TAWDE: The Scandinavian Skeptic (Ch 2)

Hey @Interested_In_Book_Studies,

I hope you enjoyed Ch 2 as much as I did! This chapter discusses a common objection/refusal to engage tactic from our atheist friends, and I’m curious as to how many of you have encountered this while talking to a non-Christian?

The chapter can be summarized in 5 sections: Claims vs non-claims, active vs passive beliefs, entailments of beliefs, what beliefs attract, and the identity that beliefs provide. There’s great insight from each portion of this chapter and I’d love to hear what made your wheels turn?

Here are a few questions to get your thinker going, if needed:

  1. What do you think the underlying motive is to the claim “Atheism isn’t a belief, therefore I don’t need evidence for it?” And, why should we be cognizant of it (aren’t we trying to answer the questioner, after all)?
  2. If you’ve encountered the above claim previously, how did you engage it then vs how would you answer now?
  3. Which part of the chapter did you find most compelling and/or practical in your daily life?

Lastly, I noticed in our Ch 1 discussion that we did a great job posting our thoughts and comments, however, we seemed to lack the engagement with other member’s posts that fosters a community and promotes growth (myself included). So, as a challenge, let’s all aim to comment on someone else’s post at least once this week; bonus points for thoughtful questions and winsome replies!


I’ve always found it perplexing when I hear atheists use this line of reasoning. At first I thought they were simply trying to dodge any chance of being on it on the defensive. But I’ve come across some who sincerely believe this, at least they appear to on the surface. Some have used Russell’s teapot (or pink unicorns or flying spaghetti monster) to justify this but I never found that sufficient because they would still be committing to the non existence of these things.

I usually approach this issue as follows. Begin with this premise. Either God exists or God does not not exist. There is no middle ground or third option here. If you reject one, even passively, then the law of noncontradiction states you must accept the other. If not, then you would hold a set of inconsistent beliefs. So to reject the belief that God exists but not accept the belief that God doesn’t exist would not add up.


still enjoying the humor throughout. the hippos in the bathroom cracked me up.

“is presently occupied by two magnificent hippos who are at this very moment engaged in a hearty duet of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!” (one singing, one accompanying on the kazoo),”

and then the one here:

For example, Christians gain their identity from their belief that God has revealed himself, uniquely and supremely, in and through Jesus Christ. Manchester United fans are united in their belief in theirteam’s (usual) prowess. Supporters of the Liberal Democrat Party are united in their belief that it would be a jolly good idea to send their leader on a speaking tour of Australia. Or Azerbaijan. Or India. Or anywhere, really.

Actually we don’t want any Liberal Democrat Party speakers in Australia; we have enough politicians here already thankyou very much. :laughing:

Under question 1.

I would say the motive to say atheism isn’t a belief; is simply wanting to sit back and throw rocks at everyone else while not have to justify your own belief system. This was a good point that Andy brought out.

Some really good points made:

  1. Beliefs attract other beliefs. If you believe there is no God; then other beliefs start to follow.
  2. I really liked the explanation of an identity marker; I’m a Christian, I’m an atheist, I’m a Manchester United fan. And we don’t introduce ourselves as a random non-belief-in-things-that-don’t exist: such as an "atoothfairyian”.
  3. I had no idea there was atheist churches…

@boabbott - good point about chatting to each other, not just putting a few thoughts down. Hope you managed to get through your work overload you mentioned in the first post. :slight_smile:

I was pondering in the first chapter, trying to think of something meaningful to ask Andy; in response to the main thoughts about enjoyment in life; but after thinking a while, I kind of got stuck trying to come up with a question worth asking. :slight_smile: I thought that enjoyment is actually a very good thing, and something we desire. Perhaps the knowledge of, and relationship with Jesus Christ, gives joy as a secondary (and good) outcome. When we just pursue pleasure (enjoyment) for the sake of it, it’s empty at the end of it all.

I also read with great interest @Keith_Moore thoughts on chapter 1, and playing the devils advocate a bit. :slight_smile:

I also noticed in Chapter 1, the mention of category errors, in relation to enjoyment being all there is. Also in this chapter, there’s also one mention of a category error.
I’m not at all familiar with philosophy nor trained in it; but did a little reading about category errors.

So in chapter 1: the category error is: Enjoyment is the only thing about life (example: mountain tops are the best bits, blue is the only colour)
chapter 2: the category error is the statement: the lack of belief is not a belief? eg: things that are, are neither true nor false. “the colour blue is true”

Is there a simple way to explain for a non-philosopher what category errors are, and how to spot them?

thanks for leading this book discussion. :+1: … (looking forward to chapter 3 discussion, because I got stuck on the logic of a couple of the statements)


One could say that Atheism is a worldview like not stamp collecting is a hobby if it does not address one’s fundamental beliefs about reality. The aim of (1) is to confuse the opposition to produce proof for their claim as most people struggle to distinguish evidence and proof an than fail to provide proof they think they need to be credible.

As a cognitive position to believe A=false is equal to “think and not know” A=false.
The only way to not believe is to have knowledge, e.g.
to not (think and not know) A=false equivalent to not think and not not know A=false e.g. to know A=false
so if you do not know A=false you can only
not (think and not know) A=false equal to (think and not know) A=not false (“not” both sides)
To “not think and not know” is to claim ignorance about A.

Now we have plenty if evidence for God and for Jesus either in written testimony and in personal experience and in rational arguments but we have no proof. If we had, we could not have faith any more, e.g. trust in God, as faith is to trust in something to be true/false in the absence of proof. And that is nothing bad, which is why we use this principle in science to make our theories workable.We know we cannot prove them to be true but can only falsify them. So, the next time someone claims faith to be a belief in the absence of evidence, as evidence is that what causes beliefs, ask them if they have any evidence how a belief can be formed in the absence of evidence.

As Andy Banister in his Scandinavian Skeptic article nicely sums up Hitchen’s self refuting argument
“That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”
and the claim that “Atheism isn’t a belief, therefore I don’t need evidence for it?” would need evidence to show that it isn’t or can be dismissed on the basis of it being an argument from ignorance as shown above.
Interestingly an opposite belief problem to Scandinavian skeptic was recently posed to Justin Brierly when debating “rationality Rules” who claimed to believe in the existence of Australia. Considering that it has been proven to exist as a physical object it indicates a strange concept of belief held by some people. If you were still in a belief state about the existence of Australia, what is it of the proof that you do not accept? Does it mean one only accepts proof based on personal experience? What is it that makes you a skeptic about Australia - or Bielefeld :slight_smile:

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I had to read this chapter twice to really absorb and retain some of the content. As I read through the responses, I have to agree with those who responded positively to the humor included in the book as I truly enjoy the fact that there is a thread of levity woven into the content! I’ve seen or have been involved in conversations where the intensity has done more to polarize rather than open up honest communication and dialogue. Very uncomfortable.

In the first question you asked what we believe to the be underlying motive for their claim. RZIM has continually reinforced the fact that we are to view the questioner more than the question. I have come to deeply appreciate this as it puts the humanity of those we deal with first rather than the argument. Those I’ve known to take this stance have hit me as having very different reasons for their belief. And when you look beyond their statement I have found deep hurt, fear, unforgiveness,etc that plays into their stand. Hearts that have been hardened and arrogant and to dig into why they truly believe would lead to deeper, more personal reflection that they may or may not be ready for.

However, using the information of claim vs non-claim, Active vs Passive, Entailments, Attraction of other beliefs and Identity seems to lend to an opportunity of non-personal and thought provoking inquiry for the non-believer to mull over.

So many take-aways from the book and the comments!


@jobobear, I like how you’ve replied to this objection previously. How did the person answer your questions?

@matthew.western I think you’re quite right in saying that the motivation to deny atheism as a belief system is to ‘sit back and throw rocks.’ I think it may also be a way to hide from the fact that many may not have thoroughly thought through the implications of this statement; let alone the logical conclusions that atheism leads to. This isn’t to point a finger at atheist because I know plenty of Christians in the same boat (unfortunately).

So, if you and I are correct in our assessments, how should we navigate to the ultimate goal of answering the questioner so that he or she comes to Christ?

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One response I got is that you can withhold or suspend belief if there not sufficient reason to accept the claim. So one could reject the claim that God exists while still not accepting the claim that God does not exist because they would not commit to either. My response was the rejecting either claim was itself a commitment. To not commit would be to neither accept or reject either, essentially agnosticism in the traditional sense as a fence sitter.

Hi @boabbott, I can’t remember where I read that phrase ‘to sit back and throw rocks at’ - and upon reflection perhaps I’m sitting back and throwing rocks at the rock-throwers; :slight_smile:

you are so correct in that anyone can do this; not just atheists; it’s a lot harder to ask honest questions of your own worldview; it’s easier asking the hard questions of another person’s worldview from the ‘safety’ of your own.

So to bridge the gap to good conversation, we need to see an individual, a person created in God’s image; that currently holds to a particular world view. To reach others, we need to try to reflect Jesus’ love first and foremost.

This might be a somewhat unusual; but in this chapter, I found the quote interesting and discussion about Nietzsche’s understanding of the loss of everything foundational, especially the value of human life when you reject the existence of God in your own heart.

So, if a sign of a positive belief is that it has actual entailments, real consequences in the real world, what about atheism? Does anything follow from denying that God exists? One of the most famous atheists of the last 200 years, Friedrich Nietzsche, certainly thought so. He wrote:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident … Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands.”

Nietzsche is pointing out that just as if you dynamite the foundations of your home, the walls and roof will collapse and you’ll be left with so much rubble, so too with God. Many things stand upon belief in God, such as the idea that human beings have intrinsic value. Ethics, law, and human rights theory are based on the belief that you are not just a random collection of atoms, but a person with dignity and worth. From where did this idea originate? It came from the Bible’s teaching that human beings are made “in the image of God”. Reject God by all means, says Nietzsche, but then you must start again with new foundations, explaining why one particular creature thrown up by the blind forces of time and chance churning the primordial soup for billions of years possesses inalienable rights whereas amoebae, cockroaches, and eggplants do not. I appreciate the honesty of those atheist thinkers who recognize this problem and are willing to admit that if you throw out God, with him go many other things.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (pp. 38-39). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

Hello. Interesting reading everyone’s thoughts. Sorry I am late to the party this week. Been busy and not too well, and also had to read the chapter and the discussions a couple of times to get my head around what was being said.
I have not had anyone say that atheism is not a belief to me, but I have heard it in debates online etc.
@kelelek and @boabbott and others, a great reminder to answer the questioner rather than the question. Why would some say that it is not a belief? There’s most likely a range of reasons. For some people it probably isn’t a firm belief- they are similar to the ‘atoothfairians’ for whom their lack of belief in God is not high up in their thoughts or every day lives. Others, like the New Atheists, I think are awkwardly aware of how like ‘believers’ they sound and want to disassociate with any kind of faith.
I did hear a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and an atheist once. Dr Craig said that the burden of proof did NOT lie with the Christian alone. The atheist scoffed and said something like ‘How can I prove something isn’t there? Obviously there is no evidence because the thing never existed. You cannot prove non-existence!’
Dr. Craig said, ‘Sure you can. We do it all the time. Dawkins talks about the flying teapot around the back of Saturn (or whereever). Well, we can send probes back there - no teapot!’
I was wondering if someone asked me to provide evidence for my non-belief in Thor or Zeus, how would I go about it. I’m not too sure. But definitely worth thinking about.
@matthew.western I too liked the point about atheism being an identity marker. How can something you don’t believe in determine so much of who you are, who you associate with and how you present yourself to the world? And I find atheist churches fascinating! I read not so long ago about a schism in an atheist church - they didn’t agree about what they didn’t believe in :slightly_smiling_face:.
I do have two points where I disagree with Andy Bannister though:

  1. “…small rocks are all atheists, because they, too, do not possess a belief in a deity of any kind.” (Pg.33)
    I believe Andy is mistaken here, as shown by Jesus’ own words during the triumphant entry into Jerusalem: Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ (Luke 19:39-40)
    So, stones are believers after all. Perhaps because Jesus is ‘the Corner-stone’. What I’m trying to say is, Jesus Rocks!

  2. ‘I believe Archimedes’ neighbours responded to his cry of “Eureka!” with “You don’t smell too good either”. (Footnote 38 pg. 38).
    Andy might be right about the neighbours’ response, but I doubt it. After all, Archimedes had just had a bath…no doubt with a lovely lavender scented bubble bath.

This chapter has certainly got me thinking and caused me to take painkillers more than once! I’m looking forward to chapter 3 and perhaps might get some idea perhaps as to how to prove the non-existence of Thor. I’m especially keen to do that after Marvel’s Avengers: End Game!!

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