Former pastor “tries on” atheism

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Oooh, do I smell a book deal! NPR today ran an interview with a Christian pastor who supposedly made a New Year’s resolution to live for a year without God. Ryan Bell was the pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation but was asked to resign when he expressed doubts about God.

The nature of Rev. Bell’s doubts was not made clear. Nevertheless, shortly after he announced his resolution, Rev. Bell was fired from teaching positions at 2 sectarian colleges – not entirely unreasonably, I think, if he truly “came out” as an atheist, but very unreasonably if he was simply thinking for himself or thinking aloud. (Just to be clear: If you may not teach religion in a public school, perhaps you may not espouse atheism in a private, sectarian school.)

Even if he does not have an advance from a publisher, Rev. Bell’s year off will be aided by a gofundme campaign that has so far raised over $26,000 in less than 1 week. I do not know whether all the contributors are atheists, but the campaign was initiated by the atheist Hemant Mehta.

Rev. Bell says that he has always been “wrestling with [his] faith” and when he lost his positions no longer felt like “participating in church.” Things, as he put it, started to unwind, and “sometimes they unwind all the way.” Perhaps the most telling reactions were those of the atheists who told him, “You are either an atheist or you’re not. You can’t be ‘a little atheist,’ like you’re ‘a little bit pregnant,’ “ a reaction he likens to Christians telling him, “You’re not properly Christian. You’re not a Christian in our way of being a Christian, so you don’t really fit here.”

41 Comments

And also to be clear, atheism is a front for rebellion against God. http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

to live for a year without God to live for a year without God

I guess I’m wondering how one does otherwise…

Glen Davidson

From his Huffington Post column.

Ryan J. Bell wrote:

As it turns out, the day came when I really didn’t fit within the church anymore. I had been an outspoken critic of the church’s approach to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members – that approach being exclusion or, at best, second class membership (“we won’t kick you out but you can’t participate in leadership”). Through the years, I had also been a critic of the church’s treatment of women, their approach to evangelism and their tunnel-vision approach to church growth. I was deeply committed to my community and its betterment – something that won me the praise of some (and even an Innovative Church of the Year award from the North American Division) and the vitriol of others. I engaged in and sponsored interfaith relationships within my churches and in the community. I struggled alongside our neighbors for justice and peace. All of these things – things I was most proud of in my ministry – earned me rebuke and alienation from church administrators. I tried to maintain that I was a faithful critic – a critic from within – someone committed to the church and its future success but unwilling to go blindly along with things I felt were questionable, or even wrong.

This was on top of my theological concerns. I couldn’t affirm the teaching that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the “remnant church” – God’s chosen people to prepare the world for the last days. If fact, there was a lot about the church’s beliefs concerning the last days (and the more proximate days) that troubled me.

In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed. My family and my health had suffered over the past several years but my faith had suffered most of all. Since that time I have been a religious nomad. I have struggled to relate to the church and, if I’m honest, God. I haven’t attended church consistently; I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers. I haven’t prayed much and, without sermons to write on a regular basis, I haven’t studied, or even really read, the Bible.

So, I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. …

It appears to be a remake of “The Year of Living Bibically” by A J Jacobs, only the other way up. That title was a major success; doing it with the boot on the other foot is a fairly typical publisher’s idea, since the Holy Grail of the publishing industry is to produce something that’s exactly the same, only completely different.

That’s not to say that Ryan Bell is not completely sincere, of course.

They treated him like an atheist. They fired him.

Because he is separating himself from God, or his particular religion, doesn’t mean there will be no God because of his action. There is a good chance he will be able to see God’s work in a better perspective, if he stands back and looks at things in a different frame of mind. Romans ch 8 vs 38-39 says - “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. - He wouldn’t be able to conduct his decision if they didn’t give him the complete sever from the church he is moving away from. But he will never be able to remove the love that God has for him.

Marilyn said:

Because he is separating himself from God, or his particular religion, doesn’t mean there will be no God because of his action.

It doesn’t mean that there was, or is, a god(s) before his action, either. That is what he appears to have doubts about; is there one?

There is a good chance he will be able to see God’s work in a better perspective, if he stands back and looks at things in a different frame of mind.

There is just as good a chance that won’t, too. So, that will be for Ryan Bell to decide.

He wouldn’t be able to conduct his decision if they didn’t give him the complete sever from the church he is moving away from.

Who are “they” and what say do “they” have about severing his church connection?

But he will never be able to remove the love that God has for him.

But what difference does that make when such “love” cannot be distinguished or detected in the first place? Is that considered losing something?

David Tiffany said:

And also to be clear, atheism is a front for rebellion against God. http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

Your website isn’t very impressive. First, our anonymous author assumes all atheists hate god and Christians. I believe most atheists don’t hate Christians even if there are some exceptions. For example, most of my best friends are Christians. Also saying atheists hate god is silly. It’s similar to a situation where you say, “Santa Claus isn’t real, he’s just a fairy tail parents tell their kids.” And I retort by asking, “Why do you hate Santa Claus?” Simply put, it’s a non sequitur.

Secondly, it uses scripture to support all the claims that are made about atheists. It might convince less intelligent Christians of the claims but it is unlikely to convince anyone who is open minded. It would be like me trying to convince you Christianity is wrong by quoting Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

David Tiffany said:

And also to be clear, atheism is a front for rebellion against God. http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

How can atheists rebel against something when there is no evidence it actually exists? Can I rebel against other myths and legends? How about a rebellion against Zeus, Odin or Shiva? Can I rebel against Jesus or the holy Spectre and not against your god? Enquiring minds want to know… not really but it will keep you from making stupid non sequiturs.

As Louis once said: “The only reason you reject Thor is because, like a cushion, you bear the imprint of the biggest arse that sat on you.”

Individuals are complicated; that’s just part of being human.

And the fact is that, by his own admission really, there’s a lot of issues wrapped up (more accurately, tangled up) in Rev. Bell’s situation. There’s more going on here than what meets the eye.

I share Bell’s disagreement with the SDA “remnant church” doctrine (and a few others relating to SDA prophecy).

However, the SDA’s have provided some of the best Christian scholarship (e.g. Gerhard Hasel, Richard Davison) when it comes to defending the Genesis Creation and Flood accounts. They are also strong on Biblical supports for traditional God-given marriage.

And of course, everybody can learn from them regarding good health and nutrition practices.

****

But meanwhile, these are hard times for Christians, both clergy and laypeople. Hard times in terms of losing their faith, losing their grip on the Bible. Like Rev. Bell, a clear example.

Think about it: If Psalm 14:1 is even halfway true, if Romans 1:20 is even halfway true, why would any Christian PASTOR flirt with atheism at all? Something ain’t adding up.

Even if there’s a book-deal in the oven somewhere (and that IS a reasonable hypothesis), there’s so much bad history that’s already gone down in this case, that it’s now clear that this is not merely a case of a Christian pastor trying to “walk in another man’s shoes” for the sake of empathy.

This is a gifted, experienced, caring young pastor who is losing it. Losing his religion. He wasn’t “treated like an atheist”, it’s just a matter of if a Christian pastor don’t believe the Bible he shouldn’t be on the teaching faculty of a Christian university that trains biblical Christian pastors and workers.

But I feel for him. The stats say he’s not alone, either among the clergy or the laypeople, especially younger folks. This is an ongoing tragic story that looks bad, smells bad, and might end bad.

The reason for rejecting Thor is that the only tool he has is a hammer…

(Well, that and him having the audacity to ask Iron Man what he’d be without that suit… )

Wonder of wonders. He’ll have to force himself to make personal decisions without having to pray to the sky deity. He’ll have to depend on his own mental resources for (gasp) a whole year without a crutch or excuse! He’ll have to forego thinking about the white bear; don’t think about the white bear, Ryan. In the end he’ll realize that it made absolutely no difference in any situation he encounters and their ultimate outcomes.

Yep, I rebel against God in the same sense that I rebel against Voldemort and Sauron.

Just Bob said:

Yep, I rebel against God in the same sense that I rebel against Voldemort and Sauron.

Why do you hate Voldemort and Sauron? ;-)

DavidK said:

Wonder of wonders. He’ll have to force himself to make personal decisions without having to pray to the sky deity. He’ll have to depend on his own mental resources for (gasp) a whole year without a crutch or excuse! … In the end he’ll realize that it made absolutely no difference in any situation he encounters and their ultimate outcomes.

And he, like me, will be personally responsible for his own accomplishments… and failures. He’ll have no one to credit or blame but himself and an impersonal universe (which includes other people whose motivations are centered on themselves).

I’m assuming that by “trying on atheism” he isn’t actually attempting a belief, which would be a futile exercise, but is going to spend a year living as if there is no god, not praying, or asking about god’s will, or thinking about a deity at all, but taking responsibility for his own thoughts and actions.

Is that it? Sounds reasonable to me.

j. biggs said:

Just Bob said:

Yep, I rebel against God in the same sense that I rebel against Voldemort and Sauron.

Why do you hate Voldemort and Sauron? ;-)

In the world of imagined hatreds for fictional entities… I hate Sauron and Voldemort LESS than the god of the OT, if for no other reason than the magnitude of their mass murders. Neither Sauron nor Voldemort ever (fictionally) intended to kill EVERYBODY. And their motivations, while evil, are at least consistent. Whereas the (fictional) Yahweh DID kill everybody and everything (except a tiny handful), and was anything but consistent, hence unpredictable.

Henry J said:

The reason for rejecting Thor is that the only tool he has is a hammer…

(Well, that and him having the audacity to ask Iron Man what he’d be without that suit… )

actually, it was captain america who asked iron man that.

John Harshman said:

I’m assuming that by “trying on atheism” he isn’t actually attempting a belief, which would be a futile exercise, but is going to spend a year living as if there is no god, not praying, or asking about god’s will .…

Is that it? Sounds reasonable to me.

In his Huffington Post column, that’s exactly what Bell says he’s going to do.

John Harshman said:

… but taking responsibility for his own thoughts and actions …

I think he would tell you that he was always taking responsibility for his own thoughts and actions. To the best of my knowledge, everyone in my mainline Presbyterian congregation, including the pastor, takes responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.

nobodythatmatters said:

Henry J said:

The reason for rejecting Thor is that the only tool he has is a hammer…

(Well, that and him having the audacity to ask Iron Man what he’d be without that suit… )

actually, it was captain america who asked iron man that.

Well fine, I hate captain america.

Glen Davidson

FL’s comment at 10:26, above, was for some reason held for approval. I just approved it because it sheds light on how a biblical literalist views the “Bell affair.” I will probably not allow further comments from FL unless they cover new ground; I do not want this discussion to get unnecessarily off task. I will also send to the BW comments that do no more than insult FL.

Hate leads to the dark side…

FL said: He wasn’t “treated like an atheist”, it’s just a matter of if a Christian pastor don’t believe the Bible he shouldn’t be on the teaching faculty of a Christian university that trains biblical Christian pastors and workers.

I don’t see how that’s a rational grounds for firing. Did he suddenly lose the book knowledge he is expected to teach? Did he lose teaching skills? Does he now know less about planning a sermon than he did before?

I am not making a legal argument here; as a private institution, they are free to fire him if belief is one of their employment criteria. Beyond that very technicality-like argument, however, I don’t see how his ability to teach skills and knowledge has been impacted.

But I feel for him. The stats say he’s not alone, either among the clergy or the laypeople, especially younger folks. This is an ongoing tragic story that looks bad, smells bad, and might end bad.

Yep. Part of what makes it feel bad, smell bad, and end bad is that when an organization that ostensibly prizes forgiveness of sinners above everything else fires someone for doubting, they look like hypocrites.

eric said:

FL said: He wasn’t “treated like an atheist”, it’s just a matter of if a Christian pastor don’t believe the Bible he shouldn’t be on the teaching faculty of a Christian university that trains biblical Christian pastors and workers.

I don’t see how that’s a rational grounds for firing. Did he suddenly lose the book knowledge he is expected to teach? Did he lose teaching skills? Does he now know less about planning a sermon than he did before?

I am not making a legal argument here; as a private institution, they are free to fire him if belief is one of their employment criteria. Beyond that very technicality-like argument, however, I don’t see how his ability to teach skills and knowledge has been impacted.

But I feel for him. The stats say he’s not alone, either among the clergy or the laypeople, especially younger folks. This is an ongoing tragic story that looks bad, smells bad, and might end bad.

Yep. Part of what makes it feel bad, smell bad, and end bad is that when an organization that ostensibly prizes forgiveness of sinners above everything else fires someone for doubting, they look like hypocrites.

Well see that’s the difference between teaching for a public institution and a private religious institution. If you work at a public university you can have any religious beliefs you want, as long a s you are familiar with the material and teach it effectively. In a private institution you can be fired for your religious beliefs, regardless of your knowledge or teaching effectiveness.

Now which side do you think is more christian?

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

nobodythatmatters said:

Henry J said:

The reason for rejecting Thor is that the only tool he has is a hammer…

(Well, that and him having the audacity to ask Iron Man what he’d be without that suit… )

actually, it was captain america who asked iron man that.

Well fine, I hate captain america.

Glen Davidson

Funny, he always speaks well of you…

nobodythatmatters said: I think he would tell you that he was always taking responsibility for his own thoughts and actions. To the best of my knowledge, everyone in my mainline Presbyterian congregation, including the pastor, takes responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.

In some sense, one must. But I would suppose that some Presbyterians must do things because they think god wants them to, or even because they think he told them to. That’s what I was talking about.

I find myself in the unexpected position of agreeing (mostly) with FL. Since my own position hasn’t moved, I am cautiously pleased.…

FL said:

Individuals are complicated; that’s just part of being human.

Very True.

And the fact is that, by his own admission really, there’s a lot of issues wrapped up (more accurately, tangled up) in Rev. Bell’s situation. There’s more going on here than what meets the eye.

This seems very likely; I worry that it might be some sort of dishonest publicity stunt orchestrated to showcase ‘the saving power of the teachings of the SDA’ or some such.

I share Bell’s disagreement with the SDA “remnant church” doctrine (and a few others relating to SDA prophecy).

Yeah, me too – but the SDA church is hardly unique in this. There must be dozens of denominations feverishly revising history to show that all sorts of historic, or biblical, and/or entirely fictitious characters were secretly members of their particular cult. All the ‘Wait, you didn’t realize that Moses was actually a Mormon?’ and similar hogwash is repulsive, no matter what cult-name gets inserted.

However, the SDA’s have provided some of the best Christian scholarship (e.g. Gerhard Hasel, Richard Davison) when it comes to defending the Genesis Creation and Flood accounts. They are also strong on Biblical supports for traditional God-given marriage.

Heh – ‘best’ scholarship. Seems (purely at first blush) that these sorts of callous and hidebound stances are exactly what led him to question his place in the church.

And of course, everybody can learn from them regarding good health and nutrition practices.

****

But meanwhile, these are hard times for Christians, both clergy and laypeople. Hard times in terms of losing their faith, losing their grip on the Bible. Like Rev. Bell, a clear example.

Think about it: If Psalm 14:1 is even halfway true, if Romans 1:20 is even halfway true, why would any Christian PASTOR flirt with atheism at all? Something ain’t adding up.

Meh – no comment on this stuff.

Even if there’s a book-deal in the oven somewhere (and that IS a reasonable hypothesis), there’s so much bad history that’s already gone down in this case, that it’s now clear that this is not merely a case of a Christian pastor trying to “walk in another man’s shoes” for the sake of empathy.

The cynical side of me thinks that this is a very reasonable hypothesis; this may just be a publicity stunt of some sort – with motive ranging from profit to advancing the SDA agenda. There is also the possibility that Mr Bell is sincere, and the situation is exactly as presented – in which case, it is an excellent opportunity for us non-god botherers to step up and help out another human who has hit an existential rough patch.

This is a gifted, experienced, caring young pastor who is losing it. Losing his religion. He wasn’t “treated like an atheist”, it’s just a matter of if a Christian pastor don’t believe the Bible he shouldn’t be on the teaching faculty of a Christian university that trains biblical Christian pastors and workers.

But I feel for him. The stats say he’s not alone, either among the clergy or the laypeople, especially younger folks. This is an ongoing tragic story that looks bad, smells bad, and might end bad.

Eric’s comment (at http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]mment-320199) covers this ground nicely.

Three points:

A} One of the (many) features of religion that I think is counterproductive, is pre-empting certain personal interactions and responsibility to make room for the deity. Someone is hurt and you do not help? ‘The injury was gods will’, or ‘god has a plan’, or ‘god will provide for them’, or ‘well, I will pray for them’. Someone helps you and you do not reciprocate? ‘I was blessed with…’, or ‘god sent me help’. Wrong someone? ‘I will ask god for forgiveness’. Religion excuses people from being decent humans, because endless meaningless platitudes can be used to paper over failures to do right – and folks can assuage their consciences by burying themselves in a comfortable echo-chamber of self-righteousness and automatic forgiveness.

In so far as Mr Bell is as presented, he is giving up some extremely comfortable illusions; he now has to live with the harsh reality that making things right takes effort, being willing to admit error, being held accountable for your failings by very real people in the here and now. This is not an easy transition.

B} As folks who aspire to be decent human beings, we should help him out. Lending moral support in the form of letting him know that this is not a burden he has to carry alone is a start – if his entire world was build on this now-discarded paradigm, he may not even understand that it is possible to act ethically without scripture. More importantly, he should not be bombarded with proselytization; it is possible that the shift to an entirely atheist and rationalist world-view will be too much of a change. It may end up with Mr Bell adopting a (let us hope much saner) non-atheist position, in which case we should make his recall of his time amongst us into happy memories.

C} Part of giving up a church is the change in social interaction – one of the strongest (legal) punishments a church can bring to bear is ostracization. In addition to whatever existential crisis he faces, he might be socially isolated. Once again, this is a great opportunity for someone to do right simply by being a point of friendly contact in a perhaps alien and hostile-seeming world.

Just my 0.02 cents.

Just Bob said:

Yep, I rebel against God in the same sense that I rebel against Voldemort and Sauron.

Dude, you are really burning your bridges!

John Harshman said:

I’m assuming that by “trying on atheism” he isn’t actually attempting a belief, which would be a futile exercise…

(snip)

Yes. THIS.

This is what I find fascinating and intensely frustrating about people who tell me that if I’ll only believe, then it’ll all make sense. It doesn’t make sense. That’s why I don’t believe.

Even that isn’t the worst of it, though.

Consider the troll David Tiffany. According to his website, he simply refuses to accept that atheists really don’t believe in God. They actually do believe, he says. Everyone does. It’s just that “atheists” actually hate God. They just lie about it. Paul said that everyone has faith. And Paul can’t be wrong, because it’s in the Bible and that can’t be wrong, because see the first reason.

You know the schtick. It makes me want to scream.

But the second routine is just as bad, in its own way. “Just believe,” they say. “Have faith.” At least that accepts that I don’t have it. I suppose that’s something - that they accept that I know my own mind.

But it’s just as crazy. As John Harshman says, it can’t be done. I can’t believe in something by the exercise of will. Nobody can. The idea is ridiculous. You might as well tell me to flap my arms and fly.

I rather think the converse is the case, generally. I don’t know if Ryan Bell can actually renounce belief by an act of will, and I rather doubt the idea. I suspect, in fact, that he has rejected only certain practices and attitudes of the Seventh Day Adventists, or possibly “conservative” Christians generally. (“Conservatives” is a conventional, not an objective adjective for them. They’re actually extreme radicals.)

I predict, then, that he won’t actually become an atheist. He’ll find his way to a different expression of theism, and I think it highly probable that it’ll be a Christian denomination with a committment to the actual words of Jesus, unpractised by the SDA - “Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me.”

Or, possibly, (another aspect of the same hypothesis) he’ll become aware that he never really did believe, and that the only way he could achieve credence was by locking his doubts away - suppression or compartmentalisation. That requires the construction of walls within the mind. That certainly can be done, but if the walls come down, they can’t be rebuilt.

Or so I found. His mileage may vary.

Henry J said:

The reason for rejecting Thor is that the only tool he has is a hammer…

“My god has a hammer. Your god was nailed to a cross. Any questions?”

http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/83580/MY/

Dave Luckett said: But the second routine is just as bad, in its own way. “Just believe,” they say. “Have faith.” At least that accepts that I don’t have it. I suppose that’s something - that they accept that I know my own mind.

But it’s just as crazy. As John Harshman says, it can’t be done. I can’t believe in something by the exercise of will. Nobody can. The idea is ridiculous. You might as well tell me to flap my arms and fly.

I’m not so sure about that. It certainly isn’t like flipping a switch. But I suspect that many (NOT all) people who start by ‘walking the walk’ will eventually go from insincere to sincere. IMO instilling habits can sometimes change minds. In fact I suspect this is part of the reason for the rise of nonreligion in Europe and to a lesser extent the US. There is less social pressure to go to church, to belong to a church, and to go through the motions. For some percent of the population, not going through the motions results in a loss of belief, while going through the motions would keep it.*

I don’t know if Ryan Bell can actually renounce belief by an act of will, and I rather doubt the idea.

I doubt it too. But if he constantly practices ‘seeing from an unbeliever’s position’ for a year, I suspect he will believe less. And I suspect the same would be true of some current nonbelievers trying on religion. Though in the second case I think the flow will be less, if for no other reason that most US nonbelievers began as believers, have 10-20 years of ‘seeing things from that perspective’ already under their belt, and so the exercise is less likely to change their minds.

*So then the question is why. Why do ‘mere’ habits change beliefs? Well, IMO humans do very badly at giving up sunk costs. If you make someone invest a lot of time, effort, or care in something, they are naturally going to want to value it highly because not valuing it after spending so much time on it is psychologically upsetting. Consider the very simple experiment where people think a wine tastes better when they pay more for it. That’s a real effect. It’s probably also a simple analogy to the effect of religious practice on religious belief - paying more into it results in you buying more into it, so to speak. But I digress.

Well, IMO humans do very badly at giving up sunk costs. If you make someone invest a lot of time, effort, or care in something, they are naturally going to want to value it highly because not valuing it after spending so much time on it is psychologically upsetting.

Which is one factor that explains why certain ID/creationists effectively can’t be convinced by evidence.

Isn’t a “little bit atheist” basically agnostic?

Does this story not also frame atheism as a ‘belief?’ This word is often used in religious circles as connoting a position held as an article of faith, evidence notwithstanding. This seems to be opposed to how most atheists would define their position, that the evidence does not allow one to reject the null hypothesis, the absence of a deity.

air: it does, but that seems to be the default position for theists. Faith is so integral to their worldview that the very idea of a faithless evidence-based position is utterly incomprehensible to them.

air said:

Does this story not also frame atheism as a ‘belief?’ This word is often used in religious circles as connoting a position held as an article of faith, evidence notwithstanding. This seems to be opposed to how most atheists would define their position, that the evidence does not allow one to reject the null hypothesis, the absence of a deity.

By this standard I am an atheist.

However, I have to tell you that I can remember a time when the word was used somewhat differently.

Accepting the null hypothesis used to be described as “agnosticism”.

Positions that DO categorically deny even the possible undetected existence of gods - for example, Soviet communism - used to be described as “atheism”.

Words evolve over time, and it seems that there is not much use any longer for the old term “agnosticism”. Those of us who simply say we have no reason to believe in gods are now described as atheists.

That’s fine with me. However, if some people refer to a stronger position (categorical denial of the existence of gods) as “atheism”, that could reflect historical usage.

I’ve seen a fair number of “rational atheists” melt down into unjustified and pointless rage over “the meaning of the word ‘atheist’”, and I hope that this brief comment does not cause that to happen in this thread. I’m sure it won’t, but bring this up only because I have seen it so many times before.

Paul Burnett said:

“My god has a hammer. Your god was nailed to a cross. Any questions?”

Were you there? :D

harold said:

Accepting the null hypothesis used to be described as “agnosticism”.

I, too, don’t want to turn this into a discussion of True Atheism, but just for clarity let me quibble a bit with your remark.

I think a real statistician/logician (and I am most certainly not one) would say that one does not ‘accept’ a null hypothesis; one fails to reject it. Your statement strikes me as analogous to the ‘strong atheist’ position where, having sought evidence for a deity and finding none, one goes further and takes the position that the null hypothesis is in fact the case.

This latter bit is the ‘meta-statistical’ step and I suspect is at the root of a lot of True Atheist discussions.

I think a real statistician/logician (and I am most certainly not one) would say that one does not ‘accept’ a null hypothesis; one fails to reject it.

I wasn’t clear enough; that’s what I meant by “accept” the null hypothesis. In my defense that language is used even in statistics textbooks sometimes, but “fail to reject” is better.

That’s my logical position - I fail to reject the null hypothesis, that gods don’t exist, because I currently have no compelling evidence that gods do exist.

Granted, though, my emotional bias is that they don’t exist.

It seems like a subtle distinction, but that’s because younger people today tend to forget that Soviet communism was a major influence on the world not merely from 1945 to about 1991, but even from 1917 to 1991. During that time period the system of “Western” nations was largely defined by contrast to the system “behind the iron curtain”. Nations other than the US, Western Europe, the richer members of the Anglosphere, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European communist nations were defined by whether they chose Western or Soviet influence. The official view of Soviet communism was strong atheism. “Gods don’t exist”, and I can assure you someone publicly saying “I don’t reject the null hypothesis” in the USSR ran the risk of official disfavor or punishment - the official stance was “gods categorically don’t exist, period”.

The subtle difference is that I could believe in gods, if there were adequate evidence for them. I have no ideological position against gods, I just feel that the evidence argues strongly that they are imaginary characters invented by projecting human minds.

Aside from the standard issue of the existence / nonexistence of god(s), has evolution come into this story?

If Ryan Bell were leaving a standard mainline Protestant denomination, it basically wouldn’t be an issue. But I suspect that for the Seventh-Day Adventists it might be one of the questions he has raised. Does he mention it?

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on January 12, 2014 8:29 PM.

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