Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content at the RNS Archives website.

(RNS) “A Manual for Creating Atheists” sold out its first printing before its Nov. 1 release date and ran through a second printing in just two weeks. It also broke into Amazon’s top 100 overall best-seller list.


  1. Of course one of the best recruiting tool atheists have is pointing out when people do or say stupid and harmful things in the name of their religious beliefs.

  2. Christianity is a very reasonable and historically supported belief system. What often happens in these debates, as Tom Gilson points out, is that you have to pay close attention to the definitions used and assumptions made beneath the arguments. Most churches don’t train their people to think critically, and this is detrimental to debate. Christianity has nothing to fear from critical analysis, science, history, archeology, etc., as these things stand in support of its claims to those who have actually pursued investigating them. Learning how to spot false claims, straw man arguments, arguments from silence, taking things out of context, source criticism and other debate techniques would serve the Christian community well in addressing valid questions from atheists. Hopefully such a book will awaken the churches to train their people in like manner.

    • “Christianity has nothing to fear from critical analysis, science, history, archeology, etc., as these things stand in support of its claims to those who have actually pursued investigating them.”

      The Earth wasn’t made in 6 Days (or 6,000 years). There isn’t enough water to flood the entire planet. A wooden boat with the measurements of the Ark, using the ancient Egyptian Cubit, cannot float. God didn’t impregnate a woman to give birth to Himself so He could save you from Himself. A burning bush can’t talk (and neither do donkeys). There is no archeological evidence that a group of people roaming the desert for 40 years. God’s will and Human will are mutually exclusive. These claims aren’t “straw men” or “out of context”, that is exactly what was written in the Bible. You aren’t going to tell me that an omnipotent God can’t write what He meant, are you?

      Critical analysis proves that science, history and archeology has debunked the claims of the Bible.

      • OMG, GirraffeJunk, you’re as ignorant of the Bible as fundamentalist Christians are. The Bible is a collection of human literature, written over a long period of time by many different human authors. In that collection there are many different literary genres, including fiction. Even the books that are more historical are not even close to being modern history because ancient authors were not as concerned about factual accuracy as they were about interpreting their history, i.e. why did these events happen, what did it mean for us? To make the comments you made about the stories you referred to is to completely misread their literary genre, the exact same mistake fundamentalists Christians make when they insist these stories actually happened. So your arguments that the stories are worthless nonsense are as defective as the arguments that insist they actually happened. You should really educate yourself about the Bible and what it actually is before you enter into this debate. .

        • Steve, what GirraffeJunk is saying is that many (most?) fundamentalist Christians believe in the 100% literal Bible. They believe that every word written is the 100% factual truth as the Word of God. The people that understand that the Bible is written by many different authors over a period of time and that it is mostly metaphorical are not the people that we are worried about. It is the Ken Ham’s and the Ray Comfort’s of the world that believe that the Bible is the proof for how all things are and that the Bible is mankind’s literal history book that we must fight against.

          • @Krby, Thank you. You are correct.
            @Steve, Even though the fundamentalist do regard the Bible as 100 percent accurate, I will disregard this for your metaphorical interpretation of the Bible. How does one know what parts of the Bible are up for this interpretation and what parts are the true parts? Did this God leave some instruction manual for reading the Bible? What about the rules? Don’t eat shellfish, homosexuality being an abomination, killing your neighbor because (s)he worked on the Sabbath. These seem clear and forthright in their interpretation but, according to you, might just have some metaphorical interpretation that I am unaware of. How do you know which paragraphs in the Bible have these differing meanings? Doesn’t this omnipotent God have a better way of letting people know? If the interpretation of killing someone who works on the Sabbath (eating shellfish, homosexuality, wearing a garment of two differing threads, suffering a woman to teach) is wrong, what does it mean? Are these moral values we should teach?

          • Krby and GiraffeJunk,

            Thank you very much for your awesome comments. I’m really on the same page as you guys, or at least about 90% of it.

            I’ve been facilitating Bible studies in my parish for a while now, and I incorporate as much as I can in it what the scholarly community has to say about the writings in the Bible. And the biggest thing that I and my groups realize in doing this is how human the Bible is. It is truly a human product. The Catholic Church’s approach to the Bible is actually relatively liberal and sophisticated, and is I think is pretty much in line with the mainline Protestant churches as well. I think the Catholic view of “inspiration” is not that the human authors were puppets manipulated by God to say what he wanted them to say, but that in some mystical fashion, the Bible is God’s word incarnate in this collection of human literature. And because it’s human literature, it has some human limitations. The science in the Bible, for example, is not God trying to teach us physics. The science in the Bible simply reflects the scientific beliefs of the human authors at the time they wrote. So no big deal, no big conflict between science and religion, at least as far as anything in the Bible is concerned.

            And please don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t saying that the Bible is all metaphorical. All I’m saying is that you have to be aware of the kind of writing your reading to make a decent attempt to understand what the original author is trying to tell his audience (which was not us, by the way).

            Some of it is fictional stories not unlike the parables Jesus taught as told in the Gospels, The narrative books of the OT are loosely historical, but are more the authors’ interpretation of their history rather than a modern recording of it (the authors did not write to meet our modern expectations and we need to understand that when we read it. It wasn’t written for us. It was written for the particular audience the author had in mind when he wrote it).

            So, in the midst of this complex anthology of spiritual writing we call the Bible, how does the ordinary person deal with it. Well, that’s why we have Bible scholars, ya know? I don’t do my own medicine, I go to an expert. And I have the way my church has interpreted it over the years, although it does tend to be a little resistant to change when new knowledge becomes apparent. :) And we have Bible study groups that hopefully bring these issues out on the table for discussion so that we can reform and revise our view of the Bible as we become more familiar with what it actually is and is not.

            But I’ll grant you that it’s very complex, and people don’t want complexity, they want simplicity (atheists, too), and some people just decide to make it simple whether it is or not. It’s just the nature of the beast and we have to deal with it, and educating ourselves about the Bible is part of that. I think we Christians are scandalously ignorant of our own Bible and that certainly makes us look very stupid to outsiders.

            Boy, you guys really got me started!! :)

            Thanks for your great comments, and take care!

        • Steve, thanks for admitting that the center of the Christian religion is a book based on fiction. It’s refreshing to see that deep down you know it’s a collection of campfire stories. Now you just have to take that to it’s logical conclusion.

    • Actually you are proving it is self-serving and prone to enabling its adherents into bouts of delusion. Nothing you said has the remotest ring of truth to it.

      Most churches do not train critical thinking. Most enforce conformity. They set rigid guidelines and punish deviation or introspection on them. I have found most Christians meet critical thinking and challenges concerning their religious belief with mendacity, with irrational appeals and a singular lack of creativity.

    • “Christianity is a very reasonable and historically supported belief system”
      Please provide an explanation why believing in a supernatural being who rose from the dead is reasonable? I’m at a loss. While you are there, please explain why all the stories about other gods that have risen from the dead are false and yours is true.

    • “Christianity is a very reasonable and historically supported belief system.”
      So, you are saying beliefs in virgin birth, vicarious redemption via human sacrifice predicated on animal sacrifice, resurrections, judgment, heaven/hell, a primitive book full of atrocities, errors, and inconsistencies, etc., are “reasonable?”

    • John, Christianity seems reasonable to you because it’s the view of reality that you have been indoctrinated to. There is nothing reasonable nor historical about the Judeo-Christian bible. It inaccurately represents historical events and has never once been correct in any of it’s predictions of future ones.
      The scientific method has shone a cold light on all supernatural claims, religious and otherwise, none of them have survived.

    • “Most churches don’t train their people to think critically”. No, of course not. Many religious people have learned to distrust higher education, because when people learn to think critically about their faith, they routinely abandon it. It has been long-known and often studied fact that faith and critical thinking are inversely proportional. Any church that teaches critical thinking would be committing suicide.

  3. As one who many years of a very long lifetime moving from the Catholicism with which I was indoctrinated as early as I had memory, I think such “self-help manual” for moving from belief to non-belief might be helpful, but I don’t think it should be promoted with the force that Christian religion, for instance, is promoted.

    Such a manual and other possibly helpful options are available in this age of super-speed communication, but I do not think we should even get close to the forcefulness of evangelization that has always been so common among Christians. That would be like setting up Christianity as the enemy of non-belief. I am convinced that is not the way to go.

    Theists and non-theists may disagree about many things, but ethical and respectful living are not among them, not even though many theists are convinced that non-theism is immoral. What Christians may call “morals,” non-theists usually call “ethics.” Many Christians attempt to use reason for their beliefs, but it seems that most never confront reason and accept the Bible as their only grounds for belief.

    I also dislike the term “atheism” because theists have heaped so much opprobrium on it in the mean spirit with which they reject those who differ with them. As an alternative, I use the term “non-theist” as a name for my system of belief.

    I would hope for a time when theists and non-theists could live harmoniously in the exchange of their thinking. Given the history of religion, its involvement in so much evil force, even in the stories of the Bible, that is a very large hope. A sincere study of religion ought to make one wonder how a system of belief that claims to support good as its purpose can have devolved so often to such evil.

    • “Many Christians attempt to use reason for their beliefs, but it seems that most never confront reason and accept the Bible as their only grounds for belief.”
      Many Christians I know haven’t even read the Bible cover to cover – nor researched the history of the Bible, nor read books like Who Wrote the Bible or Jesus, Interrupted (which I would think any “Christian truly seeking “knowledge” would do).

    • Laugh away, Bob. But when you hear the others’ laughter, will you be able to tell if they are laughing *with* you… or *at* you?

        • “Fools laughing have no effect on me.”
          I thought you believed in the Bible. If you truly believe, then you will be burning in Hell (forever, mind you). Matthew 5:22, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

          • I am laughing at the ignorance I am not angry about it. Truthfully its so sad I have to laugh.

            I suggest understanding what you quote before exposing your ignorance.

          • HaHa! Thanks for reminding me of that little biblical nuance.
            BTW, I just downloaded the book on my Nook. It looks quite promising.

          • If when you say “biblical nuance” you mean “biblical ignorance” then yes you are right.

            Atheism is a losing dead end.

          • GJunk- what happened? What was the disappointment that made you lose your faith? You seem to have some background in biblical teachings; few people would pull that quote out of the air unless they knew it at least enough to look it up. So, what was God supposed to do for you, for someone you love, for humanity, for whatever, that He failed to do for which you are now holding him in such contempt?

    • No. But praying for them would be. Realizing that they have not abandoned God so much as replaced God with themselves is also appropriate. To stand in judgement of God is a heady endeavor. To be filled with the confidence that one’s righteousness is self-induced, self-created, is a powerful inoculation against having to deal with the questioning of one’s own failures to live up to even their own ideals of “goodness” and “good”. So the human thing to do, in the face of being disappointed in God, is to deny Him and to mock or ridicule or denounce those whose faith they simply can’t (or won’t) understand.

      • “To stand in judgement of God is a heady endeavor” ?? You are a hypocrite. You boldly stand in judgement of Vishnu, Thor and Zeus, and rightly so! Just like the atheist, you judge the thousands of gods that have been worshiped since the dawn of time. Just as you should. If gods actually existed, why would they care if you doubt them? But no, gods are made by humans, so they are as puny and fragile as we are.

  4. “Hi! I’m Peter, the evangelical atheist. Let me tell you the indifferent news about what I don’t believe.”

    Like anyone who offers a path to “the truth” this will be exclusively available through approved retail outlets.

  5. Atheism in itself is a growing religion? It sure spreads like one. Just as Christianity uses the bible to spread its beliefs, this book is used to spread atheism. While it is different in the sense that this book cant be interpreted like the bible, similarities arise when we consider that before literacy was the norm, the only interpretation christians had of the bible was that of the church.

  6. Atheists are being taught to proselytize but are in denial about it.

    This should be entertaining. It’s going to be difficult to get them to be, “kind, considerate, empathetic and respectful”, something that seems quite difficult for atheists them when discussing religion.

    It should generate many entertaining videos though, so bonus.

    • I know thousands of atheists. The kind, considerate, respectful atheists outnumber the others fifty to one. It’s just that they leave you alone, so you don’t notice them.

      If there are so few respectful atheists, then who is buying all these books? You didn’t think it through.

  7. What I find most interesting, and potentially revealing is that although they don’t give an exact number of copies sold, it has had to have reprints, and “broke into Amazon’s top 100 overall best-seller list”.
    So the question I find most interesting is, who is buying this book? Is it atheists clamoring for more information on a better way to convert religious people? Is it religious apologists trying to see what they have to argue against from atheists? Or is it those who believe, but have doubts about what they have been believing? Transformation rarely comes as a result of the actions of another, but rather a personal search for the truth. Maybe these are those seekers.

  8. As an atheist, I find this to be quite troubling. Im quite happy that people are beginning to find these beliefs more and more untenable by the light of honest inquiry, but I am not ok with street proselytizing/debunking, whatever you want to call it. It just seems petty and quite unecessary. Im more on board with Sam Harris, we just need to apply the same rules of conversation that we apply to every other domain of discourse. We should embrace conversational intolerance, and we already do everywhere else! Anyone making egregious claims of certainty concerning claims they manifestly cannot know should start feeling immediate pressure to start making sense or be quickly marginalized, at least on that subject. I think this is all that is needed to erode the standing of religious dogma.

  9. Proselytizing and/or debunking does not cause people of faith to change. Argument, demeaning and calling people ignorant does not cause change. Many former Christians who find their way out of faith spend years afterward feeling the need to combat and counteract those still holding their former beliefs, and can be extremely negative. If we of different persuasions can communicate civilly and caringly, we stand a better chance of “making sense”, generating thought and the potential for change in others. Peter Bhogossian, and others like him, are trying to make the discussion between people of faith and people of reason more positive and civil.

    • It might be helpful if I’d spell Peter’s last name correctly: Boghossian. Sorry Peter. And, congratulations on the fantastic book sales.

    • I have not read the book, having stumbled across it browsing through Audible/Amazon, but I have read about him and I understand that he believes faith to be a virus and that he treats/views believers as mentally ill (advocating for marginalization and treatment, says one site).
      We all know “ya can’t reason with crazy” (how he views the Christian), so he doesn’t, does he? He doesn’t engage with the believer on the basis of reason even though that is the belief system he purports to embrace. No, instead he uses tactical maneuvers in a type of dialectic the average Joe or Jane is unfamiliar with (I read enough of his comments about content, method, and purpose to know the style), in order to undermine them. This type of assault leaves them vulnerable and open to suggestion. And he’s using familiar language: “good news” being the most egregious of his repertoire I’ve yet read. Precisely how is that civil or caring?
      I’m curious to know how he and his missionaries approach religionists of other faiths–Buddists, Animists, Hindus, Shinto, Muslims, etc; or is he just sticking to Christians???

      • “I have not read the book”
        Therefore any judgement of it is speculation.

        I was once fundamentalist, and was afraid to look into science and scientific claims for fear of it “shaking my faith” so I understand people’s reluctance to read certain books. But to take the example from “The Matrix” (quoting wikipedia):
        The red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, are popular culture symbols representing the choice between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill).

        I did look into it, I took the red pill. I faced reality. I’m an ecstatically happy, free thinking, skeptical, inquisitive, guilt-free Atheist now.

        Ask yourself – if you are sure of your faith, why be afraid to test it? “if God is with us, who can be against us?”

        Good thoughts, and good reading.

  10. I havent read it yet, the idea of people grabbing thier manual and thumping obnoxiously with it in the streets sounds in poor taste to me though. It could very well be an exaggeration on the part of the faithful though. Im buying it and the end of faith today, we’ll see.

    • I was an atheist looooong before I read “The End of Faith”, but it was the first of the “new” atheist books I read. “A Manual for Creating Atheists” is a good read… I’m a couple chapters in. I agree with you that becoming one of the “thumpers” seems a bit too aggressive, but it should help with the ability to deal with proselytizers. Don’t forget to read “The God Delusion” if you haven’t already. Hitchens’s “god is not Great” is another one I’d put on my list. The “Skeptic’s Annotated Bible” is very useful for locating specific bible verses by category. So many good books for non-believers; so little time!

      • Hitch is my favorite person, ive got a ton of atheist literature already, but getting my hands on one of sams books has proven quite difficult, until today. Sam is quite sharp in his talks, ive never seen anyone pin him down in his debates. Cant wait to read it.

  11. Eh, there are almost as many different tactics to combating faith-based thinking as there are different beliefs among Christians. I’m sure this is a fine addition to the literature, but we atheists don’t have dogma.

    I agree that combating faith-based thinking is important, and not just when it comes to religious beliefs, either. If we strive for more evidence-based thinkers, religion will dwindle away on its own.

    Well, not entirely, of course, because it’s always easy to believe what you really want to believe. And I keep encountering Christians who admit that they don’t care whether their beliefs are true or not, because they want to believe them anyway. Now THAT is a hard nut to crack!

    • @Bill-exactly. Nailing it down-Trying to get them to change beliefs, debates on theology, philosophy-a waste if time. They violate separation of church and state. Take’em to court. Simple. Just me.

  12. As a philosopher the author should know he has committed one of the oldest fallacies. He has committed the Straw man fallacy. He has set up something very easy to burn down (a straw man). His definition of faith is something most people of faith would not accept. Many ( dare I say most) people of faith have a personal appropriation of their beliefs. In other words, people have an experience of God which has improved their lives. This is much more than believing in something for no reason. Indeed it might be the best reason of all!

    • Personal experience is not evidence. And there are better and better explanations for those “god moments” thanks to functional MRI and other scientific developments. Even evolution (yes, “Evolution”) plays a role. See Andy Thomson’s compact work, “Why we believe in gods”. Just saying.

      • Personal experience is the foundation for communication. If it is not evidence (mind you, all rational people know that evidence is not proof), then your “experience” of atheism is no more evidential. In truth, you have to “reason away” God by virtue of your lack of experience of Him. That is not actually reason.

    • It may be the case that they simply dont want to admit that they are pretending to know things that they do not know. When applied specifically, this is in no way a strawman. There are faithful who would dignify genesis as even informative of what actually took place, many have faith that jesus actually did walk on water or rose from the dead etc… and they will state it as though it were
      fact. Now this actually is pretending to know things you manifestly do not know. These are examples of people claiming to know things about biology, chemistry, physics, cosmology….that no scientist knows. In many ways, faith really is what he says it is.

  13. Just saw this on this web site… and immediately downloaded it to my NOOK.. So excited. Thank you! A grateful Atheist ; )

  14. I have my doubts that an army of “street epistemologists” would change anything. Those of us that once believed need to think about how they were converted to reality. For me, it was just as personal of a process as conversion to religion. However unlike religion, which required me to have “faith”, which for me meant unquestionable acceptance of many things, without actually having evidence for them, in contrast, reality actually required me to check things out for myself. So glad I did!!!

  15. So, what is the atheists basis for or understanding of hope, ethics and truth? Do we just make them up ourselves? Presume they are self evident and a genetic part of our being? Does it reside in humanity’s belief in itself and in its own ability to control our world, such that it is really a faith in ourselves? Does truth change over time and become subjective to individual, societal or governmental interpretation such that majority ethics rule? Or perhaps the pursuit of any determination of truth itself is futile and irrelevant. If truth has no objective basis, then everything is suspect and degrades to opinion only, of which everyone’s opinion is just as valid as everyone’s else’s opinion, thus rendering any opposition between belief and no-belief as moot, so why all the fuss?

    • Oh no, not that “all morals come from God” garbage. No John, Atheists are not immoral by nature. No, your moral behavior is not because God tells you so.

      You bring up the great question which questions such notions. “Euthyphro dilemma”, Is something moral because God tells you so, or is something moral in of itself. God being unnecessary to its moral strength?

      We naturally look for ethics, hope and truth as a function of being thinking emotional human beings living with other thinking emotional beings. We engage in activities which allow us to function among other people in a sane fashion. We have enough of an understanding of our own existence and feelings to understand what it is like to be harmed and to not want others to experience the same.

      Religious morality is not really a moral system at all. Your argument assumes everyone is a psychopath, unable to garner the remotest shred of empathy and emotional connection to other human beings. That one has to be told on high that maliciously harming others is a bad thing. This is a horrific thought. That someone is so devoid of empathy and basic conscience that they have to be restrained with myth and threats of divine punishment or reward to function in a sane society. If you think God is the only thing keeping you from murdering and stealing, you need a lot of psychiatric help, fast!

      Except when it comes to basing morals on religion, there are tons of exceptions as well. Even worse is much of it is arbitrary and capricious as well. Religious morality frequently gives people excuses to act immorally towards each other under one cop out or another. Plenty of malicious, destructive and harmful things are done by people who think they are doing the right thing by their notion of God. It does not make it so.

      There is no such thing as “objective” basis morality. It is always framed in one’s personal experience and conscience. What we do is approximate what would work and function best in society to do the least harm to the most people.

      Morality is all about making decisions beyond consideration of one’s self. Someone who thinks they are acting moral because they fear hell or want to get into heaven is not acting moral. They are merely self-interested. Selfish. Amoral. What makes religious morality really vacant is its dependence on assigning one’s personal thoughts to authority figures without any consideration. When someone else is making the decisions for you, it is not acting moral.

    • This is a strange glitch of the mind I find the theists consistently representing. Phrases like “if youre an atheist, nothing has any meaning how can you live with that?” or, what is the basis for understanding hope, ethics and truth? These are complete non-sequiturs. In the first case its like saying, nothing has any value unless it lasts forever, every meal is just as good as the next, all movies are equally bad, etc…this idea is ridiculous. The other notion represented is that without an omniscient travel agent, doling out parcels of land to his chosen [God], we cant understand hope, truth, ethics or ground morality or logic etc. Yet, at least, in this case, Christians will immediately reject replacement of [God] with any other unfalsifiable claim, on the basis, of all things, evidence. The fact is, even with a strong belief in God, there still isnt a way out of hard solipsism, there is no actual way of knowing all your experiences aren’t a product of your imagination– yet no one is tempted to entertain this idea. We simply cannot ground anything in a domain completely inaccessible to us, which we cannot even know exists, in which resides a being easy replaceable with other unfalsifiable claims– this is the move that cannot be made. Truth is simply an accurate description of reality, truth changes the moment it needs to adjust itself to more accurately reflect reality, there isnt anything difficult about this.

      • “This is a strange glitch of the mind I find the theists consistently representing. Phrases like ‘if youre an atheist, nothing has any meaning how can you live with that?’” or, ‘what is the basis for understanding hope, ethics and truth?’

        That is a valid point when you’re trying to convert (let’s call it what it is) them away from their system to yours, but I consider it secondary.

        For me, the main issue is: if you are a *truly convinced* atheist, then you must believe that when life ends, lights out. End of existence. Okay, fine. So why – if you TRULY believe that – would you even consider wasting the energy and limited time you have on this planet in trying to convince others away from any faith which does not harm you in their practice and amounts to absolutely nothing anyway, after we die?

        Be honest: What, exactly, is in it for atheists in trying to convert Christians away from their faith in Christ? Forget what may be in it for them if you succeed…what’s in it for YOU?

        • What theists believe and how they worship in private is not our concern. When they try to impose those beliefs on others, write them into law or violate the separation of church and state in other ways, their actions cause concern. This is what we are fighting against. If they would just keep their religion to themselves, there wouldn’t be a problem, now would there? Although there’s nothing wrong with helping people see the truth. It’s a noble effort.

        • >”So why – if you TRULY believe that – would you even consider wasting the energy and limited time you have on this planet in trying to convince others away from any faith which does not harm you in their practice and amounts to absolutely nothing anyway, after we die?”

          The problem in your question is the part where you say “… faith which does not harm you in their practice…”. Yes, it DOES harm us and that is precisely why. For example, when the boundary between church and state is lost, policies and laws based solely on your religion get imposed on everyone (anti-gay ones being especially popular lately, such as the “it’s OK to discriminate against gays” laws attempted in AZ, KS, etc. — yet hypocritically it’s apparently still not OK to discriminate against divorced people or those who work on Sunday and other death-deserving “sinners”).

    • Hope is irrelevant, what does it even actually mean? Throwing this in smacks of laziness.
      Even some animals understand, on some level, ethics. And I don’t know a single (non-human) animal that has read the bible. Not even my dog, who’s quite bright!
      And truth…whose truth? The Christians’ “We have the Truth” truth, or the *established by the facts (as opposed to ‘evidence’) and objective observation* truth?

  16. There you go again, not grasping the question and reverting to assumptions and incorrect caricaturizations. Seems like your response is that as human beings we simply have a concept of right/wrong/good/bad, etc. within us and which is not a result of any higher power or outside influence. It’s a basic question and one I expect you have encountered before now. You can see where this is going in my mind – to the origins of the concept of truth. It must come from somewhere…..

  17. Im not misrepresenting you, these concerns are usually brought in tandem– thats why I mentioned them. Insofar as ethics and what we call morality, Sam Harris has brought forth a very plausible way in which Science can, in principle, determine moral values.

    Im going to ask you to clarify, to avoid misunderstanding.

    Are you asking about the objectivity of truth?
    Are you asking about the Origin of truth?

    I want to go ahead and say, that even if you were to get complete radio silence from me, or I say “I dont know,” inserting God solves one mystery by appealing to an even bigger mystery. This has zero explanatory value.

    • My point was to address the origin of truth. Trouble is, we are operating from two different worldviews and arguing past each other. In my view, God is real and the determiner of objective truth as stated in the Bible. The other worldview operates without God and posits truth/ethics/morality either in man or science or something else as the determiner. In my view, God is the creator of all science and thus they could never be in conflict. Though I would like to say that the only other reasoned position is for subjective truth, I suppose that Sam Harris may argue for objective truth based in what science can determine. Still, from what I know of him and have read from him, there is quite a bit of subjective opinion on what he determines is morally best. My problem lies with the concept of subjective truth. Who decides – the political majority, the scientific elite, academia, the church, the electrician? The other thing I don’t see science having the answer for is the “why”? Science can only say what is, and the rest will be up to someone’s interpretation.

  18. There are two ways in one can use the word “objective”, one is “mind-independent”, the other refers to the style in which we are thinking– wherein we jettison bias, attempt to reason honestly, and are open to our ideas surviving the insults of reality. Now, almost all Christians I have encountered will argue that only a mind could produce the intricate “fine-tuning” (I find this to be quite fatuous, but Ill play along) that allows us to exist and operate under what appears to be a universe intrinsically hostile to us. By the way, I still dont know what you mean by the origin of truth, truth is simply an accurate description of events of reality, if you are talking about something else, please elaborate. So I am only going to address morality. Sam Harris has presented a method by which science can, in principle, address an objective morality. Sam is talking about our style of thinking in this question and this idea of mind-independent (although this one to a lesser degree). What he proposes is what is quite self-evident, that values reduce to facts, and are constrained by the natural order. Values would have no place in a a universe of rocks, it is the possibility of conscious experience which allows values to emerge, it simply cannot matter to anything else– this is even the case for religious notions of values. What Sam is talking about is values relating to the well being of conscious creatures, as said before this is even true within, just as an example, Christianity– hell is not a problem for rocks, only entities able to experience suffering can be affected by what is clearly targeting a change in a conscious state. When we talk about morality, we are really talking about conscious states, and the well being of the conscious entities able to experience the changes. Now I will grant you, this is within a realm of complete subjectivity– but there are objectively better moves even within this domain. We can take chess for example, chess is an example of perfect objectivity– yet it is experienced within a domain of perfect subjectivity. Even though chess is a subjective experience, there are still objectively better moves to make while you are playing– flipping the table over is objectively worse than teasing a checkmate out of your opponent. This is where the language gets muddy, theists will often claim that this isnt good enough, that moral objectivity needs to be truly objective in the mind-independent sense, yet they then ground it squarely in another mind– it just happens to be one which we cannot know exists, and have no good reasons to believe does exist. Even if we knew, for a fact, that God exists, one cannot claim that moral objectivity has been attained by referring questions upwards, to a celestial dictator, which also happens to be a mind. I think I have put enough on the table for now. Have a good night!

  19. Let my clarify why I dont understand what you mean. Truth is merely an accurate description of reality, it is not the same thing as what it describes. Even if all minds were to vanish, the behaviors truth would describe would still be operative. This is why I dont understand what you mean by objective and subjective truth. Unless, of course, you are using truth and morality interchangeably

    • Ok, we need a couple of cold beers and a few hours to chat. That would be fun indeed! My synopsis of some of your points: values emerge from consciousness and these can be reduced to fact, and the well-being of these conscious entities is based in an ability to experience changes and minimize suffering. Still, I’m not sure I get what you are saying, sorry. For Sam to say that values emerge from consciousness and can somehow be translated to fact seems to be just his interpretation of observable behavior and attempting to put reason and science behind it. He is observing something real and making a scientific interpretation of it, but he has not established it with any degree of certainty. It resides more in the theory of human behavior and is seeking a scientific basis for it. I am fine with that. What I am after, even if I’m not communicating it the best, is the preceding cause. From where did this consciousness emerge? If conscious beings have values, seek the least painful route in life and respond to change, then something (God?) must have had these before. They can’t just appear out of nowhere, like Stephen Hawkins believes with the idea of spontaneous creation. Things don’t proceed from a state of simplicity to ever increasing states of complexity without cause. The Christian belief posits that cause with God as the preexisting impetus of all things. So, for me, this is where truth and morality come in. God as creator and designer also determines truth and morality since he is the beginning source of those concepts as well. If values/morals/truth did not preexist in something, then they can’t just come along later by chance. Sam may observe them, but he has not discovered the reason for them in the first place. So, truth/morality/ethics are determined by the initiator and communicated through his means, the Bible. So, if Sam determines a scientific basis for values, then I’m all in, because now science will have realized/discovered/observed how God enabled values in the human conscious form, but that will not remove God from the equation as many would like. Also, to be clear on my definitions, objective truth is that which stands outside feelings and does not change over time. Subjective truth is that which changes with mood, opinion, setting or time and thus, is not stable or dependable as a basis. If morals or values are subjective, then what is it in the conscious beings that cause them to change? The other stuff about a celestial dictator would take a few more beers and to me, resides in classic misunderstanding of the biblical narrative, perhaps from past experience and definitely from really bad, hypocritical, stupid Christians who have always garnered the most attention. Christian history is not perfect and I take my place alongside it, but the Christian story is not about perfection in me, but perfection in a God who real, good and involved in history which has a larger meaning.

      • You are right, it would be fun. In fact, Im already getting frustrated with the lack of formatting functions, but hey…this is a comment section after all. Maybe email would be better. Or vent, or anything else.

        “My synopsis of some of your points: values emerge from consciousness and these can be reduced to fact, and the well-being of these conscious entities is based in an ability to experience changes and minimize suffering. Still, I’m not sure I get what you are saying, sorry. For Sam to say that values emerge from consciousness and can somehow be translated to fact seems to be just his interpretation of observable behavior and attempting to put reason and science behind it.”

        You seem to have gotten it for the most part. Consciousness is an emergent property of creatures– values reduce to facts and our conscious experience is constrained by the natural world. The only assumption you have to make is that the worst possible misery for everyone (In Sam’s words “A universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as it can, for as long as it can, is bad and worth avoiding– now if you dont think the worst possible misery for everyone is bad, or that there might be something worse, I dont know what you’re talking about, and whats worse is that I don’t think you know what you’re talking about either. If the word bad is to apply anywhere, it applies here”), is the standard for the minimum standard for morality– that is to say, that any move seeking to avoid this outcome– is better. You could always ask, well what is really wrong with the not avoiding this outcome? Sam calls this “hitting philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question,” he rightly points out that no one is ever tempted to attack the philosophical underpinnings of medicine in the manner. The definition of physical health has changed, quite dramatically, over time– with life extension, disease resistance, etc…this doesnt make the science of medicine vacuous. But what do we do when we come across someone who wants to be in excruciating pain and vomit constantly until they die? We don’t ask medical professionals to convince us that this person isn’t just as healthy as we are, that would be quite absurd. What Sam is getting at, is that all scientific disciplines must rely on some axiom(s) in order get off the ground. This is why I mentioned hard solipsism earlier, none of us can prove that we arent just delusional brains in vats talking to products of our own imaginations (we just dont have any good reasons or evidence to suggest we are), but we have to operate as though we arent in order for basic human sanity to be operative within our societies.

        “From where did this consciousness emerge? If conscious beings have values, seek the least painful route in life and respond to change, then something (God?) must have had these before. They can’t just appear out of nowhere, like Stephen Hawkins believes with the idea of spontaneous creation. Things don’t proceed from a state of simplicity to ever increasing states of complexity without cause.”

        The best data we have suggests that brains are what results in the conscious mind emerging. We have no reason to believe that rocks are conscious, or that sand in conscious etc…There is no reason to believe that something we cannot prove exists had to first have it(and we definitely have zero data implying that consciousness can survive the death of the brain) , in order to instill it into us. Actually things have been proceeding from states of simplicity to ever increasing complexity for billions of years, ala evolution– we dont need the hand of god in here, perfectly natural sources were responsible for it.

        ” The Christian belief posits that cause with God as the preexisting impetus of all things. So, for me, this is where truth and morality come in. God as creator and designer also determines truth and morality since he is the beginning source of those concepts as well. If values/morals/truth did not preexist in something, then they can’t just come along later by chance. Sam may observe them, but he has not discovered the reason for them in the first place. So, truth/morality/ethics are determined by the initiator and communicated through his means, the Bible.”

        This is where my blood pressure skyrockets (no offense). I realize that the Christians believe that God exists, then extrapolate from that. The problem is that, its not like someone really figured out that Zues or Apollo didn’t exist and that the biblical god actually does. The biblical God stands on the same footing as any other unfalsifiable originator or arbiter of truth/justice/values etc…as we have time to invent. This is why I mentioned earlier that attempting to solve a mystery by appealing to an even bigger mystery, has zero explanatory value– I could sit here and give you a blanket response of “I dont know,” and no matter how many of those you get out of me– you havent moved an inch closer to [God], the brackets are a placeholder for any other fantastic claim we, as humans, can invent.

        “Also, to be clear on my definitions, objective truth is that which stands outside feelings and does not change over time. ”

        This is not a reasonable definition of objectivity, objective truth actually can change over time– where we are in relation to the sun changes constantly, it doesnt make it subjective. Thats why I offered you more standard definitions of objective.

        The other stuff about a celestial dictator would take a few more beers and to me, resides in classic misunderstanding of the biblical narrative, perhaps from past experience and definitely from really bad, hypocritical, stupid Christians who have always garnered the most attention.

        This is troubling to me, and always has been. You have about 33,000 different denominations of groups disagreeing about what a “true” christian is, and potentially an infinite number of ideas even within denominations regarding a “true” christian, youll forgive me if I dont take your word for it.

        I believe that the reason for this is that people want so desperately to lawyer the bible into saying things it doesnt actually say, that schisms and fragmentation are inevitable. The deeper point to take here, is that WE are the guarantors of the wisdom we take from these books– we can read passages that say things like the golden rule, and recognize it to be a brilliant distillation of our moral and ethical impulses– yet very few are tempted to stone their wives to death at her father’s doorstep upon discovering she isnt a virgin on our wedding nights. If you dont know that killing is wrong before you read the bible, you are not going to learn that it is– what with it being a book practically bursting with cruelty and needless suffering for imaginary crimes like witchcraft. It isnt like we took a closer look at the bible right before abolishing slavery, the slave holders were on the winning side of the theological argument. What Im saying is that we can take wisdom from our holy books without believing the preposterous at the same time.

        Lastly, just a comment on the idea that well-being somehow isnt good enough. I mentioned this before, albeit in a different manner. Even Christianity smuggles in a concern for well-being, Christianity is in the business of safeguarding the eternal well being of trillions of human souls– as I said before, hell is not a problem for rocks or dirt or water– you need changes in conscious states for hell to be anything other than an impressive light show.

        Whew. I have tons more, but Ill stop it there. Have a good night!

        • Couple of points:
          1) “consciousness is an emergent property of creatures” – says who? Consciousness may be an observable fact of creatures, but you have no scientific basis to say it is an emergent property. Emergent from what and why and how? 2) “values reduce to facts” – says who? And how – there are probably a lot of assumption here that leave this statement as hypothetical at best. Even if values were reduced to facts, what then makes that the best and right or only way to understand values? I do not have to accept that method and I am not unreasonable to do so. 3) “The best data we have suggests that brains are what results in the conscious mind emerging” – what? So consciousness just is, and brains form from that? Wow, you’ve got more faith than me. My standard questions again – where did the conscious come from and by what means did it take form? 4) “the only assumption you have to make is that the worst possible misery for everyone is the minimum standard of morality” – says who, where did this come from, your idea, someone else who has some authority? I am not attacking the assumption, just trying to clear up that this is just a statement by a person of what they think is true, and since it may seem logical, then people accept it, but I do not. I am not for misery, but just don’t agree that this is the most basic assumption or the minimum standard of morality. Don’t assume you are right, because your point hasn’t been proven. My point all along has been that you or others are making these kids of statements from your own authority and presuming they are obvious to everyone and certain in their conclusion.

          When your starting points, definitions and assumptions are different, it becomes very hard to make progress in conversation. Perhaps the book that started this addresses this reality.

          • 1) and 3) seem to be similar so Ill address them in tandem. It may in fact be true that consciousness arises through some different mechanism– I can freely admit that. What, and I probably should have clarified, although I think I touched on it, is that as far as we know, consciousness is anchored in the brain– we have no data to suggest that consciousness can survive the death of the brain. In fact, we have compelling reasons to believe the opposite– we know that damaging parts of the brain can result in a changes in one’s conscious experience. You can damage one part and forget the names of animals but still remember the names of tools, you can forget faces etc…What the religious, or at the very least, Christians are asking us to consider, is that you can damage the whole brain at death and yet somehow recognize your relatives, communicate with them etc…<—That is the position that takes faith. What we do know is that changes in conscious experience are constrained by the natural order, facts about nature can and do effect these changes. Im unsure what you mean by "consciousness just is," I think youre saying "It just arose?" Well, as I said before, we know of nothing other than brains in which consciousness can exist– im not even sure I know what youre driving at here. Do you know of consciousness existing elsewhere? Why does consciousness need to "come from" somewhere that is somehow not related to the only instances in which we observe it?

            4) I think you misunderstood that bit. Ill clarify, no one is assuming they are an authority on the matter– least of all Sam. Sam openly admits that there is an assumption being made and it is the only one you need to grant him– no one is saying this authoritatively. He openly admits, as I said before that all disciplines of science rely on core axiom(s)– this is why he says that his "Moral Landscape" envisions a manner in which science can, in principle, determine human values. Ill ask then, is there something worse than the worst possible misery for everyone?

            Im out of time, a few things left unaddressed, but hopefully I can finish up tonight.

  20. Re: Truth- a general term for an impossible set of claims. We are living creatures,
    therefore highly limited in our abilities. “…can the mind of man…which has been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” Darwin
    Kant pointed out that even if one were to receive divine revelation, once could never speak of it unless one allowed the brain to process it into words, thereby distorting the information. The Holy Spirit (magic) is required to get around this problem.
    “Them old dreams are only in you head”-Bob Dylan

  21. “The ideal street epistemologist models the behavior she would like to see in others,” he said. “They should be gentle and open to ideas. They should be compassionate and seek no reward for disabusing people of specious ways of reasoning. Nobody owes you for helping them to reason better. You do it because you care about people and want to help them.”

    This is our esteemed “gentle religious de-bunker’s feeble attempt at defining LOVE, that other biggie in the specifically-Christian faith package that he otherwise shies away from! And his statement above sounds almost spiritual, somewhat like the “love your neighbor as yourself” admonition of the Judeo-Christian Bible. Except when you subject it to his all-powerful lens of reasoning and evidence, why should anyone care what another person believes? Why bother trying to debunk the mental delusions of strangers when there’s no obvious payoff? It doesn’t wash!

    And what equivalent examples of self-sacrifice can our esteemed de-bunker offer that parallels the flesh-and-blood examples of countless millions who have sacrificed their own good to indeed educate, heal, feed and clothe countless ofher millions in need of these basics of a better life? Who can he put up against an Albert Sweitzer, for example?

    If he wants a real challenge, try explaining LOVE in terms other than the transcendence of a Supreme Being, acting on human hearts and minds.

    • What one gets out of debunking theism is a very real change in our political structure by getting religion OUT of Politics. The more people start to use reason instead of faith in their thought processes the better for the world by having rational laws and policies for moving forward.

  22. I want to address the very last sentence in the article, (“What I hope will happen is that instead of wanting to physically injure me, people will invite me to have a conversation,” he said.) He and his “street epistemologists” should look for some Jehovah’s Witnesses on the streets of NYC or some other large city where they can readily be found… They would LOVE to “have a conversation” on the subject and I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear that one! LOL

  23. The comments from from most of the atheists in this thread are funny. I see all the typical canned responses and pokes from them. Now there appears to be book encouraging them to take all these canned responses and pokes at believers in silly effort to “de-program” people.

    There seems to be a lack of focus on one of the more common forms of witness is the good deed, as described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I don’t see too many atheists promoting their worldview through good deeds.

    There is a reason 2 of 3 largest social welfare organizations on earth are Christian denominations. Mr. Bhogossian and other like him just don’t get it.

    • You also dont see atheists preaching the sinfulness of condom use in areas of the world where aids is epidemic, which is genocidal stupidity. I applaud the fact that charitable organizations do lots of good work, even if its for the reason of spreading the gospel, the only thing id say on the matter is that this is religion at its best, it gives people bad reasons to do good things, where good reasons are actually available. Most people are religious in the world, most people who have plucked chickens, have also been religious. Are we to now talk as though plucking chickens is the domain of the religious? We get it just fine.

  24. I find many contradictions in the thinking-preaching-proselytizing-evangelization program of Peter Boghossian’s manual for converting believers to non-believers. He may call it what he wants, even use friendly terms, but it is conversion proselytization. Boghossian’s “street epistemologists” are preachers of non-belief.

    He urges respect for people of faith, but I see no respect in his title: “Jesus, the Easter Bunny and Other Delusions,” or it’s sub-title: “Just Say No!” in his Nancy Reagan-ish way.

    Boghossian urges that facts be avoided because they seldom persuade, but on what other than facts does any belief or non-belief system that is not religious stand?

    “De-conversion” is neither respectful nor friendly, so where is Boghossian’s kindly, friendly persuasion?

    “Avoid politics,” the best advice. The ugly history of mingling politics and religion led the Framers of our Constitution to add the first clause of the First Amendment as soon as the basic document was accepted, the separation of church and state. That constitutional requirement has been violated at least as profligately as any other throughout our history. That violation continues today. Still, it makes the best sense and the best law.

    Given all of Boghossian’s attitudes and “doctrines” about converting believers to non-belief, he contradicts himself when he advises “street epistemologists not assume believers are wrong and considers their belief system as a “make-believeland.”

    It seems it would be wiser, more honest, and more kind to simply advise that non-believers not copy the tactics of believing proselytizers. Have open discussions. do not hold back on your reasoning and opinions, but present them respectfully and discuss those of believers with equal respect.

    There’s a mighty portion of emotion in belief and non-belief. We non-believers believe that our non-beliefs are based on facts like science, sociology, psychology, and history, rather than ancient systems that preceded that factual knowledge. Regardless, there is an overarching, overwhelming need for peace and that can only be obtained from honest care for our fellows in all the ways we are different.

  25. Just want to say what a great book this is. I’m not real interested in big long debates. These usually just confirm my disbelief. But the focus on “faith” is much more interesting. Why do people pretend to know what they don’t know? Well, I sort of understand it, because I used to. I would just ignore the internal questions, keep my mouth shut and just believe it or take christianity on faith. That was it. Someone could talk sense to me all they wanted, but I just didn’t want to hear the truth. I just wanted to believe. I decided I couldn’t live my life like that anymore.

  26. Why would a *truly convinced* atheist even want to convert any believer away from their faith?

    If there’s NOTHING after death, then neither belief nor unbelief means anything, ultimately speaking. Since we all die so sooner or later, what one believes or doesn’t believe in life makes the slightest difference. So if I were a *truly convinced* atheist, I might tell an evangelist why I do not want to believe as he does and leave it at that. But actually arguing why they’re wrong would be an idiotic waste of time. I would never bother with it.

    If I were a *truly convinced* atheist and met someone who sincerely believed they’re getting blessings from the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and if that person never sought to harm anyone else with that faith nor force it upon anyone else, the LAST thing I’d try to do is argue them away from it. I might smile politely, pat them on the head as I go my way, or shake my head and ignore them, but why would I bother trying to convince them they’re in error? What, precisely, would be the point of the effort? What’s the ultimate good? All I’d be accomplishing is proving that I do not have as much faith in my own (dis)belief as I want others to think I have.

    Any atheist who seeks to convert others away from faith proves, by that act, they are NOT truly convinced and seek psychological comfort in convincing others to believe as they profess to do.

    • I thought the same, once upon a time. Read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape” for the answer to your question.

    • @joe: Totally agree with you on not arguing someone out of their faith if they never intend to do harm with it, or proselytize it. If they are happy as they are, leave them be (Luck Charms Leprechaun–ROFL!).

      However as a *truly convinced* atheist who believes there is NOTHING after death, sure, what one believes (or not) does not matter AFTER death, but DOES matter during that phase called life. At least that’s how I see it.

  27. you gotta be crazy to waste your life trying to prove that s’thing you don’t believe in, doesn’t exist. as a matter a fact you create the whole industry to disprove s’thing, which you think it’s made up. worst than that, those who are on top of that industry, know very well that God and devil indeed exist, but they want to deceive and take people astray and many will enter through the wide gate. otherwise why should you invest and try to prove s’thing it doesn’t exist. I know, it’s because believers in this world are very strong and you
    need to fight them and free the world from pest, right? but at the end of the day, you are fighting s’thing it does’t exist, right, must feel stooped doing it…. one thing I’m gonna tell you, the leaders of this world are trying to defeat religion (read: persons faith) once you manage to do that, you will see that you’ve been deceived and that the “free” world is nothing but evil rules, and you will be responsible for creating a hell on earth and letting your children live in it. what would this world be without faith? please don’t chose to stay on the losers side, but do what’s righteous..