The Non-Answers: God, Satan, and Sin

January 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm 44 comments

A while ago, when I was reading up on the atheist / theist debate, I remember coming across multiple instances where an atheist would say:

“God is a non-answer.”

As a Christian I remember going “what? That’s a clever ruse. Just say it isn’t an answer and dismiss it off-hand?” I honestly thought it was a stupid, clever trick to dismiss God.

But then I’ve been thinking about it. “God did everything” or “God allowed everything” or “God made everything” or “God is everywhere” or “God designed everything” or “God has every answer” or “God knows” are not very useful statements. They are just as useful as “Satan is the source of all lies” or “sin is the source of all suffering” or “government corruption is caused by greed”. For, if we were to honestly apply those answers in our daily lives, they would get us no where.

~

For each question below, consider the usefulness of the answers “God”, “Satan”, or “Sin”. Then consider the usefulness of the other answers. Then ask yourself: would ignoring the answers “God”, “Satan”, and “Sin” make any difference in my life?


Q1: Where do babies come from?

A1: God

A2: Sex

Q2: What causes earthquakes?

A1: Sin

A2: Satan

A3: Natural causes that can be studied to help us avoid earthquake prone areas.

Note: if you answer A1 or A2, what method are you going to use to determine which one is the correct answer?

Q3: Where does lightning come from?

A1: Satan

A2: God

A3: Built up electric charges between two large bodies, like a cloud and the earth.

Note: if you answer A1 or A2, what method are you going to use to determine which one is the correct answer? Also note that (A1) and (A2) are polar opposites, so saying “it could be either one” is quite a difference.

Q4: What causes illnesses?

A1: Satan (attack)

A2: God (testing)

A3: Sin (punishment)

A4: Bacteria and viruses that can be avoided by limited contact with the sick, regular washing of the hands, and medicinal treatments.

Note: if you answer A1, A2, or A3, what method are you going to use to determine which one is the correct answer? Keep in mind that A1, A2, and A3 are radically different answers… it would be best to have a method to determine which one is accurate!

Q5: Why is my marriage falling apart?

A1: Satan is attacking us

A2: My spouse is sinning

A3: I am sinning

A4: I am having an affair

A5: I am lying about my affair and my spouse is catching on…

Out of all these answer, the most practical one is (A5), all the other answers are pretty meaningless, even if they could be said to be “true”. And keep in mind, that saying “having an affair is sinful” is a completely meaningless statement. It doesn’t matter whether having an affair is sinful or not, what matters is that having the affair and lying about it are the cause of the marriage falling apart. We are assuming here that a marriage falling apart is a bad thing. (A5) is the only meaningful and useful answer out of all of them – and it says nothing about whether Satan or sin is involved! (A5) just says “having an affair and lying about it is causing your marriage to fall apart”. End of story. There is no need to insert a spiritual commentary at all and the answer reveals itself without any reference to sin or Satan. The solution? Stop having the affair if you want your marriage to stop falling apart!

~

Answering “God”, “Sin”, or “Satan” to everyday questions may be convenient by categorizing an item as caused by something benevolent (God), caused by ourselves (Sin), or caused by something malevolent (Satan). However, beyond that the answers are completely meaningless. These answers simply give us a way to categorize and personify the source of an item in question. But that is all these answers do.

“God”, “Satan”, and “Sin” are useless non-answers that are completely subjective depending on the mood, the neuroticism, and the doctrinal standing of the individual throwing them around as answers. They are completely useless answers in our daily lives, which is why non-theists can get along just fine without them.

- Josh

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44 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BigHouse  |  January 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Josh, that was a lot of words (particularly the Q/A part which came off as superfluous to me) to get to the core of the atheist/theist debate in one sentence : Those words don’t have meaning for atheists, but are doctrinal core for theists.

  • 2. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Oh, well. That wasn’t the point of what I wrote. Sorry it came off that way.

    I guess at least Joe now has evidence we aren’t sockpuppets.

  • 3. Quester  |  January 6, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Big House,

    The words may be doctrinal core, but, even for the theist, do they have meaning?

  • 4. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    That’s my point, Quester :) Thanks for chipping in.

  • 5. BigHouse  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    They would argue they have meaning, wouldn’t they? They’d be making it all up of course, but they’d assign them meanings.

  • 6. Joe  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    (#2)
    Shari Lewis (verntriloquist): “Hey Lambchop, I think the sky is green”.

    Lambchop (her sockpupper): “No it isn’t, it’s blue”.

    TV Viewer: Oh, they disagreed with each other. I guess lambchop must not really be a sockpuppet.
    :)

  • 7. Quester  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Big House,

    They’d be making it all up of course, but they’d assign them meanings.

    But what meanings?

    God- that which is beyond our comprehension?
    Sin- to go against the will of that which is beyond comprehension?
    Satan- one who, in a manner we can neither understand nor define, tempts us to go against the will of that which is beyond our comprehension?

    Can something which can not be defined still be said to have meaning?

    Joshua,

    That’s my point, Quester

    I’d hoped I’d followed your thoughts correctly.

  • 8. Joe  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    #6
    Sorry, couldn’t resist. The logic of #2 was hilarious.

    I will permanently stop now with any more references to sockpuppets. :)

  • 9. BigHouse  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Don’t get the impression that I think they have meaning. But do you honestly think any argument with a theist would result in THEM thinking there’s no meaning?

    It’s a forest/trees distinction. These words are trees. If a theist hasn’t backed up to look at and ponder the forest, this line of reasoning will just fall silent. That’s the only point I’m making.

    The nakedness and emptines of the tress to me became VERY clear once I stepped back to ponder the forest.

  • 10. BigHouse  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    And on a semi-related note, I have read my last post by and made my last post to Joe. Talk about wasted time and energy on completely deaf and uninterested ears.

    Have a nice life, Joe.

  • 11. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Yeah, you got it Quester.

    BigHouse, let me try to explain it this way. Sure the theists would all be making the explanations up, but doesn’t that reveal something? Doesn’t the very fact that they *can* make up their own interpretation of every event and answer it almost sporadically with “sin”, “God”, or “Satan” reveal that those terms really don’t have any meaning whatsoever other than:

    God: Benevolent supernatural source. Conclusion? Be thankful “or else”.

    Satan: Malevolent supernatural source. Conclusion? Be wary “or else”.

    Sin: Human source. Conclusion? Humans must change behavior “or else”.

  • 12. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    All “God”, “Satan”, and “sin” (and their various million other pseudonyms among religions) are is terms to refer to personified, unknown causes.

    The end goal of all three terms is to influence human behavior. The terms themselves don’t have any intrinsic meaning, but their potential affect on human behavior is what matters.

  • 13. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    BigHouse, I feel the same way about Joe. Complete waste of time.

    Joe, you’re like the homeless people who leech off of homeless shelters and complain that they keep having to hear the same old sermon over and over, but suck up the social environment anyway.

  • 14. Joe  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    #13 of course you feel the same way as Bighouse feels Josh. :)

    You have a nice life too.

  • 15. Joe  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    If no one else has figured out what’s going on by now read 10 and 13. I really do not appreciate someone posting, and then answering themself with another post, possibly from another computer. That happened at another site and I think it is what is really the waste of time.

    I have been quite civil on this board for some time, but this sockpuppet crap should really stop. I’m serious. It is very obvious, and very annoying.

    I’m sorry everyone—but this kind of crap annoys the hell out of me—-either be yourself and post, or don’t post at all.

    I will take another hiatus. I was gone for two weeks, and I’ll leave for a while again. Hopefully the sockpuppet stupidity will stop and decent conversation can return once again.

    adios,

  • 16. Quester  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Big House,

    But do you honestly think any argument with a theist would result in THEM thinking there’s no meaning?

    Perhaps not. Though any theist who goes further than the dismissive “of course they have meaning” and takes even a moment to ponder what that meaning is, is that much closer to pondering the forest.

    And, however Joshua means this article, I see it less as an argument for deconverting theists than as a revelation reaached during the process of deconversion.

  • 17. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I can’t believe Joe thinks BigHouse and I are the same person. That’s completely absurd.

    I’d show him the IP addresses, but I know that wouldn’t do any good because he has already got it fixed in his mind that we (I) am signing in on two different computers.

  • 18. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    The irony, of course, is that for over a year now, both BigHouse and I have been posting to this site. Then, just recently, Joe begins to start to think that we are the same person just because we agree with each other. What the?

    And even when we don’t agree (comment 1), Joe still thinks we are the same person!

    Then he circumvents any possible opportunity for the two of us to demonstrate we are not the same person by implying that I am signing in on two different computers. This would obviously imply that I can’t show him two different IP addresses from the blog logs to demonstrate it.

    Ladies and gentleman, I would like to show you how a conspiracy theory starts. It starts with a hunch, grows into a suspcision, and then builds a theory for which no evidence could possibly defeat it. There is no evidence I could show Joe right now that we are two different people.

    That is how every conspiracy theory known to man works.

    That is how religion works.

  • 19. BigHouse  |  January 6, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Apparently, Josh, I got out of reading Joe’s posts in the nick of time, lest I had to read that drivel you describe.

    Of course you knew that already, you’re me :-)

  • 20. Joshua  |  January 6, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    BigHouse,

    It’s so nice to know I am not alone… even when I am!

  • 21. CheezChoc  |  January 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    [What About Bob]Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m schizophrenic, and so am I.[/What About Bob]

  • 22. Tidus  |  January 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Sometimes, Christians (myself included) fail to understand the Atheist’s position:”There is no god!”

  • 23. Ubi Dubium  |  January 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Sometimes Christians fail to understand that most Atheists’ position is not “There is no god”, but “There is presently insufficient evidence to establish the existence of any supernatural beings. Until such evidence is presented, I see no reason to believe in any of them.”

  • 24. Outsider  |  January 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    An Atheist may conclude that there is no god due to the lack of definition of who/what “god” is. Many followers of different religions have the misconception that because people don’t/cannot believe in god, that such Atheists/agnostics lack any understanding of morals or purpose. Many faithful tend to undermine human efforts. Civilization has gone a long way. The study of morality has evolved and will continue to. God in the bible has evolved from OT to NT. I see this as simply an advancement in the way humans tried to interpret morality has they become more aware of the environment and the people that surround them. For me, the bible is just a collage of ancient writings haphazardly put together in attempt to tell a morality story. For many Atheists/Agnostics, the bible (Christianity, or any other religion) is confusing, inconsistent and contradicting. I find that those who believe that the bible is the inerrant word of god are narrow-minded, discriminating, and delusional (however intentionally that may be).

  • 25. Outsider  |  January 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I meant “unintentional”

  • 26. Eve's Apple  |  January 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    The other night no sooner had I finished reading this blog when I got a phone call from someone I hadn’t heard from in years, and we ended up having a conversation very much like the original posting! It was so eerie. She is a Christian who believes that there are demons controlling non-Christians and I kept thinking of what Josh said about this being a non-answer. I asked her, if we are all subject to the whims of invisible entities pulling the strings behind the scenes, then how can we really function as a society, when we have no way of determining who is behind what? I think that shook her up a bit.

    Anyway, it is rather sad to see what she has chosen to do with her life and her mind, and yes, I do believe that her religion has a lot to do with holding her back, as it is easier to blame one’s troubles on Satan than to look hard at oneself. Let’s just say, the lady has a lot of troubles, I am not sure what is going on there, but I suspect a personality disorder of some sort. I told her about Asperger’s and how I had spent years of my life looking in the wrong place (church) for answers that the church was not able to provide; and that was one of the factors that led to my deconversion. She is not happy in her faith; i think she is fighting deconversion. She says she wants to go to seminary to learn more about the Bible; I warned her that that might be a big mistake in terms of her faith, as many of us here know! Frankly I think the money could be better spent on something that could put food on her table and a roof over her head, as she is not in good financial shape.

    I don’t know if I will hear from her again. It was religion that came between us in the first place. But if she does, I am afraid she will find me much changed. I don’t have the tolerance for nonsense that I used to.

  • 27. mikespeir  |  January 13, 2010 at 7:56 am

    I like to say that nonexistent entities don’t explain anything, because they don’t exist. If you are convinced that a certain entity does exist, you’ll need to demonstrate the fact of its existence before calling on it to serve as an explanation for something.

  • 28. peter  |  January 15, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Q5

    A6: I de-converted and my wife is a fundamentalist Christian.

    How does that work for reality?

  • 29. Joshua  |  January 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    peter,

    Genuinely sorry to hear that. I take it she is not slightly sympathetic with your current views or your previous doubts – at all?

  • 30. WI  |  January 21, 2010 at 3:12 am

    Nice post. Questions like these plus the “meanings” in Quester’s comment (#7) very neatly bundle together the reasons I deconverted.

  • 31. Monty  |  January 22, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Several of the comments remind me of a chapter from Carl Sagan’s masterpiece, The Demon Haunted World. This chapter, as I recall is: There’s a Dragon in My Garage. I’m writing without the benefit of having the book in my hands, so if I confuse my facts, sue me.

    There’s a class in critical thinking. The professor makes the statement, “There’s a fire breathing dragon in my garage”. Naturally, the students want to see the dragon. The professor suggests that rather than the entire class making the journey to his apartment, that instead they investigate the presence of the dragon as a thought experiment. He says, “OK, we’re here.” He opens the garage door and lo and behold… there’s no dragon. Someone says, “So there’s no dragon?” The professor says, “Yes there is. My dragon is invisible”. There’s a suggestion that flour be sprinkled around the garage. When the dragon moves, footprints will be shown. The professor says his dragon floats in the air. Spray paint is suggested, but the dragon is then declared incorporeal. Infrared cameras to detect the flaming breath – no, the flame is without heat. No matter what method of detection is suggested to lend credence to the claim that a dragon is indeed present in the garage, there is a counterclaim as to why that claim will not work. At some point one must ask, “What is the difference between an invisible, floating, incorporeal, heatless fire breathing dragon, and no dragon at all?” The answer, of course, is none. So what does it mean to say this dragon exists?

    What does it mean to say God exists? Demons? The Devil?

  • 32. peter  |  January 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Joshua,

    No, she is not. I haven’t even begun to share all of my doubts. Right now, she thinks I am a very liberal Christian. And she wants me to go have a sit down chat with all her favorite religious “leaders.” If I say I’m agnostic who knows what will happen…

    I recently suggested trying a more liberal Church, you know one that doesn’t teach the Bible is divinely inspired. To which she replied, “Going to different churches is like divorce.”

  • 33. BigHouse  |  January 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Peter, good luck with your situation, it sounds like it isn’t going to be easy. Just try to be true to yourself and understanding of where your wife is coming from, which is a much different place than yours.

  • 34. Joshua  |  January 25, 2010 at 12:30 am

    peter,

    Sorry, I’ve been moving this weekend…

    That really sucks… for lack of a better word. “Going to different churches is like divorce”… hmmm… sounds like she takes things to an extreme.

    I’m with Big House. Definitely be true to yourself. Don’t let the religious convictions of those around you define how you act.

    Best of luck. Wish I had more advice, but remember to be patient first and foremost, and honest second.

  • 35. milehigh  |  January 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Peter,
    I’m in the exact spot you are in! My wife thinks I have become more liberal in my faith and have doubts. I still attend church with her and the kids, but have stopped teaching the kids about the faith. She knows something is up I’m sure. I would have to land in the agnostic camp.
    I’m not sure how being true to yourself fits into the equation at this point, seeing the damage to your family it may cause. Lots of people attend church with the family and don’t believe. Lots of people hold jobs they don’t like and do things that are not comfortable because they want to keep their family, friends or job. Yes, it sucks. I’ve managed to stay out of Bible Studies and groups/prayer events, which makes it easier. I can’t play that game anymore.

  • 36. 4riozs  |  January 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I’m happy that my family isn’t taking my deconversion in a bad manner. My brother is thrilled. He attributes our current closeness to my deconversion, and also attributes the years of barely seeing each other to the church. My mom is sad about my deconversion and insists that I still believe Jesus is my savior, she is scared that I’m going to hell.

    I think it’s good to be honest, but for Peter and Milehigh, we have to remember the mindset of those we have left behind. By keeping that in mind it is easier to avoid offending them. They take this stuff seriously and are governed by fear- because of their fear and belief in their God it’s easy to become cut off from them due to their beliefs. I’d say to take it slowly when it comes to your position- more so to protect your relationships.

  • 37. Joe  |  January 26, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    4riozs—

    Could you share a bit more? I am wondering how long you were a believer? I appreciate your attitude in wanting to protect relationships with your family, and thus are moving “slowly”.

    Your mother’s reaction is actually quite normal. Her “fear” is a coupled reaction of her belief system mixed with her love for you. I’m glad you are making plenty of room for her to accept your choice in life. They will also need to learn to accept your choice—but the way you are approaching this will make that acceptance far more possible in the long run. I am a believer, but respect your decision. Of course, I, like your Mom truly hope you return to the fold one day. :>) Of course, that most likely will never happen, but who knows? All the best.

  • 38. 4riozs  |  January 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Joe, I’m an agnostic. I was a believer for over 15 years, missionary and had been apart of church leadership for about 8 years. I most likely won’t go back to the fold. Honostly if some greater being exists I often think that this was my destiny in some strange way. I was very serious about my faith and my relationship with God. My story is a long one. If I were to embrace some sort of Christianity it would apart from organized religion.I don’t see it happening though. But leaving the faith has brought me peace. My blog is attached if you are interested.

  • 39. BigHouse  |  January 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

    milehigh, you said: “I’m not sure how being true to yourself fits into the equation”

    To me, being true to yourself IS the equation..of life!!

    Now, I acknowledge that your situation is extremely complicated, and in fact, I share some circumstances in my own situation. But, there’s a difference between what you choose to do and say insofar as your family is involved and what you choose to BELIEVE and BE as a person. If going to church will “keep the peace” I don’t think that’s a wrong choice for you. But if you feel forced to believe things you can’t or won’t lest you lose your family, then I think you need to have a serious discussion with your wife. Wouldn’t you want to do the same if she decided to become an active devil-worshipper or Heaven’s Gate cultist or something?

    At the end of the day, neither “side” can make the other “believe” something they aren’t ready for. But if you can’t peacfully co-exist with differences in belief, I think addressing it positively and constructively is the best course of action.

    I wish you the best of luck!

  • 40. Joe  |  January 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    4riozs—(#38)

    Thanks for sharing that. Just curious—were you a missionary to another country? And if so whcih one? I’m always interested in that—-just like to hear about missionary experiences that people have had. if you have the time maybe you can share a bit about that. If not, thanks for sharing what you have already.

  • 41. 4riozs  |  January 27, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I was a missionary to Costa Rica. My missionary experience has nothing to do with my current beliefs. The church I worked with is a wonderful place and I still have many friends there. The church their is very active in the community, we would make food for the homeless once a week, they do events for the highschools, if I went back to the country I’d probably hang out with them for the social atmosphere and the good things they do for the community.

  • 42. atimetorend  |  January 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Peter, I was in a similar situation with my wife, definitely feel your pain. We took things as slow as possible. We are going to a more liberal (though not really liberal) church than we went to before, that was a huge shift. I know a lot of her reactions were caused by fear, and as she adjusted we were better able to talk about things, but it took a long time, maybe a year and a half at least. Hope things go well for you.

  • 44. OLABODE OLANIPEKUN  |  April 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    The theists will always present their arguments in an irrational and illogical manner. Because, the evidences they usually bring forward to support themselves are just nothing but afterthought, self-justification and self-righteousness.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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