A classically poor atheistic argument

PZ Myers, one of the “New Atheists” (just like the old ones except rude and lacking reasoning skills) plays the same tricks that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others do.   Richard Dawkins went on the radio show of Hugh Hewitt, who  Myers considers to be a “far right radio wingnut” and a “ridiculous puffed-up blowhard of very little brain.”  What a charming fellow this Myers chap is!  With winsome, well thought out arguments like that you have to know his scientific facts must be right as well. 

The main point of Myers’ post was to re-hash the classic double-play fallacy used by many atheists.  It hinges on the way they use the argument against miracles as synonymous with the argument against God. 

They pretend to be proving that God doesn’t exist, then they assume it and act shocked — shocked, I say! — that people of faith believe in miracles.  Then they dismiss the believers as idiots (just read as much of Myer’s comment thread as you can stomach) and act as if nothing they say can be believed.  See how Dawkins tries to play the game:

Richard Dawkins: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?

Hugh Hewitt: Yes.

RD: You seriously do?

HH: Yes.

RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: My God.

HH: Yes. My God, actually, not yours. But let me…

RD: I’ve realized the kind of person I’m dealing with now.

Note what Dawkins did: He assumed what he should be proving — namely, that God doesn’t exist.  And he turned it into a personal attack as well.  In addition, he probably lied, because unless he is a complete moron he already knew what Hewitt’s beliefs were.  My guess is that he pretended to just figure it out.

So Dawkins’ fallacies were carefully choreographed to demonize his ideological opponent and to pretend that he’d already proved that there is no God.  And Myers and his gang eat it up as if Dawkins actually accomplished something.  Aren’t they bright!

If they really think that this trick proves anything then they are as foolish as they claim Hewitt and other believers are.  If they know how ridiculous their arguments are yet they use them anyway then that demonstrates their lack of character.

Here’s another clip from the interview where Hewitt exposes more misstatements by Dawkins plus examples of Dawkins’ fear of real debates and more of his misstatements.

0 thoughts on “A classically poor atheistic argument”

  1. Nice sarcasm! But I’m glad that you agree that Dawkins’ was being simultaneously dishonest and ignorant — dishonest for acting so surprised, and ignorant for thinking his argument proved anything but his bias.

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  2. Obviously I don’t agree with you on either count, and you know it. So it looks like you’re the one who’s either ignorant or dishonest.

    And if you’re genuinely not intelligent enough to recognise rhetoric when you see it, maybe you should stay away from these sorts of debates.

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  3. Well, I see where you get your training. All ad homs and no facts. Really, try for once to address what I said and not your petty nothings.

    Demonstrate that Dawkins, Myers, Hitchens et al aren’t just trying to work a little “gotcha” into the conversation. Bonus points for proving why they repeat the same “mistake” over and over if it isn’t part of their plan.

    Then demonstrate that the “gotcha” isn’t completely fallacious. If the debate is about whether there is a God, then you can’t dismiss your opponent for believing there is a God.

    How about the situation in reverse? Would you find this argument compelling?

    Neil: Let’s debate whether there is a God.
    Merkur: OK. I don’t think there is a God.
    Neil: You really believe there is no God?
    Merkur: Yes.
    Neil: I’ve realized the kind of person I’m dealing with now!
    Christian version of Myers and all his Romans 1 poster children: What a complete idiot Merkur is!!!!!!!!

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  4. What I find interesting is the surprise regarding miracles and the condescension that normally follows. It’s as if we must be nuts to believe that Jesus could turn water into wine. Really a stupid argument if one considers of Whom we’re talking. That would be the Creator. If He created all things, turning water to wine, walking on water, raising the dead and healing the lame would all be child’s play for Him. The belief in a Creator begins with the most difficult (by it’s massiveness) miracle of all, creation itself.

    Then of course, is the goofy hunt for proof of miracles. This astounds me that anyone claiming intellectual superiority would would even try that. Obviously, a miracle involves an event that cannot be proven by the usual methods. There could be no proof of something that was the result of a physically impossible event. By that I mean something that could happen in the physical world, but did. It seems logical to me to assume that all would return to “normal” after the miracle was completed. The fact that there would be no physical, scientific and provable evidence of the happening is what makes it a miracle. Otherwise, it is simply an explanable event.

    I’ve seen presentations on television that seek to explain miracles of the Bible. Everything from the destruction of Sodom to the parting of the Red Sea. Some are very good scientific explanations of how such things could have occurred. But still there is the problem of each of them having been predicted or put into action by an individual claiming hisself to be an instrument of God working through him. If there is a scientific explanation for the parting of the Red Sea, how did Moses know to raise his arms at that particualr time, when the parting was so desperately needed? How did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know that they would be placed in the one place that the furnace would not so much as singe them?

    But moving to the New Testament, the idea that the stories of a miraculous Savior would be worthless when written decades after the fact is also a goofy argument. If I related stories of forty years ago, are they false if there is no proof beyond my testimony? Is there a particular case to be made that my testimony is to be held as suspicious? Am I a known liar? Were the writers of the Gospels? If my info is second-hand, is there proof that my source is a known liar? Does Luke ever accuse Paul of being a liar? The NT is testimony of those who witnessed the events told therein or associates of those witnesses, many of whom, by the power of the Holy Spirit, performed miracles themselves.

    Finally is the argument that things like DNA and genome research is evidence in support of evolution. Frankly, and I have the book Hewitt spoke of, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. He makes the same case. But to me, such similarities are merely similarities and actually evidence of one Creator. Whether a story, a statue, a painting, a song, when we create, we use what we have and what we know and a piece of us exists in all our work. Would not the same be true of He that created us? Similarities must exist in all of the same creation. It’s only logical. But that doesn’t mean that one species necessarily arose from another. Only that there are similarities.

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    1. Fox, that ignores two key points. If God created everything then miracles are simple for him. And it is far more nuts to claim that the laws of physics just happened to show up without a creator.

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    2. “Physics”

      A rather simple and pat response, but it misses the point. As Neil suggests, He is the creator of the laws that govern physics, so to manipulate those laws are well within His power. To simply say miracles are not possible requires an explanation as to why that would be so.

      Keep in mind, the Gospels are testimonies of those who witnessed the events. And the idea that they had an ax to grind, as Dawkins and others like to believe, also requires an explanation as to what that agenda would be. All accounts suggest that it was a means to invite ridicule and execution. How did the many followers of Christ profit by reaching that goal?

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  5. A miracle does not presume the laws of the natural world were violated.

    All agree that we do not know all the laws of the natural world. Those laws could very well allow for outside intervention (super-natural, by definition).

    When one argues “Miracles do not happen” and I reply, “How do you know that?” If their answer is “Because there is no such thing as miracles” they have made a circular argument. They have assumed what they seek to prove.

    Miracles deserve to be evaluated on their own merits, not on a dogmatic anti-reason belief that they don’t and can’t happen.

    It is the atheists, in this regard, who are being dogmatic and anti-reason, not we Christians.

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    1. To be clear, if one is going to argue “The laws of nature do not allow for outside intervention” one can’t presume that fact and argue it at the same time. You must demonstrate it for it to count as proof.

      You may reply, “Well, how do you know that the laws of nature DO allow for outside intervention?” Unlike you, who argues based on a LACK of evidence, I can point to clear evidence… miracles.

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      1. Enough to assert clearly that we do not know all the laws of the natural world.

        Surely you don’t assert otherwise?

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      2. My level of education is irrelevant to my point. I am not answering a red herring question.

        Since you lack an advanced theology degree, should what you say be discounted by default on the topic?

        Are you asserting that we know all the laws of the natural world, how they operate precisely, and so on?

        Please, present me with the unified theory of everything.

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      3. LCB: you are ignorant. Just admit it, please, so we can stop fighting and so I can actually do what I love to do – teach.

        The red herrings here are the ones you present about science. My questions are not.

        The very obvious (painfully so, really) reason why I asked you about your scientific credentials is not to say that those without education can’t play in a game, but to demonstrate that you re making up straw men and arguing about them. No one – repeat, no one! – in my field would even begin to mis-charactierise science the way you do. It isn’t a red herring to point out, simply and quickly, that you are arguing form a place of total ignorance.

        If you want to be a caricature of a close-minded, uneducated, anti-science Christian, that’s your deal. Just stop pretending that your ignorance of science and the natural world is a sign of moral superiourity or religious understanding.

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      4. What, precisely, have I mischaracterized?

        It seems that, in fear of my conclusions you are attacking me personally.

        Has science disproven miracles? Please, cite the study for me.

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      5. Please, present me with the unified theory of everything.

        That, for another, is a delicious wanna-be “gotcha!” that only a non-scientist would utter.

        Science is, by its very definition, a process. Snarking on it (and its practitioners, by implication) for having not found a “unified theory of everything” is like snarking on Abraham for not acknowledging Mohammud as a spiritual advisor.

        Complaining that I’m engaging in nothing but ad hominem attacks, when I point out your total lack of rudimentary knowledge of science, is akin to… well…you leveling the same criticism against a hypothetical non-Catholic who, having never been part of the Church and only knowing what other people told him about it, still feels free to rip on the Church with impunity. It’s not an ad hominem attack; it’s pointing out that the person lacks enough basic knowledge to debate.

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      6. All I am saying is that we do not know everything about the physical world and its laws.

        To say otherwise is clearly wrong.

        What scientific study has demonstrated the impossibility of miracles? Please cite it for me.

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      7. I feel like I’m debating a liberal.

        I never said anything about a scientific study showing the impossibility of miracles, so that’s a nice bait-and-switch, LCB.

        You also argued via extremes, pointing out that since we do not know every single law of the natural world, science is bad and/or miracles are needed to explain things. Well, there’s a great Christian analogy to that flawed line of thinking: it’s sort of like saying that since Christians sin, God is not omnipotent and/or Christianity is a fake religion. Science is a process.

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      8. You write, “You also argued via extremes, pointing out that since we do not know every single law of the natural world, science is bad and/or miracles are needed to explain things. Well, there’s a great Christian analogy to that flawed line of thinking: it’s sort of like saying that since Christians sin, God is not omnipotent and/or Christianity is a fake religion. Science is a process.”

        You are responding to arguments I did not make and have not made.

        I strongly encourage you to respond to the arguments I’m making instead of the arguments you would like me to be making.

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      9. It seems that, in fear of my conclusions you are attacking me personally.

        I just peed my pants laughing. You’re a hoot.

        Try this on for size: after getting a chemical engineering degree and spending a few years as a nanotechnologist, I cannot abide people whose understanding of science is firmly rooted in the Middle Ages. I don’t fear ignorant arguments; I fear the devastating results they can have for a society.

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  6. Neil, et al: all that Dawkins fails to do is to demonstrate that your religion contradicts itself.

    Let’s be real: if you’re going to create a religion, it needs good miracles, just like a rock concert needs to leave your ears ringing for three days. It’s just part and parcel of the whole religion thing. Without miracles, there aren’t any elements of it that go beyond normal human experience, which is really rather dull when it comes down to it.

    A God who cannot perform miracles wouldn’t be omnipotent. Of course, that does not mean that all claims of miracles are accurate; it just means that some extra-human, extra-physical activities are a necessary part of any respectable religion.

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  7. I like to use scientific arguments when discussing whether God exists:

    – origin of the universe
    – fine-tuning of physical constants for intelligent life
    – origin of sequences in DNA that have biological function
    – habitability considerations
    – etc.

    and other evidential arguments that show that the progress of science is showing that there are areas of nature that are resistant to materialistic explanations. I.e. – the more we know in these areas, the more difficult the problem becomes to explain with particles and blind forces.

    Then of course there are the philosophical defenses to evil/suffering, divine hiddenness, religious pluralism, materialistic conceptions of mind, divine foreknowledge and human freedom, the problem of the unevangelized, etc.

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  8. “They pretend to be proving that God doesn’t exist, then they assume it and act shocked — shocked, I say! — that people of faith believe in miracles.”

    When did either of them say they’re proving God doesn’t exist?

    Neil said: They make that claim all the time. And if God exists, then miracles would be possible.

    Furthermore, there are gobs and gobs of ‘moderate’ Christians who don’t actually believe in the miracles happening as described (water into wine, etc), particularly in the UK.

    Neil said: Yeah, we have a name for those: Non-Christians. Or at least “seriously confused Christians.”

    Dawkins was shocked when he encountered so many creationists in the U.S. and how proud they were of their ignorance (this was a while ago).

    Neil said: Dawkins deliberately conflates young-earthers and old-earthers. He does it to avoid debates.

    The interviewer in this situation is fairly low-key, not like most creationists I’ve encountered and very, very calm. Dawkins didn’t do his research on him and didn’t expect quite that much stupid at once.

    Neil said: Ah, thanks for reinforcing my point and undermining your own! Nothing but an ad hom. To claim that miracles are possible isn’t stupid at all. You are trapped in to Dawkins’ pathetic little gamesmanship.

    With that context, you find it fallacious to ask whether someone believes in (some) evidenceless miracles of yore and then say, “now I know who I’m dealing with”? I fail to see that connection unless you honestly think Dawkins’ arguments rest on this interviewer believing in nonsense.

    Neil said: Again, thanks for proving my point. You are question begging as well.

    So no, no fallacy identified here. Not even slightly demonstrated. The ‘double-play’ fallacy isn’t even standard, it’s something you’re insinuating.

    “Note what Dawkins did: He assumed what he should be proving — namely, that God doesn’t exist.”

    Now you’re trying to tell us that he’s begging the question? Where? What’s his argument and how is he assuming the conclusion? You can’t just take positions that he holds (atheist, doesn’t believe in God) and pretend anything he says is an argument for that position.

    “And he turned it into a personal attack as well.”

    Learning that an interviewer holds very silly positions is not a ‘personal attack’ and being a biblical literalist is very much a ‘type of person’ and one should construct their arguments and message differently with such a person. Dawkins has a book about evolution. A biblical literalist has already made it clear that they don’t care much for empiricism, theology ‘beats’ it for them.

    Neil said: Wow, you’re the gift that keeps on giving. You don’t even know what a biblical literalist really is. We read in context. The context of the water-to-wine passage isn’t metaphorical. You assume that you can’t believe in miracles and science, and that is transparently false. You beg the question about it being silly. Do you think we couldn’t start every debate with atheists by pointing out how silly and stupid it is to believe that something came from nothing, that life came from non-life, etc.?

    “In addition, he probably lied, because unless he is a complete moron he already knew what Hewitt’s beliefs were. My guess is that he pretended to just figure it out.”

    A complete moron? Do you know how interviews get set up? Dawkins is hitting the press every day and doesn’t have time to find bios on each one. He should have looked it up first, but it sure doesn’t make him a *moron* for neglecting it.

    Neil said: Then Dawkins is lazy and/or very slow. What person wouldn’t know who they were talking to for an interview? Wouldn’t Dawkins have learned from his Expelled! experience?! He must be evolving very slowly.

    “So Dawkins’ fallacies were carefully choreographed to demonize his ideological opponent and to pretend that he’d already proved that there is no God. ”

    The “choreography” is pure speculation on your part and you’ve demonstrated no fallacies. At no point did Dawkins say he proves there is no God, so shall I use your own words and call you a liar? Nope, I don’t need to demonize, perhaps you’re projecting such qualities onto Dawkins.

    Neil said: I showed Dawkins’ fallacies and you repeated them. Thanks!

    P.S. Fair warning: I wouldn’t spend too many keystrokes if your future comments will be pathetic little ad homs like this one (“stupid,” “silly,” “nonsense,” etc.). I know that gets you virtual high fives at Myers’ place, but I prefer facts and logic. Those guys are like an extended play self-parody.

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  9. Mark Shea wrote an article on this same exchange, and cites Chesterton on the topic:

    The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism — the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence — it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is — that they see ghosts.

    The whole article (lengthy but wonderful) is found here:

    http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7117&Itemid=48

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    1. This is the type of reasoning that used to get people drowned or burned as witches.

      But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred.

      But evidently constrained enough to only accept that certain miracles did occur. What creed did he use to reject the rest?

      If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things.

      And of course no true apologetic drivel would be complete without the obligatory false dichotomy.

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      1. Sometimes there are dichotomies.

        A peasant tells a ghost story. You reject it either because the person telling it is not credible, or because the story itself is not credible.

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      2. Do you guys know how people actually argue for a miracle like the resurrection in a debate?

        You have historical rules about what counts as a reliable tradition, then you apply those rules and recover a set of minimal facts. From these facts you try to give the best explanation.

        How many of the people participating in this discussion have ever heard an academic debate on the resurrection? How many of you have even tried to answer my claim that the Big Bang (creation out of nothing) proves that miracles are possible?

        I would like to know if the people on this thread who doubt miracles have read anything about the origin of the universe, which is important because it supports the possibility of supernatural causation, which contradicts the a priori presumption of naturalism that atheists just kind of assume.

        Secondly, I would like to know which of the participants have ever heard an academic case for the resurrection. Name the participants of the debate you heard and what argument was used.

        Until I see that, I will assume that those who deny the miraculous are simply ignorant of astrophysics and historical arguments for the resurrection.

        It’s fun and distracting to insult people and make vague assertions. But let’s talk about the data. Cosmic Microwave Backround Radiation observations from the COBE satellite, and Paul’s early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. DATA. Not insults and vague assertions.

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    2. Doesn’t he ignore the problem that people may think themselves credible on a topic, but are not? The peasant may not think that he is lying, but he could be recounting an experience that has a better explanation.

      There are all sorts of psychological tricks out there, from optical illusions (not really psychological) to Ponzi schemes and magic tricks. A person can say, with all honesty, that he saw the magician saw the lady in half or that he and all his friends made thousands of dollars off a chain email, but that does not mean that those things are accurate or will play out the same way in the future.

      If you would like, I can also dredge up some fun information about the accuracy (or total lack thereof!) of eyewitness statements in court. The worst part of it is that people think they are being totally honest.

      So to disbelieve that which does not comport with the natural world is not no more silly than disbelieving someone about an everyday interaction; it’s actually a fairly logical thing to do, in light of the fallibility of the human mind.

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  10. Why won’t any of you talk about a specific miracle! I am finding this conversation very frustrating to follow.

    Look. The current best mainstream theory of the origin of the universe is that space, matter and time began out of nothing, thus contravening the Law of Conservation of Mass (Matter). Is this a miracle? Or is there a naturalistic explanation for this?

    I have many more examples like this, but they require longer explanations. So. Are we agreed that miracles happen?

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  11. All this talk about fallacies, strawmen, and drawing away from the debate topic are useless. While they may be useful in normal debates (where there is actual evidence to rely upon), this is a debate on probability and rationality. There is no piece of evidence that proves or disproves god, as that defies the idea of god. Personally I believe that thinking there is definitly no god is as bad as believing that the definitely is. The goals or most atheists is present the idiocy of believing in something that has a probability infintesimally less than that of what science has proven though evidence. You can argue all day about god being able to do anything, but in the end is it really probable that an infinatly powerful being just happened to always exist, or an explosion (one of the most simple releaces of energy) in the infinity of reallity.

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  12. somethings cannot be lerned they have to given by revelation I was a man who hated the idea of God then he came to me and I have evidance of his contact working in my life I have come into a place of understanding that evades the wisdom of this world . those who want to find out if God is real come to him Jesus says those who come to him will find out if his teaching is from man or God.he says they WILL find out . there is nothing to fear in being open to his spirit . flesh gives birth to flesh but spirit gives birth to spirit those who want him will find him for he has not put a stubmling block to make it hard open up to him let him see that your heart is wanting to enbrace his goodness its tangeble and real. ask those who know him and you will feel the kingdom just by being around them. your heart is open to his spirit be open to this and do not walk away when the king invites you in. his spirit will enrage the fire you have for truth and mercy. know all thing are open for him just as it is said he forms the hearts of all.

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  13. richardparkes, on October 29th, 2009 at 4:57 pm Said:
    somethings cannot be lerned they have to given by revelation I was a man who hated the idea of God then he came to me and I have evidance of his contact working in my life I have come into a place of understanding that evades the wisdom of this world . those who want to find out if God is real come to him Jesus says those who come to him will find out if his teaching is from man or God.he says they WILL find out . there is nothing to fear in being open to his spirit . flesh gives birth to flesh but spirit gives birth to spirit those who want him will find him for he has not put a stubmling block to make it hard open up to him let him see that your heart is wanting to enbrace his goodness its tangeble and real. ask those who know him and you will feel the kingdom just by being around them. your heart is open to his spirit be open to this and do not walk away when the king invites you in. his spirit will enrage the fire you have for truth and mercy. know all thing are open for him just as it is said he forms the hearts of all.

    I am trying to understand how people go from non-believe to belief. I have started reading the bible and have visited various reigious forums in order to gain a better understandingof the religious mind. If it is acceptable, could you please explain what triggered your belief.

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    1. DB,

      I’m going to presume that you are asking your question about going form non-belief to belief in good faith (no pun intended). Though I’m not Richardparkes, perhaps you might find my answer interesting. I often post in bullet point form to keep my thoughts clear and make responding easier for others, so these points might be helpful:

      1) Faith is, firstly, not about understanding so that we may believe. Rather understanding follows belief (“I believe so that I may understand”). I can provide all the arguments in the world to a person, but understanding the depth of friendship with God can only take place when a person actually believes.

      2) For many people their faith is rooted in some sort of experience of God, which is a starting point but is not what we would called a mature adult faith

      3) The similarities between someone like a Mother Theresa (using her since she is well known and an author) and the average atheist are strikingly. Adult faith is in many ways defined not my an experience of God, but rather how we respond to experiencing God’s absence in our lives at various times. Mother Theresa writes extensively how most her life was defined by spiritual darkness and emptiness.

      5) At this point, it is important that we draw the distinction between “having faith” and “believing.” Obviously these words can have multiple meanings, but one way of looking at them is this. Faith is a gift from God, and it is the experience and conviction of God’s presence. Belief is the choice we choose to make. In common language these 2 are used interchangeably, but they can also mean very different things. Scripture illustrates this with phrases like “I believe, help my unbelief.”

      Mother Theresa illustrates this well. She was a person who believed in God, she knew Jesus’ sacrificial love to be true and real, yet she didn’t experience that spiritual closeness (“having faith”) for many years at a time. Her response? She continued to believe anyways, believing in the spiritual darkness.

      6) So, from these things above we have a nice little summary. Faith and belief can start in many ways (curiosity, an experience), and it grows from there. The movement from non-belief to belief can sometimes be radical and sudden (and ultimately does require a ‘leap of faith’) but can also be a gradual process.

      7) Belief is more than just a feeling. It is also an act of the will, it is something we choose to do.

      I hope you find this helpful.

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      1. To fully understand Christianity, Jesus, and the love of God, you first must accept.

        How does one go about starting this process? Well, for starters, being open to God’s grace in your life.

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