• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Is Atheism Wishful Thinking?

StarsWishful

One of the jabs atheists make towards Christians is that our religion is all wishful thinking.

They like to blame us for believing in "a sugar daddy in the sky"–a kind of invisible Santa Claus who is going to make everything okay one day. When we die we’ll all go to a happy family reunion and all the nasty stuff will go away. If we hold on tight for a few years here, we’ll just go upstairs for the big party.

We are also supposed to believe in a God who answers prayers here below and gives us goodies if we’re good. They imagine that we believe God is like a great big vending machine. We put our prayer in the slot at the top and the candy pops out into the tray in the bottom.

I’m afraid there probably are some Christians who have such a facile, childish, superstitious view of God and their religion, and Protestant Christianity has often sold this sappy, sentimental “pie in the sky when you die” version of the faith.

But Catholicism is more robust. We believe that sometimes God doesn’t give us candy. He gives us our vegetables and expects us to eat them in order to make us stronger, and when we die we don’t all expect to fly straight to heaven for the eternal family reunion. We go to a place called purgatory where we have to finish our greens, do our homework, pay for our misdeeds, breathe a sigh of sorrowful relief that we didn’t go down below, and continue to look upward for the day when we do pass through to heavenly bliss.

Even this more common sense and tough understanding of the afterlife  is dismissed as silly wishful thinking.

But is it really?

There are two problems with calling the Catholic view "wishful thinking." First of all, Jesus calls me to give up everything I have (Lk 14:23), be prepared to break with my family (Lk 14:25-27), and eventually take up my cross and follow him (Lk 9:23). This is the cost of being his disciple. This is not exactly what I would have wished for had I been engaged in a daydream of wishful thinking.

Secondly, it seems to me that it is the atheist who is the wishful thinker. Faced with the universal human belief in an afterlife he looks away. Faced with the possibility that there might just be a final judgement in which he will have to give account of himself, he denies heartily that such a thing will happen.

“There is no God. There is no heaven. There is no hell. When you die you simply cease to exist.”

Now this sounds like some very serious wishful thinking because if his wish comes true, then he can live as he wishes and never has to pay the cab fare. He gets a free ride.

It is the atheist, therefore, who really thinks there will be pie in the sky when he dies, but his version of pie in the sky is a happy oblivion. It is simply going to sleep and not waking up.

Is it not in fact, simply his version of the “rest eternal” he accuses Christians of wishing for?

The possibilities of Hell and eternal torment are certainly frightening. Considering that practically every culture and religion across the world, and down the ages, have believed in the underworld and the possibility of going there, isn’t the atheist’s thinking not only more wishful, but dangerously wishful?

Many atheists identify as rational, sensible, scientific, and careful, but given the possibility that there just might be a Heaven, Hell and judgement, isn’t it the believer who is, in fact, the sensible fellow?

He may be engaged in wishful thinking, or then he may simply be playing his cards right and placing his money (and his life) on a common sense bet.
 
 
Article originally appeared at Standing On My Head. Used with permission.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Written by

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • LaDolceVipera

    Sometimes silence is the best answer to sheer nonsense

    • Mike

      ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

      PS do you get? it ;)

  • David Nickol

    This is an extraordinarily disappointing post. Boiled down to its essence, it is Fr. Longenecker saying, "You say we're deluded, but it's you who are deluded. So there!" This is apologetics? This is dialog with atheists? It reminds me of the old childhood taunt, "I'm rubber you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!"

    Fr. Longenecker is taking a very watered down charge against Christianity that one might hear from some atheists, reversing its direction, and aiming it at atheists in general as if it were a compelling criticism: "It is the atheist, therefore, who really thinks there will be pie in the sky when he dies . . . . "

  • Ian G

    Even as a Catholic I think this smacks of Pascal's Wager. It's not why I joined and I hope it is not what would keep me here. Atheists can do cynicism perfectly well without our help.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    There are both pluses and minuses to belief in the Catholic afterlife. A believer has the comfort of heaven while the un-believer avoids the fear of hell. It is very simplistic thinking on the part of both the atheist and on the part of Fr. Longenecker to say that belief or un-belief is simply wishful thinking,

  • David Nickol

    Many atheists identify as rational, sensible, scientific, and careful, but given the possibility that there just might be a Heaven, Hell and judgement, isn’t it the believer who is, in fact, the sensible fellow?

    How can anyone commit to something—particularly something like Christianity—on the chance that it might be true? Judaism might be true. Islam might be true. Many other religions might be true. As Ian G notes below, the above is a form of Pascal's Wager, and any persuasive power it has rests on Christianity's invention of the most horrifying tortures a loving God will inflict on you in an afterlife if you don't believe in Christianity. If there is a religion that has a more horrifying conception of the punishment of those who don't believe in it, that religion would be the winner for those who think Pascal's Wager makes sense.

  • David Nickol

    The possibilities of Hell and eternal torment are certainly frightening.

    I find it ironic that the doctrine that makes it most frightening for me to be a "non-practicing" Catholic is also one of the doctrines that makes it nearly impossible for me to believe that Catholicism is true. I can't think of anyone in history whom I think would be deserving of "eternal torment." Not Hitler, not Stalin, not Judas . . . nobody. How could an all-just, all-good, all-merciful God set up "eternal torment" as the fate any of his creatures? What is the point of it?

    • Dhaniele

      This reminds me of a Hungarian mystic who begged Jesus to forgive Satan. Jesus called Satan and asked him -- "Do you want me to forgive you?" The reply was "forgiveness? Never!" Love cannot be demanded or extorted; it has to be freely given, and that is what heaven is about. It is a free choice.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It seems to me that Satan, after suffering eons in hell without God, would see the errors of his ways, especially since he is supposedly a being of great intelligence.

        • Mike

          you're a being of great intelligence and yet you still haven't seen the error of your ways! :)

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          after suffering eons in hell

          As I understand it, time does not pass in eternity, since time is the measure of motion in corruptible being.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So we no longer get 30 days off of our time in purgatory for saying various prayers and novenas?

            The 18 year old girl from the Fatima apparitions will no longer spend till the end of time in purgatory? It is too bad apologists don't hold their seers up to the same standards of precision and rigor as they do their atheist critics, especially when the visions become a cornerstone of the faith of many believers.

            It seems like Christians and apologists use time at least analogously when talking about the afterlife. Although, if there is not time in purgatory, all those indulgences were rather silly.

            According to our mystic's story, Jesus offered to forgive Satan, who had already experienced hell in whatever manner Satan experiences hell. A smart being would jump at the chance of forgiveness, especially if he knew what that sin had cost him.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Ah, you are confusing the aptness of language with the philosophical. Time is being used analogously.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So what does it mean, when a Novena takes away 30 days of purgatory time? That is a pretty precise measurement for it to be simply an analogy.

      • David Nickol

        Jesus called Satan and asked him . . .

        Do you believe this actually happened?

        Love cannot be demanded or extorted; it has to be freely given, and that is what heaven is about.

        But the reward for loving God is eternal bliss, and the punishment for not loving God is eternal torment. How is that not love being demanded or extorted?

        It is a free choice.

        But you are punished if you make the "wrong" choice. What is free about that? I would rather make a "free" choice with a gun to my head than under the threat of eternal torment.

        • Dhaniele

          It is evident that genuine love cannot be extorted. This is why the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Keeping the golden rule and being thankful to the Creator allow people to avoid the pitfalls of selfishness and self-centeredness that are the destruction of the human personality as it was envisioned by God (man is made in his image and likeness). Once people experience what a genuinely human existence is, their motives of grateful love become deeper and more satisfying since the law of God is written in their hearts and they experience a genuinely human existence. One has only to read the writings of people like Theresa of Lisieux to know that this kind of life can be attained. Those who choose to reject this kind of life (which is our true calling) risk living in a selfish and self-centered way and have made a choice that can be eternal.

  • David Nickol

    There are two problems with calling the Catholic view "wishful thinking." First of all, Jesus calls me to give up everything I have (Lk 14:23), be prepared to break with my family (Lk 14:25-27), and eventually take up my cross and follow him (Lk 9:23). This is the cost of being his disciple.

    In America today, there is no real conflict (or so it seem to me) between being extremely affluent and being a Catholic. How many Catholics have given up everything they have? How many people "hate" their mother, father, son, daughter, etc.?

    • How many people "hate" their mother, father, son, daughter, etc.?

      I'm reminded of the first gay Catholic man I got to have a long conversation with - he'd been disowned by his Catholic parents in his teens, told that he was "a disease" and worse.

      Happily, the advance of secular morality in the last decade has made this particular form of virulent religious outburst much less common.

      • Ian G

        I am doubtful about your cause and effect. Non believer parents are just as capable of disowning their children. And not just gays.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          But it is highly doubtful that a nonbeliever would disown his children for the sole fact that they are gay. Some believers, on the other hand, think homosexuality is like a mark of Satan.

          • Mike

            that must explain why ALL officially atheistic countries on earth like the Soviet Union and all former republics still and China, Vietnam, Cuba North Korea DO NOT recognize non-traditional marriage and some have severe penalties for "immoral sexual conduct"...yeah that must be it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was thinking of the western world. Other counties have other reasons for their intolerance. In the West it is Christianity.

            China was super tolerant towards homosexuality till the west began to influence their society. Cuba is a Christian society. I don't know much about Vietnam or North Korea.

          • Mike

            and Vietnam is catholic and north korea is Presbyterian amiright?

  • David Nickol

    . . . . and Protestant Christianity has often sold this sappy, sentimental “pie in the sky when you die” version of the faith

    Yes, Catholic Christianity has never been guilty of such a thing.

  • Phil Rimmer

    "Now this sounds like some very serious wishful thinking because if his wish comes true, then he can live as he wishes and never has to pay the cab fare. He gets a free ride."

    No. No. No. She has to live a moral life within the confines of a smaller existence. No opportunity to offload anything. No feeling of being the junior partner in the deal and who can just follow orders and keep their head down. Atheists and some Christian others have the whole of the downhill slope of their lives having to live with themselves and their own personal judgments.

    Are we automatically made callous, monstrous, when realising we are obliged to be our own moral authors? Clearly not.

    There are better Christians than the Catholic Church who work and live as if this were their only chance, using only their own personal judgment, not some festering antique moral idealism. What a delight that Lonergan was in the vanguard to discover that better way. What a delight (to atheist me) to know that despite the curious tendency to see agency where there is none quite a number of Christians have the nous to recognise it is entirely down to them. Moral authorship is what free will is all about.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Are we automatically made callous, monstrous, when realising we are obliged to be our own moral authors?

      No, but we may write amateurish fan-fic morality.

      despite the curious tendency to see agency where there is none

      Or the equally curious tendency to see none where there is.

      Moral authorship is what free will is all about.

      Not exactly; but without the free will, there can be no moral authorship. Which makes it curious when sometimes the selfsame people who profess the triumph of their will will also claim they don't have one.

      • Phil Rimmer

        "No, but we may write amateurish fan-fic morality."

        Well, its true, you do.

        ""despite the curious tendency to see agency where there is none""

        "Or the equally curious tendency to see none where there is."

        Evolution favours the former cognitive error hence their early success. Both are errors, but now we have reason and corroborative processes to help us make fewer mistakes

        The freedom of our will evolves, co-opting more choices, more insight; moving from merely determined to something more cultivated, more personally and socially valuable. This cultivation is the wellspring of our moral lives.

        Edit. On morality, and seriously. What is the amateurish morality (one example will do)? And fan of whom? Lonergan? Quakers? My will feels pretty free on these issues...

        Edit conferring to co-opting getting the direction right.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          "No, but we may write amateurish fan-fic morality."

          Well, its true, you do.

          Careful, or the atheists here will accuse you of "I'm rubber, you're glue" argument.

          The joke is that "to be our own moral authors" glosses the unfortunate fact that most folks aren't accomplished authors.

          the curious tendency to see agency where there is none
          "Or the equally curious tendency to see none where there is."

          Evolution favours the former cognitive error.

          I'm curious how "evolution" favors error. Unless you mean attributing agency to "evolution" so that it can favor this or that.

          The freedom of our will evolves, conferring more choices, more insight

          The will does not provide insight. The intellect does. The will is the intellective appetite; that is, a hunger for (or revulsion to) the products of the intellect (i.e., concepts, ideas). The will is "free" (undetermined) to the extent that the intellect is not perfect. Where a thing is known perfectly (e.g., 2+2=4 in common notation), the will cannot withhold consent. But where the ends fixed upon by the intellect are not fully known, there are wide range of choices. You can want world peace, but until you know exactly what this peach consists of and the steps that must be taken, you can choose among all sorts of means to achieve it.

          • Phil Rimmer

            " most folks aren't accomplished authors."

            Nor are they/we. But a lot of the problem is having others seeking to do the heavy moral lifting for them. We are out of practice. But authorship is valuable because it can bring new insight and nuance into the perception of harms and boons. Voiced and discussed shared and accepted.

            Mistaking snakes for sticks is fatal.

            I was explaining my view of free will given your portrayal of some/many atheists as determinists. Agency expands through increasing the number of possible acts and through understanding the consequences of those acts.

            I doubt we'll agree on valuation of acts especially as you bracket off perfectly reasonable mental processes as beyond the capacity of mere jelly to perform, category forming and the like. I like my neuro-psychology neural and non spooky. Inference stacks can find useful metadata fairly quickly in the retina to drop transmission requirements along the optic nerve. The category of edges, or moving thus or so, all from the likes of Hebbian wiring and "organising by doing".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            " most folks aren't accomplished authors."

            a lot of the problem is having others seeking to do the heavy moral lifting for them. We are out of practice.

            Weighed against the problems of amateur morality and reinvented wheels. It's not an easy call.

            Mistaking snakes for sticks is fatal.

            Depends on the snake.

            your portrayal of some/many atheists as determinists.

            They generally fall into two camps: the determinists hold that everything is the result of physical laws. They tend to explain everything in terms of the mechanics by which it happens. The other camp holds that everything is due to chance. They are the heirs of the old atomists and will often fly the flag of quantum mechanics. The funny thing is, that they end up denying determinism.

            you bracket off perfectly reasonable mental processes as beyond the capacity of mere jelly to perform

            Right. It's the person who performs. The jelly is the tool. But a hammer cannot drive nails unless someone picks it up and swings it. (And even then, some practice is required to swing it well.)

            Inference stacks can find useful metadata fairly quickly in the retina to drop transmission requirements along the optic nerve. The category of edges, or moving thus or so, all from the likes of Hebbian wiring and "organising by doing".

            Talk about spooky. A stack can "find" things. Next we will learn that cameras can "see" or microphones "hear." I am reminded of Lukacs' comments on Tolstoy's locomotive.

            To discover what makes the engine move “I must entirely change my point of view, and study the laws that regulate steam, bells, and the wind.” Until man “finds the ultimate cause of the motion of the locomotive in the steam compressed in the boiler, he will not have the right to pause in his search for cause.”

            Thus Tolstoy revealed himself a prisoner of the nineteenth-century, monistic view of mechanical causality, with its unilateral emphasis on the mechanics of motive causes and with its willful ignorance of purposes. With all of that folksy pretension of common sense, it did not occur to Tolstoy that the main “cause” of the motion of the locomotive might be its driver.

            http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/bookman/article/the-tolstoy-locomotive/

          • Phil Rimmer

            "Weighed against the problems of amateur morality and reinvented wheels. It's not an easy call."

            No. Not doing this for yourself is immoral. As you might imagine me to say, "objective" morality is for six year olds. Adult morality is grown in the finding.

            Indeed. "Scary" snakes is the point of the cognitive heuristic too. Heuristics are refined by knowledge. My point.

            Clearly your atheist thoughts heuristic is deficient in its number of possible categories.

            Its the jelly for me. Asking questions like, "but what sees?" is now getting to be a rather childlike error. (See UK, comic strip Numskulls, US Pixar Inside Out). Or perhaps it is that a complex process viewed only from a single perspective signals a desire not to "see".

            Edit scare quotes around scary. Last sentence.

            Edit clarifying language.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Weighed against the problems of amateur morality and reinvented wheels. It's not an easy call."

            No. Not doing this for yourself is immoral. As you might imagine me to say, objective morality is six year old morality.

            Is "not doing this for yourself is immoral" an example of objective morality?

            Adult morality is made in the finding.

            That would depend on the adult, no? We owe the explosion of do-it-yourself sects to precisely this notion.

            Scary snakes is the very point of the cognitive heuristic too.

            I'm missing a connection here. Where did the snakes come in?

            Its the jelly for me. Asking questions like, "but what sees?" is now getting to be a rather childlike error. (See UK, comic strip Numskulls, US Pixar Inside Out).

            a) What exactly is the error, childlike or not?

            b) Is the use of comic strips and Disney/Pixar as referents connected to your characterization of objective morality as "six year old" and the question "but what sees?" as childlike? Is it customary to characterize those who have perhaps reached different conclusions as children a way of rhetorically elevating oneself to adult status?

          • Phil Rimmer

            The mistake is to think morality is composed of morals X and y. Morality is a process, lived*. Objective isn't a good description.

            Sects don't want any "personal growth" they want different obedience.

            The classic errors of mistaking snakes for sticks or sticks for snakes are what I am referring to. Those detecting agency over-enthusiastically are the error makers selected for by evolution rather than those prone to the under detection of agency, who tend to get bitten by snakes taking themselves out of the gene pool.

            The childlike error is the one you attribute to us, opposing in some act of cognition (I'm presuming from your very recent writings elsewhere) your spooky, non jelly process, and our proposed view of "a camera that sees". The homunculus (its earlier formulation) that does the seeing in our head is an idea no neuro-scientist holds and which was only ever a philosophical device to discuss the non-explanatory idea of a "camera that sees" etc. Now, it only exists as a fun, simple idea in entertainment.

            Edit. * Just to clarify. I see morality as a capacity, that set of heuristics that stand between our urges, our simpler earlier selves, and our actions in a culture. Many are pre-installed genetically (don't kill kin) some are trained in early cultural firm-wiring, some acquired in life, but they all need to act quickly and automatically like our deepest heuristics to maximally benefit us. Daily due diligence, deciding for yourself this way and that helps embed the capacity. (Biiiiiiiiiiig topic though.)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The mistake is to think morality is composed of morals X and y.

            I don't understand your notation. Why is X capitalized and y is not?

            I suspect that morality is more likely to be filled with morals than it is to be filled with peanuts.

            Morality is a process, lived.

            It seems to me that living is the process. A process is a set of activities that convert inputs into outputs. It can be represented in a process flow chart or an Ishikawa diagram. Morality seems to be more like the quality specifications to which the process outputs are to conform.

            Objective isn't a good description.

            Certainly not since the Triumph of the Will.

            Sects don't want any "personal growth" they want different obedience.

            That seems somewhat overblown. So the probabilist atheists and the determinist atheists each want obedience rather than personal growth? I don't believe that.

            Detecting agency over-enthusiastically is the error selected for by evolution rather than the under detection of agency, who tend to get bitten by snakes taking themselves out of the gene pool.

            The cautious woodsrunner may also mistake a black patch of ground for a hole and stop short or run around it. Neither the black patch nor the purported hole have "agency" in your sense; yet the same hesitancy is evidenced. Perhaps what is selected for is caution or care, not pattern recognition.

            (I'm presuming from your very recent writings elsewhere) to a spooky, non jelly process

            Weirdly enough, some folks regard a jelly-that-thinks to be downright spooky in itself. (Which recent writings do you mean?)

            "a camera that sees". The homunculus (its earlier formulation) that does the seeing in our head is an idea no neuro-scientist holds

            And rightly so, as it was a Cartesian error from the Scientific Revolution. It is the whole person that sees, not some "homunculus" sitting in a Cartesian theater watching the world on the eyeball-movie screens. But to suppose that the mechanics of it are the whole thing is a different mistake, like supposing that the "Moonlight Sonata" is entirely explained by the physics of vibrating strings.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Why X and y?

            Slip of the finger, though I could work it up into big and little morals.

            I suspect that morality is more likely to be filled with morals than it is to be filled with peanuts.

            Biiiig subject. I didn't want to give the impression of "a moral, X" as a fixed thing when it is more an evolved and contingent process, a heuristic subroutine nestled (nested) in a greater.

            an Ishikawa diagram

            Working in/for Detroit classic FMEAs were the thing. These roll up the same cause and effect of Ishikawa with multiple inputs leading to an output but throw in the heuristics of deciding resource allocation for ameliorations. This utterly pragmatic process is very much akin to lived heuristics. (Compelling graphically, though. A marriage would be good.)

            So central do I count moral process to living that I declared as Atheist (a political stance) entirely to seek to live a life with greater moral integrity. Lives lived with morality as a bolt on have missed the key to flourishing and happiness. (I would write joy here, but theists can get possessive about that. and its a side track atm.)

            Perhaps what is selected for is caution or care, not pattern recognition.

            It is rather caution that seeks out agency. Agency is unpredictable and is hyper salient in the "cautious" scheme of things.

            Weirdly enough, some folks regard a jelly-that-thinks to be downright spooky in itself. (Which recent writings do you mean?)

            I think you are right. Yet the jelly contains every last scrap of information including the information of the experience of consciousness of which it can, thereby, produce reports. Its all brain states. The generation of metadata, of problem solving and of values/saliency and motivations built upon the proto-purpose of homeostasis are good enough theories with slowly emerging evidence, to defer any need of anything but the jelly at present. 'Nother biiiiiig topic during a lull perhaps?

            the "Moonlight Sonata" is entirely explained by the physics of vibrating strings.

            You know this is strawman stuff. Neither of us are this crass.

            Edited 20 minutes after for clarity...I hope.

          • Phil Rimmer

            So the probabilist atheists and the determinist atheists each want obedience rather than personal growth? I don't believe that.

            Nor me. These sects don't exist.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            I find it amusing that the reductionists of our day mock the Cartesian homunculus, and yet they adopt the same attitude regarding the brain. I recall a comment of Richard Carrier, where he talks about his brain going for a walk.

  • Mike

    Atheism has been described as hoping that God doesn't exist - as a psychological crutch to help ppl "get over" their guilty feelings. And i can personally relate to that.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      "Atheism has been described as..."

      By who? And more importantly, did they have any good reasons to describe atheism that way?

      This reminds me of the practice you see in hack journalism these days: "Some people say..." Sure, but "some people" say all kinds of things. Go talk to the drunk on the street if you don't believe me.

      • Mike

        i heard the quote of the Nobel lit winner Ceslaw Milosz in a John Lennox lecture.

        Plus i've heard it in other places...it's a take on the atheist critique that Christianity is nothing but a psychological crutch - just turns the tables.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Yes.. and just like the article today, its no more than an "I'm rubber, you're glue" playground retort. Unfortunately it seems that even Nobel winners can descend to those.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not exactly. It's showing that the first argument has no traction because it can so easily be read the other way.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The way I read it, the article does go beyond simply showing a lack of traction. Fr Longenecker seems to think it really does swing the other way. He writes:

            Secondly, it seems to me that it is the atheist who is the wishful thinker.

            It is the atheist, therefore, who really thinks there will be pie in the sky when he dies...

            But I agree. Neither argument really has much traction.

          • David Nickol

            I agree with OverlappingMagisteria. Fr. Longenecker is clearly claiming it's not Christianity that is wishful thinking, but atheism.

            I can't now remember who the author was, but there was a post on Strange Notions not too long ago that discussed various attitudes among atheists and acknowledged that there are some atheists who wished there were a God but nevertheless did not believe in one. It is unclear how atheism could be wishful thinking for atheists of this type.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It is unclear how atheism could be wishful thinking for atheists of this type.

            Surely it means that Fr. Longenecker is addressing only those atheists who make the argument that he is critiquing.

          • David Nickol

            Surely it means that Fr. Longenecker is addressing only those atheists who make the argument that he is critiquing.

            If that is the case, then he should have made it clear. How difficult would it have been to say, "One of the jabs some atheists make towards Christians . . . ." instead of "One of the jabs atheists make towards Christians . . . ."?

            Also, what sense would it make to claim that atheists who accuse Christians of being guilty of wishful thinking are themselves guilty of wishful thinking, but other atheists are not? Whatever Fr. Longenecker meant to say, he gives the very strong impression that he believes all atheists are guilty of wishful thinking.

            This OP is certainly among the weakest ever to appear on Strange Notions. A Catholic apologist should not expect skeptics and atheists to plug all the holes in his or her arguments.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            then he should have made it clear. ... "One of the jabs some atheists make towards Christians . . . ." instead of "One of the jabs atheists make towards Christians . . . ."?

            I always love the grammatical hyper-scrupulosity that characterizes such debates. Would it have made terribly much difference if he had simply cited Hawking as having made it?

            Whatever Fr. Longenecker meant to say, he gives the very strong impression that he believes all atheists are guilty of wishful thinking.

            Well, they're certainly not basing their belief on empirical evidence.

        • David Hardy

          Researchers in Psychology have actually been a little wary of exploring the effects of religion, part of a larger concern in the field of trying to avoid imposing values under the pretense of research. What research I have seen indicates that religion is neither better nor worse that non-religion in terms of the person's conduct and coping abilities. The primary difference found has been that a religious person will generally rely on distinctly religious methods to cope, and use religious rationales for some choices. However, this has not led to a significant difference in general decision making or in ability to cope in religious people relative to others who are non-religious with the same environmental and cultural background. Therefore, I would say that both the position that atheism is a crutch as well as the position that any religion is a crutch have not been supported so far in research, although there has not been enough research to draw a firm conclusion on this.

          • Mike

            i agre generally - it's mostly a rhetorical trick.

            but that doesn't mean that both can't and don't have that plus if you want to call it that - it can be VERY liberating to conclude there is no God or gods or any sort of transcendent moral law and it can be VERY comforting to put all your trust in a God who will in the end make everything better.

      • GCBill

        The only (well-known) psychologist I know of who defends this theory is Paul Vitz, who couches it in psychoanalytic terms. Even if I were religious, I'd struggle to take the psychoanalysis part of his work seriously.

        But I do think he picked up a real signal (a correlation between atheism and absent/inadequate fatherhood in more religious times). It's just that contemporary attachment theory does a better job of explaining Vitz's own findings than his own conjecture, plus it doesn't commit one to the prediction that less-religious societies are just flat-out terrible at parenting in general.

        • David Nickol

          couches it in psychoanalytic terms

          Pun intended?

          • GCBill

            No, but I'll take credit for it anyway. :D

    • George

      "has been described"

      stop with the weasel words

      • Mike

        well do you disagree that it's a psychological crutch.

        • neil_pogi

          what would atheist feel when they kill his own follower? how about non-followers?

  • Phil Rimmer

    I know what this is like.

    Are you feeling lucky, punk?

    You think you see some group suffering and want to help? But they're disordered. Official! But you've heard some talk about how common homosexuality is in nature and ask yourself, what would Jesus do? I mean, Jesus. Would you take the door off their adolescent bedrooms lest they abuse themselves with their thoughts or do you wish them well on their honeymoon and a life of intimate love and peace?

    Well, do you feel lucky?

    No. No you do not. This free will thing is too big a risk when faced with Dirty Harry. In fact, lets just move back from this risky edge altogether...

    That's the morality I see.

    • Mike

      If homosexuality were any more common we wouldn't be here to talk about it ;) hee hee. Just a friendly joke.

      • Phil Rimmer

        Its always been here yet still we got ourselves to the point of an African catastrophe. (Without a biblical catastrophe it will have twice the population in a generation and less crop capability than now. AND we just must lift their health to something civilised.) Is God telling us something? Why did he put all those spinctral (?) nerve endings just there?

  • Wikipedia says:
    "Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality."

    Yes, atheists are totally those people who don't appeal to evidence, rationality, or reality.

    FWIW, I seem to recall there being another group that does praise the idea of making decisions on a different basis.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      atheists are totally those people who don't appeal to evidence, rationality, or reality.

      It depends on the topic. Some of the most irrational arguments I've seen have come from that quarter when the topic was their bete noir. Outside of the button-pushing region, where their disbelief does not matter, atheists can be as rational as an agnostic or anyone else.

      • Some of the most irrational arguments I've seen

        The non-quantity non-proportion non-comparison character of that is certainly interesting. Of course you're correct in the limited technical sense that atheists, like humans generally, are never either infallible thinkers nor well-informed on all issues. But there's no clear sense in which that's a real substantive point here about atheists.

        So returning to the point, and going deeper in your area of specialty than mine, if we were to take a representative sample of self-described atheists and a representative sample of self-described "not atheists", and gave them a battery of psychology tests, do you predict, as the above article suggests, that the former would be noticeably more given to wishful thinking than the latter? Or less inclined? Or no particular difference?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Some of the most irrational arguments I've seen

          The non-quantity non-proportion non-comparison character of that is certainly interesting. ... But there's no clear sense in which that's a real substantive point here about atheists.

          Good, because it's not a point about atheists. It's a point about characterizing atheists as those people who "appeal to evidence, rationality, or reality." Unless you meant that "don't" in a non-sarcastic manner and really do go further than I.

          if we were to take a representative sample of

          Beats me. A lot would depend on how the questionnaire was written. (It does seem going too far to call questionnaires a "battery of tests," as if such things were scientific instruments and they were "tests" in the same manner as litmus paper or balances.)
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

  • So, if the author thinks atheism is wishful thinking, then he presumably agrees that a typical atheist worldview is a happier one than the official Catholic worldview.

    That was my first thought on seeing the headline, though it struck me as probably not what he meant. But then the article really did go there, noting how Catholic ideals are unreasonably demanding guilt-trips, and how, according to the three quotations from Luke's story, if ever acted out on fully, they would destroy one's finances, family life, and community life.

    So I guess on second thought, Longenecker's position does seem deliberate. It's certainly consistent with the common Catholic prayers emphasizing awareness of the hour of one's death, and of suffering in this vale of tears, and of rescue from the judgment to come.

    Contrast with the typical stance of atheists, who drink deep of science and art and friendship in this life, because we have no evidence of there being any other, and because this alien universe into which our race was born is beautiful and terrifying and fascinating in measure far beyond what our ancient ape brains can handle.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      well said

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      atheists, who drink deep of science and art and friendship in this life, because we have no evidence of there being any other

      Would that include the science of Brother Mendel or Father Lemaitre; i.e., genetics and the Big Bang? (Or for that matter, of Grosseteste, deChauliac, Versalius, Falloppio, de Coulomb, Lavoisier, et al.?) How about the art of -- oh, just about anyone over the past thousand years. You see, as I think Fr. Longenecker tried to point out, this deepdrinking is something in common, not something that distinguishes the one group from the other.

      • Would that include the science of [people whom atheists don't agree with about a few of their unscientific beliefs]?

        Yes. Of course that no more validates their unscientific beliefs than the contributions of atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc scientists validate their unscientific beliefs, because the genetic fallacy is a thing.

        deepdrinking is something in common

        Based on the Catholics I've known, I'm predisposed to agree. However, that still leaves some empirical puzzles, such as the disproportionate dearth of believers in academia. I just spent a while trolling through science-of-religion news, and most of the results are rather weak correlations, so even if there's a barely significant difference that distinguishes atheists-as-a-group as more deepdrinking on average if you control for various things, it seems to me that the correct and practical conclusion from these studies is that they give us no useable information about individuals.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Would that include the science of Grosseteste, etc.?

          that no more validates their unscientific beliefs than the
          contributions of atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc scientists validate their unscientific beliefs

          But no one said it did. The claim was "the typical stance of atheists, who drink deep of science and art..." Unless you are unclear on the effect of the comma in non-essential subordinate clauses, you are characterizing atheists, not denoting a subset of atheists. The list was presented to show that not only atheists deepthink about science. (Regarding art, it is no contest.)

          that still leaves some empirical puzzles, such as the disproportionate dearth of believers in academia.

          That is easily explained by any number of factors; e.g., the desire to sit at the kool kids' table or the disinclination to provide distractions. Given the state of academia in these sorry times, I am not sure this particular example of the genetic fallacy is especially worthwhile.

          the correct and practical conclusion from these studies is that they give us no useable information about individuals.

          That's true of all "statistical studies." An actuarial table does not compel anyone to die.

          • But no one said it did. ... The list was presented to show that not only atheists deepthink about science.

            Ah, OK. Unfortunate, then, that it was a sectarian list, rather than a list of theists of diverse religions. I had been under the impression the narrowness of the selection was meaningful.

            (Regarding art, it is no contest.)

            Oh, any evidence for that? Anecdotally, for what little that's worth, people who are really into art do seem to be disproportionately atheist, but I can't find any relevant surveys, so I'm going to reject a presumption either way.

            Unless you are unclear on the effect of the comma in non-essential subordinate clauses, you are characterizing atheists, not denoting a subset of atheists.

            The problem with Internet grammar jackassery is that it's nearly impossible to be correct in all regards, and even when it's correct it's irrelevant. Your comment here is incorrect, as it happens, because it neglects that noun quantification defaults to "some" rather than "all", and more precisely to "a contextually typical subset of". Thus we say that fish lay eggs and birds fly, though this is only true of typical (female) fish and typical birds. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of disambiguation, I'll be happy to share what I've learned from the Lojbanists on the computational linguistics side and the Ithkuilists on the cognitive linguistics side. The main lesson is not to sweat grammar: it's a helpful tool but a bad guide unless you're programming.

            In any case, the focus on form rather than content is a useless diversion.

            That is easily explained by any number of factors

            Introducing another factor adds unnecessary complexity, so to me it's nothing more than rationalization until you have evidence for the relevance of the additional factor.

            I am not sure this particular example of the genetic fallacy is especially worthwhile

            A genetic fallacy is when one assesses a claim based on its origins. The section you quoted was an empirical fact brought up as noteworthy evidence against your claim that deepdrinking is not something that distinguishes atheists from theists, and thus not a genetic fallacy.

            That's true of all "statistical studies."

            Eh, I doubt that. Pearl's book on causal calculus came out years ago, and these days programming languages have library functions for applying it to data sets.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Unfortunate, then, that it was a sectarian list, rather than a list of theists of diverse religions.

            Maybe so, but there is only one religion that atheists ever seem to care about.

            You are of course perfectly welcome to present other theists whose contributions were similar in impact to those of "Mendel ... Lemaitre ... Grosseteste, deChauliac, Versalius, Falloppio, de Coulomb, Lavoisier, et al." I could help you out with the likes of al Kindi, ibn Rushd, ibn Sinna, et al., who while not centrally embedded in their culture were certainly not atheists.

            Internet grammar jackassery ... Your
            comment here is incorrect, as it happens, because it neglects that noun quantification defaults to "some" rather than "all", and more precisely to "a contextually typical subset of".

            It has only to do with dependent versus independent subordinate clauses in the English language. Hence:
            "the typical stance of atheists, who drink deep of science and art..."
            means something different from
            "the typical stance of atheists who drink deep of science and art..."
            The former characterizes the noun "atheists" as being thos who drink deep while the latter denotes a particular subset of them; i.e., only those atheists who do drink deep. Compare:
            "the typical behavior of dogs, which have black spots..."
            and
            "the typical behavior of dogs which have black spots..."
            The former suggests (incorrectly) that dogs have black spots; the latter addresses only those particular dogs which do have black spots.

            The section you quoted was an empirical fact brought up as noteworthy evidence against your claim that deepdrinking is not something that distinguishes atheists from theists

            IOW you intended the comma as it was used? That is, you intended to imply that deepdrinking of art and science actually does distinguish atheists, who do drink deeply, and theists, who do not. Contrary to claim, you supplied no empirical evidence to support this while the handful of names I supplied did constitute empirical evidence against it; viz., to serve as counterexamples. It is not necessary for such a list to be comprehensive.

            Actually, I seldom read of atheists getting down with art.

            That's true of all "statistical studies."

            Eh, I doubt that. Pearl's book on causal calculus came out years ago, and these days programming languages have library functions for applying it to data sets.

            That's nice; but what was "true of all 'statistical studies'" was that the conclusions on a population do not tell us about any particular member of the population. This was something that you asserted with which I agreed.

            Added in edit: There are some useful comments on Pearl and causality here: http://wmbriggs.com/post/6804/

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Actually, I seldom read of atheists getting down with art.

            Hitchens was a huge proponent of art and literature as a source of meaning.
            I could begin listing famous writers who were atheists like Chekhov, Kafka, and Proust.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure. But the comment was that atheists in general drink deeply of the arts and science, not that some "famous" (or even "great") writers were atheist. One hears the clarion call of Science!™ from that quarter far more often than praise for great works of art. Often, I have seen on-line atheists (granted, not the best representatives) denigrate the humanities. (Ironically, they have sometimes also at the same time called themselves "humanists"!) Hence, the claim seemed somewhat surprising.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            One hears the clarion call of Science!™ from that quarter far more often than praise for great works of art. Often, I have seen on-line atheists (granted, not the best representatives) denigrate the humanities. (Ironically, they have sometimes also at the same time called themselves "humanists"!) Hence, the claim seemed somewhat surprising.

            Perhaps, I try not to read boorish individuals, so I wouldn't know.

    • neil_pogi

      do you have any evidence that a 'nothing' created the vast universe? i have no evidence of believing it, that's why i am 'rational, sensible, scientific, and careful.'

  • Doug Shaver

    If my beliefs were consistent with my wishes, I'd be a universalist: Jesus died to atone for everyone's sins, without exception, and it worked. When we die, we all go to heaven, no matter how we lived in this world.

    • Peter

      If sinning was such an evil that Jesus had to die to atone for it, what makes you think that sinning is no longer an evil? If sinning is not an evil, why did Jesus have to die to atone for it in the first place?

      The truth is that Jesus died to make sins forgivable not inconsequential.

      • Doug Shaver

        what makes you think that sinning is no longer an evil?

        What makes you think I think that?

        I said nothing about what I do believe. I was saying what I would believe if I could, as I was accused of doing, believe whatever I wished to believe. If my beliefs were just wish fulfillment, they wouldn't have to make any sense or have any logical foundation.

        Besides, I have never heard the atonement explained in terms of taking the evil out of our sins. Are you trying to suggest that there is no evil in the sins of those Christians who go to heaven?

        The truth is that Jesus died to make sins forgivable not inconsequential.

        That is the teaching of orthodox Christianity. I get it that universalism is not orthodox.

        • neil_pogi

          what if you believe that killing is not sin? what makes you think that killing is sin? are you borrowing from moral principles from God? what makes you think that killing a 'bags of chemicals' (human) is sin when you think of him as 'just mere chemicals'?

          if the legal court, one day, declares that killing, sexually molesting a child, incest are not sin, will you follow its ruling?

          • Doug Shaver

            what if you believe that killing is not sin? what makes you think that killing is sin?

            That has nothing to do with what we've been discussing. You seem to be trying to change the subject.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'That has nothing to do with what we've been discussing. You seem to be trying to change the subject.' -- why don't you read the entire discussions above?

            why not just comment on this statement? "what if you believe that killing is not sin? what makes you think that killing is sin?'

          • Doug Shaver

            why don't you read the entire discussions above?

            I thought I had, but maybe I missed something. Why don't you quote the part to which my opinion of killing would be relevant?

            why not just comment on this statement? "what if you believe that killing is not sin? what makes you think that killing is sin?'

            Because I don't want to change the subject.

          • neil_pogi

            i'm not changing the subject. why atheist like you won't comment on that?

          • Doug Shaver

            Until you show me how my opinions about killing are relevant to what we were discussing, I will believe you are changing the subject.

          • neil_pogi

            it's all about 'sinning' right?

            atheists said that humans are just made up of 'scum-bags of chemicals'

            then, i ask you, if you kill a 'bag of chemicals' then, are you committing a 'sin' or not?

            that's the concept of evolution. everything is materialistic. you can get any wish you may have, including 'killing' a 'bags of chemicals'

            anyway, it's just 'survival of the fittest' .. no good, no evil.. it's just 'survival of the fittest'

          • Doug Shaver

            it's all about 'sinning' right?

            Wrong. It's about whether atheism is wishful thinking.

            atheists said that humans are just made up of 'scum-bags of chemicals'

            I am an atheist. I have never said that.

            that's the concept of evolution. everything is materialistic. you can get any wish you may have,

            No. That is not the concept of evolution.

          • neil_pogi

            you just denied all my claims about atheism

          • Doug Shaver

            you just denied all my claims about atheism

            Yes, and I'll keep on denying what you say about atheism until you say something true about it.

          • neil_pogi

            all i said were true!

          • neil_pogi

            it is the concept of evolution. it's very heart! you just in denial mode!

          • Doug Shaver

            Coming from you, that's like a Protestant saying "Catholics worship Mary. It's the very concept of Catholicism, and Catholics who say otherwise are just in denial."

          • neil_pogi

            catholics worship Mary, that's true! protestants don't care about it!

            so what's have to do with evolutionist's concept?

          • Doug Shaver

            catholics worship Mary, that's true!

            They say they don't. Why shouldn't I believe them? Should I not assume that they know their own religion better than Protestants know it?

          • neil_pogi

            are you a catholic? then why you answer for them?

            you're just changing the subject. evolution's concepts are very evil. evolution says that matter is all there is.. if i were just a matter then i would kill my fellow- 'matter' because, after all, we're just matter. what makes me bother? as dr provine said; 'no good, no evil'

          • Doug Shaver

            are you a catholic? then why you answer for them?

            You're missing my point entirely. Or, more likely, simply ignoring it.

      • Darren

        Peter wrote,

        The truth is that Jesus died to make sins forgivable not inconsequential.

        That is a very interesting thought.

        When God was creating the rules under which his cosmos would operate, why do you suppose that he chose to invent the concept of sin and its governing rules that way?

        If Jesus Sacrifice /= True then God /= Sin_Forgive

        If Jesus_Sacrifice = True then God = Sin Forgive

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          When God was creating the rules under which his cosmos would operate,
          why do you suppose that he chose to invent the concept of sin

          When the county was creating the paved roads hereabouts why do you suppose that they chose to invent the concept of potholes?

          • Darren

            YOS wrote,

            When the county was creating the paved roads hereabouts why do you suppose that they chose to invent the concept of potholes?

            Not sure about where you live, but in my neck of the woods the county did not create pavement, roads, or potholes ex nihilo. I suppose if my county commissioners had chosen to summon forth the Platonic Pothole from the realm of the ideal, then I would owe them a strongly worded letter.

          • neil_pogi

            sinning has become part of world's nature after the fall. it was declared by God to the first couple that sin will reign as long as the world endures. the consequences of sin are clearly explained in the pages of the Bible (ex: thorns and thisles, additional pain in childbirth, old age, death, decreasing life span, from giants (dinosaurs, neanderthals) to smaller (modern animals and humans), mutations (sickness and suffering), widening deserts (middle east was once tropical)

            then why we have light and darkness? water is life-supporting but also unsupporting? oxygen is life-supporting and yet it also supports oxidation?

    • Mike

      Better to be a universalist than an atheist; afterall if your atheism proves correct you'll have lost nothing.

      If i were to go back to being a "cultural atheist" i'd join one of those kooky left wing christian denominations.

      • Doug Shaver

        Better to be a universalist than an atheist; afterall if your atheism proves correct you'll have lost nothing.

        I also lose nothing if universalism is true, but if I believed it, I would gain the satisfaction of knowing that neither my existence nor that of everyone I care about was limited to the one in this world. The point I was making was: I cannot believe something just because I wish it were true.

        • neil_pogi

          how sure are you that God doesn't exists?

          salvation comes only to those who graciously accepts Him as Lord and Savior.

          • Doug Shaver

            how sure are you that God doesn't exists?

            I don't feel infallibly sure about anything. I would rate God's existence as highly improbable.

            salvation comes only to those who graciously accepts Him as Lord and Savior.

            So says orthodox Christian dogma.

          • neil_pogi

            then you are an agnostic.

            then support your answer!

            regarding the salvation issues, Jesus said: '21"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' Matt 7:21 - 23

            therefore Universalism is false

          • Doug Shaver

            then support your answer!

            What's to support. I told you what I would believe if wishful thinking could determine my beliefs. My word for it is the only support I have to offer.

            therefore Universalism is false

            I have said nothing that implies the contrary.

        • Mike

          no of course not but "wishing" something related to this particular issue is at least i believe a START and a good start ...AND don't forget that that "wish" wouldn't be particular to only you but would be shared by literally BILLIONS of ppl and by far most ppl who've ever lived.

          • Doug Shaver

            but "wishing" something related to this particular issue is at least i believe a START

            Yes, wishing something were true could start me looking for reasons to believe it was true.

          • Mike

            isn't there a parable about the pearl of great price or the landowner who sells everything to buy a piece of land where something worth more than all the treasure in thew world is worth...best of luck.

          • Doug Shaver

            isn't there a parable about the pearl of great price

            I know the story.

          • Mike

            If this life is all there is then someone or something is playing a really bad joke on us.

          • Doug Shaver

            That assumes we are the product of some intelligent agency. Joking is an intelligent activity.

            On the other hand, if this life is all there is, then those who say it isn't are joking, lying, or mistaken.

        • Mike
          • Doug Shaver

            Interesting. But it is not apparent to me how it relates to anything we've been discussing.

          • Mike

            no it doesn't i just thought you might find it interesting.

  • Doug Shaver

    Now this sounds like some very serious wishful thinking because if his wish comes true, then he can live as he wishes and never has to pay the cab fare. He gets a free ride.

    And yet, most of us atheists don't actually act as if we thought in those terms. That looks to me very much like a disconfirmation of Longenecker's theory.

  • Peter

    There is much human suffering in the world, in the poor world of course, and in the rich world. The atheist or agnostic who directly addresses himself or herself to this suffering without seeing the face of Christ in it, as Catholics are meant to do, is no less rewarded in the afterlife if that failure to see the face of Christ is the result of genuine lack of belief. In fact such a person would be very pleasantly surprised to have attained salvation:

    "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?" (Matt 25: 37-39)

    What is genuine wishful thinking is going through life selfishly tending to one's own needs whilst ignoring the greater needs of their fellow human beings, and then expecting no consequences at the end of it. This applies both to believers and unbelievers.

    • neil_pogi

      even Jesus Christ Himself suffered a lot when He was crucified! He even complained of His tortures before He died!

  • David Hardy

    One of the jabs atheists make towards Christians is that our religion is all wishful thinking.

    They like to blame us for believing in "a sugar daddy in the sky"–a
    kind of invisible Santa Claus who is going to make everything okay one
    day. When we die we’ll all go to a happy family reunion and all the
    nasty stuff will go away. If we hold on tight for a few years here,
    we’ll just go upstairs for the big party.

    We are also supposed to believe in a God who answers prayers here
    below and gives us goodies if we’re good. They imagine that we believe
    God is like a great big vending machine. We put our prayer in the slot
    at the top and the candy pops out into the tray in the bottom.

    I would agree that this represents a superficial understanding of Christianity, of which some atheists are certainly guilty.

    Secondly, it seems to me that it is the atheist who is the wishful
    thinker. Faced with the universal human belief in an afterlife he looks
    away. Faced with the possibility that there might just be a final
    judgement in which he will have to give account of himself, he denies
    heartily that such a thing will happen.

    I would present this as an equally superficial view of atheism. Even if the belief in the afterlife was universal, which it is not, this would not demonstrate that it is true. Depending on the religion, afterlife might mean watching over the living as an ancestor, moving to Purgatory, Heaven or Hell, going to an underworld where the just and unjust are treated much the same, or being reincarnated. This is a collection of different beliefs, not the same belief. Even if, as an atheist, I grant that an afterlife exists, I would still have a range of afterlife beliefs, with different implications on how to life my life, to choose from. Atheism is not a denial of the afterlife and a final judgement for self-serving reasons. It is an acceptance of the significant uncertainty regarding both the existence and nature of the afterlife and of the divine, among other things.

    Many atheists identify as rational, sensible, scientific, and careful, but given the possibility that there just might be a Heaven, Hell and judgement, isn’t it the believer who is, in fact, the sensible fellow?

    This appears to be the Pascal's Wager argument. The problem with it is that it relies on a false choice. Given the range of beliefs mentioned above, even if one accepted the argument, and decided to belief based on the desire to be judged well should there be an afterlife, one is still no closer to a specific religious position. If Islam is true, for example, the Christian may not fare well for living according to Christianity. If Buddhism is true, both Christianity and Islam are some of the attachments that will keep the practitioner bound on the wheel of suffering, and so on with each possible religious position.

    • Mike

      But AT LEAST it's still better to choose 1 among many than nothing at all.

      Suppose there's a cosmic lottery but everyone is selling different tickets and so all of them might be fake or one of them might be real. You know 100% that you won't win unless you buy one so why not give it a shot afterall you've got nothing to lose as if you don't buy any you will either 100% lose or 100% just cease to exist in which case you won't have lost anything.

      • David Hardy

        But AT LEAST it's still better to choose 1 among many than nothing at all.

        Most religions also require a genuine acceptance of the tenets. Another criticism of Pascal's wager is that, if a person did practice a religious view for the cynical reason of hoping to get a reward, most religions teach that such a person is unlikely to receive that reward. Therefore, it would not be enough to say "pick one and hope for the best." It would be necessary to also distinguish one as being superior to the others.

        Also, there is an unexamined assumption that afterlife outcomes, should they exist, are tied to religion. Suppose the afterlife does occur, and all religions that subscribe to it have recognized this fact, but the outcome of a person after death are related to qualities that do not depend on religion? This would explain why various religions that believe in an afterlife do not accept the same standards for what is needed to receive a positive outcome. The closest common factor tends to be some form of admirable behavior, and people from many different religious views, including atheistic ones, engage in consistently admirable behavior.

        • Mike

          you're obfuscating but i get it.

          look christianity even if at first practiced cynically has what you might call a magical power to change folks...try larping it but i warn you it might cause some strange changes in you! :)

          • David Hardy

            I am not obfuscating. I am pointing to the fact that the choice itself is unclear and involves complicating factors that prevent embracing just picking an answer at random as a viable option, and I believe your presentation of it is a simplification that glosses over important points. Also, I was raised Christian, and it did not have the effect you say it would. If anything, Buddhist practices are the only ones I have found to have a "magical effect", and even then I am able to recognize that it does not have these effects on everyone.

            EDIT: Slight word change for clarity.

          • Mike

            ok thx and take care.

          • David Hardy

            And you as well. It is always interesting to talk with you.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    So atheism is both:

    Hopeless: After you die, that's it, there's no purpose to life, so why keep on living? Nothing we do matters.

    and:

    Wishful Thinking: After you die, that's it, so you can enjoy life without having to worry about eternal consequences.

    This reminds me of a quote by (of all people) G.K. Chesterton.

    This odd effect of the great agnostics in arousing doubts deeper than their own might be illustrated in many ways. I take only one. As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith, from Huxley to Bradlaugh, a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind—the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness. In case any reader has not come across the thing I mean, I will give such instances as I remember at random of this self-contradiction in the sceptical attack. I give four or five of them; there are fifty more.

    Thus, for instance, I was much moved by the eloquent attack on Christianity as a thing of inhuman gloom; for I thought (and still think) sincere pessimism the unpardonable sin. Insincere pessimism is a social accomplishment, rather agreeable than otherwise; and fortunately nearly all pessimism is insincere. But if Christianity was, as these people said, a thing purely pessimistic and opposed to life, then I was quite prepared to blow up St. Paul's Cathedral. But the extraordinary thing is this. They did prove to me in Chapter I. (to my complete satisfaction) that Christianity was too pessimistic; and then, in Chapter II., they began to prove to me that it was a great deal too optimistic...-- Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter VI

    It's just the same with atheism, it appears. In the spirit of what Chesterton points out later in Orthodoxy, it's not the atheist apologists that tempt me to become an atheist, but the Christian apologists.

    • neil_pogi

      that's his own personal opinion!

  • Rudy R

    It's wishful thinking by the Catholic that he/she is worshiping the correct god that will give them eternal bliss and not any of the other gods that will condemn them to Hell.

    • Mike

      do you think that muslims worship the same god as christians and jews?

      • Rudy R

        The Abrahamic god? Elohim? Yahweh? Muslims don't believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the savior of humanity, and neither do the Jews. So is it your belief that as long as Muslims and Jews believe in the same god as Chrisitians, that they will reap the same rewards as the Christians? Or do they need to believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

        • neil_pogi

          the God christians believe in is already revealed a long time ago. thousands of ancient jews have testified in his real existence 2000 years ago!

        • Mike

          do you think that a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet?

          • Rudy R

            Nice dodge. But you didn't answer the question.

          • Mike

            there was a question there?

          • Rudy R

            Only if you understand the concept of the question mark (?).

          • Mike

            or you the concept of "a" question hee hee.

            ok let's knock it off.

      • David Nickol

        Do Christians and Jews worship the same God?

        • Mike

          of course.

    • neil_pogi

      there is only One God: 1. there is only one universe, if there are many universes, then, there should be many gods too. 2. life is only confined on earth, therefore, there is only one God. if life can be found elsewhere in the universe, therefore, there must be many gods. 3. living creatures always have a pair of eyes, ears and nostrils, one mouth, one nose and sets of teeth, therefore, there is only one God. all life on earth are mainly composed of carbon-based elements, therefore, this Creator is only one!

      it's just simple as 1,2, and 3

  • Michael Murray

    Many atheists identify as are rational, sensible, scientific, and careful.

    Typo corrected.

    • neil_pogi

      quote: 'rational, sensible, scientific, and careful.' ??? -- so the universe just 'popped' out of 'nothing' .. is this 'rational, sensible, scientific'?? what kind of scientific experiments atheist scientists are using? can they use a very powerful ' mega' electron microscope to observe a 'nothing' producing a vast universe? oh dear, you've got to be 'thinking wishfully'!

      • Michael Murray

        Why don't you learn to blockquote ? Look up disqus and html.

        • neil_pogi

          it's my style! i have a free will to do what is entitled for me!

          • Michael Murray

            I'll be the first thing St Peter asks you is if you can blockquote.

          • neil_pogi

            just focus on issues and not the other way around!

          • neil_pogi

            may i ask you what kind of scientific instruments atheists are using to be able to 'detect' that a 'nothing' really has creative force or power to create the vast universe!

            pls!!!!!!

          • Doug Shaver

            it's my style!

            I guess that's one way to rationalize the sin of sloth.

          • neil_pogi

            so you are making this a huge issue!

          • Doug Shaver

            You're the Christian. You're the one who is supposed to own the high moral ground.

          • neil_pogi

            so you admit that you have 'little' morals, or not at all.

            why this Strange notions didn't notify me that i should follow their rules in posting comments? because the main issues here are comments and not following rules! did you lose something?

  • Michael Murray

    Surely the wishful thinking lies not in the details of heaven and the number of strings on the harps but just the idea that there is a continuation of consciousness in some way beyond the physical disintegration of the brain. However much we might all wish this to be true, and I certainly do, I have never seen any convincing evidence. On the contrary Sean Carroll gives a pretty good argument here why it is just not possible

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

    • neil_pogi

      if only scientists could be able to create a life in the lab, then i'll surely believe that every life is just 'run' by materialistic processes!

      ..but it's not.. that's why they could not successfully create a life in the lab

    • Peter

      I agree that wishful thinking lies very much at the heart of the belief in life after death, both for oneself and for the loved ones one has lost. It is a very natural human emotion and this may explain why is has pervaded so many cultures throughout human history. Furthermore, it is evident that life after death cannot be detected through the fundamental particles of nature as we understand them.

      The point remains, however, that the world (i.e. universe) has the overwhelming appearance of design and there is no evidence to suggest that it is anything other than what it overwhelmingly appears to be. The most parsimonious conclusion must be that there is a Designer who exists outside our space time and therefore outside the scope of its fundamental particles.

      If the Designer of our universe and ultimately of ourselves exists within a realm which is outside the scope of the universe's fundamental particles, who is to say that we who have been intentionally designed by the Designer cannot also exist at some point within that realm? Even though our presence would no longer be detectable in the current space time, this does not preclude the likelihood that we could still exist.

      • neil_pogi

        atheists are the first who introduce in 'science' that life just evolved from non-life.

        are you questioning the beliefs of christians that one day loved ones will rise again after death?

        then why don't you question the theory of abiogenesis yourself?

        • Peter

          It is not Christian belief that life did not evolve from non-life.

          • neil_pogi

            that's why i said atheists always mock and ridicule theists/christians in believing that there is 'afterlife' ..

            when atheists firmly believe that non-living matter evolve eventually to living matter. this is hilarious and irrational

    • neil_pogi

      the equivalent of higgs boson is micro oganism. higgs bosons don't tell us that they are the 'makers' of the universe. just like the micro organism, which is the smallest form of life, higgs boson is just part of the universe, only in minute entity/form

      • neil_pogi

        even if this higgs bosons are numerous in the universe, they will not form 'specified complex' objects or life without a 'prime mover'.. higgs is not conscious nor aware of itself, then how come they, according to scientists, create tasks like creating universe and life?

        • Doug Shaver

          higgs is not conscious nor aware of itself, then how come they, according to scientists, create tasks like creating universe and life?

          They comply with the laws of nature. Nature is smarter than any human being.

          • neil_pogi

            nature does not create a 'specified complex' organism such as human.

          • Doug Shaver

            Specified complexity is a concept invented by apologists for creationism. It refers to something they claim cannot be accomplished by natural selection, which makes it just an instance of the god-of-the-gaps argument.

          • neil_pogi

            there's no natural selection if without the 'specified complexity' of a Designer.it's not invented by creationists. only a conscious entity can create such things with 'specified complexity'.
            evolutionist atheists invented 'punctuated equillibrium' to justify the millions of no transitional fossils.

          • Doug Shaver

            it's not invented by creationists.

            So it was invented by an evolutionary biologist? Name him.

          • neil_pogi

            why not search the google search engine? hint: 'punctuated equillibrium'

          • Doug Shaver

            So it was invented by an evolutionary biologist? Name him.
            why not search the google search engine?

            It's your claim. You defend it.

            hint: 'punctuated equillibrium'

            I know who invented that one. It has nothing to do with specified complexity.

          • neil_pogi

            because you claim that 'specified complexity' is just an invention of creationists, then i follow your suit. 'punk-eek' was invented by evolutionary paleontologists Eldredge and Gould

          • Doug Shaver

            i follow your suit

            You may do that whenever I use punctuated equilibrium to prove a point I'm trying to make. Until then, it is irrelevant to this discussion.

          • neil_pogi

            it's a relevant issue. the 'punk-eek' was invented because evolutionists have no more evidences for transitional fossils. without transitional fossils, evolution is dead in water

          • Doug Shaver

            the 'punk-eek' was invented because evolutionists have no more evidences for transitional fossils.

            No, it was not.

            without transitional fossils, evolution is dead in water

            No, it is not.

          • neil_pogi

            yes, evolution is already dead!

          • Doug Shaver

            You say so. I say not so. You're making things very easy for me. Thank you very much.

          • neil_pogi

            then revive it! all you say is claim!

  • neil_pogi

    atheists scientists say that creating a 'life' is 'just add water' make really no sense at all. another 'wishful thinking' brought to you by: the prestigious and PhD scientists and were even peer-reviewed by 'scientific' journals, like nature, scientific american, national geographic and science

    • Doug Shaver

      atheists scientists say that creating a 'life' is 'just add water'

      No scientist has ever said that, so far as I'm aware.

      • neil_pogi

        yes they do. that's why they search planets that have plenty of water because they think life is avalable there. they think Mars as one candidate for existence of life because, according to them, Mars was enveloped with water (due to existence of mars canyons, wonder why they reluctanly denied that the earth suffered worldwide flood, even though the earth's surface is covered by 70% water)

        • Doug Shaver

          that's why they search planets that have plenty of water because they think life is avalable there.

          No, that is not their reason.

          they think Mars as one candidate for existence of life

          Yes, a candidate, because water is necessary for life. Your claim is that scientists say water is sufficient for life. Do you know the difference between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition?

          they think Mars as one candidate for existence of life because, according to them, Mars was enveloped with water (due to existence of mars canyons,

          They have never said that Mars was ever "enveloped" by water. They have only said Mars once had enough water to form rivers.

          wonder why they reluctanly denied that the earth suffered worldwide flood,

          Because a worldwide flood would have left evidence, and that evidence does not exist.

          • neil_pogi

            what's the difference between 'just add water' and 'water is necessary for life'??

            so the martian river carved the highest canyons of mars. have they observed them 'million' years ago? so, it's another fantastic assumptions!

          • Doug Shaver

            what's the difference between 'just add water' and 'water is necessary for life'??

            I already told you. It's the difference between a sufficient condition and a necessary condition.

  • N.O. Donald

    "wishful thinking." Would not call believing that life is meaningless, pointless suffering and then being gone in total nonexistence for all of eternity as something "wishful".