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How to tell an Atheist from a Theist ?

November 22, 2008

An atheist: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

A theist: a person who believes in the existence of a god or gods, especially in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.

Given the definitions above, I was wondering if I can come up with a way of determining a theist from an atheist, depending on the way they think. So I came up with a small test a few days ago. My test may not be perfect as I came up with it in a short time and I haven’t had the chance to beta-test it on anyone. This is the first place I am publishing it and I would appreciate if anyone has any constructive feedback on it (I will update my post in case of any modifications)

 

 

Ok. So here it is. It is a story in which some facts are presented (facts of a fictional story…was that an oxymoron ??!!) and later the person is asked some questions based on it (this is the effect of watching too many crime and legal dramas on TV. LOL !!

Background of the story

There has been a murder at a small restaurant in a small isolated town. The victim, who was the owner of the restaurant, has been shot in the back of his head from very close range. Although, the chef of the restaurant has been missing since the murder, another person has been charged and brought before the judge. Even though this person has claimed his innocence repeatedly during interrogation, he has been known to be a small time thief and have had previous felony convictions but has never been charged with any homicide.

There were no witnesses to the murder but two customers who walked in, saw the defendant with the gun standing over the victim. No other evidence is available to the judge or jury – There was no signs of struggle. The cash register was not empty and the victim still had his wallet on him when he died, so maybe the crime wasn’t perpetrated for money. No other motive could be found. Nothing about the owner’s possible enemies or previous threats to his life is known.  The gun was unregistered and no fingerprints on the gun were found except that of the defendant. There were no security cameras and hence no record of people entering or leaving the restaurant was discovered.  No one else heard any gunshot or saw anyone leave. No DNA samples were found either.

In short other that the witnesses account of the murder and the fingerprints on the gun, the investigators didn’t find anything (some may say that those are not enough grounds to charge someone in a lot of countries, but let us just ignore those technicalities for now and play along).

Here’s the Witnesses’ testimony

Witness: Your Honor, we were driving through town and walked into this restaurant at around 9 PM on Thursday night to get some dinner. When we walked in, there wasn’t any other customer and the restaurant was empty. We were about to leave, when we thought we heard someone in the kitchen. We tried to peek through the kitchen door to see if we can get someone to serve us something. But, when we peeked in, we saw the defendant holding the gun and looking down at the victim, who was lying face-down on the floor with blood all around him and a bullet hole in his head. As soon as he saw us, the defendant became very scared and immediately dropped the gun and escaped through the back door.

Lawyer: Did you hear any gunshots when you were there?

Witness: No

Lawyer: So you didn’t actually see or hear the defendant shoot the victim, did you?

Witness: No

Lawyer: Did you see the defendant try to move the body?

Witness: No

Lawyer: Did the defendant threaten you in any way or point the gun at you?

Witness: No 

Now here’s the defendant’s version of the incident.

Defendant: Your Honor, I was passing by the restaurant that night when I heard a gunshot from a distance which seemed to come from this building. Curiosity got the best of me and instead of running away I ran towards the building to see what it was. When I entered the restaurant, I could not see anyone, so I entered the kitchen. Inside the kitchen, lying on the floor, face down and in a pool of blood was the victim with that gun lying beside him. Overcome with fear and confusion, I stood there for a minute or two, not knowing what to do. Without thinking, I picked up the gun from beside him, when suddenly the gentleman and lady there (pointing to the witnesses) peeked inside the kitchen. Thinking that they will suspect me of committing the crime, I dropped the gun and ran from the scene, which I later realized was foolish of me. 

Lawyer: So why didn’t you inform the police when you saw the victim’s body? 

Witness: It happened so quickly and I was so confused and frightened, that before I could do anything, these people came in and I had to escape.  

Lawyer: So why didn’t you go to the police after that?

Witness: With my previous felony convictions and with two witnesses having found me at the crime scene I didn’t think the police would believe me? Why do you think I am here now?

Ok that may not exactly be the Shakespearean drama you were expecting but you get the story, right? 😉 Now let us assume for a moment that we are the judge asked to preside over this case. Will you find the defendant guilty and sentence him or will you find him innocent and acquit him? What would your decision be? Try to ask your friends what their decision will be based ONLY on the facts given above (if something is not mentioned above assume it to be non-existent) and find out what they say. 

Here’s how to tell the difference between a theist and an atheist/agnostic: 

A ) If someone says he/she finds the defendant guilty, then that person is most probably a theist. This is because

1. He does not question his assumptions or think carefully about all possibilities. Even if he does, he does not look for proof supporting each possibility.

  • What if the defendant is telling the truth
  • What if the witnesses are lying.
  • What if the gun picked up by the defendant was used by someone wearing gloves. That way the real murderer’s finger prints won’t be on the gun.
  • What if the absconding chef is the real perpetrator or someone totally unknown.
  • There may be other possibilities to consider also. Btw, although not impossible, its highly unlikely that the victim committed suicide since he was shot at the back of his head and there were no other fingerprints on the gun and he wasn’t wearing gloves.

Theists and believers do not question their assumptions or look for proof about other possibilities. Their typical argument is that – “the natural world is so complex and everything so perfectly ordained” it must be the work of an intelligent designer or creator God. They make the assumption of the world being perfectly ordained and then, using that as a crutch, arrive at the conclusion of a creator God (which seems perfectly logical to them). For them that is the ONLY possibility. They don’t want to answer the question – “if God created everything, who created God?” – or think about any other possibility. They don’t want to think about the likelihood of living organisms evolving through natural selection without any help from a creator God. And what about the possibility of humans evolving from primates? Isn’t that a possibility? At least there is more proof of evolution that there is for God. (Here’s an excellent FAQ of common misconceptions about evolution)

 

Now, how do we know that the world is“perfectly ordained” or is it just our own biased and ignorant way of thinking? For example, if the world was so perfectly ordained, why did the dinosaurs become extinct? Why do tens or hundreds of species become extinct every decade? What sort of a perfect creator would create something which He/She considers a model of perfection and then let it be altered? If perfection is an evolving criterion doesn’t that necessarily mean that this creation wasn’t perfect to begin with and what we see today is not perfect at all? I sometimes wonder did God create those dinosaurs and then suddenly realize, “Oh! No! What an ugly creature these dinos. They will definitely give me bad rap amongst my next creation – humans. What will they think of me? How will they respect my silly commands? Let me get rid of them.” Poof ! Voila!!

 

 

2.  She believes because she wants to believe in something or someone. Her beliefs are not based on facts or proofs and her conclusions are based on faulty logic. She cherry-picks what she wants to believe in, based on preconceived notions or external factors (peer pressure etc) and ignores the rest. If she cannot find proof to support her ideas, she creates her own explanations, which are mostly figments of her imagination. Here’s why

 

     ·         She believes the story of the witnesses more than she believes the story of the defendant.  

·         She cherry-picks the facts that supports her belief of the defendant being guilty – presence at the crime scene, previous felony convictions, finger prints on the gun, running away from the crime scene. And, ignores the facts that may prove his innocence – the disappearance of the chef, the absence of a motive, the non-threatening behavior of the defendant towards the witnesses and the lack of any witnesses or concrete proof for the actual shooting.

 

Theists believe in God because they probably want to believe in something. They feel an emptiness without belief in a higher power. “What will happen if people stop believing in God? What will happen to the world if there’s no religion to guide us? There will be chaos everywhere?” is one such typical argument of believers. This idea that humans need some sort of a religion to guide them is based on the assumption that humans do not have any internal moral compass and the absence of a set of rules will cause them to push this world into chaos? Now, is there a historical precedent to this assertion? If not, then how can we make such an assertion with certainty?

Theists, also like to cherry-pick what they find convenient and feel comfortable in believing. They choose teachings from their holy books that support their ethical or moral world-view, they choose verses which align with the values they were brought up with and they follow only those rules of conduct (or interpret them in such a way) that support their ambitions in life. For instance, instead of following all the instructions in their holy books – which they claim to have come directly from God – a corporate executive would pick and choose a certain set of moral instructions from his/her own religion(ignoring the rest) than a farmer, a priest or a politician from the same religion. When did God say that we can reinterpret the holy books to fit our needs and vocation?  

3.   He believes in authority figures and considers their words or actions sacrosanct. He thinks that they are beyond questions or critical enquiry. Here’s why

·         The police arrested the defendant. They could have arrested anyone but instead they caught this guy. They must have investigated and found a reason to arrest him. So they must be right and the defendant must be guilty.   

 

Theists always fall into the trap of hero worship or apotheosis where they consider their prophets, seers or sages as divine authorities, almost the same as God. Their words are beyond any doubt, their character beyond any critical enquiry and their motives beyond any suspicion. If they say they are messengers of God, they must be. If they claim that God talked to them they must have. Why would they lie to us? If they did lie, don’t you think others would have seen through it by now? And, how can you explain their miracles? What else can we attribute their kindness for humanity , their polite nature and their divine countenance to, than the presence of God? These are not questions but attempts by believers to justify their devotion to this “divine” paragon of perfection.

 

 

Now coming back to our original test

B) If someone says he does not find the defendant guilty. That person is probably a theist also for all the reasons listed above (just that his assumptions about the defendant are the opposite of A ). However, he is an evolved theist because he did not fall for the ‘authority figure’ trap. This person, if he ever questions his assumptions and beliefs, may even someday cross over to the other side and become an atheist/agnostic.

C) If however someone says he/she does not know whether the defendant is guilty or innocent and cannot convict him based on inconclusive evidence or absence of evidence, then that person is most probably an atheist or agnostic. This is because, the person has explored other possibilities and demanded irrefutable proof before being convinced of the defendant’s guilt. Conjecture to him/her is not enough grounds to condemn a person or to believe in something. Imaginary explanations to unproven hypothesis not a basis for unflinching devotion. However, if we know that this person is a theist, it is fair to ask him/her – why is that he/she remains undecided when it comes to situations where there is lack of proof and yet conclude the existence of a creator God purely from assumed theories or abstract evidence?

 

 

Most theists from category A believe in the “Guilty until proven innocent” principle – which in this case puts the burden of proof on the defendant to prove his innocence or in general on the atheist to disprove the existence of God. As we can see from the case above, that is a faulty premise and can lead to conclusions reached from assumptions and not on undeniable proof (or innocent persons being incarcerated in this case ).

It’s easy to prove your innocence when you have an alibi, but when you are present at the crime scene and have finger prints on the murder weapon, how can you prove your innocence.  Assume for a moment that you are the defendant and you truly didn’t commit the crime but picked up a murder weapon out of foolish curiosity. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the defendant and think how you would prove your innocence. In order to do that you have to prove

 

– That you are telling the truth, which would be impossible without an alibi
– That the witnesses are lying, which would be difficult without any other witnesses or without any precedence.
– That someone else was the real perpetrator. Unless the real perpetrator admits to the crime or is caught, that would be impossible to prove.
– That the murder weapon was different from the one you picked up or that the murderer wore gloves. Without any cameras or witnesses that would be very difficult also.

– Each and every other clue which can be used against you

 

If you can’t, then don’t you think that it’ better to give the person the benefit of doubt than incarcerate him or put him to death for a crime he didn’t commit.

The principle most atheists follow is “Innocent until proven guilty” (which I learnt from wikipedia also has Latin phrase for it “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies)). Just as every claim made by scientists require proof from the scientists themselves, the proof that there is a creator God should come from theists and not from the atheists. Can the theists prove that Unicorns, Dragons or the Cookie Monster does not exist? If they can’t then isn’t it also better to reserve our judgement on the existence of God till His existence can be proven beyond any doubt? 

                                               

In this post, I have tried to show the basic differences between how atheists and theists think. There may be others and I am sure both sides would think that the other’s side is wrong and their conclusions ridiculous. So, I leave it to the reader to make his/her own judgement. But before we say adieu for now, let us not forget to reconsider the premises of our conclusions and the consequences of those conclusions on ourselves and others. Only then can the truth set us free.

 

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Rahul permalink
    November 25, 2008 7:51 am

    Just curious, why have you put only Om in the header of your blog? why not the symbolisms of other religions??
    Look forward to know your “Rational” reply….

  2. nitwitnastik permalink*
    November 25, 2008 8:20 am

    There’s no rational reply for this..;-)..it was just what space and time permitted..if someone volunteers to create an aesthetically pleasing logo for me with all symbols..I will be happy to put it up..

  3. Rahul permalink
    November 25, 2008 11:11 am

    Oh! yeah… right…. you found only a Hindu symbolism… why not a cross or something else???

  4. nitwitnastik permalink*
    November 25, 2008 1:51 pm

    Hi Rahul. Thank you for your concern for my blog. However I am not sure if your concern is valid.

    Firstly, I don’t see why my choice of symbol for my blog or for that matter my background color, font size, layout or any of the millions of things, should be anyone’s problem. As a fellow blogger, you surely must have realized that we have the freedom to choose whatever we want for our blog and what possibly represents us or our blog best (even if it doesn’t, why should we care). Just as you feel, your picture represents you best I feel this symbol represents my blog best. That is because, even though my opinions are against all theists/religion and are not limited to any one particular religion, I plan to write mostly about Hinduism and Hindu culture and felt that the OM symbol may be the best representation.

    Secondly, my pen name with the ‘nastik’ word seemed to go better with the OM symbol. It just seemed to be a good match, nothing more.

    Thirdly, it’s not fruitful for me (w.r.t to time and energy) to come up with a symbol for all religions as there are hundreds of them out there (why stick to only the major religions..right??). Even if I could, I would prefer to spend my time writing on my topics of interest than creating symbols, which is often a frustrating experience.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comments and thanks for visiting my blog. I hope to have more discussions with you on more substantial topics.

  5. Rahul permalink
    December 5, 2008 8:01 pm

    Interesting explanation buddy… but I could send you a nice little logo… would you have the courage to put it?
    And why are you picking on Hinduism?? Because they are too “liberal” or rather I’d say too cowardly to seek you out and kill you or issue a death sentence on you…
    Because I am pretty sure it will happen if you pick on Islam and if you pick on christianity you will become a social outcast very very soon…

  6. nitwitnastik permalink*
    December 6, 2008 2:50 am

    Rahul, it seems you don’t have the time or the inclination to check the rest of my blog or maybe you are deliberately ignoring my earlier posts. If you have read my earlier posts you will see that I HAVE written/mentioned about Islam and Christianity. You should check my earlier posts and then comment.

    Also as the owner of this blog I will decide the content of my blog, if you have a problem with the content, you are free to visit other blogs.

    But since you have asked, I will let you know that I have been very straight about Islam in different websites and blogs(since my blog is new I haven’t written much in my own blog)…so much so that often people mistake me for a hindu fundamentalist..which is a label I hate as I am against hindu fundamentalism also.

    here is one such recent comment I made to a fellow bloggers post…

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=429092785869048011&postID=173290126060089137&pli=1

    I have made many such comments but i don’t have the time to search it out now..so I would appreciate if you take the time to read my other posts before jumping to conclusions..and it would be helpful if you can send me your blog address also, so that I can check for myself what your views are. Otherwise this may not be a very fruitfull conversation.

  7. Rahul permalink
    December 6, 2008 10:02 am

    Hey buddy…
    You didn’t tell me anything about the logo… I have a very nice logo for your blog…
    Of course your blog is your property… never questioned it… but just seeking out the rationale… because I am pretty sure you are one of those “Secular” Hindus who derive vicarious pleasure in bashing up Hindu practices and sucking up to

  8. nitwitnastik permalink*
    December 6, 2008 3:19 pm

    Thanks Rahul, for your magnanimity..but no thanks…if I need to change my logo, I will do so myself..

    btw yes I am secular becuase I am an agnostic and do not follow any religious dogma…and I do not consider myself a hindu just because I was born to a hindu family…I have chosen this stance after careful study of the hindu religion which judging from your disinclination to study anything in it’s entirety I am sure you haven’t…can you please give me a rationale…why you are a Hindu??

    from your comments I am pretty sure you are one those blind Hindus who have never studied the hindu religious texts and just follow something because they have been told to by their parents or some authority figure..I wonder if you are like the majority of Hindus and if you have even read the bhagavad Gita ever in it’s entirety…or the rig veda..or the manu smriti..

    lets not waste time on foolish things like logo and lets discuss hinduism and we will know how much we both have read about hinduism..

  9. Rahul permalink
    December 8, 2008 1:55 pm

    I know you just don’t have the guts to put up any other religious symbol.. you are hiding behind the mask of “Secular” but you are in reality a “Anti-Hindu”.
    How did you arrive at the conclusion that I am a Hindu? Because I am saying you are anti-Hindu? Or is it because of my name?
    From your stance on your blog I am pretty sure that you are one of those half-educated “Marxist-pseudo-Secular ideology-oriented” sold out individual.
    For your information I have read considerable amount of Bible, Hadith, The Gita, 4 Upanishads, Osho and of course lots of western theology…
    You are just another vehemently “Pseudo-Secuars” who always takes on Hindus because they are not like Muslims (turn round and slash your throat)…
    Your obstinacy about your blogs logo reveals it all…

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      December 11, 2008 8:16 am

      Rahul, till now you haven’t written one single sentence which makes me think that you have even touched any of those books you claim to have read. YOu haven’t read any of my blog articles or the links I sent you and you have launched into ad hominem attacks and name-calling..something which is the hallmark of ignorant people who cannot argue their position logically. Even if you have read anything, your knowledge about hinduism is not visible from your comments. Reading books about a religion doesn’t make someone smart or makes him/her any better at understanding it. Anymore, than a pet chimpanzee taught cheap parlour tricks. There are thousands of muslim children all around the world who are forced to memorize the quran in madrasas. That doesn’t make them any intelligent or knowledgeable about islam. That just makes them more fanatic about their singular point of view just as the position you are trying to project.

      Also from the way you keep repeating the fact that muslims slit throats of dissenters, it seem you are particularly fond of that method and enjoy using violent methods to resolve conflicts. I would not be surprised if you are with the RSS. It seems you are not too willing to debate or listen to opposing or alternative points of view.

      Btw you didn’t answer my question. Why are you a Hindu? Also how do you define an anti-hindu? and, what’s so wrong about it ?

      Being called a marxist for being an agnostic is nothing new since brain-dead fanatics cannot argue beyond name-calling. I am sure people like Bill gates and Warren Buffet who are also agnostics as well, would appreciate your compliment, just as I am enjoying it.

  10. February 27, 2009 10:28 am

    While I enjoyed your post, I enjoyed your conversation with Rahul even more. It’s funny how words like ‘Marxist’ and ‘pseudo-secularist’ are often used to describe the so called social-liberals etc. It’s incredible how ‘Marxist’ has become a swear-word.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      February 27, 2009 2:23 pm

      @Siddharth

      Ridiculous right !! 😀

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