Role playing: what if they say, "I just want everyone to be happy"?


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, to take this to the next stage (from this topic), how would you respond to an atheist who replied:

Look, this is all made up. Christians tell themselves one story that makes them feel good about themselves, Buddhists another, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with atheists telling themselves stories about their significance too: I contribute at work, my girlfriend is happy with me, we volunteer in the community together, we recycle.

The other point is that our cosmic insignificance is good to recognize. It teaches us humility: we really aren’t that important. Chill out. And it teaches us responsibility: no sky fairy is going to help us with our problems, so we need to help each other out.

So many Christians are concerned with morality and how their religion helps them be good people. I’m all for that. But instead of depending on Bronze Age ethics, contemporary science is what helps me be moral. Like I said, I see significance in my work and relationships, I see humility and responsibility from our position in the cosmos. That’s a healthy, well-adjusted, moral perspective.

New Exoplanet Discovered - Rejoice in Insignificance?
(SeanO) #2

@CarsonWeitnauer That sounds like a pretty genuine response from a skeptic.

Let’s say one of your friends decides not to contribute at work, to mistreat his girlfriend and to vandalize the community. And he says he doesn’t care what you say, it’s what he feels like doing. On what objective basis are you going to tell him that what he is doing is wrong? Why is your opinion about what is right more important than his?

Humility requires that we have some value in the first place. Cosmic insignificance logically leads to despair; not humility. If we are made in God’s image and have inherent worth we can be humble because there is some value there in the first place. Without true worth, humility means nothing - it is not even a virtue - there is no such thing as virtue if we are cosmically insignificant.

In what way does science help you decide if it is right or wrong to discriminate against other people who are weaker than yourself? Survival of the fittest logically leads to cruelty; not compassion.

(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi @Sean_Oesch,

I think one line of response would be:

No one has an objective basis for saying that those decisions are wrong. Christians have their story, that’s all. It isn’t a true story. They say it is objective, but it is just their opinion.

The best we can do is say, let’s try to make life better. We can use science to say, what conditions or actions improve happiness for each person, and which ones don’t? If you abuse someone, they aren’t as happy as when you treat them with respect. When the data is clear, and someone insists on doing what hurts other people, our society should organize itself to discourage that action. Maybe it is a fine or jail time. That’s the only practical response we actually have to people doing harm. As for survival of the fittest, whatever. What we have the ability to do is make the world better. That’s better than the original evolutionary pressures.

You say cosmic insignificance leads to despair, I say it leads to humility. I’m not despairing! I’m happy and enjoy my life. Do you want me to despair? The logic of it isn’t relevant; it is the psychology of it. I just know that my place in the cosmos isn’t that important. This fact keeps me grounded and avoid taking myself too seriously.

(SeanO) #4

I think I would redirect the conversation with one of the following questions:

How do you know that Christianity is not true?

How would you measure happiness? That is not a scientific quantity that can be weighed, calculated or even accurately modeled. Moreover, what makes one person happy - say abusing another person - will make the other person unhappy. Who gets to say whose happiness is more important?

You, my friend, embrace a happy pragmatism. That philosophy is effective while we all live in a country where we mostly have enough to eat and a place to live. But when things get tough - in war or famine or hunger - pragmatism leads to killing and eating one’s neighbor rather than loving them. Are you not even willing to consider that Christ Himself might be the answer to living a happy & compassionate life that is rooted in reality rather than in mere pragmatism?

(Melvin Greene) #5

Thanks, @CarsonWeitnauer for ramping this up to a higher level. I enjoy these kinds of conversations, which forces me to really think about what and why I believe what I do.

I understand that people who are not Christians believe that what we believe makes us feel good about ourselves, but actually Christianity is not a feel good religion, at least in part. When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, we do it out of the realization that we are sinful, wicked people who fall woefully short of the standards of a holy and perfect God, and that we deserve God’s judgement. Jesus tells us in Matthew, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who hunger and thirst for righteousness. For only when we realize our true condition, will we come to a place where we will accept Jesus as our savior. Christianity can make us feel good, but only in the knowledge that God loves us so much that He came into this world as a man to show us who He is and to take the punishment that was due us, so that we may be saved and have a personal relationship with us.
There’s nothing wrong with atheists telling themselves stories about their significance, meaning and purpose, but what do you base that on? Upon what moral framework do you base that on? If you say society, then what about those societies that treat women more as possessions than equal human beings? Is your moral framework better than theirs? If you think that, then there has to be some sort of transcendent moral law to compare with, which leads to a transcendent moral law giver, which you say doesn’t exist. (Thanks to Ravi for teaching me that!)

I agree with @Sean_Oesch that cosmic insignificance leads to disparity more than humility. If we truly are nothing more than accidents of cosmic forces, then nothing we do means anything. What then becomes of humility? Humble people tend to think more of other people than of themselves. Humility usually leads to self-sacrificial actions, which truly would be pointless in a purposelessness existence. I’ve always find it fascinating that if there is no God and no meaning or purpose to our existence, yet people spend their lives searching for it. It seems intrinsically wired in us.

Finally, I would ask how science helps us with morality. Science by it’s definition cannot tell us what is good and evil. Science deals with the physical world, except psychology which deals more with constructs. In fact, evolutionary biology would, in essence, tell us we should kill off the weak and disabled in order to keep our race strong and flourishing.

(Carson Weitnauer) #6

Hi @Sean_Oesch, here’s one line of response:

I don’t know that Christianity is not true. But unless it is proven to be true, and good, I’m not interested.

I would measure happiness via whatever tools academic psychologists develop. My posture is that we say everyone’s happiness is important. It is a happy pragmatism - we agree that when times are tough, people do horrible things. Those are bad. What we want is to use the best data we have to help everyone be happy. That means not letting Bronze Age texts interfere with the scientific process.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi @Melvin_Greene,

Here’s one possible response:

It may be the case that thinking horrible thoughts about yourself and believing that you are rescued from such terrors leads to happiness. Let’s see what the research shows. My moral framework is simple: happiness for everyone. We may not have access to a higher moral law, but that’s no trouble. We just want everyone to be happy. Happiness can come in many forms. Personally, I agree that arrogance doesn’t really satisfy; humility does. But too much self-sacrifice can be foolish too. Some generosity, some responsibility, mix them together as best you can. But I just don’t see any link between evolutionary biology and how our societies have evolved. It is good that we can choose a better path than our biological impulses. Again, what’s wrong with wanting everyone to be happy?

(SeanO) #8


It turns out that psychologists are prone to misconstruing information either through confirmation bias or lying when they need to publish. (See below article). So how can you trust that academic psychologists are not lying for their own betterment (aka survival of the fittest) and not seeking the good of society?

Technically the New Testament was written in the Iron Age - not the Bronze Age. And the proof of the claims of Christianity is resurrection of Christ. The men who proclaimed Christ were willing to be tortured to death rather than deny their claims. I suggest reading The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel to take a good look at the evidence for Christianity before you dismiss it. There are many good reasons to trust the claims of the New Testament and specifically to believe that Christ truly was raised from the dead. That is some pretty powerful evidence.

(Melvin Greene) #9

Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting everyone to be happy. As a matter of fact, I commend you on having that desire. People finding happiness is a good thing. In fact, it’s included in one of our important national documents. The founding fathers included it in the Declaration of Independence. They believed that all people were endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, the founding fathers believed that the right of the pursuit of happiness came from God, our creator, which would indicate intrinsic worth for all human beings. Since that is not your belief, where do you think the importance of happiness comes from? Also, I can’t help but notice, and I’m sure you have noticed too, it seems that people now days are less happy as a whole. Since it’s somewhat obvious that Christianity is on a decline, what would you say is contributing to our general unhappiness?

(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi @Sean_Oesch,

A possible response:

Is your argument, “8-18% of abstracts contain inconsistent summaries, therefore, we cannot trust the work of academic psychologists?” Isn’t it good that, a) they did a study to see how accurate the work was, and b) the error rate was <20%? Also, wouldn’t you agree that at least 20% of pastors have misrepresented the Bible, the people they quote, and so on, in their sermons? So can we not trust sermons? Where are the studies doing an analysis of error rates in sermons from churches? The beauty of the scientific process is we can replicate studies to find error, improve our conclusions, and make progress towards universal happiness. That seems like a better way to go than the fixed and limited perspective of “the Bible tells me so.”

(Carson Weitnauer) #11

Hi @Melvin_Greene,

A possible response:

Thank you! It is nice to meet a Christian who agrees with me that everyone should be happy. Sometimes Christians can get so worked up about sin and the devil they seem to forget the importance of happiness. I guess I’m agnostic about why people think happiness is important. If the Founding Fathers wanted to be happy because that’s what the Creator wants for us, great. If I want to be happy because I can’t think of anything better to be, great. It is one of the simplest calculations: happiness is better than unhappiness, everyone being happy is better than some people being happy, so, let’s build a society, as best we can, where everyone is happy.

The World Happiness report attributes the decline in happiness like this: "This chapter uses happiness history over the past ten years to show how the Report’s emphasis on the social foundations of happiness plays out in the case of the United States. The observed decline in the Cantril ladder for the United States was 0.51 points on the 0 to 10 scale. The chapter then decomposes this decline according to the six factors. While two of the explanatory variables moved in the direction of greater happiness (income and healthy life expectancy), the four social variables all deteriorated—the United States showed less social support, less sense of personal freedom, lower donations, and more perceived corruption of government and business. Using the weights estimated in Chapter 2, the drops in the four social factors could explain 0.31 points of the total drop of 0.51 points. The offsetting gains from higher income and life expectancy were together calculated to increase happiness by only 0.04 points, leaving almost half of the overall drop to be explained by changes not accounted for by the six factors.

Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes."

Perhaps a decline in church attendance is part of why Americans are less happy. My recommendation would be that we continue to study happiness, as this report does, and look for ways to build social support, personal freedom, individual generosity, and less corrupt institutions. Maybe religion is part of that, maybe not. Whatever works best to build a happier society!

Also, it is encouraging that the world does seem to be getting happier overall: “As we can see, in the majority of countries the trend is positive: In 49 of the 69 countries with data from two or more surveys, the most recent observation is higher than the earliest. In some cases, the improvement has been very large; in Zimbabwe, for example, the share of people who reported being ‘very happy’ or ‘rather happy’ went from 56.4% in 2004 to 82.1% in 2014.”

(SeanO) #12

@CarsonWeitnauer I think this is the point in the conversation where if the other person does not show any interest in actually learning I change topics or move on. If their heels are dug in too deep or if they just enjoy arguing its just not the right time. Prayer and the Holy Spirit are the next step I think.

That is my point exactly! People, both scientists and preachers, are prone to making errors, so it is our duty to investigate the evidence ourselves. Before believing wholeheartedly in either the Bible or a scientific paper we must investigate carefully ourselves. I have been part of the peer review process for scientific journals and I personally believe the evidence for Christ’s resurrection is strong enough to withstand the peer review process.

Would you be willing to read a book on the evidence for the resurrection and discuss with me? The Case for Christ is a good place to start. Let’s do a peer review process on the evidence for the resurrection before dismissing it out of hand.

(Carson Weitnauer) #13

Hi @Sean_Oesch, I think that makes sense.

A possible response:

I would have been willing to do so, but you didn’t recommend a book by Ravi Zacharias. Sorry man.


(The Case for Christ is an excellent book!)

(SeanO) #14

Yes - his dialogue between Jesus and Oscar Wilde is a good one for discussing the problem of pleasure and potentially having a good conversation about where the real root of happiness lies.

(LaTricia January) #15

How does contemporary science help one to be moral? How do can we come to any moral conclusions based on science?

(Melvin Greene) #16

I must say that I don’t believe I ever had the privilege of corresponding with someone who is as well versed in happiness as you! Most of the atheists I’ve engaged with this kind of discussion seemed to be substantially less happy. Of course, I’ve known some less than happy Christians, too; which is somewhat of a paradox. Of all people, Christians should be the happiest people in the world.

Speaking of paradoxes…it is my understanding that atheists are basically materialists; nothing exists outside of the material universe. There is no spirit, or soul that continues on after the physical body dies. Please forgive me if I’m wrong on this assumption. The conclusion of the “World Happiness Report” indicated that the primary reason that overall happiness in the U.S. declined was due to social variables and not economic variables. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that non-material things seem a bit more important than material things. Do you find this to be a bit of a paradox considering we are nothing more than a walking, talking chemistry set? Another question that came to my mind is, Do you think that happiness is a decision, or a choice? It seems to me from what I’ve read by certain atheistic scientists is that “we are just dancing to our DNA.” If that’s the case, then I guess we don’t have a choice. What say you?

(A S FLINT) #17

I was in a Christian bookstore. A guy who came in for coffee and worked with the owner was sitting… I did not know he was an atheists until we began to talk.

I did not know how to debate on the level you mention above. But some how GOD & science came up.

I said to the man… "I believe in GOD and science. I do not believe the Earth is only 7-10 thousand years old either, as some Christians say… I believe that the Earth is extremely old… The original languages of the Bible has deep scientific truths in it. Did you know that?.. I have a great book by a physicist you might want to take a look at… One would need to be open minded and you seem like a chap that would be open to facts. . (he looked speechless and stated he never heard a Christian say that,). Have you ever hear of RZIM? I said?

I continued, Sir, I was on the verge of death. … I had read various philosophies & even tried many non Christian practices including occultism… I even looked into the Richard Dawkins theory of Aliens".

I was very ill. And I was facing major surgery. I had a thought in my own helplessness, “GOD if you are real, it is me and you. I need help”.

Within a few days I heard a man on the radio who had gone to school to be a Dr. He stated on the air that his program had success in helping people with-various physical conditions and that they had medical evidence to back his claim and success from science based research. I decided to go to the program.

Sir, I was healed. I was at this class with about 150 other people. I was on major meds and I could hardly keep my eyes open. I heard only part of what they said., again by the end of that week I was healed. And not only that other people were healed… And they have documented proof of multiple cases of people healed.

I came to understand life is all about relationship, not religion, or lack there of. They referred to the Biblical Narrative and shared about GOD and Jesus. The people were loving and intelligent. They did not tell me what to think they simply shared their research.

My best thinking got me to where I was at. As a free thinker, I decided what could it hurt to hear another point of view? I hope you will consider that although you do not believe in GOD. HE BELIEVES in YOU & even loves you!! If it is okay I will be praying for you?

The man seemed surprised. He said I could pray. He told me he had never heard such a thing…

I ended by saying Sir, I know there is a GOD and that there is a Devil who blinds men from believing in the Truth of the Bible. What I have shared is not a myth but a reality. ( I got up to leave).

2Co_4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

1Jn_2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

1Jn_4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

The shop owner and his wife continue to sow the gospel in this mans life. He has softened. We believe he will be saved in Jesus name.

One plants one waters but GOD gives increase.

(Melvin Greene) #18

Thank you for sharing that incredible testimony, @Flint! You know, it’s not always about science and philosophy, or any other higher learning. It’s just about sharing what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. I believe the Holy Spirit used your words to penetrate his heart.

(Carson Weitnauer) #19

Hi @LaTricia_January, a possible response:

Well, morality is something we all make up. Religion doesn’t help us to be moral either. In fact, sometimes religious groups are very immoral. Religious people sometimes like to say, “I believe in a God, and this God is good, and so here’s what is good and what is bad”, but I don’t think they’re right. I think that’s just a power play. If atheists said, “Well, the flying spaghetti monster wants everyone to be happy, therefore, that’s what’s moral” would that make you think I was proposing a moral solution? No, because you don’t believe in the FSM (neither do I). The great thing about science is that it is based in data and is testable, repeatable. So we can use data to help us figure out how to make progress in helping everyone be happy.

(Carson Weitnauer) #20

Hi @Melvin_Greene, a possible response:

I don’t know. It is like the debate in Christianity between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Some Bible verses suggest God decides everything, others suggest that we make decisions. There are some parts of science that make it look like everything is determined. There are other bits that suggest we get to make some decisions. It looks to me like the jury is still out on that question. But, we are agreed that death is the end. So, the goal of this life is to be happy, and hopefully, have everyone be happy. I’m open to both material pleasures (food and drink) and non-material pleasures (food and drink with good friends). They both seem to make me happy.