Atheists who prefer Hell

As of 7/22/12, two out of five Atheists  (n=105) confirmed what many theists have suspected: Some Atheists prefer hell to an eternity with a good god in heaven. (see the poll here)

What the heck was that about?  Many atheist commentors were, like me, astonished with this finding!   But maybe there is hope:  Research has shown that what we say we do (or would do)  often does not  accurately match what we actually do or would actually do (for example: church attendance).   I don’t think any Atheist, in that actual situation, would really choose hell.  Instead, I think they used the poll to make a statement.

I did not post my poll to find out what atheists would really do, but instead to probe a suspicion I have concerning some blogging-Atheists’ personalities.   So here are some of my speculations about why some Atheist declared that they preferred hell to heaven:

  1. Some Atheists are so upset with theists’ notions of “God” and/or “Heaven” that they wanted to show it by choosing hell in the experiment.  They don’t care about the truth of their choice, but more about what their reaction emotionally conveys.  They want to convey a message and will sacrifice the truth of their actual words in order to convey that message — a common human communication behavior.  But remember, these same Atheists probably pride themselves in being rational.
    (1a)  Another version of this may be:  “I hate thought experiments that make me imagine something I don’t believe in.  So I am going to jump into Hell!”
  2. There are a disproportionate number of atheists that have a very rebellious temperament and who hate the idea of a dictator — even a benign one.  Thus, oddly, burning for eternity sounds far better to them than living under the rules of someone else. (see one temperament study here)
  3. The hell-jumpers assumed hell is just annihilation and assumed Heaven would be torturously boring.
  4. They miss understood the problem and/or read too much into it.  Or, I just wrote the problem poorly – though several commentors said it was clear.

Of course the results could have been completely inaccurate:  perhaps a bunch of Christians took the Atheist poll just so they could enjoy throwing us into hell. 🙂  Either way, of course this is not a valid research tool.  But understand that much rigorous research is inspired by hugely flawed anecdotal hints of possible connections.  Maybe someday someone will explore my theory more accurately for us.

Meanwhile I just wanted to say that I have observed many on-line atheists arguing with such vehemence that I think it obstructs their clear judgement — heck, I am sure I do it sometimes too.  This post was an attempt to demonstrate that possibility — even atheists display “the worldview defense” (explored at Ephiphenom’s post).

Offended atheists, fear not: My next post will explores the foibles of theists!

Question to readers:  What is your theory?  Is this probe of mine useless, or do you think there may be something to my suspicions?


Filed under Cognitive Science, Philosophy & Religion

53 responses to “Atheists who prefer Hell

  1. you do realize that atheists dont believe in heaven or hell or religion all together right? So only giving them the option for extremely vague answers only to a question that does not even ask if they want to go to hell does not mean that they want to go to hell. Maybe learn to apply thought to your polls before you go on blathering like a idiot about something pointless.

  2. David Chapman

    I think this was extremely clever. I wish we knew what was actually going on! Hope someone does follow up.

  3. DaCheese

    Some people have a hard time with philosophical scenarios that force you to assume something you don’t believe can be true. I think a lot of avowed atheists are convinced that a truly good God who still sends people to hell is a logical impossibility, or that the problem of suffering cannot be adequately explained by any means. So some people may have voted for hell because they were still thinking in terms of a corrupt God, in spite of the framing of the scenario.

    A second thought: It’s hard to see how a god can be good who condemns anyone to eternal torment, even by their own choice. So some people may have assumed that “hell” is simply a plane of existence where God is absent. That changes the stakes significantly, and I can see a lot of rebellious individualists preferring that.

  4. The reason I choose heaven, was because this possibility really can’t exist anyways. It is an illogical to conceive that love can be so dictating and punishing at the same time.

  5. Smit

    Maybe because, according to the Bible, Lucifer showed the first humans how to think critically and shed their blind ignorance that God forced upon them at creation.

  6. Mosethyoth

    Explanation why I prefer Hell over Heaven:

    The existence of Hell has some premises. For a Hell to exist there has to be a Deity which condemns people to an afterlife in Hell. There has to be an option which allows you avoiding being sent to Hell or rather you will be sent to Hell for certain actions while you’re alife (or else you wouldn’t be sent to Hell right after Death). So the purpose of Hell would be punishment. So we can conclude that the Deity sends people to Hell to punish them.

    In the Christian bible it is explained that the only way of avoiding Hell is by succumbing to Jesus/God and let your sins be forgiven. So actually you get punished for not abasing yourself. The Christian god wants you to lower yourself to him without the visible proof of his superiourity (let alone his existence).

    The big inequity in this whole scheme is that only a fraction of the people get to know of this context which means that all those who do not know of it are inevatibly condemned to be sent to Hell. So this Jesus/God tells us we can do anything as long as we display our regret to him at the very end but it is futil to try to live our life righteous if we don’t ever accept him as our lord.

    I can’t accept such an inequitable being to be honored. I want to be sent to Hell not because I want to be punished or tortured, but because I’m not okey with Jesus/God behaviour and an afterlife with him has no value for me, because I want to be responsible for my actions and everyone to be so himself and ultimately because I strive for absolute equality.

    If a deity sends me to Hell for my good intention so I don’t care. I cannot be frightened with torture.

  7. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

    —widely attributed to Keynes, although apparently he didn’t actually say it.

  8. I think most atheists who answer the question honestly, as a hypothetical of which they would prefer, take the egalitarian view, like Jean Rostand, who said, “I should have no use for a paradise in which I should be deprived of the right to prefer hell.”

    I think it is fair, then, to say one prefers Hell, because to have a paradise but not have the right to choose one way or another means we would be predestined to an eternity of heavenly bliss or else eternal damnation. This of course means one’s ending up in either place would be quite arbitrary, or rather, according to God’s will–as he fancies–should a God exist.

    But the concept of heaven and hell serve no theological purpose except to bribe people to worship God and blackmail them for the price of their souls if they should refuse with the threat of eternal damnation.

    As such, it is rather a useless question to ask, whether one believes in heaven or hell or not.

    We may entertain the fancy, but that’s all it is. A fiction. A trite metaphor for the best and worst of human kind hijacked by religion to then guilt us into having to make a choice–one or the other. As if the choice were actually some profound decision. Wouldn’t it be easier if there was merely a Heaven and no Hell? Oh, but what fun would that be?

    In actuality, Hell simply does not exist. Spinoza was right to call it superstition by pointing out there is no knowledge of the existence of hell. No actual experience of it. Everything in this universe, we experience, or have knowledge of through our experiences.

    The objection is always met with the same tart response: but what if you’re mistaken? What if hell really exists?! What then?

    Should a heaven or hell exist, then it is beyond the understanding of this universe, and again, I am afraid, the question would prove quite meaningless. How could we give our opinion on something which is beyond our understanding? All we could offer is unfounded conjecture, and our reasons would justifiably be as varied as the sea of imagining they were plucked from.

    So much for the question of hell.

  9. I reiterate, the whole concept of presenting an atheist with a choice involving heaven and hell is a tad pointless as atheists do not believe in these things.
    Those that joined in didn’t think this through, I suspect,or are not true to what they believe/don’t believe.
    In fact, if this post was directed solely at believers/Christians it would have been much more pertinent,
    The results of a post/poll like this would be interesting. Just a thought.

  10. sgl

    i think your question sounds too much like the way many proselytize — “imagine if”, followed by pascal’s wager, followed by “believe in my god”. given the similarity, perhaps many atheists have a pavlovian response because they’ve seen that so many times before.

    also, as Dacheese mentioned, many people also have a problem with a hypothetical they can’t believe. eg, “imagine if Zeus was the real god, and actually a really nice guy, would you help him throw his thunderbolts?” or, “turns out heaven’s gate cult was correct, and that asteroid was the ticket to heaven. but god’s going to give you another chance to hop on board, if you just commit suicide.” how would you answer those? rather difficult to take the question seriously, no?

    lastly, how a provably “really good” god send someone to hell for eternal punishment for something so trivial? it’s illogical. and unbelievable, same when someone comes to your door and offers you something too good to be true — there’s a catch somewhere. (eg, “really? there’s a nigerian prince that has $10 million he’s trying to get out of the country, and if i just help him set up a bank account, he’ll share half of it with me? sign me up!!”)

  11. I do suspect that many atheists are anti-authority and non-conformist types, but there is probably some merit in each of your four possible explanations.

  12. exrelayman

    Your speculations as to the causes of the poll results seems spot on. It is amusing that some Christians might deem it important to skew the results of a very inconsequential little imagination game. As much so the notion of such hidebound atheists that even conjecturing a scenario contrary to their thinking is not possible (and I am pretty hidebound).

    You are just playing around with ideas here. Amazing how offended some can become at you playing!

  13. sgl

    one other note… if you like hypothetical metaphysical musings, i’ve recently stumbled across Raymond Smullyan (a very unusual and accomplished person). 2 of his more intriguing musings i’ve discovered on the net:
    Planet Without Laughter
    Is God a Taoist?

    haven’t read any of his books yet tho.

  14. Well, given that there is no agreed definition of what heaven or hell actually are, one possibility is that the atheists who preferred hell have conceptualized heaven and hell in such a way that heaven is a better place to be. i.e. rather than the medieval version of hell with demons constantly shoving flaming spears up you backside, they are conceptualising it as something akin to the real world – where choice and freedom (and pain, and pleasure) all exist. They may see heaven as a saccharin place where smug Christians sit around congratulating each other on how wonderful they are. Which would, in my opinion, be a kind of hell. I’m not sure I could tolerate that for eternity!

  15. I’m not at all surprised by your poll, Sabio.
    I’m one of the people who believe that the contemptuous atheist or “anti-theist” would be completely out of his or her element in heaven where the saints are worshipping God day and night, walking and talking with Jesus, and simply happy to be in the presence of God, no matter what Heaven is like.

    The heart that is open to loving God would love God, no matter who or what He is, flawed, perfect, ego-driven, or whatever. If one loves God, he has loved God so long and so deeply that this cannot just be taken away by finding out God is not who we envisioned He would be. We will be in our element loving God, but those who view God, the bible, Chrisitans, and religion with contempt cannot change who they are in the snap of a finger. They will not fit in, in Heaven, nor will they be happy. I don’t believe they will be burning in hell either; I believe they simply cease to exist like smoke fades away and disappears.

  16. TWF

    Wow. Atheists really are non-homogenous. This has been interesting, funny, and (truth be told) a little sad. Thanks for sparking on the discussion!

  17. I think it’s a combination of 1 and 2. After all, when presented with the choices: would you rather spend a week standing in a line at the DMV which never gets any shorter, or a week in Hawaii, who would, in their right mind, choose the DMV?

    I think there are a rather large number of atheists who would rather be defiant and claim to prefer hell, than “give in” to the Christian and admit that heaven sounds pretty good.

  18. Well, for once, I disagree with you, Sabio. If I had to guess why so many atheists voted a preference for hell I would guess they think of god as an unjust, ill-tempered, cruel, and useless bastard — much like the bastard of the Old Testament.

  19. @ Readers
    Wow, fascinating! Thank you for all the comments. You’ve got to love the variety of emotional responses here. I hope no one minds, but though I usually respond to comments one-to-one,today I will only respond to the comments in a generic mode:

    These comments themselves reveal the variety of Atheists/skeptics out there. I have previously done several posts trying to taxonomize these differences – this is one more.

    Psychology experiments/explorations, as you all know, are most successful when the subjects don’t clearly see what is being tested. If I spilled the intent before testing, the results would be meaningless.

    My aim here was to show that just as studies of religion show that there are various components of religion thinking, I feel non-religious thinking is also multi-factorial. I don’t think my question artificially created the difference of opinions here, but instead illustrated them. Peoples’ “Atheism” carries much more with it than just not-believing-in-a-god. And certainly some of these difference can be major obstacles to productive dialogue.

    Several readers largely agreed with my analysis, if not the value of this exercise. Yet many readers objected strongly. Yet ironically some of those objections easily fit in one of the categories I already layed out amon my possible objectors-types. And instead of agreeing with that part of my analysis, they elaborated on the issue as if I never mentioned it. The irony is, that such a response is part of my point: triggers often stop us from listening, stop of us from seeing commonality, stop us from seeking real understanding. This is not a unique Atheists trait by any means, of course. And I do it far too often too. But this illustrates that Atheists, who often pride themselves in razor-sharp reasoning, certainly don’t escape these obstructive tendencies.

    I am not going to argue with each objecting commentor — their input is valuable and elaborating. Their comments speak for themselves.

    And I am happy to have an additional option added to my list. Several readers have offered one category of atheists-that-chose-hell that I seemed to have failed to consider: (1a) “I hate thought experiments that make me imagine something I don’t believe in. So I am going to jump into Hell!

    I think it is clear that such a response is very close to emotional motivation of version of #1 — thus I will add it as #1a. Thought experiments which have you imagine what you don’t believe in are the exact sort of experiments scientists do to gain insight and often break old paradigms. It is also a skill we need to have when attempting to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. It is a good empathy skill.

    Some, of course, inevitably accuse me of being “blathering idiot” — and I am insightful enough not to deny this charge.🙂

    If you feel I missed something important in your comment or want to chastize me further, please continue. Meanwhile I will try to sketch a post responding to the Christians’ responses to their poll. There I will address some of the Christian responses on this thread — thank you for participating!

    I must say one point before leaving about the Atheist scenario: I attempted to construe a god there who was different from established stereotypes and pre-conceptions: not a sweet god and not a god like Yahweh. I was trying to get people to jump out of their stereotypes — but that is very difficult for folks (because of #1 or #2) or perhaps simply because of my poor writing (#3).

  20. Sabio, thank you for this; it was eye-opening.

    I’ve always been an atheist, just because there never seemed any reason to believe in God. (And, eventually, I learned some good reasons to actively disbelieve.)

    So I’ve never taken seriously the contention of some theists that “atheism is just another religion”. Based on the responses here, however, I have to concede that they are at least partly right.

    The degree of dogmatic adherence, in the face of reason, displayed here by some atheists was quite shocking.

  21. This is somewhat off-topic, so I hesitate to mention it, but now that you’ve concluded the survey…

    From a Mahayana Buddhist perspective, you ought to want to go to hell, if that is the place you can be most useful. For Buddhism, hell is not permanent. People get out of hell as soon as their motivation improves. Thus, if you can go there and talk to people and help persuade them to be a little less nasty, you can do a lot of good. Enough good that you might want to stay there, being tortured, until everyone else has been saved.

    I’m more-or-less a Mahayana Buddhist, but don’t believe in hell (Buddhist or otherwise). I hope that if I did believe in the Buddhist account of hell, I would want to go there. (Which is why I had to hesitate a bit before answering your survey initially. But that was about the Christian heaven and hell, not the Buddhist one.) Since I don’t believe in hell, my hypothetical good intentions are—probably fortunately!—not put to the test.

  22. Hey David!
    Glad you found it “eye-opening”. I hope others benefit also. Maybe blogging is my virtual Mahayana hell. I should be mountain climbing, kayaking and more but instead . . . 🙂

    And though, of course, I love when folks agree with me, the criticisms are always deeply instructive and though I may not admit their influence at the moment, sometimes they resonate in pleasantly unexpected ways later.

  23. PS — the survey is not concluded. Corrections, additions and chastisements are welcomed for days, weeks and years to come !! Bring it!

  24. blogging is my virtual Mahayana hell. I should be mountain climbing, kayaking and more but instead . . .

    Amen, brother!

  25. Mosethyoth

    Yet ironically some of those objections easily fit in one of the categories I already layed out amon my possible objectors-types.

    The explanation of my reasons does indeed fit into the second of the optionable reasons you painted. I just wanted to explain further why even the concept of Hell is enough for me to prefer it over Heaven.

  26. Thanx, Mosethyoth.
    You said,

    ” I can’t accept such an inequitable being to be honored. ….. If a deity sends me to Hell for my good intention so I don’t care. I cannot be frightened with torture.”

    I agree. Your reason fits in the second category and I appreciated your elaboration. Maybe after 1 year of torture, you’d be ready to honor even an “inequitable” being — especially, as the scenario states, he can show you that he is “good” — in other words, you’d both realize that either your definition of “inequitable” is deficient or that he was not “inequitable”. That with one year of experience of torture, you may rethink an eternity of torture just to protest what you thought he was, even though he has proven to you otherwise.

    Hope that was clear. Again, thanx for the elaboration.

  27. Mosethyoth

    Maybe after 1 year of torture, you’d be ready to honor even an “inequitable” being.

    I don’t think so. I think worshipping an inequitable being would be a greater torture for me as it’d load me with guilt.

    especially, as the scenario states, he can show you that he is “good”

    I can’t fathom how a being that condemns people to eternal torture for what they are able to acquire in malice in a lifetime could be good.

    But either way, if there is a Hell we will come to know all its ciecumstances in the afterlife. Thank you too for the scenarios

  28. Steve Schuler

    Hey Sabio!

    This is a pretty fun and interesting experiment and poll that you set up here. I am one of the atheists who would opt to stay in heaven in the scenario as you framed it for atheists to consider, however I think that I would like to be able to visit hell before I had to make a binding decision. Could be that hell would actually suit me better, but it would have to be quite different than it is usually portrayed, so yeah, choosing heaven for me is a ‘no brainer’.

    I think that the theists were given quite a bit more difficult situation to resolve. They definitely are faced with a disturbng moral dilemna in choosing their course of action, In that scenario the ‘right’ thing to do would be to opt for hell, practically speaking (in a manner of words) it would sure be a tough, and no doubt disappointing, call to make. I suppose I would choose hell and just hope that this was some sort of a test of my character by God before I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a heaven with a benevolent God.

    Very interesting results and very interesting commentary, and I’ll leave it at that.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  29. Steve Schuler

    After giving it a bit more consideration I think that I can generally summarize my opinion as this: the atheist who opt for hell are letting their egos interfere with their rationality, whilst the theist who opt for heaven may just be trying to make the best of an impossibly bad situation.

  30. @ Mosethyoth :
    Thanks for the additional feedback — that was a good defense of your position!

    @ Steve Schuler :
    Glad you enjoyed. I agree that I suspect some Atheists left their rationality at the door to make a point. We all do it — that is part of my point. And certainly Theists do it too. But I am still thinking about what the Theist Scenario’s data potentially points at. So I look forward to your input in that post coming up. But did you read the response “The Warrioress” above (click here)? What do you think of that? I have been daydreaming of another short poll to better sort out what I want to hear from Theists. But when forming theories — we have to account for all data — even the outliers.

  31. I have not read all of the comments here so forgive me it there is any redundancy here.
    This question is impossible to answer, primarily because it contradicts itself. There cannot be a good god who sends people to hell, unless you change some meanings, which would mean we don’t know what we are being asked.
    I would be an atheist who chose to go to hell. Here is why. Of course I don’t want to burn forever but neither could I possible enjoy anything, knowing that I chose to save myself from pain by submitting to a monster. The choice is between pain forever and internal self-hatred forever. Choosing hell would not only save from that hatred but would make a principled statement of defiance against such atrocity by a tyrant.
    Every now and then I imagine this scenario and the delight I would have on judgement day in pronouncing judgement of the god who has so much worse to account for than I do.
    -Skeptnik Garrison

  32. @skeptnik, this is interesting. First you say the question is impossible to answer (which makes sense to me). And then you give an answer. You seem rather sure of that answer, too. So, I’m confused?

  33. I rejected the characterization of the god in this scenario as being good and then proceeded to explain my thoughts. It was an attempt to address the issue in a qualified manner as best I could.

  34. Thanks! So, you were answering a different question: “Would you rather be tortured eternally by an evil god, or submit to an evil god to avoid torture?”

    I wonder how many of the atheists who chose hell in this poll deliberately chose to answer a question that was not asked, and why they would have done that, and how aware they were that this was what they were doing.

    Perhaps the question “Would you rather be tortured eternally by an evil god, or submit to an evil god to avoid torture?” is one that some atheists have wrestled with extensively, if they came out of a fundamentalist Christian background. Maybe Step 1 in freeing yourself from fundamentalist Christianity is to realize that god must be evil, and you work with that for a while, and only then do you decide he doesn’t exist.

    (Whereas, this was never an issue for me, since I’ve been an atheist by upbringing, and ever since.)

    So, maybe the question “how should we respond to an evil god” is still the salient one for many atheists, and (consciously or unconsciously) displaces the original question as asked.

    Just speculating. But, if the poll were re-run, it might be interesting to ask atheists whether they were previously committed theists, or if they had always been atheists.

  35. Lofcaudio

    @David Chapman:

    You actually point out what could be happening here and supports your earlier claim that many atheists are “religious.”

    What I find interesting about the “question-switching” is that it appears that many of those responding have no problems talking about an evil god, but refuse to even think in terms of a good god. So for some, atheism is simply a rejection of the god that was presented to them–more so than just a rejection of all gods.

  36. Good observation. I did come from 20 years of xtianity. Not as a child but as a convert and then a deconvert. And the process you describe is fairly accurate. God must be evil, then, well that makes no sense at all, so throw it out.

  37. The problem with the good god idea is that is in such conflict with reality from the perspective of a human. But then we can’t forget that there is no evidence for any god and no method of obtaining any information about any god/spirit/force/vibration or whatever.

  38. @Lofcaudio: “many of those responding have no problems talking about an evil god, but refuse to even think in terms of a good god” — yes, that articulates my observation better than I could!

    @skeptnik — thanks, that’s helpful!

    So, maybe some people who call themselves atheists are residually misotheists (those who hate and defy god) rather than atheists. In part, or emotionally, or unconsciously, or something.

    Christians say this about atheists, but I hadn’t believed them. There’s (provisional) evidence here that they are right.

    I’m probably showing naiveté and ignorance here. I’ve never paid much attention to the atheist-vs-theist debates, and maybe this is all obvious to anyone who has?

    (Just to be clear, I would oppose the Christian god if I thought he existed, but there’s near-zero emotional charge on that for me, since I’ve never imagined he did.)

  39. Sabio asked us to imagine a counter-factual, and draw a conclusion from it. This is like “suppose you could burn water for fuel in a special kind of engine that didn’t pollute at all, would that be a good thing?”

    It’s reasonably certain that you can’t burn water, and it’s reasonably certain there can’t be a good God. But the answer to the water engine question is “hell yeah!”

    We could refuse Sabio’s question on the grounds that a good God is literally unimaginable. In that case, the question is like “Suppose you had a circular triangle with whose border length was 5 inches: what would its area be?” It’s just nonsense.

    I don’t find a good God unimaginable, though. I can’t see how there could be one, but I’m as willing to imagine one (for the sake of a thought experiment) as I am willing to imagine a water engine.

    Following up on earlier comments by DaCheese and sgl, I wonder whether some atheists are unwilling to imagine a hypothetical good God because they don’t trust their own ability to let go of the hypothetical assumption once the thought experiment concludes. That might happen particularly if the idea of a good God is, or once was, highly attractive.

    Since we all know that our ability to reason accurately is limited, and that we are likely to take up wrong beliefs if they are emotionally attractive, this could be a highly intelligent defense against one’s own psychology.

    In other words, “I don’t want to go there—if you get me thinking about a good God, I’m going to have to spend emotional energy on talking myself out of it again, which would be unpleasant and a waste.”

  40. Well, I don’t consider myself a misotheist, but I would be if such a god existed, but that is all fairytale. One cannot change one’s past, only see it for what it was. But the experience of the ex-believer gives them a significant insight into the insidious nature and effects of those reprehensible ideas. I was a pastor and counseled married fathers who were homosexual in a horribly antagonistic mindset, and carry considerable regret for contributing to their torture. Not unlike Sayid in LOST. That does tend to intensify the debate. But it does not necessarily diminish the weight of reason used in debate even if it increases motivation.

  41. sgl

    (i never answered the question, so i wasn’t one of the ones everyone is talking about. in part because i rarely answer hypothetical questions, and in part because the question as stated didn’t make sense to me.)
    re: “So, you were answering a different question:”
    re: “Sabio asked us to imagine a counter-factual, and draw a conclusion from it. This is like “suppose you could burn water for fuel …”
    re: “We could refuse Sabio’s question on the grounds that a good God is literally unimaginable. ”

    personally, i think you’re grossly missing the point, and this will be my last attempt to clarify. i have no problem imagining a good god at all.

    at least in my view, embedded in the my definition of “good” is the notion that you don’t torture people for eternity for trivial reasons, and hell is part of the question as asked. (I went back and re-read it to make sure.). i don’t think that’s the same at all as water=fuel. it’s like “imagine a world in which torturing innocent people is considered good…., and god is good” that’s not good, that’s evil. so imagine a god who’s “good” in that sense is imagining a god who’s evil.

    and i don’t think it’s “answering a different question,” because it’s the logical conclusion of the what most people would consider the definition of good, and how most people would categorize someone/something that tortures people for eternity for trivial things.

    so the real question is: how much are you willing to suck up to a partially good, partially evil god? are you willing to suck up to him/her to save yourself a lot of pain? (based on history, i think most people will suck up to power to avoid pain.)

    had the original question been:
    god says you can:
    a) spend eternity in heaven with god following his rules, and he’s provably a good guy (ie, an option that as an atheist you didn’t believe you had.)
    b) you painlessly cease to exist, just like what you as an atheist thought would happen when you died.
    in my opinion, when asked that way, there’s no conflict with the definition of “good” and the behavior of the god as posed in the question, and hence the question is not confusing. and then you might have a question which would test whether atheists are really “rebelling against god” or not.

  42. Sabio, great topic. I think some scenarios are a tad unrealistic. It’s like asking me (I don’t believe in mermaids) what I would say to a mermaid if I met her. Well, I could pretend, but it’s more like a little kid’s game. What Disney character would you most want to become? Geez, I dunno. Who cares?

    If we defined Hell quite clearly, then maybe the answers would change. But it would still be make-believe.

  43. Ted Seeber

    I believe you failed utterly to take into account the Catholic ideal of hell- and I’d say 2/5 atheists are recovering Catholics.

    The Catholic ideal of hell isn’t burning lakes of fire- that is just an allegory to us. The Catholic ideal of hell is *eternal life eternally separated from that which gives purpose to life”. Which I think most atheists would rather enjoy.

    Whenever an evangelical comes up to me and tells me I’m going to hell for being Catholic- I say back “If my Lofd Jesus Christ decides to send me to Hell, I shall in all obedience gladly go and minister to the poor souls there.

    I suggest taking the same approach.

  44. Steve Schuler

    Hey, again, Sabio!

    Yeah, Warrioress’ comment had caught my attention when I read through the comments prior to leaving my own comment. Coupla’ thoughts:

    On the one hand her contention that “anti-theist” would prefer to not be in the presence of God under any circumstances might have some merit, but as some commenters have pointed out your scenario was logically contradidtory in having a ‘good’ God who also maintains a hell, which I concur is untenable, so I’m curious how many atheist who opted for hell did so with that in mind. On the other hand, her willingness to accept God and heaven without consideration for his character is mildly disturbing. Still, she contends that the alternative to heaven is annihilation and that’s always a big plus in my book when evaluating other folks theologies! Perhaps I should add that I am not particularly anti-religious in my sentiments. I was raised Protestant but never truly became a believer and had come to doubt the veracity of Christianity sufficiently by the time I was twelve that I had become a non-Christian although not a full on atheist.

    Anyhow, my desire to be able to visit hell before making a final decision might have been in part provoked by the caveat in your scenario that God, as it turns out, is.good. And how bad of a hell could a good God run?

    By the way, I am an infrequent commenter here but closely follow and enjoy your blog very much. Keep up the good work!

  45. @ Everyone,
    Fantastic comments. Thanks to you all for stirring it up. I will reply to some of your comment later but meanwhile I put up another post which may help. See: Create your own Atheist Poll

  46. @ Skeptnik Garrison :
    Your objection is like a few other people. So in my following post, I offer you (and others) a chance to improve my poll. Do you think another poll using annhilation, instead of “hell” would yield useful information. Do you think there are different sort of emotional feelings about “the possibility of God” that exist such that they block dialague?

    Also, thank you for the personal stories — openness keeps the thread really meaningful. Thanks.

    @ Lofcaudio :
    Thanks for visiting. I think you (and David) are right. Of course it depends on how we define “religious”, but I wonder if a better poll could help illustrate that. I hope you and David offer a suggestion in the recent post I put up.

    @ sgl :
    You’d be a perfect person to offer a “better” poll in my recent post if you get a chance. You could keep “hell” and “pain” out of the equation. But the trick is to make a poll which differentiates between different sorts of Atheists — do you imagine there are significant differences in this issue that are worth pointing out?

    @ amelie :
    I still think “Thought Experiments” are useful, even if imagining something you don’t believe in. I think physicists do this to explore new paradigms. Einstein, if I remember, was famous for this.

    Anyway, I’d love it if you offered a poll that matched your desire that helped explore the issues I am driving at here. Thanx (if you are still following)

    @ Ted Seeber :
    Good point about Catholic notions. But I don’t think most atheists would enjoy eternal life without a feeling of meaningfulness — though lack of purpose would not bother them, I think. Boredom would indeed be a negative though.🙂

    @ Steve Schuler:
    Thanks. Glad to know you are following. Great questions.

    @ Mosethyoth:
    I hope you get time to offer an alternative poll — as my recent post requests. Thanx.

    @ Paul Sunstone:
    Perhaps you could take a stab at creating a poll that illustrates different sort of Atheists views.

    @ DaCheese:
    Maybe you can help us too.

  47. Sabio, did you use the descriptor “good” of this god intentionally? It makes the set up incoherent. And hilights a pet peeve that I have with most religious talk. I cannot think of another entity that would be described as good, that would be performing the most horrid act imaginable. I just had to set that aside. If we are going to describe some hypothetical religious entity we have no choice but to use human language, but we can’t misuse that language or all communication breaks down. In this setup as it stands, the question really cannot be truthfully answered without the suspension of…..uh….something. I’m not sure what you were actually after.

  48. Interesting… Massive overstatement to make an unvalid/supported claim? Sounds like those atheists are using some conservative Christian tactics.

    Anyway, in the afterlife, I would hope I could share a few brews with you. You’ll have to take the elevator down Sabio, but I do so hope you’ll visit me.

  49. @ skeptnik,
    Yes, intentionally. Maybe I will put up another poll to again capture what I was after, but I think I kind of got it here. But maybe the next post on this topic will be clearer.

    @ Luke,
    Yeah, a brew sounds great.
    I don’t understand your first paragraph — sorry.

  50. I don’t know that I would prefer Hell, but Heaven would seem like an act of betrayal. I cannot take my loved ones with me.

  51. I just can’t imagine describing Hitler, Stalin etc as good.

  52. First paragraph: “Interesting… Massive overstatement to make an invalid/unsupported claim? Sounds like those atheists are using some conservative Christian tactics.”

    Sounds like different sides of the same coin. “You won’t get into heaven if you aren’t part of us.” Says the Conservative Christian (CC). “Yeah well, we’ll freely choose hell!” Says the Atheist. It is a reaction to CC and plays to that worldview and does so by the very tactics employed by the CC’s. I find that interesting. That was all I was saying.

  53. Earnest

    @ danielwalldammit: I think you are onto something here. I think this is something of a tribal decision. If nobody in your tribe is in the good place, and all are sent to the bad place, for whatever reason, there is an involuntary urge to join the tribe in whatever hell it may have found itself in. I can’t recall details but I recall stories of Gentiles boarding the death camp trains at least semi-voluntarily to go with their Jewish friends.

    However, if there are no predetermined rules in the good place, there can be a change in attitude to that of a colonizer. The tribe will be reborn in the new place from a small core of founders.

    So the “house rules” mean a lot for the decision.

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