• Smart Christians – the curious case of Sarah Salviander

    Former atheist astrophysicist, Sarah Salviander, explains her journey to Christianity.

    That’s the title of an article that’s been going around on Facebook recently.  The article (linked to above) tells the story of an astrophysicist, one Dr Sarah Salviander, who grew up in a non-religious family, went on to study physics and mathematics at university, came to believe in God and eventually became a Christian.  Sarah now works in astrophysics research at the University of Texas.

    For my Christian friends, Sarah Salviander’s story ticks all the boxes:

    1. Christians love to talk about ex-atheists.  Oh yes, this person used to believe all the same stuff you believe, but then they realised they were wrong.  You should read this – it’ll set you straight!
    2. Christians love to talk about smart Christians.  Oh yes, this person is an astrophysicist.  You can really trust her – she’s obviously very rational, and she realised Christianity was true.  You should read this – it’ll set you straight!

    Ex-atheists

    I’ve talked about ex-atheists before.  In a certain sense, every believer is really an ex-atheist (nobody is born believing in God).  But beyond that technicality, I think it is obviously the case that some believers used to be conscientious un-believers.  Just like how some un-believers used to be conscientious believers (like myself).  Just like how some Muslims used to be Christians, and some Christians used to be Muslims, and some Mormons used to be Christians, and some Hindus used to be agnostics, and some agnostics used to be atheists, and…  you get the picture.

    Many people change their beliefs about many things.  Sometimes people have good reasons to do so, and sometimes they have bad reasons (or no reasons).  I find it very interesting to listen to people who have changed their minds.  It’s not easy to change your mind about something big (changing career, political party, religion, acceptance of evolution, etc), so people who have changed their minds in a major way usually have a fascinating story to tell.  Sometimes you get the feeling the person had never really thought much about their previous position.  But sometimes you can tell the person had always thought deeply about the topic, and came to change their mind as a result of new information, or a new perspective.

    But one thing is crucially important.  The mere fact that someone has changed his mind, and now believes X, does not lend any support to the actual truth of X.  Because don’t forget that someone else has also changed her mind, and now disbelieves X!  The very fact that some believers have become non-believers, and that some non-believers have become believers, means that people can and do change their minds and end up with wrong beliefs.

    The main thing to consider when someone tells you they changed their mind about X, and thinks you too should change your mind about X, is this:  What reasons did they have for changing their mind?  Are they good reasons?  Should such reasons convince other people?  I’ll examine the reasons for Sarah’s change of mind below.  Suffice it to say, I don’t find her reasons even slightly convincing.

    Smart Christians

    Dr Sarah Salviander is a Research Fellow in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas.  Her arXiv page lists 18 journal articles since 2003, mostly on black holes and quasars, and published in good journals.  She’s the real deal.

    But what should we deduce from this?  There are definitely many smart Christians.  Should we deduce that Christianity is true?  There are many smart Muslims.  Should we deduce that Islam is true?  What about Hinduism?  Mormonism?  Buddhism?  Atheism?  Only five years ago, people pointed to me as a “smart Christian”.  But now I’m an atheist.

    In line with my comments about about people changing their minds, the existence of a well-educated or intelligent person who believes X does not lend any support for the actual truth of X.  However, I am interested to hear the reasons such a person has for believing X.  I’m very interested to hear from smart Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Atheists, etc.   I greatly enjoy listening to people give the reasons (they say) they have for holding their beliefs.  Beyond mere intellectual curiosity, if a Mormon gave me really great reasons to think that Mormonism was true, I’d become a Mormon.  I want to believe what is true!  But so far, I haven’t been given any such good reasons (despite some very fun conversations with Mormons over the years).

    The main thing to consider when someone tells you they believe X, and thinks you too should believe X, is this:  What are the reasons they believe?  Should such reasons convince other people?  Are they good reasons?  I’m now ready to examine the reasons for Sarah’s belief in Christianity.

    Sarah’s reasons for belief

    In the case of Sarah Salviander, the reasons she gave for coming to believe in Christianity are pretty terrible.  Please read the article for the full version (the link is at the top of this page), but here is how I summarise (with quotes from the article) her path from non-belief to belief:

    1. Sarah’s studies in cosmology led her to be “astounded […], blown away, completely and utterly awed” by the order of the universe.
    2. Reading a novel, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (which Sarah describes as being about “forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice”), led Sarah to “realize that the concept of God and religion was not as philosophically trivial as [she] had thought”.
    3. “All of this culminated one day, as I was walking across that beautiful La Jolla campus. I stopped in my tracks when it hit me—I believed in God!”
    4. Although she was apparently a generic theist for some time (albeit, one who believed in a loving, perfectly just God, who caused people to suffer for the bad things they’d done, but ultimately used pain and suffering to build character), Sarah met and eventually married a Christian man.  “Somehow, even though I wasn’t religious myself, I was comforted to be marrying a Christian man.”
    5. During a lonely year, while she was in a different state to her husband and all her family, Sarah read a book, The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder.  “I was intrigued by the title, but something else compelled me to read it. Maybe it was the loneliness, and I was longing for a deeper connection with God.”
    6. Sarah was very impressed by Schroeder’s book: it “proved to me that Genesis 1 was scientifically sound, and not just a “silly myth” as atheists believed. I realized that, remarkably, the Bible and science agree completely.”
    7. But Sarah didn’t stop there.  “If Genesis is literally true, then why not the Gospels, too?”
    8. “I read the Gospels, and found the person of Jesus Christ to be extremely compelling […] And yet I struggled, because I did not feel one hundred percent convinced of the Gospels in my heart. I knew of the historical evidence for their truth. And, of course, I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis. Intellectually, I knew the Bible to be true, and as a person of intellect, I had to accept it as truth, even if I didn’t feel it. […] So, I converted. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.”

    [The article continues beyond that.  Sarah shares some life stories from after her conversion, mostly revolving around a number of unfortunate hardships she suffered with her family.  She also reveals some extremely offensive views about suffering:  essentially, people are “made to suffer for the bad things [they’ve] done”, and there is always “a reason for suffering”.  This seems especially insensitive to the people who have lived a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place and/or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind.  Sarah also discusses her views of the multiverse (which I find extremely misguided).  Both of these topics might be worth pursuing in the future, but the purpose of this post is to examine Sarah’s reasons for coming to believe in Christianity.]

    Points 1-3 describe a journey familiar to many – the wonder of nature makes many people think there is a God, some kind of creator.  I recall having such thoughts myself in my former life as a believer, though they weren’t what drove me to my belief; they served more as confirmation that there must be a God.  This part of Sarah’s story is also a bit thin on details – in particular, there is no real precise link given between points 2 and 3 above (there are no words in between the quote in point 2 and that in point 3).  But what interests me most of all is the path from generic theism to a very specific Christian theism.  It’s one thing to think there is “something out there”, but an entirely different thing to think that that “something” must be the God described in the Bible, with all those specific details thrown in.

    Sarah doesn’t say a lot about her husband, but it’s important to note that this relationship would certainly have had a significant emotional impact on her decisions.  At this point, Sarah believed in some kind of God (but see point 4 above for some of the extra beliefs she had about God), and her husband believed in a very specific God.  Sarah clearly admired her husband’s personal qualities, and this would have warmed her towards Christianity.  Her husband also (presumably) believed his God would send Sarah to hell if she didn’t become a Christian, and these kinds of pressures would no doubt influence her thinking.

    After reading Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, Sarah became convinced that the book of “Genesis is literally true”.  (The word “literally” is used in a pretty non-literal sense here, since Schroeder’s theory is that the first “day” of creation was 8 billion years long, the second day was 4 billion years long, etc – the thesis of Schroeder’s book is really that Genesis can be squared with our modern scientific understanding of the universe, apart from a few teeny little details like evolution.)

    So, does Schroeder’s book constitute a good reason to think that “Genesis is literally true”? Most definitely not.  Here are several scholarly reviews of the book:

    All the above reviews (and many others) are highly critical of Schroeder’s book, and do a good job of pointing out numerous blunders, ranging from incompetent mathematical calculations to factual misrepresentations of scientific theories.  Although I am not a physicist or biologist, I do have the mathematical expertise to evaluate the probabilistic calculations made by Schroeder (and others, such as William Dembski), and, quite frankly, they are absolutely ridiculous (for reasons specified in the above reviews, and that I may cover myself in a future post).  In short, Schroeder’s book constitutes a really terrible reason for believing in the literal truth of Genesis!  It’s amazing to think that Sarah didn’t realise how weak Schroeder’s arguments were, and apparently never looked up any critical reviews.

    But it gets worse from there.  Imagine I told you that I came to believe (for whatever reason) in the truth of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker.  And imagine I told you that, from this belief about Dawkins’ book, I deduced that everything written by Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris must be true as well.  I don’t need to comment on how preposterous that would be!  But this is pretty much what Sarah does as she moves from a generic theism to a specific Christian theism.

    Sarah came to believe (for whatever reason) in the truth of Genesis, and then deduced that the gospels were true.  Think again about her words:  “I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis.”  Even though it hardly needs an explanation, let’s think about what’s wrong with this.

    The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors.  It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.  It was edited and redacted by unknown scribes, and eventually reached something like a final state somewhere around 500 BCE.  (See the excellent books Who wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman, and The Bible unearthed by Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein – John Van Seeters also has some interesting views).

    The gospels, on the other hand, were written by people living half a millennium after the Genesis authors and editors.  The gospels were written in different countries and in different languages.  To think there is a direct causal link between the accuracy or inaccuracy of Genesis and the accuracy or inaccuracy of the gospels is staggering, especially from someone who values rigour in her academic work.

    So that was it.  Somehow, Sarah was fooled by Gerald Schroeder into believing Genesis was literally true.  And then, somehow, this led Sarah to believe the gospels must also be true.  Well, once you believe in the literal truth of the entire Bible, it’s not rocket science – Sarah became a Christian.

    After describing her path from non-belief to belief, Sarah says “Maybe that sounds coldly logical.”  But I can hardly disagree with a statement more than I disagree with that one.  I just can’t begin to describe how disappointed I was at reading Sarah’s reasons for believing.  But not just because the reasons themselves were so terrible (Sarah can believe whatever she wants, for whatever reasons she wants).  The main reason for my disappointment was the fact that so many of my Christian friends just lapped it up.  They shared it widely, hoping it would have an impact on non-believers.  When I finally found the time to read the article, I found myself thinking:  This was the article everyone wanted us non-believers to read?  This was the article that would set me straight?  This article would give me good reasons for believing in Christianity?

    So why might you, a Christian, share an article like this?  If you can’t tell Sarah’s reasons for belief are terrible, then that’s very unfortunate.  But if you can tell the reasons are terrible, and still shared the article, then that’s probably even worse – are you deliberately spreading misinformation in the hope that you will trick someone into sharing your beliefs?  If you had to do that to spread your beliefs, then what would it say for the foundations of those beliefs?

    As for me, I only want to believe true things.  If I came to realise that I didn’t have any good reasons to hold a certain belief of mine, and then came to realise that no one had ever provided good reasons, and then came to realise that there were loads of good reasons not to hold that belief, then I really should abandon that belief.

    And that’s exactly what happened in my own journey out of Christianity.  Through many debates with well-informed non-believers, I came to realise that I didn’t know of any reason for believing in Christianity that a reasonable person would be compelled to agree with.  Although I still firmly believed in the truth of Christianity at that stage, I embarked on a quest to discover reasons to believe in Christianity – good reasons, reasons that would convince non-believers (you don’t need to convince believers to believe, right?).  But despite devouring numerous apologetics books and lectures, I found that I was refuting Christian arguments left, right and centre.  I was also finding a stack of arguments against Christianity that I could see had never been adequately addressed, despite the attempts of numerous apologists.  My purpose was never to actually refute Christianity itself (I was a Christian!) – I just wanted to weed out the arguments that didn’t work.  But eventually, nothing was left.

    It’s conceivable that I might one day discover some really great reasons for believing (once again) in Christianity, in which case I definitely would believe.  But given the balance of evidence, which currently weighs so heavily against Christianity, I expect that is unlikely to happen.  And I can tell you one thing for sure: it won’t happen by Christians continually bombarding me with terrible reasons to believe in Christianity, even if they come from an astrophysicist.

    BH

    Category: AtheismBibleChristianityFeaturedGodOld TestamentReasonScience

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    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Peter White

      It all sounds very familiar. Someone becomes religious for emotional reasons and then proceeds to rationalize their decision by retrofitting intellectual reasons onto the emotional decision. Exploring the intellectual reasons shows them to be deeply flawed.

      I observed this pattern on the Unequally Yoked blog a few years ago. The blogger became Catholic after being an ardent atheist for many years. By an amazing coincidence her husband just happened to be born into a Catholic family. The intellectual reason she gave for her conversion she had previously seen as unconvincing.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. As I said in the article, I’m sure there was an emotional aspect that wasn’t touched on so much (though Sarah did describe some emotion as she came to believe in a generic God – wonder/awe at the order in the universe, and then a sense of joy at discovering that she somehow did believe in God after all.

        But I’m sure that Sarah, as a person who has to think critically in her job (or studies, as it was at the time), would have approached the issue in a “thinking” way, simultaneously. Our paths to and from belief involve so many aspects, including many we are unaware of. Still, although we can’t say for certain what all her reasons really were, we can still examine the reasons she says she had to believe in God and Christianity – and yeah, those are pretty lousy!

        I’ll have to check out the Unequally Yoked story – thanks for the tip.

    • Daniel Lin

      Quote: “1. Christians love to talk about ex-atheists.

      2.Christians love to talk about ex-atheists.”

      I also observed some Christians love to say they used to be atheists. However, when we enquire further we often discover these Christians misunderstand what atheism is. For example, I’ve heard plenty of Christians who profess themselves to be ex-atheists, but they also say they used to “believe” there is no God. As if atheism is a faith/belief system that God doesn’t exist. This is when we immediately know these “ex-atheist” Christians had (and still have) no idea what their atheism was about.

      • I’m sure there are some Christians who were previously conscientious unbelievers, but most people I’ve talked to who describe themselves as “ex-atheists” seem just to have never given religion much thought at all. This is kind of like being “atheist by default” and, while this does (technically, I think) allow someone to truly describe themselves as an ex-atheist, I don’t think it carries much weight. No more than it would carry much weight to describe myself as an ex-Catholic if I just grew up in a nominally Catholic home and then became an atheist. A few things Sarah says makes me think she didn’t give it a huge amount of thought – particularly the idea she had that theism had no philosophical depth whatsoever. I could be wrong though, as I’m just going by what the article says.

      • IgnisF

        (I’m a Christian here) Your comment and RF’s response gives me a few thoughts:

        1. Regarding the problem of ‘philosophically weak’ atheists becoming Christians upon meeting kind and/or relatively intellectual Christians, a possible solution is to not perpetuate the idea that Christians are invariably and consummately irrational, tribal, etc. For the same reason (and this is an olive branch), I encourage Christian teens to recognize that freethinkers can be moral, agreeable, etc.

        2. Your (an aside: English needs singular/plural second person pronouns! this is plural-possessive, ie y’all’s) point that many of these “ex-atheists” are not sound atheists gets close to inviting a no true Scotsman situation. Consider examples of weak to strong atheists. At the weak end are nominal atheists that may actually have no understanding of atheism, as you understand it. Next, consider myself. I grew up in a Christian home but at age 12, I became more free thinking particularly as I perceived there was no intellectual value — ie no truth — in belief in Christ. (Why believe the Bible? Science/naturalism provides a satisfactory explanation of the universe. If I was born in Afghanistan, I’d be a Muslim. Etc) But my active disbelief was short-lived. Next consider Dr. Salviander, as RF’s well-written article has already done. (RF, naturally my particular opinions differ normative points, but I think you gave a good-faith representation of Dr. Salviander’s narrative, so good on you). Lastly, consider Anthony Flew. He spent a long and accomplished career in philosophy railing against Christianity. In his twilight years, he changed his mind and was a deist. Of course, there’s dispute saying he was becoming senile, coerced, or just had gotten soft. Among these examples, who are the true atheists?

        • Daniel Lin

          ” Regarding the problem of ‘philosophically weak’ atheists becoming Christians upon meeting kind and/or relatively intellectual Christians, a possible solution is to not perpetuate the idea that Christians are invariably and consummately irrational, tribal, etc. ”

          Hmm, I did not say “Christians are invariably and consummately irrational, tribal etc”… and I certainly never said “philosophical weak atheists becoming Christians upon meeting kind and/or relatively intellectual Christians”. That was not my point. Where do you think I said that?

          ” Your (an aside: English needs singular/plural second person pronouns! this is plural-possessive, ie y’all’s) point that many of these “ex-atheists” are not sound atheists gets close to inviting a no true Scotsman situation. ”

          Once again, that was not my point. I never said some atheists turned Christians because they weren’t “true atheists”. You are putting words in my mouth.

          Let me repeat what I actually said:

          I also observed some Christians love to say they used to be atheists. However, when we enquire further we often discover these Christians misunderstand what atheism is. For example, I’ve heard plenty of Christians who profess themselves to be ex-atheists, but they also say they used to “believe” there is no God. As if atheism is a faith/belief system that God doesn’t exist. This is when we immediately know these “ex-atheist” Christians had (and still have) no idea what their atheism was about.

          See? I NEVER said some ex-atheist turned Christians because they weren’t “true atheists”.

          My point was, I observed some Christians love saying they used to be atheists, but when we listen to them describing their former atheist experiences, they often describe atheism as a religious belief system, i.e. atheism is a belief that god doesn’t exist (but that is not atheism).

          In other words, I was pointing out some Christians love misrepresenting the side they (now) disagree with, it’s almost like they are using a strawman argument or they never understood what atheism is about. That was my point.

          • IgnisF

            I appreciate the reply. On the first point, you are correct; you said nothing of the sort.

            On the second issue, I also agree now. The final paragraph made it clear. I also consider it, ie the misrepresentation, as a negative.

            I apologize for bringing too much of my own bias in my perception of your comment. Or maybe I just need remedial reading. Anyway, thanks for your time.

            • Daniel Lin

              Hi IgnIsF,

              Thank you for the kind and patient response. There is no need to apologize but I appreciate your response. I am very moved by your approach. I heartily say that I have never met a Christian who responds with such kindness and grace as you have done here. Thank you for investing the time here, and I appreciate your effort sharing your own story. Have a good day. 🙂

        • Thanks for the comments, IgnisF, and sorry for the ridiculously slow response!

          1. I’m not completely sure I understand this. I certainly don’t think that “Christians are invariably and consummately irrational, tribal, etc”, though of course I think they are wrong in their beliefs (and invariably have bad reasons for their beliefs).

          2. I made a similar point in a previous post entitled “Do ex-atheists exist?”: http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2013/09/02/do-ex-atheists-exist/ – however, I don’t think my observation that many “ex-atheists” were not “sound atheists” goes anywhere near committing the No True Scotsman Fallacy – that is more for when you say that *no longer being an atheist* implies you weren’t one in the first place – here I’m saying that when I ask such a person what they meant by being an atheist, they say something like “I just hated God” or “I thought Christians were all idiots”, etc – sure some such people probably *are* ex-atheists (unless they really believed in God and did hate him), but I don’t think the *fact* that they are ex-atheists counts for much. In my experience, when people say “I’m an ex-atheist”, it’s usually to impart some kind of cred – it’s to say “yeah, I know the intellectual case for atheism, I understand it inside out and used to find it convincing, but now I’ve realised that it’s wrong” – this often has the effect on many people who have never really explored the issues of assuring them that someone else has done the hard work and they don’t need to worry about – “you can trust me, I know atheism inside out and I know it’s wrong”. (Of course a similar point can be made for ex-Christians – the fact that I am an ex-Christian does not automatically imply that I know everything about Christianity and should simply be believed *merely because* I used to be a believer. But I hope nobody would ever simply believe me for such superficial reasons – in all my posts, I endeavour to argue my case sufficiently strongly that my background is essentially irrelevant.)

    • ncovington89

      Very bizarre. There must be reasons that people believe these things that have nothing to do with logic or evidence, but the trouble is that since they are rarely straight forward about them, we can only speculate what those reasons are (comfort? hyperactive agency detection?). Long ago, I saw a video on youtube from another woman who was academic and also a “former atheist” and her reasons were equally terrible: She was lured in by the beautiful Christian poetry she’d read, started reading C.S. Lewis, and, after discovering that not all Christians were complete boneheads (which is what she had believed as an atheist) she converted.

      • I think that (crass as it sounds) such people have not been immunised against religion. If you tell your kids that religious people are simple fools who believe in fairies and goblins and a magic jeanie that will grant all their wishes, then it will probably have a short-term effect of making them want nothing to do with religion – but when they discover the truth is typically nothing like that, and meet intelligent (but still, I would say, deluded) religious folk, they could start to think there is something to it – partly because they might think you the parent were trying to hide the truth, which would tie in well with some of the messages from religious folk.

        • ncovington89

          That’s true, though it could also be that she came up with strawman ideas of religion due to superficial acquaintance with it. Some people just didn’t encounter religion much growing up (“Christmas and Easter Christians”). A surprise experience of encountering intelligent believers, coupled with an innate potential to “catch religion” can get people to convert, I think.

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      Just one small petty point, I’m an atheist and an agnostic. These are two different things. As an atheist I don’t believe in gods, as an agnostic I don’t know if gods exist.

    • basenjibrian

      I am not very convinced by the whole “the universe is awesome” argument, myself. I think a more realistic appraisal is “The Universe is cold and does not care”.

      For an interesting (not saying I agree 100% with him…he likes throwing around concepts of alpha people and the like) take, I recommend Benjamin Craig

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2015/11/causality-unhidden-face-of-god.html

      • I’m not very convinced by it either – but I used to think it was the most obvious thing: “there’s stuff – therefore, it was made by God”. When you try and formalise that, and realise you need to get God off the hook (isn’t God “stuff”? who made God?), you end up with contrived arguments like the KCA. Thanks for the blog recommendation – I’ll check it out!

    • I arrived here after searching for an article critical of Sarah Salviander’s adoption of Christianity, because I was reading another article that cited it (http://columbiadailyherald.com/opinion/columns/journey-science-theism) and I was wondering exactly what process made her change her mind. Clearly, and just as I suspected, it was not a rational process.

      Interestingly, this other article claims she was brought up in an atheist family. I find this rather difficult to believe (there just aren’t that many atheists – we’re few and far between, so it would be unusual for two atheists to meet and fall in love). It seems that this is often a myth that Christians use as a way to prove that a former atheist REALLY was an atheist (apparently, if your parents are atheists, that means you must SINCERELY disbelieve god claims). I’d like to find out whether her parents really are atheists, or whether this is indeed just mythmaking on the part of the Christians.

      • Yes, interesting point. I don’t particularly doubt that her parents might have been atheists – it might be uncommon, but there certainly are examples. However, you are spot on in saying that being “brought up an atheist” is as good as *being* an atheist for many Christians (when they wish to claim the “ex-atheist” badge of honour). But being brought up a Christian certainly doesn’t count as *being* a Christian in their books (fair enough, but why the double standard?).

    • Michael Brickley

      Curious. Do all atheists believe that shifting tectonic plates caused Everest to rise 5& miles above sea level and the fact that there are fossils of sea life at the peak are there because of this shifting causing something from the bottom of the ocean to now protrude that high into the sky?

      • “All atheists”? I doubt it. Atheism is disbelief in gods. Tectonic plates and fossils have nothing to do with that, so I’m sure some atheists – the ignorant sort – don’t believe that. As for myself, I do believe that “shifting tectonic plates caused Everest to rise 5& miles above sea level and the fact that there are fossils of sea life at the peak are there because of this shifting causing something from the bottom of the ocean to now protrude that high into the sky” because I studied geology as a kid and I understand how much time is involved when people talk about hundreds of millions of years. Anyone who didn’t/doesn’t might have a problem grasping the idea. So I’m quite aware that Americans (especially those who can’t afford to pursue higher education), for example, are at somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to understanding/appreciating reality.

      • Well, certainly not all atheists have even heard of Mount Everest, so certainly they have no such belief. Also, there are probably atheists who think aliens put fossils on Mount Everest. As Ian said below, being an atheist says nothing about anything else you believe. But now I’m curious as to why you asked this question!

    • Gary Mathis

      LOL. You do realize General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are contradictory, don’t you? General Relativity is completely irreconcilable with Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics has nothing to say about gravity. This means both of these theories are, at best, incomplete or, more likely, completely wrong. Yet, all of our theories of the universe come from these two, mutually exclusive, disciplines. “Irrationality”, by definition, is believing in something that is demonstrably not true. Therefore, atheists are irrational. Gary Mathis, Ph.D., physics.

      • Mikel Chavez

        I am pretty sure I just burned up most of my brain cells processing this.

      • Jan Verschueren

        Ok, which university gave you a PhD, Gary Mathis? -your statement is a presumed conclusion and therefore an absolute disgrace to that title.

        Yes, there are problems unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, but this doesn’t detract from the fact both accurately describe and predict aspects of the natural world and hence have to be reconcilable. Completely abandoning a naturalistic approach because of conficting math is irrational and dishonest.

        • Not that it matters, but if you google his name, you will find his FB profile, which says he got his PhD from “Southern Methodist University”.

          EDIT: you can get a bit of a background picture by reading some of his Disqus comments (by clicking on his profile).

          • Jan Verschueren

            Seems like a fairly legit outfit, makes me wonder what his dissertation was and how he worded it in order to hide the fact he’s a science denier (took your advice and saw he denies global warming, e.g.)

      • Bryan Richards

        actually there are many models that attempt to reconcile the two, none of which rely on faith or irrationality. in fact only the extremely rational and mathematically minded are the ones even working on it.

      • Yes, it’s well established that GR and QM don’t match up. From my limited understanding, I gather that one theory does very well at large scales, and the other at tiny scales, but not vice versa. In particular, you get difficulties when looking at extremely early times, when the *whole universe* (which is meant to be “large”) was actually really tiny.

        I might have missed something, but I don’t understand how this entails that atheists are irrational. Both theories allow for extremely accurate predictions/calculations when applied to the correct scale – just like Newtonian mechanics (though known to be false as a complete theory) will let you calculate motions of a thrown ball to a great deal of accuracy. I think it could be a problem for someone to make a massively bold proclamation based on a prediction of GR or QM at extremely early times of the universe. But I note that this is precisely what some apologists do when they take the expansion of the universe as evidence that the entire universe (including time itself) began to exist at some kind of “time 0”.

        But yes, can you please clear me up on this claim of yours that somehow this all implies atheists are irrational?

      • I love that someone can actually think that it’s more rational to believe in a god – something for which there’s no evidence whatsoever – than to disbelieve. And the idea that contradictions in science somehow proves this point is laughable. It just shows how easily people can willingly lose their grip on reality in order to conform to some deeply held belief.

        And this illustrates how the scientific method is so effective, as it requires others to test and attempt to disprove hypotheses, so that someone’s bias cannot lead people down a false path.

        Gary Mathis seems to think that General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are just a couple of wild ideas someone dreamed up. He doesn’t seem to understand that these theories are the result of hundreds of years of testing and retesting that have produced theories that work within their constraints to accurately predict outcomes.

        In short, Gary Mathis is criticizing science as if were a religion. But it’s not.

        I wonder if Gary has applied the same critical thought process – the same demand for internal consistency – to his beliefs?

        No. Of course he hasn’t. If he had, he wouldn’t be able to believe in supernatural nonsense.

    • None.

      All this ‘proves’ is that a person could be very educated in one area of life, and yet a complete moron in yet another area of life. I doubt very much that Dr. Salviander has spent anytime at all studying the area of higher Biblical scholarship. One could just as easily point out the case of Professor Bart Ehrman, a former believer, who renounced his Christian beliefs after studying the Bible more in depth. As you rightly point out, people change their beliefs all the time — one could point to former Muslims who are now Christians, former Christians who are now Muslim, former Muslims who are now Mormon, etc., etc.

    • gaveitagoodgo

      I don’t understand why belief in God must be rationalized; I don’t think of God in concrete terms, but more in the vein of Love or Beauty or Peace or Mystery. Truth is a fundamentally abstract concept, depending on your vantage. We aren’t automatons; our brains are as vast and complicated as the universe itself, each one completely unique. We are creatures who think and imagine and create and feel; we make art and music and write poems and create all sorts of stories that become the realities of our lives. Studies show that reading fiction helps cultivate empathy. There is truth and usefulness in fiction; it serves a purpose. Whether God is real or not seems beside the point. Does belief have value? It seems so small to believe only in that which we can rationalize or observe or prove. There must be a reason why people–from the most primitive of cultures to the very literate and intelligent majority of Nobel Laureates–believe in something bigger than themselves, something they call God. Perhaps God is a tool we create to help us through periods of suffering, or perhaps God is a language some of us speak to talk about complicated things for which there is no language. Some people use the thing they call God to heal. As for the issue of suffering: God isn’t a man at a switchboard, causing some people to starve and others to thrive, or letting a baby with meth-head parents die in a hot car while other children ride ponies through wildflowers. We don’t blame the ocean when a boat sinks and people drown. But, if you’ve ever stood chest-high in the waves and closed your eyes, you feel the power of the sea and feel awe at its vastness; you might feel small and humble in those waves, realizing how infinitesimal you are in the water, in the world, in the universe. One doesn’t need to believe in God to feel small, of course. There is plenty of beauty in the world without God, too. But, to me, naming the Bigger Thing to which I feel gratitude feels significant. Belief in God feels like a vast opening, not a closing. It feels like cultivating a skill, to believe.

      The religion part–attending a church, taking communion, singing songs, listening to a sermon, talking with fellow church-goers–is also really beautiful and fortifying. The conversations are deep and real; they have value. They serve a purpose. Participating in a ritual that people have been doing all over the world for thousands of years, in different languages and across different cultures, feels like a gift.