On why we believe or disbelieve (theists and atheists)

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by wegs, Mar 29, 2021.

  1. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Since we don't share the same ideas when it comes to spirituality/God, I would say that it's one of those things that will be difficult to prove or disprove. From a spiritual standpoint (but beliefs differ, too) I'd say a ''soul'' is a different type of consciousness/energy. That probably sounds crazy if you define reality by only that which you can see, touch, hear, etc. (which is fine, no judgement, but we just think differently)

    I'd say for the sake of what you're asking though (comparing it to brain activity) - a soul can be defined as that part of our character that would benefit from doing good, and damaged by doing bad. By ''benefit,'' I'm not referring to an afterlife. I'm also not suggesting ''dualism,'' but there are some who believe that the body and soul are two separate things, without being religious / spiritual.

    No two people are alike and that unique ''I'' could be considered a soul, but other than referring to say religious texts, I wouldn't be able to prove to you in a scientific way, that that ''I'' goes on after our physical bodies die. Rene Descartes said ''I think, therefore I am.'' Do you agree with that?

    But, bringing it back, science studies physical reality, so in this case, science isn't going to ''reveal'' much about the idea that we have souls, that God exists, etc.


    I'm not sure what test would ever be reliable enough, because it would require the ability to tap into someone's thoughts/perceptions/consciousness? Not possible, I say.

    Agree.

    Maybe Descartes is right, then? The only thing that we can be sure that exists, is ourselves. lol
     
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    wegs:
    I should start this post by saying that I'm not trying to hammer your beliefs here. I'm fine with you believing whatever you want to believe. I'm just wondering whether you really have a good justification for the belief. So, pardon me if I ask some impertinent questions.
    I imagine that if you hadn't "proved" the existence of a soul, at least to your own satisfaction, then you wouldn't believe in it. Right? I understand that you might think you won't be able to convince me that souls exist, but something must have convinced you. What was it?

    You say that you consider the soul to be a "different type" of consciousness and/or energy? What does that actually mean? What's a "different type of consciousness"? How many types are there, and what makes the "soul" type "different" from the "regular" type that we both agree exists?

    As for "energy", I think that is a word that lots of people toss around freely, without a good idea about what energy actually is. I think that lots of people think of energy as if it is a magical kind of substance that somehow powers things. From that point of view, the energy in, say, a tank of petrol, must be something that exists "separately" to the fuel itself, in a sense - something that can be extracted from the fuel by burning it. It's not a big stretch from that kind of idea to the idea that human beings must also have some kind of "separate" provider of power to keep our consciousnesses going. One important difference is the idea that the "soul" energy doesn't really get "used up" like the fuel energy gets "used up" when the fuel burns. Rather, there seems to be this idea that the soul persists even after death, in some disembodied form. What I think is happening when people use the word "energy" in reference to souls is that they are co-opting a relatively new idea from science and applying it to a very old idea from what is essentially superstition about consciousness and - especially - death.

    To me, it sounds like that idea presupposes the existence of absolute ideas of "good" and "bad" which exist independently of people. You say a human individual's character benefits from doing good and suffers from doing bad, but you're not very specific about the kind of benefit you're talking about, other than ruling out a benefit in an afterlife.

    I can see social benefits from doing good, and how doing good might make the good-doer happier, as well as the converse for doing bad. But it seems to me that you're trying to point to something other than the individual organism - the physical body and its brain - but still somehow "attached" to the organism, that stands to benefit or suffer from the individual's actions. What would any such benefit or detriment entail, exactly - especially after you have explicitly excluded God's judgment and the afterlife?

    From my perspective, I don't see why we need to introduce the idea of a "soul" to explain the "I" that you're talking about, other than to support the comforting thought that some part of us might survive after we die. As far as I can tell, there's nothing a soul is described as doing that wouldn't be explained as something the physical brain is doing, prior to death, at least.

    It occurs to me that you focussed in on the question of morality. Maybe you think of that as a particularly important function in which the soul is involved? Maybe, for you, the idea of a brain as a "machine" that just reacts chemically and electrically to stimuli makes a nonsense of the idea of a human being making morally significant life choices? Something "more" must surely be necessary for moral significance, perhaps?

    Descartes was trying to be the supreme sceptic, there. He decided that the only thing he could really be sure existed, a priori was his own thinking mind. Everything else could, possibly, be a mere illusion. Of course, beyond "I think therefore I am", he found it hard to make much more progress. To overcome the problems he had created for himself with that stance, he very quickly reached for the idea of something else he was sure he could trust existed - namely God. Unfortunately for him, that part of his argument doesn't really flow logically from what came before.

    You asked me if I agree with "I think, therefore I am". I do. It seem that if I am having thoughts - and it certainly seems like I am - then something must be doing the thinking. Might as well call that - whatever it is - "I".

    On the other hand, I'm also quite sympathetic to the views of some people - Sam Harris comes to mind - who see the idea of a "self" as something of an illusion - a construction of the brain. It could well be that it makes evolutionary sense, in some way, for our complex brains to provide us with certain simplifying assumptions about themselves - such as the idea of a "master controller" that is "on board" pulling the levers.

    What else can we rely on to provide us with reliable information on souls, the existence of God, and so on, then?

    I'm not so sure. Psychology, in many ways, is the study of how human brains process thoughts, of how we perceive, of what we are conscious of, and - importantly - what we aren't conscious of. We've made a lot of progress in understanding that stuff, but there's still a lot to learn.
     
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  5. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    No worries

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    I snipped away your entire post/replies because I’ll come back to it later but because I have “faith” in a higher power/God, my answers likely won’t suffice if you don’t share a similar belief. Even if you followed a different religion, we could probably come to
    common ground on what it means to “have faith,” in general.

    For starters, I believe in Jesus’ teachings, and he taught about souls, the after life, dying and “resurrecting.” But that’s not the only reason for his life. So if for example, you don’t believe that Jesus even existed, you will find my “faith” to be built on my imagination or indoctrination. But, I believe he did exist and in what he taught. There have been historians who have pieced together stories claiming that Jesus existed, and some may come away with believing that a man named Jesus existed (in history), but that he wasn’t divine. But, I think there is evidence to prove he did exist, at least physically.

    So, my “justification” comes from the fact that I believe Jesus existed. From that point, I believe in his teachings. That’s probably the first point of reference though to begin these types of discussions, you know? To believe that Jesus even existed.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2021
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  7. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    wegs:
    The cheeky definition of "faith" that I like to toss out there on occasion is that faith means pretending you know something you don't actually know. Faith in a god or gods is belief in the absence of good evidence, in my opinion.

    Certainly, if we are to believe the reports, Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven and an afterlife where those who have faith in God will go after death. Christianity - certain brands at least - also talks about the "resurrection of the body", which I find interesting. The idea seems to be that the physical body will be resurrected at some future time - perhaps the time of God's final Judgment. If that's true, it will require some serious magic because, as you might be aware, all our atoms are hopelessly mixed up with one another, with many constantly being replaced and most being recycled into the environment after we die, some of which will inevitably find themselves in other people's bodies at a later time.

    The question is, though: why do you believe all the stuff that Jesus supposedly said about souls, and heaven, and God? Because it's in the bible? Or because you find the whole story of Jesus an attractive one, with Jesus as a good role model, or something like that? Or because you believe you've had a direct personal experience with God or Jesus that confirms at least some elements of the stories?

    Do you accept the divinity of Jesus? You mention a "reason" for his life. Do you accept that his death was pre-ordained by God the Father, then? Do you believe he had to die for our sins, and all that?

    By the way, I've never really been clear on how the dying for our sins thing actually works. Jesus is supposed to have atoned for the sins of all people, past and future, by dying on the cross. But why did God need him to do that? We're told it's because he "loved the world" and similar. But Jesus's crucifixion doesn't seem to have removed violence, injustice, or illness from the world. Nor has it stopped people from sinning.

    I'm happy enough to accept that Jesus existed as an actual human being. It seems likely to me that there was an itinerant preacher who said some good things two thousand years ago about loving neighbours and the meek inheriting the earth, and all that. Where there's smoke, there's probably some fire.

    On the other hand, I don't see how we get from Jesus as a historical figure to Jesus the Son of God, Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus who rose from the dead. All we have for any of those claims is anecdotal evidence. Since those claims are so extraordinary, surely we ought to demand a higher standard of evidence before we accept them?

    Your justification for believing in souls is that you believe that a man named Jesus existed and said some things about souls, and you're willing to take him at his word on that? Is that all it boils down to? He sounds like a good guy, generally, so we should accept everything he is reported to have said?

    I see that as a significant leap. Aren't you critical about anything he had to say about God, about souls, about heaven and hell ... any of it? You just accept the whole package?

    What about those reported miracles - including the resurrection of Jesus? Do you believe all those things happened, too? If so, why?
    Okay. So I can clear that hurdle. But how do we get from there to souls and gods and so on?
     
  8. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    That's not what faith is imo, and I'm not interested in continuing our ''discussion,'' since you seem keen on insulting me. Reading through your replies, you really think that I haven't applied any critical thinking to what I've read about Jesus, etc?

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    I didn't think I needed to expand on that, but...

    You're entitled to think what you like, but I responded to you without insult, I just expect/hope the same. Just an observation and I'm sadly surprised reading it coming from you, but you seem to have a need to ''pit'' theists against atheists...and of course, atheists will come out ''on top.'' I don't really care what you think about my beliefs, but I was willing to discuss, because I thought you were genuinely interested.

    James posted (#183):

    wegs:
    I should start this post by saying that I'm not trying to hammer your beliefs here. I'm fine with you believing whatever you want to believe.


    Yet, you reply to my reply, with the above.

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    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  9. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    wegs:

    I'm disappointed that this is your only response.

    If you disagree with me about faith, you could explain to me what your understanding of faith is, and tell me why you think I'm wrong. Then we could have a discussion about it, or at least reach a mutual understanding about how our respective positions differ.

    I actually can't see anywhere in my last post where I insulted you. I was careful to flag places where I was giving my personal opinion. You are not in any way obliged to agree with me. In fact, I'd be interested to learn more about where you disagree with me, and why. Moreover, there are a lot of question marks in my post. I asked you questions in an attempt to better understand your position. Sometimes I get the impression that people assume the questions I ask them are purely rhetorical, like I've already made up my mind about what they think and so on, and that I'm just trying to open up an opportunity to criticise. The truth is that, while I often have my own opinions, I'm usually just trying to find our more about what and how the other person is actually thinking about the subject we're discussing.

    It might help if you can explain to me what it is that you found insulting about my post.

    Is it that I asked you some uncomfortable questions about what you believe and why you believe it - questions that you'd just rather not think about, or at least not answer?

    Do you feel like I'm invading your privacy, perhaps, by pushing too hard at core beliefs that are personally important to you?

    I thought you and I were having a discussion about whether it is reasonable to believe in souls or, failing that, at least why somebody would want to believe in them in the absence of a good reason. It seems to me that claiming that I'm insulting you could be a convenient way to shut down a conversation you'd rather not have, for whatever reason. Another possibility: you might assume that I'm implying that the "somebody" who believes things in the absence of good reasons is you, and you find that insulting. But I explicitly wrote, for example, that I assumed that something convinced you that souls are real. Until I can find out what it was that convinced you, I'm hardly in a position to judge whether you would have a good reason for your belief or not.

    It's fine if you'd prefer not to discuss this topic. I'm not trying to put pressure on you if it's a sensitive subject for you. But it would be useful to know what it is, specifically, that is making you uncomfortable.

    I honestly did not set out to insult you. That has never been my intention. It is something I would prefer to avoid doing in future, too. That's why I'd like to know what it is that you find insulting about what I wrote.

    I didn't actually say that. It's clear that you've put some thought into it. I was trying to find out more about what you believe, and why. If it's something you'd rather not discuss, fine. We can leave it here, if you want.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  10. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Your idea of faith is that I'm ''pretending'' to know something that I don't know. Hmm. Ready-set-go - that's how you're starting off the discussion?

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    Anyway - thanks for your thoughtful reply. Really.

    Maybe we should have a new thread, in another section as to not clutter up this topic? It's up to you.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
  11. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    Been thar done that.!!!
    She knew i was atheist... an when i was talkin to my mom about 20 years ago i asked why she beleived in God... she was hesitant to talk about it... but told me that she had 3 prayers answrd that convienced her... an the one i remember is... that she prayed that her first child at birth woud finaly start breathin/not die... an behold... my oldest sister is still alive an kickin.!!!

    Reasons for beleif in God can be very personal i guess... an i got the vibe that she thout God might not like it if she talked about it... as if it might somehow brake the spell.!!!
     
  12. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Like I said, it's a provocative definition of "faith". Actually, though, there's a whole thread on that called "Is faith a reliable path to knowledge?", so I don't think you and I need to concentrate on that here. Ignore it if you prefer.

    Was that the only thing you felt insulted by, or were there other things as well?

    The topic of your beliefs came up because you said you believe in souls. But if you'd rather not answer any of the questions I asked you in my last couple of posts, then I don't really see how this discussion could continue, either here or in a different thread. It's really up to you.

    Maybe I'll just stick to the discussion with Dennis (if he reappears) about near death experiences.
     
  13. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Okay, fair enough. I guess the issue (for me) is that you have to be honest with yourself as to why you want to have a discussion with me about my faith. If it’s tantamount to “shooting fish in a barrel” for you, then I’ll pass. I’ve stated why I’ve come to faith a few years back on here (after identifying as an atheist for some time) and I recall the replies going from mockery to trying to dismantle my beliefs. That’s not really a discussion, is it? I wasn’t trying to convert people lol - I mistakenly thought it was a discussion. Not that you’re going to mock etc (not your style, from my observations) but your tone seems to suggest that you already know all the answers I’ll provide as to why I’m a believer. (I don’t presume to know why you don’t believe in God, for example. Not all atheists/theists think alike.)

    But,
    if I’m way off base, please let me know and sure, I’d be happy to have a discussion with you, here.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2021
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  14. foghorn Valued Senior Member

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    That a person called Jesus existed maybe so, but is he divine in your belief?
     
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  15. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, and I’ve gleaned that from my understanding of the NT. Someone else may read the NT, and think he wasn’t one with God. Even though I’m a believer, it’s not lost on me some of the Bible’s contradictions.
     
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  16. foghorn Valued Senior Member

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    Thanks for being open.
    edit: I just noticed you say ''he wasn’t one with God'' is that saying he wasn't from God? And, you do believe he was from God?
     
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  17. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I didn’t always think that Jesus was Divine until rereading Genesis. It states in Genesis 1:26:

    “Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ...”

    I’ve examined this a bit more and “us” and “our” are referring to a triune God. So, Jesus always “existed” with God the Creator, and the Holy Spirit which Jesus tells his followers that he’s leaving with them after he dies. (Sorry, on my phone and those words above shouldn’t be in bold. lol)

    Secularly speaking, the existence of a higher power/supernatural realm seems far fetched. But, the Bible to me, is a set of stories written by real people who existed at one time. Logically, I think that.

    The OT is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ “arrival,” but the NT fleshes out things more. Logically, I believe that the places and people really existed but faith causes me to believe that the purpose of the Bible is to “introduce” me to God. (conceptually etc)

    What are your thoughts about the Bible, foghorn?
     
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  18. foghorn Valued Senior Member

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    Okay, thanks for clarifying that, these religious expressions confuse me sometimes.
    Well, to be open...I'm good with not trying to understand there is an intelligence behind everything. I think it just is. That may be seem like a short cold answer, but anything else would be just spinning that out with different words.

    No way do I understand all the physics and Sciences, yet, I am content with their modelling, even though most, if not all, are beyond my comprehension.

    I am ''clever'' enough to understand there are the real physics models and than there are the layman's models of those real physics models.

    On these boards you often see people coming forward with a model to explain things not understanding their base is just a layman's model.

    Show me a model of God and I will ask for the evidence and observations on which it is built.
    Thanks again
     
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  19. Dennis Tate Valued Senior Member

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    I also went from calling myself an Atheist from the time I was about eight years of age until I was about thirteen. I actually convinced a number of other people during those years to flip from theism over to Atheism but then Evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong convinced me to begin reading the Christian and Jewish scriptures and I soon flipped over to being a Theist.... largely due to how Garner Ted explained how the Law of Probability made a dogmatic form of Atheism rather difficult to believe in.
     
  20. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    That's interesting, that you were an atheist as a kid. I don't know many ''cradle'' atheists, to be honest. Most of my friends who are agnostic or atheists were once theists, and were emotionally hurt/harmed by their respective religions/churches.
     
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  21. river

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    So the mathematics of probability changed your mind . Interesting .

    What dogma of Atheism was difficult to believe in ?
     
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  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    wegs:

    That's never why I post about religion here. Although no doubt many religious posters here might beg to differ, I'm actually not on a crusade to convert people to atheism. I believe that atheism is the only truly rational position to take on religion, but I'm very well aware that even saying something as straightforward as that can easily be taken as an insult by believers.

    The thing is: if believers are really comfortable in their own reasons and/or their faith that their God is real, their religion is true, and the rest of it, then there's no need for them to get defensive when I say that I believe something different. If I'm wrong, and there are good, rational reasons to be a Christian, say, then no believer should be intimidated by my implication that any belief in God is irrational. They should already have a good response as to why it's rational and I'm wrong.

    I appreciate also that the "winner" of a debate isn't always the person with the best arguments. It is sometimes just a case of who is a better or more experienced arguer. I've had a lot of experience debating things with theists, so I can understand the "shooting fish in a barrel" worry that some might have.

    What actually interests me in discussions about belief in God is not the "scoring points" part of it, or trying to convert anybody. I fully appreciate that people are rarely swayed from their religious beliefs by rational arguments, at least if they are made in the midst of a heated discussion. Mostly, in that kind of situation, people tend to double down on their beliefs, for the time being.

    Atheists typically arrive at atheism on their own. For some, there can be one particular thing that flips them over from religion to atheism. For many others - myself included - it is not just one thing that does the trick, but rather exposure over time to certain ideas, methods and ways of thinking about the world.

    Exposure to atheist thinking (really just a particular type of critical or skeptical thinking) is not something that happens automatically, especially in societies like the United States where religion is the norm. I enjoy interacting with religious people who aren't regularly exposed to ideas like the scientific method or how to evaluate claims critically, because it is an opportunity to open somebody's eyes to a potentially more enriching worldview. I try to plant some seeds, to model what it means to think critically. It might be months or years later that those seeds bear fruit, if they ever do. But when they do, it means that somebody gets to step out of the darkness of superstition, and that is a step that has benefits that go beyond dropping belief in a specific god or other religious belief.

    Apart from my desire to try to help people by educating them, I am also fascinated to examine the reasons why people believe the things they believe - whether it be gods, or aliens, or the Loch Ness Monster, or that being gay is "bad". Usually, I find that people don't have much insight into why they believe those kinds of things, because they don't have good frameworks for deciding what kinds of things they should believe in and which things they should reject. It's very often a matter of social influences rather than rational thought.

    To summarise: if you follow my posts, you'll notice that I typically ask people a lot of questions about their beliefs. The most important one is almost always some variant on "How do you know that you're right?" Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of people don't put nearly as much thought into that one as they should. The reasons I ask questions are twofold: (1) to find out what they are thinking, how they are thinking about it, and (if possibly) why they are thinking it; and (2) to prompt them to maybe consider a different way of thinking about it.

    All of the above might sound like I think I have all the answers - that I'm an arrogant know-it-all who thinks he is better than other people. That is probably a non-uncommon stereotype that religious people, in particular, have about atheists. It is also, worryingly, a very common view that lots of people have today about people who are well educated (which needn't mean formal education, by the way). But I don't claim to have all the answers. I could be wrong about anything I believe, potentially. What I strive for is to have good reasons for my beliefs. As a podcaster I listen to regularly says "My aim is to believe as many true things as possible and to disbelieve as many false things as possible". For that, we need some good methods for weeding out the true things from the false things.

    I appreciate that there are plenty of people who have different aims to me when they engage in discussions about religion. There are a lot of people out to score points. There are a lot of overconfident atheists who don't necessarily know much about what they are talking about when it comes to religion or beliefs. Atheism can be a political stance for some, and so we see that there are some "keyboard warriors" out there (and in here, on sciforums). But the same can be said for many evangelical religionists, too.

    It can be difficult on this forum to moderate religious discussions which certain atheists only join so they can post "But God doesn't exist. The bible is rubbish. You're indoctrinated!", no matter what the actual topic is supposed to be. Those kinds of "belief wars" are pointless, in the absence of any context, evidence or reasons. Nobody is ever going to convince anybody to change their beliefs if all they do is to repetitively assert that the the beliefs are false, with no argument or evidence, no matter what the topic of discussion is.

    Believe me: I wouldn't waste my time asking if I thought I already knew what you would say. I'm honestly interested to find out what you believe and why. In your case, it's interesting to me that you used to be an atheist, too, because I don't really understand how somebody could move from a considered atheist position to a religious one.

    I was a Christian myself, until I wasn't any more, so I do have some experience of what it is like to think in a "theistic" way. It took me quite a long time to shake off my own "indoctrination", even though I had certain advantages. My country is nowhere near as religious as the United States. My family has never been hard core about religion. I was interested in science from a very early age and I studied science at university. I discovered skepticism and critical thinking as a "movement" when I was a teenager, although at that time it primarily had a small following in the US and practically none in Australia. I went to a school where regular attendance at church was compulsory.
     
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  23. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Thank you for sharing all this. I didn’t know you’re a former Christian. Now, *I* have questions. lol

    I’ll reply soon. I feel like I can trust you, James.

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