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Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?
Posted: 21 January 2007 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Similar to how Sam Harris wrote about the 10 myths about Atheism:

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/10-myths-and-10-truths-about-atheism1/

what are some myths that Atheists commonly believe to be true about Christians?


Here is Sam Harris’ list from the article:

1 Atheists believe that life is meaningless.
2 Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.
3 Atheism is dogmatic.
4 Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.
5 Atheism has no connection to science.
6 Atheists are arrogant.
7 Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.
8 Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.
9 Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.
10 Atheism provides no basis for morality.

And just to get some ideas and facilitate brainstorming, here is a spun version replacing Atheist with Christian and modifying it some:

1 Christians don’t see the real meaning of life.
2 Christianity is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.
3 Christianity is dogmatic.
4 Christians think the universe was created by God.
5 Christianity has no connection to science.
6 Christians are arrogant.
7 Christians are closed to reason.
8 Christianity trivializes the real beauty and immensity of the universe.
9 Christians ignore the fact that religion is not beneficial to society/progress.
10 The Bible provides a lesser basis for morality.

Which ones do you think are myths or truths and why? Or what others can you think of?

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Posted: 21 January 2007 09:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“moretap”]what are some myths that Atheists commonly believe to be true about Christians?

It’s an interesting question, moretap, and one that does need to be raised. However, as with all these things, the issue is “Which atheists?” “Which Christians?” since there are an unbounded number of opinions within each type.

[quote author=“moretap”]1 Christians don’t see the real meaning of life.

Well, this isn’t a myth if (1) Christians see the meaning of life as having to do with pleasing god, getting to heaven, and following Christ, and (2) Those things are in fact false. I.e. god doesn’t exist, we do not survive death, and Christ was a normal person.

Sure, that argument cuts both ways, but we can probably discover pretty quickly who has the better argument.

:wink:

[quote author=“moretap”]4 Christians think the universe was created by God.

I would say this is a pretty universal opinion among Christians. What evidence do you have that it is a “misconception”?

[quote author=“moretap”]5 Christianity has no connection to science.

“No connection” is a pretty vague claim. It has a connection simply in having tried to stifle scientific results that conflicted with church teachings, for example.

And of course, many great scientists were Christian, etc. But it isn’t at all clear that it was their Christianity that was doing the work—rather, their Christianity was largely an impediment to their research, and had to be ignored.

[quote author=“moretap”]7 Christians are closed to reason.

Certainly false, in that Christians’ beliefs about many or most things in their lives is based on reason: they use “reason” to decide which is the best route to take to the grocery store, for example.

The question is better phrased, “Christians are closed to reason when it comes to matters of faith.” This is also false for some Christians I have met, who honestly believed that there was a rational route to belief in god and Christ ... but this is a pretty thin reed, and a small group of people. Most Christians happily throw out reason when it comes to matters of “faith”.

[quote author=“moretap”]10 The Bible provides a lesser basis for morality.

Is this a “misconception about Christians”? Most Christians do seem to believe that the Bible provides the basis for morality. I expect that what you wrote is a mistake, and you meant to write “The Bible provides a higher basis for morality.”

But then, again, first of all, is it really true that the Bible provides a higher basis for morality? Take a look at these examples for starters ...

Secondly, why is it a misconception about Christians to say this? Unless you mean that Christians also accept or reject Bible passages based on their own pre-theoretic notions of morality, as we all do.

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Posted: 21 January 2007 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t think that there are very many misconceptions about Christians among atheists in America because of the fact that most atheists in America either were once Christians themselves or came from Christian families.

On the other hand, most Christians have never knowingly met an atheist or talked to one about their beliefs.

I, like most atheists, spent my first 18 years in church, both Protestant and Catholic (mixed family religion). You will find that this is the case for most atheists.

So, sorry, but I don’t think the comparison works.

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Posted: 21 January 2007 08:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]“Which atheists?” “Which Christians?” since there are an unbounded number of opinions within each type.

I agree, and the kind of Atheist Sam Harris wrote about in the 10 myths is the stereotype of an Atheist. (during the 10 Truths in the article he is talking for all Atheists or maybe the majority of them as he sees it).

What I would like to discuss here is the stereotype of a Christian.


[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“moretap”]4 Christians think the universe was created by God.

I would say this is a pretty universal opinion among Christians. What evidence do you have that it is a “misconception”?

Yes, 4 is not a myth and I also think that 5,7 are myths


[quote author=“dougsmith”]
[quote author=“moretap”]10 The Bible provides a lesser basis for morality.

Is this a “misconception about Christians”? Most Christians do seem to believe that the Bible provides the basis for morality. I expect that what you wrote is a mistake, and you meant to write “The Bible provides a higher basis for morality.”

But then, again, first of all, is it really true that the Bible provides a higher basis for morality? Take a look at these examples for starters ...

No, what I meant to put was “lesser.” I was thinking of how Atheists often use examples just like the ones in the Skeptics Annotated Bible or in Julia Sweeney’s This American Life recording, to put forth the argument that because of the violence and cruelty in the Bible that using it as a basis for morality is worse than using only reason.
...

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Posted: 21 January 2007 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]I don’t think that there are very many misconceptions about Christians among atheists in America because of the fact that most atheists in America either were once Christians themselves or came from Christian families.

On the other hand, most Christians have never knowingly met an atheist or talked to one about their beliefs.

I, like most atheists, spent my first 18 years in church, both Protestant and Catholic (mixed family religion). You will find that this is the case for most atheists.

So, sorry, but I don’t think the comparison works.

Just because someone was once a Christian doesn’t mean they don’t have misconceptions about Christianity. It could be that because someone has so many miscoceptions about Christianity they are no longer a Christian.

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Posted: 21 January 2007 10:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“moretap”]
Just because someone was once a Christian doesn’t mean they don’t have misconceptions about Christianity. It could be that because someone has so many miscoceptions about Christianity they are no longer a Christian.

More likely, it is that someone is no longer a Christian precisely because they understand the religion and its nonsense.

Now we get into the “no true Christian” nonsense.

How ever you want to play the game it does not matter. The fact is that most atheists in America come from a Christian background and that Christian beliefs are much more openly expressed in our society, so it is much more likely that atheists, or any non-Christian, would understand the beliefs of Christians than the other way around.

It’s more likely that a Hindu in America would know something about Christianity than that a Christian would know something about Hinduism.

I went to church and I went to Sunday school. You will find that many, if not most, atheists have done this as well. To claim that I “didn’t understand” the Sunday school lessons is why I rejected the religion is quite absurd. I understood them quite well, I understood that they were total nonsense.

Now, how many Christians have spent 5 to 10 years or more going to weekly discussions of atheism and learning about religion and the world from an atheist perspective? Not many I can tell you. However, you will find that many or most atheists have spent 5 to 10 years + going to weekly discussions about Christianity and worshiping along Christian lines.

I dare say, yes, atheists in America do understand Christianity better than Christians in America understand atheism.

This isn’t Yin and Yang, equal but opposite. We don’t both have equal degrees of misconceptions about each other. I dare say again, atheists are generally informed about Christianity, while Christians are generally not informed about atheism.

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Posted: 22 January 2007 01:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“moretap”]No, what I meant to put was “lesser.” I was thinking of how Atheists often use examples just like the ones in the Skeptics Annotated Bible or in Julia Sweeney’s This American Life recording, to put forth the argument that because of the violence and cruelty in the Bible that using it as a basis for morality is worse than using only reason.
...

OK, then the argument that I gave, above, holds. Clearly the Bible is full of cruelty, so cannot be a basis for morality. Indeed, if you really look at what they say and do, Christians themselves do not actually hold it as a basis for morality: they use reason to figure out what they believe is moral, and then pick and choose which Bible verses they believe support that morality. The ones that don’t, they discard.

E.g., the notion that someone who works on the sabbath be condemned to death.

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Posted: 22 January 2007 08:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]How ever you want to play the game it does not matter.

I don’t want to play any game. I was just simply stating that from the reason you gave that many Atheists have spent a lot of time learning about Christianity it doesn’t necessarily follow that they generally have no misconceptions about it. You would have to give a reason for why the learning was suitable to alleviate misconceptions. Saying it was over a long period of time, openly expressed in your culture, or also your personal account of understanding what you learned are not enough to make your point.

I could say, “There are Americans who have studied French for a long time and have even lived in France many years. They don’t make many mistakes when speaking the language and are good enough to sound like native speakers.”

This is not true because there are many who still make lots of mistakes, lose their ability when they don’t practice, are too old, or have difficulty learning a second language no matter how much effort they put into it.
I need to say “Only the students with very high quality learning don’t make many mistakes when speaking the language and are good enough to sound like native speakers.”

 


[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]I dare say, yes, atheists in America do understand Christianity better than Christians in America understand atheism.

what about… Do you think atheists in America understand Christianity better than Christians in America?

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Posted: 22 January 2007 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Indeed, if you really look at what they say and do, Christians themselves do not actually hold it as a basis for morality: they use reason to figure out what they believe is moral, and then pick and choose which Bible verses they believe support that morality. The ones that don’t, they discard.

How can you show that it is that way instead of the other way around?:

That they pick and choose Bible verses and then use reason to figure out what’s moral.

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Posted: 22 January 2007 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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what about… Do you think atheists in America understand Christianity better than Christians in America?

Hard to generalize.

Atheists who are educated on these matters probably understand some aspects of Christian history and religious mentality and how religion takes advantage of people better than most Christians, but many Christians probably understand other aspects of the religion better.

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Posted: 23 January 2007 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“moretap”]How can you show that it is that way instead of the other way around?:

That they pick and choose Bible verses and then use reason to figure out what’s moral.

I don’t understand what you are suggesting. The question is what criterion they use to “pick and choose Bible verses”. Why pick this verse and not that one?

My claim is that in most cases they use some sort of basic ethical reasoning to throw out the verses that they find evil, and hold onto the ones they find good. This sort of ethical reasoning is available equally to us all.

Of course, I only mean this on the largest scale. Certainly sometimes people follow parts of the Bible that are themselves evil, like the discrimination against gays, for example.

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Posted: 23 January 2007 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]My claim is that in most cases they use some sort of basic ethical reasoning to throw out the verses that they find evil, and hold onto the ones they find good. This sort of ethical reasoning is available equally to us all.

Not all the Bible can be shown to be specifically for the purpose of teaching morality. So, I don’t see how the connection is made that because there are parts that should be disregarded by using context and ethical reasoning when picking and choosing to develop a moral basis that that moral basis has lesser authority. You need to show that connection.

Like for example where Lot told the men in Sodom to take his two daughters to do what they want with them; This could just be something that Lot did in the story. I don’t think anyone could make the argument that Lot is suppose to be setting a moral example.

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Posted: 23 January 2007 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“moretap”]Not all the Bible can be shown to be specifically for the purpose of teaching morality. So, I don’t see how the connection is made that because there are parts that should be disregarded by using context and ethical reasoning when picking and choosing to develop a moral basis that that moral basis has lesser authority. You need to show that connection.

Like for example where Lot told the men in Sodom to take his two daughters to do what they want with them; This could just be something that Lot did in the story. I don’t think anyone could make the argument that Lot is suppose to be setting a moral example.

OK, there are a few issues here. First off, many of the atrocious things in the Bible are done by god, and it certainly can’t be that a ‘perfectly good’ being would do something evil. You can go to the website I linked to, above, to find a bunch of these atrocious things that god was said to have done in the Bible.

Secondly, how are you supposed to decide whether what Lot did was “just something he did in the story”, as you put it, or instead some sort of ethical principle we should abide by? Presumably, in virtue of having some antecedent basic ethical reasoning. In this case, your ethical reasoning tells you that what Lot did was wrong. So you decide that it was “just something he did in the story.” But you didn’t need to make that decision ... someone with different ethical intuitions might well say to himself, “We must follow Lot’s example! After all, he was supposed to be a great man, and he is in the Bible!”

Thirdly, there are passages in the Bible where god is supposed to have told us precisely what his ethical principles were. Let’s see, Leviticus 20:9-10 for example: “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

How many Christians take these as ethical principles, even though they are asserted as such by god, in the Bible? Very few, I hope, because we have independent ethical notions that strongly contradict them.

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Posted: 23 January 2007 09:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]
OK, there are a few issues here. First off, many of the atrocious things in the Bible are done by god, and it certainly can’t be that a ‘perfectly good’ being would do something evil. You can go to the website I linked to, above, to find a bunch of these atrocious things that god was said to have done in the Bible.

To make your point you need to show that those atrocious things are in fact evil. Also you need to define the way you are using “god,” and also show that Christians define it in a similar way.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Secondly, how are you supposed to decide whether what Lot did was “just something he did in the story”, as you put it, or instead some sort of ethical principle we should abide by? Presumably, in virtue of having some antecedent basic ethical reasoning. In this case, your ethical reasoning tells you that what Lot did was wrong. So you decide that it was “just something he did in the story.” But you didn’t need to make that decision ... someone with different ethical intuitions might well say to himself, “We must follow Lot’s example! After all, he was supposed to be a great man, and he is in the Bible!”

The burden of proof lies on that person to show that Lot was supposed to be a great man and is a moral example to follow. I think this would be really hard because there are very few verses that say anything remotely good about him.

You are saying it is all still just a priori ethical reasoning, but you are neglecting the possibility of Christians using just plain old reasoning combined with reading the Bible to determine what morals it teaches. This is how I think most Christians probably decide.

The interesting thing is that if the Bible is only made of myths to teach morals one wouldn’t expect to see stories of people who are not supposed to be moral examples, but if the Bible is partly history one would expect that. No proof here, just a thought.

 


[quote author=“dougsmith”]
Thirdly, there are passages in the Bible where god is supposed to have told us precisely what his ethical principles were. Let’s see, Leviticus 20:9-10 for example: “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

How many Christians take these as ethical principles, even though they are asserted as such by god, in the Bible? Very few, I hope, because we have independent ethical notions that strongly contradict them.

The burden of proof lies on you to show that those ethical principles in those verses were supposed to have been asserted by god for modern day Christians. You can’t just state that they were.

By seeing the way you argue your position here I tend to think this might be one of the misconceptions that atheists often hold. I have seen the same idea presented by other atheists too. I don’t mean the whole of number 10 that I listed at the top, but just the misconception about the significance of cruelty in the Bible and how it effects the morality of it. But I have to wait to see more of the support for your argument.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 01:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Re: Atheist’s misconceptions about Christians?

[quote author=“moretap”]To make your point you need to show that those atrocious things are in fact evil. Also you need to define the way you are using “god,” and also show that Christians define it in a similar way.

Re. these things being evil, do you want me to list them so we can decide? I mean, it’s eminently clear that they are evil.

Re. defining god, not really. The Bible plainly says these were done by god. Either the Christians of which you speak are wilfully misrepresenting the words of the Bible, or they don’t believe that the Bible is wholly accurate.

As for the existence of Jesus and the New Testament, Jesus never said that his existence made the Old Testament false. Indeed, he believed that his existence verified Old Testament prophecy. That could hardly be important if he held the OT to be a bunch of lies.

Now, I am certainly willing to admit that there are many Christians who are not biblical literalists. But then the question reverts to the same ones as before: how do they decide which biblical verses to take literally, and which ones not? The Bible itself can’t tell you that.

BTW, it might be helpful here if you could elucidate how you believe that Christians “define god”. I have known a few and have some very definite opinions as to how they defined god.

[quote author=“moretap”]The burden of proof lies on you to show that those ethical principles in those verses were supposed to have been asserted by god for modern day Christians. You can’t just state that they were.

Now you’re beginning to sound like an atheist! LOL

The god of the Bible never said, “These ethical principles only hold for the next five hundred years. Then you can all forget I ever said them.” They are asserted as commandments. So if you are going to claim we should take the Bible seriously as a moral guide, I am afraid the burden is on you to show why we shouldn’t take what purports to be the word of the creator of the universe seriously.

I don’t have to show any such thing, since I’ve already said that the Bible is a human creation, largely fictional. I don’t take it seriously as a moral guide.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thanks for the good responses.

The problem with saying that the atrocious things are just clearly evil from looking at them is that just because something seems evil for humans to do it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are evil for god to do.

We need to define “God.” to see if they are…

The definition of the atheist’s god is, “non-existent.”

Defining the Christian God is a harder task; it necessarily involves Theology. A good way to start might be just to list what are said to be his attributes:
(i just searched the internet and threw together a list, probably not complete.)

omnipotent
omniscient
omnipresent
immutable
impartial
infinite
eternal
good
holy
love
mercy
longsuffering
justice
foreknows
faithfulness
righteous
self-existent
self-sufficient
sovereign
transcendent
truth
wise
wrath
non-contradictory
incomprehensible

Then you need to go back and define each of the attributes. People write books about this alone. Here are a few articles:
http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/theology/09godd.html
http://www.preceptaustin.org/attributes_of_god.htm


But an interesting thing is that God is said to be non-contradictory and incomprehensible. This is a trump card. So whenever someone claims that God cannot be attribute A and this attribute B at the same time (i.e. good and wrath) You could say “no, by definition he is, by definition they don’t contradict and also by definition we cannot totally know why.”

Here is a short dialog on another trump card of an attribute, self-existent:

A: God created the universe because something cannot come from nothing.
B: Then where did God come from?
A: By definition He is self-existent.
B: That’s not fair to define Him that way.
A: I know, but that is the definition.

These trump cards are very unfair in Philosophy, but it is perfectly fine in Theology.

So when the Bible plainly says that god did those things listed, for example, “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” It seems this is a event showing the attributes of wrath and justice.

But this is all irrelevant to the atheist, because their definition is different. I think often the crux of the matter with any debate between Christian and atheist is at the definitions level.

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