @jon 9:07 You quoted Meyers as saying “since he is only 99.9% certain there is no deity, he is not technically an atheist.” This certainly implies that an atheist is 100% sure there is no deity. This surety is belief without proof. That is faith. Whether people want to call it that or not it is. Whether I or anyone else believes in a deity has nothing to do with the question of whether or not an atheist is taking the non-existence of a deity on faith. If a person wants to make the statement that God does exist they must either prove it or admit that they take it on faith. If a person wants to make the statement that God does not exist they must either prove it or admit that they take it on faith.

    Dawkins, Meyers and other scientists will stop short of claiming that there is no deity for this reason. Then they proceed to act and speak as if they have proven this. They will argue against many unsupportable statements made by many people who also believe in God and act as if this has proven that God does not exist, when of course it has not.

  7. doubtful

    I want to clarify part of my last post. Where I say “Dawkins, Meyers and other scientists” I do not mean to imply that all scientists acts as Dawkins and Meyers do but that some other popular atheists who are not scientists will make this claim and use Dawkins to support it, even though Dawkins will not state that science proves that there is no deity.

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