27 Apr 2014

God’s Existence Is Pretty Important When Considering Religion

Religious 47 Comments

On Good Friday I made a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about Christianity, which of course led to some atheist libertarians wondering how I could be so irrational. One guy was being fairly courteous about it, so I responded in kind, pointing him to some of the Sunday posts here, to at least get him to see where I was coming from. In an effort to assure him of my own sympathy with his astonishment, I said something like, “Hey, I used to call myself a ‘devout atheist,’ so believe me when I tell you that I realize why you think Christianity looks like statism on steroids.” He Liked that comment, we hugged it out, we sang Kumbaya, etc.

But another atheist libertarian was not so merciful. Our hugging and singing bothered him greatly. He quoted my steroids comment and told me, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” etc.

Now the thing is, we can go back and forth about this stuff all day (and some of you would no doubt enjoy that), but it’s a big waste of time. If you are an atheist, then OF COURSE seeing “organized religion” is going to horrify you, and appear as a gigantic scam designed to subjugate people and bilk them of their money.

In contrast, if you believe in the type of God depicted in the popular monotheistic traditions, then OF COURSE you are going to be able to excuse away any odd behavior by human beings done in the name of religion. Not only is that consistent with belief in a perfectly just God, but it actually flows quite naturally from it: Humans are going to do a horrible job in trying to give God the respect and adoration He deserves.

I think this fundamental difference in worldview explains why it’s so difficult for atheists to get my point, about why God isn’t a murderer in the same way a human ruler would be, who does the sorts of things God does in the Old Testament (like telling His subjects to slaughter babies). To refresh your memories, my response on this type of stuff is, “God controls everything that happens in the universe. If you die from a heart attack at age 96, then God killed you. If you die at age 2 from a sword wielded by a Hebrew following God’s command, then God killed you. They are either both murder or neither is.”

Yet that type of response rings hollow to the atheist. I suspect it’s because he doesn’t actually believe in an omnipotent God, and so doesn’t take the premise seriously even to spin out the implications.

You also see this in the debates over evolution. Arguments that seemed unbelievably compelling to me when I was an atheist, suddenly appeared as ridiculous non sequiturs when I believed in God. (NOTE: I have no problem with the claim that all life shares a common ancestor. I’m talking about the metaphysical baggage that often comes with standard Darwinian theory.) What happened, I realized in retrospect, was that back when I was an atheist, the answer just had to be a certain thing, because otherwise we would be incapable of finding an explanation.

47 Responses to “God’s Existence Is Pretty Important When Considering Religion”

  1. Geoff Bosco says:

    I used to be a Theistic Evolutionist, until I looked closer at the evidence and saw how much of the archaeological record cannot be explained by natural selection alone. I have no interest in arguing this view here, I just say this as a prelude to a prediction that I’ve been meaning to put in print: a century from now when science has a better materialistic mechanism that explains the “Cambrian Explosion” it’s going to be the Christians who stick with and defend the evolutionary explanation.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Geoff I might even agree with your prediction, but I am not sure I understand it. Can you clarify? I’m not asking you to defend it, I am just saying, I don’t get exactly what you mean.

      • Geoff Bosco says:

        That’s OK Bob.

        What I mean is this: this same thing has happened before. When someone said, as a scientific observation, “The sun moon and stars rotate around the Earth.” It eventually became the view of the Church, even though it was not stated clearly in scripture that that is the case. When science came up with a better explanation the view had was so entrenched in the Church that many kept defending the old scientific view…and the old scientific view became the current religious view.

        It’s gonna happen all over again with evolution.

        • Andrew' says:

          Here is the church, and here come the people…

          Churches are full of people. They often act like people. Your observation may come true, but I’m not sure why we’d blame religion for the way some people in it behave.

          Don’t scientists likewise believe their current consensus, until a new consensus takes over…one retirement at a time? Oddly, we don’t all blame “science” for this.

  2. joe says:

    Jesus wound up getting crucified because nobody taught him how to pick cotton. Don’t forget that Jesus was a Negro.

    God controls everything that happens in the universe. It’s not Obamacare. It’s Godcare.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Congratulations joe, that’s the last comment you will ever make on this blog (due account being made for the lag in my deleting). I’ll leave it there as a monument to the contributions you have given us over these past few months. Maybe the people at EPJ want to hear about the Ron Paul newsletters again? Just a suggestion.

        • Grane Peer says:

          Yes Joseph, huzzah for the shopkeep! HIP HIP HOORAY!

      • Andrew' says:

        A possibility we haven’t considered is that joe actually thinks he is funny. I mean, it’s possible considering that he’s also wrong about everything else.

        That is actually a pro-joe comment, the best one I could think of anyway.

  3. Question says:


    I would recommend this video of John Lennox providing an explanation for the biblical and scientific evidence on
    the topic of evolution; as you say, “NOTE: I have no problem with the claim that all life shares a common ancestor. ”
    Seven Days That Divide The World (John Lennox)

  4. Yosef says:

    Bob, if it’s ok when God tells Hebrews to slaughter babies (in the same way that it is ok when God kills a 92 year old in calm sleep), then why are you a pacifist? Or put another way, if God gave you the same orders as he gave to those Hebrews, would you go ahead with them?

    • Yosef says:

      I feel like it’s also worth clarifying that what the text says is that God told Samuel to tel Saul to tell his soldiers to do all the killing.

      So as a second question, would you listen to a leader who told you his prophet told him God ordered you to kill?

      • Andrew' says:

        Because Bob isn’t god. What god takes back is his (thus the attempt at humor below), not Bob’s.

        Bob is a pacifist in absence of direct requests from God.

        If God ACTUALLY tells you to do anything, I’d suggest you at least take it into consideration.

        Bob can of course answer for himself, but I still find that an odd arrangement, but I’m learning. Maybe we need a FAQ with the blog guidelines, ground rules, and cardinal sins.

    • Question says:

      Yosef, I am not sure of Bob’s response.

      That said, evangelical Christians hold that God would not instruct one to do something counter to scripture today. Hence, the premise, “if God gave you the same orders as he gave to those Hebrews” would be countered by Matthew 26:52 “Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” ” Therefore, it would be concluded that one was NOT having God give the same orders as he gave to the Hebrews.

      • Yosef says:

        Thanks Question!

        I worry though, that that answer means that your willingness to kill is conditional on time.

        What if I rephrased the question as “Bob (or Question) if you were in the place (and time) of those Hebrews would you go ahead with those orders?”

        I just worry that by saying that your morally correct actions depend on a certain point in time smacks of a bit of relativism (which I have been told is the domain of atheists, while religion is the world of moral absolutism).

  5. Jonathan Finegold says:

    To refresh your memories, my response on this type of stuff is, “God controls everything that happens in the universe. If you die from a heart attack at age 96, then God killed you. If you die at age 2 from a sword wielded by a Hebrew following God’s command, then God killed you. They are either both murder or neither is.”

    This is a counter-argument that came to mind after reading this, and I like playing devil’s advocate. Suppose the atheist responds, “Okay, let’s say they’re both murder.” They reason that the notion of a God who sentences you the death by creating you should be unappealing. And, sure, some people die peacefully, but there is a lot of pain and suffering. Maybe granting us the ability to experience life is a gift, but it’s a bittersweet gift. It makes God unattractive. (Maybe Atheists take it for granted that God doesn’t exist. A religious person might look confused, because how “attractive” the idea of God is doesn’t have any bearing on the fact of his existence. And the atheist takes it for granted that the elements that do make God attractive are false. Pretty much the point you make, in another context.)

    I wonder what you think of my “theory” of religion. I pretty much make a Hayekian/Institutional argument. Successful religions promote rules that improve coordination within society. Unsuccessful religions are replaced by religions with better rules. Most modern religions, like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism,…, promote rules which are pretty clearly positive. Don’t murder, don’t cheat others, a.k.a., be a decent person. I’m not saying that a religion can also be successful because of the evidence in favor. It’s just an independent theory.

    • Harold says:

      This is pretty much my view also. The slight difference I have is where you say “That’s the thing: this rule makes this community better off relative to others, so the probability of the rule being adopted by others is high.”

      In my view it not the adoption of the rule by others, but the expansion of the society that has the beneficial rule. Only those societies with ways that promote cohesion will be able to grow.

      “Successful” religions will be those that can grow the largest. Hence tribal religions may be just as successful for small groups, but do not allow the society to grow, and hence tend to be swamped.

      The qualities that will survive ore not necessarily those that are “positive”, but those that promote survival.

  6. Grane Peer says:

    Hi Mr. Murphy,
    I am not religious and I tend to think theists are wrong about just about everything except Gods existence. I am not an atheist and I think atheists are wrong about just about everything especially Gods non-existence. I have had excellent debates with theists, some bad ones too but in the main they are excellent. I have had nothing but awful debates with atheists. Thanks to the atheists I now have far more respect for religious people than i would have otherwise. And far less respect for atheists than any other religion ( yes morons you are religious in a way that even makes snake handlers itch and sweat). God bless you Bob, at least you believe in something that makes sense.

    • Andrew' says:

      “theists are wrong about just about everything except Gods existence”

      That’s great.

  7. Chance_Nation says:

    Not trolling, but I’ve never had this question answered logically by Christians. Since the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, how is that fact reconciled? If the Bible is the ultimate truth and moral compass, it would seem that “Thou shalt not engage in slavery” would be like #2 in the Ten Commandments.


    • integral says:

      Well, if you’d want to defend an anti-slavery position from the 10 commandments alone, then when the slave walks off and you attempt to steal him away from himself and bring him to your home, then you’d be breaking commandment number 8.
      If you tried to kill him for escaping you’d be breaking commandment number 6.

      Of course, since you’re enslaving him because you want his labor, then you are coveting something that is his, which would mean you’re breaking commandment number 10.

      Of course, from the new testament there’s also the old “treat your neighbor as you would want yourself to be treated”, which would imply that by enslaving someone you are engaged in a performative contradiction(so to speak) since you should obviously be offering yourself into his slavery if you truly wanted to.

      • Chance_Nation says:

        Riiiight…. Anyone else want to take a crack at it?

  8. Innocent says:

    What is always funny is that the Bible was written by people who were taking what God said and explaining it in a way that made sense to them. Back then you had to fight for the territory that you had and if you did not then others would kill you for it or enslave you. Well if God wanted His people to be protected what advice would he give them? Roll over and die? Would have been a short book would it not?

    Look at what happened during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel God took a different kind of advisory role letting the people know that while the money lay with Egypt ( as it often did back then ) that he had turned over military power to Babylon and that they needed to let go of their current lust for money and return to listening to Him or else face the consequence, namely death, destruction, and being conquered. Well we all know which one they went down.

    The sad thing about trying to help an atheist is they do not know what they do not know except they think they know it. This makes communication REALLY difficult. Because they get hung up on a tiny detail here or there when in reality until they understand the basics there is no way they can get rest. It is like a grade schooler who has found out about algebra and insists that you the x in a multiplication problem is a variable. No matter how often you come back to that problem and attempt to say something the response is. ‘But X is a variable so what you are saying does not make sense’

  9. Sam Geoghegan says:

    This place has taken on a different flavour lately.
    I think the Ken B banning shocked everyone into submission.

  10. dugs says:

    “What happened, I realized in retrospect, was that back when I was an atheist, the answer just had to be a certain thing, because otherwise we would be incapable of finding an explanation.”

    Translation: As an atheist, explanations (i.e. truth, knowledge, answers, etc.) could only be derived from the logical inference of observed facts, now, they are logically inferred from a book, in defiance of all observed facts.

  11. Ivan Jankovic says:

    Bob, if God’s existence is really the key, then a rational discussion about religion should go beyond psychological introspection and include sociology and history: where the idea of a single omnipotent God first came from? How old it is? How widespread it is? To ask those kinds of questions is almost to answer them: the monotheistic intuitions are rather recent and geographically very narrowly confined to the Middle East. Most of the old civilizations were polytheistic. The most advanced ones, Greek and Roman, were not only polytheistic but were also very little concerned about life after death. Buddhism, which is 500 years older than Christianity and 1200 years older than Islam does not have the concept of God as a creator and celestial dictator. In so far as they are interested in cosmology at all, they tend to believe that cosmos is contracting and expanding eternally on its own. That’s what the Buddha believed but that is just a minor and irrelevant aspect of his teaching. Buddhists (2 billion people in the world today) think that the belief in an omnipotent God-creator is a dangerous, egotistic delusion which hinders one’s path to enlightenment.

    What I am trying to say is that it is way to simplistic and actually wrong to contrast all the time Christianity and modern scientific atheism, monopolizing for Christianity (or for monotheistic religions in general) a right to speak in the name of ‘religious spirituality’. Belief in an omnipotent God is not a universal belief among all the people who think that there is something more to the world than what we see, experience and can explain by science at this point. And it has been so even less in the past.

  12. Fake Herzog says:

    Bob (and Yosef),

    I believe in the classical idea of God, the God of the philosopher’s (and of Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, etc.) Gene Callahan, who pops up here from time to time can help explain what this means, but the real go to guy is Professor Ed Feser: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/.

    Anyway, for this discussion this is relevant because God is goodness and could not will anything that is contrary to the good. Now, that means two things: (1) when it comes to natural disasters, we have to think of them in context of the Fall and our broader understanding of the problem of evil and free will; (2) specifically concerning the slaughter of the Canaanites, given the 10 commandment and our knowledge of murder it is just impossible that God would command the Israelites to kill innocent babies. Therefore the Biblical text must be in some way unreliable — it is either an exaggeration or the slaughter as recorded is inaccurate. Those are really our only two choices.

    • JCNU says:

      It is not murder if God commands it. And we know that now in the New Covenant God gives his general grace to the just and the unjust alike (Somewhere in Luke). The sword was now given to the government’s to be use wisely in imparting justice Romans 13. And they are to be overthrown if they do not.

      We cannot go back to Moses Covenant to figure it out how to live. That is the whole point if the book of Galatians and Jesus teachings about food and his authority to change this es commands. “You heard it say but I tell you” I can’t remember the passage.

      That is why governments have to kept only to impart justice, not to solve every problem. The rest is left to the individual.

      • JNCU says:

        It is not murder if God commands it just as it not murder to kill in self defense. Murder would imply that we are equal with God, which we are by no means, not even close to be equal with the creator. He has absolute authority over everything in the universe as the individual has authority over his private property.

        Just as an individual has the right to destroy a chair in his house for his own purposes and not for the happiness of the chair or of the other furniture. God has the right to take human life as hi sees fit as the giver and owner of all life.

        We do not like to tell people what to do with his property. Why is anyone telling God what to do with his creation?

        Besides the fact that in the New Covenant he has decided to give us grace rather than justice. We as Christians are thankful because Christ justice would be unbearable. Like it would be in Gehena.

      • JNCU says:

        Matthew 5:47
        He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

      • JNCU says:

        Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

        The New Covenant expects greater holiness. Not just outward holiness but inward holiness. One important difference is that the punishment for sin will be at the end of time or atemporally at the crucifixion of Christ.

  13. JNCU says:


    I do not know why people see the Christian faith as statism. The New Covenant is totally voluntary. Since Christ is not in charge of imparting daily justice in the New Covenant like it did in the PLD Covenant then all actions are left to individual agreement. If in my Church we do not agree with a member’s behavio we just ask him to leave or we do not allow him to Shar in the Lord’s Supper. But t Hola at is it. No violence.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      JNCU, ah, see this is why God allowed me to fester in my atheism for so long; I can totally see where the atheist libertarians are coming from, whereas you (apparently) cannot.

      Their point isn’t so much that Christians are acting very comparably to agents of the State (though historically they DID do just that), but rather that God Himself is a tyrant. You are born into this system that you never endorsed, in which you are guilty from the get-go and God threatens you with eternal torture unless you acknowledge that you need Him and indeed love Him. Everything bad that happens to you is your own fault, everything good comes from God. You’re supposed to give him 10% of your income too. Oh and don’t rely on your reason too much, it can mislead you. Just let God tell you all the stuff you need to know.

      You can’t see how that worldview sounds scary to a libertarian who is really really sure that there is no God?

  14. JNCU says:

    Sorry for the misspellings. Writing quickly in a phone.

  15. Bob Robertson says:

    Easy enough. Just like the Divine Right of Kings, religion itself is a human construct. A fantasy created to comfort the weak minded, who cannot deal emotionally with “I don’t know”.

    Why do flowers bloom? I don’t know. So, the gods did it.

    Why does the sun move through the sky? I don’t know. So invent Ra, Apollo, and so on. The gods did it.

    Why does bread rise? I don’t know. So, the gods touch the flower and water, making it fizz, and then when it’s used in dough the bread rises.

    Who will build the roads? I don’t know. So, the state must do it.


  16. Knarf says:

    “God controls everything that happens in the universe. If you die from a heart attack at age 96, then God killed you. If you die at age 2 from a sword wielded by a Hebrew following God’s command, then God killed you. They are either both murder or neither is.”

    What are a deity’s ethical obligations, then? If a god can kill on demand–even killing infants, children, or people who reflexively touch his sacred ark to prevent it from tumbling to the ground, all because he’s boss and he knows best–and remain an ethical being, why can’t he lie to people about their salvation and remain an ethical being? Wouldn’t the theological escape hatch that is “well, God makes the rules, so he can do what he wants” also obviate him from keeping his promises to the people who consider themselves his followers? What’s to keep this deity from being an out-and-out sociopath when the Hebrew Bible makes it clear that he just does what he wants in a manner suspiciously similar to that of the ancient kings and tribal warlords?

    Not trying to pick at nits, but this seems like a major consideration for evangelicals who treat some or all of the Hebrew Bible as an account of events that literally occurred.

    • JNCU says:

      Thank you for the challenge. I will have to work it out so as to transmit the details to a secular cultural minded. But definitely God’s ethical obligations are not the same as ours. That would make him not God and therefore I would not believe in that being. That would be a hyper-charge sugar daddy that fails to delivers the goods that humans desire. It would definitely would not be God. If he is not sovereign then his is not God.

    • JNCU says:

      Think about it, if God exists, is it his prerogative to do with his creation, which is not equal in essence to him, as he decides for his own purpose? Very closely related to your own property, does anyone has the right to complain about what you do with your property, which is not equal in essence with you?

      • Harold says:

        If my property is for example an animal (or possibly children) I believe that there is at least a case that others have the right to interfere to prevent cruelty.

        • JCNU says:

          Others of your same nature, in our case, human nature, right?

          • JCNU says:

            By the way, I do not think children can be property of a human being. Humans cannot be other humanos property. I do not know if that is what you meant.

            Because children and adults are of the same nature.

          • Harold says:

            Ignore children for now, then for animals, yes there is a case for other humans to interfere (rather than other animals to interfere).

            • JNCU says:

              Then no human has the right to criticize God’s Sovereignty over his creation. He really knows better like you know better what to do with your property rather than the government beaurocrats, a lower life form. ( :

              Now the practical question, that is the underlining concern for non-Christians, is “Will YHWH command the destruction of towns in contemporary times? ”

              No, YHWH will not. There is a New Covenant in the blood of Christ rater than in the blood of animal sacrifices.

              That is the point of the book of Galatians, the book of Hebrews and the teachings of Christ about food and his authority to change ceremonial Mosaic commands. Things change a lot with the birth, death, resurrection, and coronation of Christ.

              The consequences of ours sins are transfer to the future in Gehena for nonbeliving sinners or to the past, on the punishment of Christ on the cross, for believing sinners. Nonsinners do not have to worry about it.

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