Conversations with theists

Over the last few years and stretching way beyond that, I’ve often gotten into discussions and debates with theists. At first, I stupidly tried to prove them wrong. More recently, I’ve tried generally to get them to take responsibility for what they believe and why. In a few cases, I’ve gotten theists to admit things that I’d never thought they’d admit. Because I have so many of these conversations, I’ve decided to post them here under the new category. I’ll only update as necessary, but will endeavor to post old conversations. As with my Debates with Apologists section, please feel free to read and critique. Sometimes, I feel I do a grand job of pointing out bullshit and calling people on it, but sometimes I flounder and don’t make much sense.

Without further ado, my first edition, a conversation with Jen P. and (peripherally) Erik and James I. Moderated by Benjamin H. My text is in Italics. Others’ is in bold. Commentary following.

Anton Hill ‎@Jen If you are wrong, then your time spent believing is at least a waste. If it’s believing in the wrong deity, it’s blasphemy and, according to other believers, punishable by eternal torment. If I am wrong, then surely there would be evidence to prove it. What’s beautiful about believing in something either without evidence to support it or with evidence to the contrary? I used to have it, and it was indeed comforting, but reality is so much more, well, real. September 30 at 1:03am · Like
Anton Hill ‎@Erik If not believing is a faith too, then is staring at my turned off TV and turned off Wii a form of playing games? The positive claim is that there is something–Yahweh, Zeus, Thor, reincarnation, karma, crystal healing. A lack of belief in any of those is not itself a belief just as a lack of belief in Santa Claus or the Trickle-Down theory of economics is not a belief.
September 30 at 1:09am · Like

Jen P There are a lot of pastimes that people find satisfying that others would deem a waste of time. But if the participant is in some way fulfilled by it, how could it be a waste of time? I’m ok with not being able to scientifically prove that God exists. I’m ok with not being able to explain my belief that we have souls- parts of us that are intangible, impossible to test, and simply magical. It’s not about not accepting the reality of reality, it’s about believing there’s just more to it. But, as my mom says, whatever floats your boat! 🙂 September 30 at 10:07am · Like

Anton Hill ‎@Jen Since you’re comparing (presumably) supernatural religious belief to a pastime, I’ll point out that stamp collectors don’t vote on presidents who collect the same kinds of stamps. Hikers don’t attempt to legislate which trails people can hike. Bikers don’t teach their kids that if the kids don’t ride a certain kind of bike, they’ll go to a place of eternal torment after they die. Scrapbookers never attempt to influence school curricula into teaching
superstitious nonsense over established, scientific fact. I get your point that some activities in life may not have a demonstrable utilitarian value, but are nonetheless pleasurable. The problem, though, is that none of the pastimes I mentioned has a direct or indirect demonstrable link to massive human suffering. I don’t understand why you qualify your statement of proof by adding “scientifically.” How else is reality proved except through the scientific method of falsifiable hypotheses verified through objectively testable, reproducible experiment? How do you personally define and verify your definitions of God or a soul? How do you know that your definitions are correct and that someone else’s aren’t? If, by your own definition, you’re calling an aspect of humanity “intangible” and “magical”, how is that truly any different from any other idea concocted about humanity such as astrology? How is that not about “not accepting reality” when, by your own admission, you’re speaking of things that are “intangible” and “magical”? If you find value in believing that there’s more to reality than what can be proved, how is that any different from believing in Zeus, Thor, or Gaia, or in crystal healing, voodoo dolls, and fairies? Presumably you don’t grant any of those concepts merit. I almost wish I could agree with your mom, except that there are plenty of things that “float [people’s] boat[s]” that contribute to human suffering.
October 3 at 9:14am · Like · 3 people

Jen P Well, does this mean you won’t be coming to my church? I can’t verify anything. And I won’t ever change my mind. Neither will you. And there you have it.
October 3 at 4:50pm · Like

Anton Hill ‎@Jen I’ll happily come to your church provided 1. for any claims it makes, it provides objectively verifiable evidence, 2. it’s not too far away, and 3. I don’t have to get up too early on a Sunday morning. I can’t stress that last one enough. 🙂 If you can’t verify anything, then why do you choose to believe or follow it? Anything that I can’t verify I leave open to new evidence. Take economics. I’m skeptical of trickle-down theory solely because for the claims made of it, I’ve not seen any evidence. Once I do, I’ll reconsider my convictions on it. I don’t understand your statement of, “I won’t ever change my mind.” Especially since it follows your statement that you can’t verify anything. Why would you feel so absolutely about something you admit you can’t verify? This seems both dogmatic and defensive. The problem with dogma is it doesn’t allow for new evidence to be considered. The problem with defensiveness is it reveals one’s biases towards one’s pre-conceived conclusions. Take this form of communication. Had Zuckerberg listened to his detractors, of which there were many, and not experimented, we wouldn’t have Facebook. Or how about the iMac into which I type this? Had Jobs and Woz listened to their detractors, of which there was a multitude, we wouldn” have the iPhone. Hell, even the notion of the “personal computer” met with derision. But in each of those cases, people were willing to experiment to attempt to falsify their hypotheses, and in each case, they were thus able to revolutionize previously existing conclusions of whatever paradigm they were working in. Now, obviously, such practice doesn’t always render the greatest technology ever. The creator of BeOS saw his creation flounder, then croak, but that’s the risk of experimentation. I take issue with your assumption that I won’t ever change my mind. I’ve in fact changed my mind on any number of biases I’d previously maintained. Take politics. I was raised Democrat and remained so well into my adulthood. Why? Because my mommy told me to. No, not literally, but pretty close. She said, when in doubt, vote for Democrats or women. A stupid thing to do when the Democrat or woman you vote for turns out to be a loon. Then ’04 came and I re-examined my political convictions and I’ve been independent ever since. Sure, some bits of libertarianism I find attractive, but not all. Now take the death penalty. I’ve always been against it and that’s even after re-examination. It has not ever been demonstrated to be an effective deterrent and at least one exonerated victim of it has existed, which is more than enough to find fatal flaw in the system. And to address the elephant in the room, you’re right. Since de-convering at age 19, I’ve never looked back; however, as I said in the beginning of this post, provided objectively verifiable evidence to the contrary, I’d happily re-consider my position. But then, since, by your own admission, there is none, you’re probably right. 😀 Thursday at 11:05am · Like

Jen P Now that was a mouthful. I don’t have evidence but I guess to me it’s impossible for me to believe that there isn’t more to us than all things scientific. I believe in miracles. I believe in the human spirit. I believe that my grandpa visited my dad in Ca the night he died in NJ. I believe that angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, God and Satan- all exist.
Good news! My church, Community Baptist in Rancho Cucamonga makes a podcast of each Sunday’s service. You can listen at your convenience! You are obviously very smart and know a lot about why we should abandon Christ and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As long as you keep an open mind, you never know what may happen. You are God’s project and he’s always working and he’s very patient. He has special plans for you and has given you special gifts. God bless!
Seacrest out!
Thursday at 1:26pm · Like

Anton Hill ‎@Jen It was a mouthful. 🙂 This is another one. I wonder why you feel it’s impossible not to believe beyond that which can be proved. I wonder how you define that even. For example, how do you define a miracle? People use that term a lot. And yet no one, not one single person, has ever been able to give me a straight-forward answer on specifically what one is. I don’t know what you mean by “human spirit.” If you mean the human ability to overcome seemingly overwhelming odds, then you and I both believe in that because it’s been demonstrated. Why do you believe your grandfather visited your dad? Why do you believe angels, demons, Heaven, Hell, God, and Satan all exist? All of those concepts, even God, can be traced to mythic origins. Satan doesn’t appear as a character until early Christianity. The Jews didn’t think of him as an actual being. The Jews didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell either, not in the same way as the Christians. In fact, “gehenna”, one of the words translated as “Hell” meant something like “garbage dump” because it’s a garbage dump in Israel. Not the modern notion, an ancient one. The early Christians debated on the divinity of Christ. That’s right. It was decided by committee. It’s documented. You can look it up. Because these concepts can be demonstrated as having been made-up, and none of them has a trace of objectively verifiable evidence to support it, I wonder why you believe them. Damn, Rancho Cucamonga is a little far. 🙂 Listening is possible, but I’m more interested in physical attendance, not the least so I can ask the pastor questions. I guess I could check out the podcast, though. Send me the link. Thank you for calling me smart, but your statement of abandoning Christ is based on an assumption. Try replacing “Christ” with “Zeus” and you’ll see what I mean. The base position, as evidenced by newborn babies, is non-belief. Belief is then taught, like everything else. To say that one abandons something supposes that that something shouldn’t be abandoned, which you’d have to prove. I don’t understand why Christians talk about an “open mind.” Do you maintain an open mind for every single undemonstrated claim you ever hear? Do you leave open the possibility that you’re wrong and that Jews, Muslims, or Hindus are right? If not, why not? I would argue that I keep more of an open mind than you do because I’m always willing to change my mind based on evidence. Always. I don’t understand the idea of being “God’s project.” If God’s omnipotent, why would He need to “work”? If God’s omniscient, why would He need to be patient? How do you know He has special plans for me? What special gifts has He given me? I mean no offense, but I honestly wonder whether Christians even know their own theology, or if they rely solely on the authority of their pastor, who relies on the authority of his seminary, and on down the road.
23 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Jen P I don’t know what else to tell ya there kiddo. I think we’re done. You have a lot of good questions that I can’t answer. Pastor Rob at my church would probably be very happy to sit down and speak with you. As for me, like I think I’ve made pretty clear, I’ll stick with my faith. Proof, schmoof.
23 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Benjamin H ‎/thread
21 hours ago · Like · 1 person

James I I am entering this very interesting conversation a little late in the game, but I have a few comments. First, its odd to me that Christians and non-Christians alike try to divorce science from what they believe. You say if there were evidence, then you would believe. Then look for it, because it is there. The Bible is a set of 66 books written by 40 different authors over thousands of years and several continents. God demonstrates his existence and reasons to trust the Bible through prophecy/ fulfillment, Archaeological discoveries, internal consistency of the Bible, external verification, scientific accuracy, and more… If you are truly interested, I would invite you
to visit 11 hours ago · Like

Anton Hill ‎@Jen This won’t be long and I don’t expect you to respond. If I were you, which I’m obviously not, I’d ask myself why do I believe something to an absolute degree that I’ve admitted can’t be proved and for which there are a plethora of questions that can be asked? I’d love to sit down with Pastor Bob. My contact info is on my page. Please feel free to pass it along. I’ll leave you with two points. One, I find it fascinating that you’re absolutely okay with believing something with no evidence to support it and wonder why you don’t afford other undemonstrated premises identical courtesy. Two, I ask everyone the same things: What do you believe? Why? How do you know? I find that if anyone can’t answer those questions to at least a complete degree if not also a proven degree, that’s pretty indicative of a faulty premise. Take care. 🙂

I find it truly fascinating that Jen P admitted that she doesn’t care at all that her beliefs can’t be proved and that she’s going to believe them anyway. Had I had more of her attention, I would’ve asked something along the lines of how important she finds truth. In my experience, though, theists invent categories of “truth” which they claim are outside of, well, reality. At that point, there’s no reasoning because there’s no reconciliation between their adherence to an undemonstrated premise and my questioning of it. Also, I found it interesting that after Jen P admitted that she had no evidence for her beliefs, but would stick with them, rather than even attempt to answer my questions, she passed the buck to her pastor and gave up. Obviously, she had no obligation to answer my questions, but what I find puzzling is she obviously felt she had the time for a little conversation, so I’d argue that once it got too hot in the kitchen, Jen P bailed. (How is that not cowardice?) I thus suggest that Jen P is very ware of the weakneses in her theology, but rather than be honest about that and deal with it, she prefers to high-tail and flee. But I can’t possibly prove what she was thinking and feeling. 🙂

In addition to the above conversation, I’ve written to Jen P directly to request being forwarded to her pastor. I’ve not heard back.

2 Responses to “Conversations with theists”

  1. God exists and as much as you try to explain everything away, deep inside you know it is true, or you would not spend so much energy TRYING to persuade others. Jesus Christ died for all those pesky sins we all, including you, have. At the end of your life we will all, including you, will have to answer what did you do with Jesus Christ? God loves you which means, God is patient, kind, long suffering and so many more attributes- if you let God in every longing will be filled. I will pray for you.

    • Anton A. Hill Says:

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks for dropping by!

      >God exists

      Let me stop you right there. You’re making a positive, absolute claim about reality. You’re saying that “X is true,” but you’re not providing any evidence for your claim. To see what I mean, replace the word “God” with the word “Zeus.” Because I say, “Zeus exists,” does that make it so?

      >and as much as you try to explain everything away,

      What have I tried to explain away?

      >deep inside you know it is true,

      Why and how is it that you presume to know what I know?

      >or you would not spend so much energy TRYING to persuade others.

      Are you saying that:

      Premise 1. If I “try and persuade others” about the falseness of religion,
      Conclusion 1. then I believe what which I “try and persuade”?

      If this is what you’re saying, then does that mean that:

      Premise 1. If I “try and persuade others” about the falseness of trickle-down economic theory,
      Conclusion 1. then I believe that which I “try and persuade”?

      Because if you don’t agree with the second premise and conclusion, then why would you agree with the first premise and conclusion?

      >Jesus Christ died for all those pesky sins we all, including you, have.

      1. How do you know Jesus Christ existed?
      2. How do you know he died?
      3. How do you know what sin is and that it exists?
      4. How do you know Jesus Christ died for all those pesky sins we all, including I, have?

      >At the end of your life we will all, including you, will have to answer what did you do with Jesus Christ?

      How do you know?

      >God loves you which means, God is patient, kind, long suffering and so many more attributes-

      How could an omniscient, atemporal god be “patient” and “long-suffering”? If he’s omniscient, then he already knows everything and thus “patience” and “long suffering” are meaningless.

      >if you let God in every longing will be filled.

      It’s interesting you say that as I did, as a teenager, let God in and no longing was fulfilled.

      >I will pray for you.

      What is the point of prayer in a universe created and governed by an omniscient god? If he’s omniscient, he already knows every thought, feeling, and action you will ever have or take before you’re born; therefore prayer adds no information to what god knows.



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