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Help me, I've been defeated by superior logic

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-07-13 23:47
Question:God is love -- Love is blind -- Ray Charles is blind -- Therefore Ray Charles is God!!!!!Atheist Answer

Funny one-liner. At least it's mathematically correct if each noun (and the adjective "blind") serves as a variable. Ray Charles certainly qualifies in some musical circles as a god. The big problem is that this argument can be used to "prove" contratictory things, like that Ray Charles, Roy Orbison and Stevie Wonder are all God.

"God is love" is used by Christians all along the spectrum, but for different reasons.

- Some fundamentalists and evangelists like Benny Hinn say God is love to establish that God is the only possible source of love, and therefore since love exists, He does too and we need Him.

- Some ultra-liberal Christians and some theologians say God is love as opposed to a bearded man in the sky. It's one way of making the concept of a god so nebulous that it's almost impossible to argue against it. They put God in poorly understood "places", such as emotions or fundamental physical laws, where it's hard to separate Him from what's real and observable. It's a defense mechanism.

- Pretty much everyone who says it is looking to give people the religious ecstasy that often comes from surrendering completely to faith. The phrase is a part of the larger message, "Come to us. Unburden yourself of all your worries and critical thoughts. Relax, let us in and God will take care of you, because from Him all good things come." Once you obey that, for better or worse, you're in the power of whoever told it to you.

"God is love" is a powerful phrase. Probably false in all respects, but powerful nonetheless.

- SmartLX

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Are you too easy on yourself?

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-06-29 20:07
Question:You've written some of the questions yourself. Are you throwing yourself softballs?Atheist Answer

I don't think so. I don't always feel like waiting for topics to come to me before I address them, but I can't address them properly if I haven't expressed them correctly in the first place.

I do my best to avoid strawman versions of theist arguments, partly because many people like nothing better than to point these out. For questions where I take on arguments from elsewhere I try to quote them directly; I've quoted CARM, William Lane Craig, Ray Comfort and many others. When I have to paraphrase for length, I go as simple as I can to avoid muddying the issue. If people think I've excised something crucial, they're free to say so.

I'll be making fewer of my own questions in future, but for a good reason. If I have a thought which is worth sharing but isn't worth making a whole Q&A, it will now be tweeted. My personal ATA Twitter is separate from Jake's Twitter shown on the right.

Enjoy my new outlet. If you take issue with any of my tweets, bring it up back here and we'll talk about it.

- SmartLX

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Need help for Houston radio show

Ask The Atheist - Tue, 2009-06-23 17:30
Question:I am going to be doing an Open Journal segment on KPFT radio and wanted some ideas and maybe a prominent local atheist to join me in the discussion on air. Does anyone have any ideas or contacts? Mark at danvilleman@hotmail.com ThanksAtheist Answer

Not living anywhere near Houston I can't be of much help myself, but I'll do what I can starting with publishing this question. There, done.

You might be able to connect with "prominent" atheists in your area by contacting local atheist groups. Failing that, those groups would all be glad of some publicity and could each supply very knowledgeable spokespeople. Check out the Houston Freethought Alliance, whose front page has links to all other such Houston groups I was able to find.

If I were in your position, I'd do a piece on morality centred around the phrase, "You can be good without God." A lot of evangelists and other apologists argue that religion alone is holding society up with its moral guidelines, and that everything would collapse without it. This actually has no bearing on whether a god exists, but they use it anyway as an appeal to consequences. By outlining sensible secular systems of morals and ethics, you can help to dispel this idea.

YouTube has a fair few recordings of Richard Dawkins holding forth on many American radio stations. Though many of the callers are attempting to attack evolution, given that it's him, these recordings will still give you some idea of what you'll get if you take callers.

Good luck. Let us know what you do and how it goes.

- SmartLX

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First Cause Argument

Ask The Atheist - Fri, 2009-06-19 21:38
Question:Among the arguments for a god, the first cause argument stands out as one that seems to be more credible than any other arguments like the evolution denying argument for design. AKA "The eye was designed so people could see"...... Personally I would refute this by several routes. The first one would be that everything doesn't necessarily have a cause, like radioactive decay. Perhaps the acausal quantum fluctuations we see now had more of an effect in a singularity. The other argument I could propose would be that the universe is cyclic (big crunch, etc) but this doesn't seem to be the case. Perhaps another similar idea would be that we are merely the offspring of a parent universe with wildly different variables that allows for a spontaneous increase in the amount of total energy/matter. Anyways, how do you deal with the first cause argument?Atheist Answer

Much the same way you do: by bringing up the other possibilities to beat the argument from ignorance. I go into a lot more detail in this earlier answer, and I've tackled it briefly in lots of others.

The argument from design I've answered here for a start.

- SmartLX

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The Jesus dvd and rationality?

Ask The Atheist - Sun, 2009-06-14 17:03
Question:First, I would like to know about this dvd that is claiming that Jesus never existed? I don't want to waste money on buying it but I would be interested in seeing what it has to say. And i'm not about to submit a video that would ruin my chance for a possible place in eternity for a dvd, so another way to get the dvd would be nice. But beside that, I had a question about the whole blasphemy challenge and the rationality behind it all. Hypothetical question, i guess. Jesus is God or He isn't. So if you are athiest you still have a probability that if you are wrong about there not being a God you would still have a 50 percent change to still have eternal life. If there is no God then it wouldn't matter anyways. So if there is a God and you still had that 50 percent chance to still have eternity you have apparently just screwed yourself, making your once 50 percent to know 100, if the verse quoted on the site is interpreted right. I really hope it was interpreted wrong because I would want you to still have that 50 percent chance. So doing the blasphemy challenge, to me at least, seems like a pretty unrational thing to do. And about the Jesus thing. Do you athiests use science to prove everything about the universe and everything in it. If so how would you prove Jesus, or any other person in history that is now gone. I mean you can't prove scientifically that someone existed. That's why I wanted to know what the video was all about. I have a lot of other questions that would make this way to long so i'll leave you with that. Like I said earlier, I hope the whole blasphemy being an eternal sin isn't right. I would say pray but you wouldn't care as much that way, or would you? Are you offended by prayer? Sorry, i'll stop asking questions. Thanks!Atheist Answer

You're talking about The God Who Wasn't There. It goes past atheism, which merely denies the resurrection as improbable without the existence of God, and examines all the documentation presented as evidence for even a historical man named Jesus.

The idea is to question all the unspoken assumptions that most Christian apologists make when arguing for the resurrection; it's easier for them to start with a real man than from scratch, but are they justified in doing so? I haven't seen the film either so I can't comment on its efficacy, but even if it falls flat it asks questions worth asking.

It's impossible to prove 100% that the deceased existed without physical evidence, human remains for example, but there are other ways to support it. Take the Roman emperors for example: their names and faces are on statues, busts and coins created during their lifetimes, and are visually consistent. Jesus has nothing like this; his only support is a set of documents, chief among them the Gospels, and the first of which were written well after his death. This is why these are so ferociously defended, but they are not above criticism and that's where the movie starts.

Your argument against the Blasphemy Challenge is exactly the reason why it exists, because you've restated Pascal's Wager with its major inherent flaw intact.

Here's the core of the problem: even if atheists are wrong, Christians are not necessarily right. If there is indeed a god, out of the thousands of gods humans have worshipped and the infinite number of gods we haven't even thought of yet, the chances that the real god is the Christian god exactly as described are not just miniscule but negligible.

By throwing in with any god, including Him, one has a far greater chance of offending some other god who happens to be the real one, and being forced to explain one's worship of a popular, well-liked but still false god. Atheists wouldn't have that problem, and might even receive credit for combating belief in false gods.

Even if the probability that there is a god and a Heaven is 0.5, you must multiply that by the probability given the assumption of a god that it's your particular one. To reach that 50 percent you mention, the second bit would have to be a certainty, and it is not. If there are just two other possible gods, then by worshipping yours you have a 1 in 6 chance of Heaven and a 1 in 3 chance of Hell. In fact there are an infinite number, so you're even worse off.

Taking the Blasphemy Challenge, therefore, is not a reckless act. It publicises one's acceptance that Christianity is a poor choice, and there is nothing to fear from renouncing it in what's intended to be an irreversible way.

I'm not offended by prayer, because I think it has no effect except a psychological one, and it mostly affects the praying person anyway.

This is a site built for answering questions, so go ahead and make more questions for us. If you have responses to the above, post a comment under this one. Keep in mind that formatting doesn't work in the question field, so it pays to keep new questions short.

- SmartLX

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The Improved Hotpocket Argument

Ask The Atheist - Fri, 2009-06-12 01:23
Question:Premise 1: The hotpocket has been designed by man Premise 2: The hotpocket will burn you if you are not careful. Premise 3: God is like a hotpocket Therefore: Man created a wrathful God that sends people to Hell if they are not careful. Or would this argument be better... Premise 1: A hotpocket is intelligently designed Premise 2: A hotpocket is intrinsically perfect, but may be introduced to flaw by manipulation from a third party without the guidance of its creator. Therefore: Satan caused the fall of mankind PS: Thanks for your timeAtheist Answer

You know you can carry on from your initial question using comments, right?

It's still silly, but let's make some sense out of it all. By substituting just a few words in these arguments you get some of the real religious arguments from design, and approaches to theodicy. The issue with the above, like the real ones, is the dearth of support for the premises themselves. Take Premise 3 in the first argument for an example; even if there were scriptural support for God's similarity to a hotpocket, which I don't think there is, how is scripture itself supported?

I'm trying to go along with your intent, Pritchard, but come clean for us. What are you getting at?

- SmartLX

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Breaking to family...

Ask The Atheist - Thu, 2009-06-11 19:25
Question:How can I break to my family and friends that I'm an atheist? I live in the Southern Baptist state of North Carolina where there's atleast 3 churches within a mile radius of your house. I'm only 12, so I don't think they'll accept it. Any suggestions at all would be nice. Thanks!Atheist Answer

I hate to say it, but I wouldn't start off with the word "atheist". Losing your faith and not being religious is one thing, but atheism currently has a special stigma among Christian zealots of all kinds.

If it's important enough to you to be fully honest with people, I would simply say to selected people that you don't believe in God (anymore, if you ever did). Don't deny atheism if you're accused of it, but don't bring it up yourself.

Once it's out there, you'll have to explain yourself. Not just yourself, but all atheists - you'll find all kinds of misconceptions about them: that they hate God, that they worship Satan, that they want to force people to give up religion or remove kids from religious parents and so on.

Besides that you'll get all the really obvious, kneejerk arguments for God, like the beauty of a flower and "where did it all come from". Your family may send you to a preacher or even a Bible camp if they don't trust their own ability to proselytise. This site and the rest of the Web provides answers to pretty much all of it. Bone up. Start by searching for my "Great Big Arguments" series.

Once you've established that you've thought this through and you can't be reconverted with simple platitudes, if your community is as religious as you say it is then you will lose friends. Sorry, but some people don't like to be around atheists, who question their lifelong assumptions by just existing.

You may also find that you become better friends with others; those who are also quietly questioning their faith. When Richard Dawkins did a lecture tour through the Bible Belt, he found big, enthusiastic audiences everyplace. The irreligious are everywhere, as paranoid Christians often warn. Hopefully you'll find some more of them.

Let us know how you go, if you go ahead with it. Good luck.

- SmartLX

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Evidence for God -- the hotpocket argument

Ask The Atheist - Thu, 2009-06-11 05:19
Question:This is my contribution to philosophy. Premise 1: A hotpocket is intelligently designed Premise 2: A hotpocket will burn the roof of your mouth Premise 3: A hotpocket is intelligently designed but flawed Therefore: humans were intelligently designed by the Old Testament God 6000 years ago.Atheist Answer

Well now you're just being silly. Some of the sincere arguments appear to make about as much sense though.

- SmartLX

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Is Atheism the answer?

Ask The Atheist - Sat, 2009-06-06 21:41
Question:"The seismic shock of out-and-out atheism sent tidal waves across Europe and beyond, accounting directly for the annhilation and butchering of more than one hundred million people this past century alone. Humanity has paid a steep gruesome price for the awful experiments in deliberate antitheism carried out by Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and others – each of whom was profoundly influenced by the apostles of atheism... After watching atheism proliferate... it's clearer than ever that... without God, we're lost." (Luis Palau, "God is Relevant". New York: Doubleday, 1997) "During my lifetime, America has been constantly waging war against much of humanity: impoverished people mostly, in stricken places." (John Pilger) I will pre-emptively highlight the five major blots on Christian history – the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, exploitation by missionaries, and anti-Semitism. These blots reflect not Christianity but its misuse and exploitation by power-hungry men, who manifestly rejected the teachings of Jesus. We know they are wrong because they can be sized up against their own objective morality. However, were Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and others wrong in an aetheistic world? According to Michael Ruse: “Morality is a biological adaption no less than are hands and feet and teeth… [morality is] just an aid to survival and reproduction… any deeper meaning is illusory.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Rouledge, 1989) What do we measure these men against? The teachings of Jesus Christ have never been more necessary. It’s time more Christians started behavng like christians, as a minority already so gloriously do. In aethesitic America and Western Europe, it’s obvious what the values are: power, wealth and materialistic pleasure. Totally antithetical to the teachings of the Bible. What is atheism's answer to today's problems? TomAtheist Answer

Atheism's answer isn't communism, for one thing.

Totalitarian communist regimes suppress religion because of one person: Karl Marx. You know the famous "opium of the masses" quote? Here's more of it:

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

In other words, according to Marx, oppressed people use religion to make their oppression bearable. If you remove their religion they will truly feel the suffering of their situation, and be spurred to rise up and revolt. Once socialism is in place and the people are no longer oppressed, they will no longer need religion.

Communist dictatorships have of course done little to alleviate the suffering of the people living in them. They see the persistence of religion as an outward sign of this, and thus pretending that the populace is happily irreligious by forcibly ousting religion becomes an ongoing requirement for international PR.

Marx may or may not be right about religion, but he could have told the Communists that forcing people to change, hide or cease their religious activities has little effect on their actual beliefs. (Incidentally, compare the terrible coercion by Communists to the peaceful activism which is now frivolously labeled "militant atheism". Compare that to "militant Islam" while you're at it.)

Communism's self-declared incompatibility with religion does not imply that atheism is responsible for the atrocities committed in the name of communism, even less than anti-Semitic atrocities can be laid at the feet of Christianity. This is because there are no atheistic commandments, no creed, no dogma, no central authority and certainly no "apostles". Nowhere does it say, "There are no gods, therefore do this and this." Communism declares that there are no gods while separately giving its followers commands, but does not link the two.

Atheism is a simple position on the existence of gods, a single conclusion and nothing more. It does not presume to contain answers to today's or any other era's problems. By precluding absolute trust in religious doctrine, however, it leaves one open to secular philosophies and moral systems, which provide earthly, tangible, verifiable rationales for their guidance. Those only interested in "power, wealth and materialistic pleasure" are not following these philosophies any more than they're following Christian morality.

On another topic, to Ruse's list of five "blots" on Christianity I would add three more:
- The continuing attacks on science and scientists in the interest of preserving the plausibility of Christian dogma, from Galileo to Darwin.
- The Thirty Years' War of the 17th century, fought between Christians with the singular goal of spreading people's own idea of God's Word.
- The continuing death of thousands in the Third and First Worlds as a result of intrinsically ineffective abstinence-only education and the defamation of condom use.

- SmartLX

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Friend who fears living forever

Ask The Atheist - Sun, 2009-05-31 22:17
Question:My boyfriend has always had a difficult time with the thought of living forever. He labels himself an atheist, however continues to have many panics about the "what if I am wrong?" I myself am a very strong atheist and I cannot seem to get a good enough persuasion for him to relax a little. How do you help someone who has extreme fears over living forever? What should a helpful explanation for him?Atheist Answer

Infinity/eternity is frightening to anyone who really thinks about it. It can be especially troubling to the recently ex-religious, because they've lost their particular assurances of perfect eternal happiness. Compared to that superficial idea, the prospect of simple unending persistence is much harder to shake, because we all have a tough time imagining ourselves not existing.

Your boyfriend's on the right track intellectually, because he accepts that there probably won't be a him after he dies. We just need to address that small probability that there will, and settle his emotions a bit.

Right then, what if he IS wrong? Anything is possible. The odds of any particular afterlife story being the real deal, including whichever version he may have grown up with, is almost zero. That's because there are an infinite number of possible afterlifes: the thousands imagined by humans in the last few thousand years, plus the countless ones we haven't thought of yet.

You haven't said what he specifically fears about living forever. Maybe he hasn't really told you. He might fear torture in hell, or a post-life sentence as a ghost watching everything he knows crumble away, or imprisonment in his own disembodied mind deprived of all senses, going mad in darkness and silence. That last one sure gives me the willies.

If anything is possible, all of the above are. Is any one of them at all likely? No, because they're swimming in an endless sea of alternatives. Put simply, whatever he's afraid his ultimate fate will be if he doesn't end at death, he's almost certainly wrong.

The only death scenario for which there is any solid physical support is oblivion. The mind, the ego, the identity, the memory and everything else that comprises "you" is contained and operated in a physical, bio-electrical brain. After death, that brain first shuts down and then disintegrates. It's a materialist view, I know, but arguments against it centre on things the physical brain supposedly can't do, and without exhaustive analysis are arguments from ignorance.

So take your boyfriend's most troubling scenario and work out the chances: the probability of an identity outliving the human brain outside of all detection, multiplied by the probability of that scenario being the one real one out of infinity. It's like the chances of finding a particular blade of grass if you don't know which country it's in.

That's the thrust of my recommended reassurance. To sum up, if there's an afterlife, you can be confident that it's different from and therefore less scary than his idea of it.

- SmartLX

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Could our "energy" recycle itself?

Ask The Atheist - Thu, 2009-05-28 00:49
Question:After reading your response to a recent question regarding reincarnation I couldn't help but think, what if our bodies energy recycles itself? When I say energy I mean the electrical impulses or electricity that runs through our bodies that carry and direct our thoughts, memories and bodily functions. When we die does this electricity just cease to exist or is it conceivable that the energy may leaves our bodies but still continues on in another form, possibly finding a home in a newly conceived human life. Has science not suggested that energy never truly disappears? Atheist Answer

A certain amount of the energy that makes a human being function will certainly end up in other humans after he/she dies. A lot of it is recycled chemically in the soil that claims our bodies, for a start.

Does that count as reincarnation, though? Once that energy leaves your body, it has no memory of who or even what you were. It does not carry any part of what you would think of as your identity (you might suppose it does so invisibly, but then you're getting into the realms of fantasy).Those who come into contact with it will not be contacting "you".

It is a nice thought that our physical remains continue on as part of our larger legacy, and I've actually used that thought to comfort the bereaved. The energy we've used, while it is out there, will not produce any long-term echoes of us that anyone will ever identify. Our memories and identities are much better preserved in photo albums.

- SmartLX

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Possible accounts of reincarnation.

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-05-25 22:56
Question:Hello as im sure you know im new here and ive yet to see anything on the possible claims of reincarnation. such as young children claiming oddly accurate details of a past life. the one that i found interesting was of the WWII pilot who was shot down over Iwa Jima *sorry for spelling.* also im agnostic theist if not pagan in ways. i find that the Christianity version of a god is quite scary really, but anywho i was just woundering what you think of this. i have also read alot of your info on NDE too.Atheist Answer

Welcome WolfFable. Yeah, I ended up writing a mountain of stuff on NDEs when Maroun took it upon himself to defend them as evidence for God.

The boy you're referring to is James Leininger, who according to the story remembered details of the life of WW2 pilot James Huston, killed over Iwo Jima.

It seems to have become a flagship case for reincarnation, and in the case of the above link the religious are using it to support the existence of God. This is interesting, because reincarnation is not an accepted part of many mainstream religions. The impetus, I sadly suspect, is the New Age industry based around helping people "remember" their past lives.

Here is an excellent skeptical analysis of the case. Highlights:
- The first and only counsellor who saw the poor kid was a believer in reincarnation, who went about recovering the old memories on the immediate assumption that they were there.
- Most versions of the story fail to mention that the boy had been to the Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas a few months before it all started.
- Little James talked about a Corsair, among the more distinctive planes featured at the museum. After investigation, it turned out James Huston was killed in a FM2 Wildcat.

There are other elements of the story which cannot be attacked so readily, but see how much less credible it is when just a few omitted facts are re-integrated into the story? Unfortunately parts of this story will probably get harder to pin down as time goes on, but there's enough so far to suggest that little James Leininger had plenty of earthly inspiration for his initial fixation.

Generally, reincarnation depends on the existence of souls, so you've got to establish those before you can talk about them moving between bodies. There are atheists out there who believe in ghosts, so a few atheists might well buy this concept too. I don't.

- SmartLX

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Did Nietzsche think Jesus' Godhood was a lie

Ask The Atheist - Sun, 2009-05-24 17:27
Question:I just read an interesting article suggesting Nietzsche thought that the god-hood of Jesus was a lie. It's called "The Pious Fraud" and it's in the submissions section at www.caseagainstfaith.com Any thoughts?Atheist Answer

"Pious fraud" is a more general term for any act of deception by a religious person or group which uses the rationale that it increases belief in a supposedly real deity. A modern Christian-centric term for it is "lying for Jesus".

Nietzsche argued that the historical claims of Christianity had been debunked, for example briefly in his 1862 essay Fate and History. (It's only four pages, so check it out.)

Elsewhere he lumped Christianity in with other religions as being based on a lie. In The Antichrist (much longer), he is eventually direct, referring to the 'lie of the "risen" Jesus'. He directly accuses Paul of lying in the same passage. Your answer is yes, Nietzsche really did think what you think he thought.

If there was no actual resurrection, and disregarding for a moment the possibility of hallucinations, someone had to be guilty of fraud, pious or not. (The chroniclers themselves are included in the list of suspects.) Arguing against this based on the character and moral fibre of those well-known characters involved does no good, for it simply implies that they were not the perpetrators.

Say for example that someone unknown impersonated Jesus so well that his friends and very old (for the period) mother believed he had returned. To achieve this he didn't have to look or sound exactly as he did, as he'd supposedly been through a lot. He just had to make the point that he was back, and disappear again. This scenario exonerates Jesus, the apostles and anyone else named in the Bible of any deception, while still letting deception happen. If you don't like that idea, come up with your own clever scheme.

Personally, the idea of Jesus' teachings fading away seems frightening enough to his followers that they would be willing to manufacture a miracle to keep them going, thus breaking a Commandment and possibly sacrificing their own souls for the cause. Clever schemes don't appeal to me as much as the infinite capacity of the human mind for rationalisation.

- SmartLX

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Is science creating gaps where there are no gaps?

Ask The Atheist - Tue, 2009-05-19 17:49
Question:It’s interesting to point out that the early founders of modern science were deeply committed Christians of the 16th and 17th Century, who were on a mission to understand more of God’s glorious works; indeed, the notion of natural laws is rooted in an understanding of moral laws. (Dennis Alexander – Director of the Faraday Institute in Science and Faith, Cambridge University) Ultimately, some saw science as a means to get closer to God, others saw it as a means to get further away. But “atheistic science” must now ask its “disciples” to believe it will not just explain the observable world around us, but that it will demonstrate how life creates itself, how a material universe came from nothing (an infinitely regressing universe is mathematically nonsensical, and the Big Bang theory points to a clear singularity), and how the human mind came to be. It also requires that objective morality is discarded and life’s purpose is as subjective as your choice of favourite ice cream. In addition, it must reject a man named Jesus Christ. The ability to observe the inner-workings of cells and understand (to some extent) how cells work is a wonderful achievement. But to suggest that we can some day prove that life evolves from non-life is quite an extrapolated assumption! Abiogenesis has been around for centuries – once rejected by science, now resurrected by science in light of Darwin’s Theory – it is just not getting any closer to providing an explanation. God can’t fit around science, God is science and Darwin’s theory of evolution (the foundation of atheism) cannot be true because an undirected, chance process is just not consistent with God as portrayed in the Bible – a God who claims to make Himself known through nature is more likely to leave finger-prints of design rather than the appearance of randomness and “non-design”. Faith in God doesn’t kill science, faith in science kills God. I believe science is now creating gaps where there really are none. Tom Atheist Answer

You dismiss a lot of what I wrote to your last question, without actually addressing most of my answers. I hope you realise that you can reply directly to my answers by commenting.

The founders of modern science were deeply committed Christians because almost the entire populations of their countries were. They approached everything from a premise of Christian faith, including science.

Their scientific endeavours, however, did not utilise the catch-all explanation that a god provides. Then as now, they searched for natural explanations for physical phenomena. THEN they credited God. They did not simply say, "God did it." They said, "God caused it to happen like this." If they couldn't work something out, they said, "We don't yet know how God does this." They still had gaps in their understanding, and filling them with God didn't stop them from wanting to close them.

Scientists today can be atheists, Christians or anything else. Modern science itself is not atheistic, it is rather agnostic. It is completely divorced from theology, and does not normally take any position on the existence of gods. It looks for natural explanations as always. Once those explanations exist, the religious are free to suppose that God is responsible. If you want to establish God's necessity however, you have to undermine the natural explanation and thus attack science.

Importantly, scientists of all religions HAVE found many explanations for phenomena for which there were none. The theory of gravity has explained not just the movements of planets but the means of their formation. Germ theory has explained diseases so well that we can now fight them directly.

This does not necessarily imply that all mysterious phenomena have natural explanations. It does mean that just because something doesn't have a natural explanation now doesn't mean that it never will. So scientists keep looking, not out of faith but from prior experience that the mysterious does not always remain so.

Scientists are under no illusions that they will understand the universe and everything in it in natural terms within a year, or even a century. The gaps, though shrinking, will probably always be there. If you want to say they're gaps in our understanding of God, go ahead. They're still gaps, and they always were.

Smaller points:

- Do not misrepresent an opposing position, I'm sure you know what a straw man argument is. Nothing in existence can have created itself, and no one thinks life did. It likely didn't evolve into existence either, because evolution requires self-replication which only life has achieved. It emerged as a result of the countless chemical reactions caused by the huge variety of elements being thrown together constantly on and beneath Earth's surface. As I said before, with recent developments abiogenesis research is getting MUCH closer to a full explanation.

- Infinity is not mathematically nonsensical. It is perfectly acceptable to suppose that matter and energy, which as far as we know cannot be destroyed, will last forever into the future. Matter having lasted forever into the past is no different.

- The Big Bang was indeed a singularity, but as the religious are fond of saying, where did that singularity come from? It may have been a transient phase of an ongoing cyclical universe, or the offspring of another. There are other theories which do suppose that it emerged from what one might reasonably call "nothing", but the important thing is that those theories explain exactly how.

- You've more or less ignored my basic explanation of the origin of mind. Perhaps if I point you to animals in which its precursors have appeared: self-awareness in birds, emotions in elephants, culture in dolphins, all of the above in chimpanzees...if it helps creatures survive and procreate, which it does, then it is strengthened with each new generation.

- You've also ignored my distinction between objective morality and absolute morality. The object on which a moral or ethic is based does not need to be a universal absolute (we cannot determine whether anything is) in order to be valid; it simply needs to be common to all those who apply that morality.

- Science is not concerned with Jesus because there is no scientific evidence for him or his supposed miracles. That's not to say he didn't exist, or even that they didn't happen. There is simply nothing in the subject for science to do right now.

- Darwinian evolution is not the foundation of atheism, because there were atheists thousands of years before Darwin. It's generally accepted by atheists today, because the only real reasons to reject it are religious. Your bottom line is that because evolution contradicts the Bible, it must not be true. That premise leads you to believe that ANY existing criticism of evolution is valid, so you use them all, even the long-refuted ones like irreducible complexity. Don't.

- SmartLX

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Does an atheist need to explain the following?

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-05-18 19:10
Question:As a Christian, I accept and respect the decision of an atheist to negate God; this is clearly their prerogative. However, I submit to you that there are multiple outstanding issues which might pose difficulties for an Atheist who wishes to remain content that Science actually speaks against God, rather than for Him. For instance: 1. How did something come from nothing (i.e. what caused the Big Bang)? 2. Irreducibly complex systems. 3. Non-living matter needing to arrange itself into living matter (mathematically refuted). 4. The Cambrian Explosion. "It's as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history" (Dawkins 1996) 5. An incomplete fossil record – “the trade secret of paleontology” (ATHEIST Gould, Stephen Jay; Professor of Zoology and Geology, Harvard University, USA) 6. The Anthropic Principle. 7. Origins of the mind. 8. Can a brain produced solely by a chance, undirected system be capable of determining ultimate truth? (A question posed by Darwin himself). 9. Are things “right” (i.e. moral/ethical) just because we say they are? (Without something transcendent to ourselves there is no objective morality). Clearly an atheist is not obliged to have definitive answers but could faithfully anticipate science filling in all these gaps. I’m just not sure I could live like that? I feel science happily points towards God. In Christ TomAtheist Answer

Atheists can deny gods, but we can't "negate" them. If there's a god here somewhere, it's there, and all the disbelief in the world won't destroy it. If there aren't any gods, however, all the belief in the world won't create one.

I've addressed a lot of your numbered points before if you want to have a look in Recent Posts, but I'll summarise for you.

1. The Big Bang wasn't necessarily something coming from nothing. It might have been, sure, but nothing prevents the existence of a natural precursor: say, another universe. In that case, the implication is an infinite series of universes, or a stable external universe producing unstable internal universes like this one.

Your solution to the same problem is that God created the universe, and he existed forever before that. If you can simply declare this, isn't it simpler to cut out the extra entity and suppose that the universe itself has always existed in some form? God explanations always look so clean and simple, until you then have to explain the god.

2. Name one actually irreducibly complex system. Those presented in public so far have been hypothetically reduced, and in most or all cases already had been when they were presented as irreducibly complex. If you have a favourite example, we can go through it here.

3. The mathematical refutations of abiogenesis (life from non-life) have themselves been refuted, starting with Hoyle's famous Boeing 747 argument. In brief, although the chances were small, the opportunities were many and the possible forms early life could have taken were almost infinite. Most impossible-looking probabilities suppose that only a particular protein or enzyme must be formed.

4. Quote-mining Dawkins, of all people, will get you nowhere. The Cambrian "explosion" was if anything a very slow explosion, occurring over several million of the 15 million years of the Cambrian period. It was indeed a period of great change and many new variations, but since it's around the period when animals themselves first appeared, one would expect this. Nobody said evolution had to proceed at the same rate throughout its 3.5 billion year history.

5. The incomplete fossil record is hardly a secret. A given plant or animal has an incredibly small chance of becoming a fossil at all, and we'll never find most of them anyway, so it's inconceivable that the record will ever be "complete".

Those fossils we have found, however, paint a sparse but consistent impression of branching descent from a common ancestor. What would really throw evolutionary theory off is not missing fossils, but fossils in the wrong period. The famous hypothetical example is rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.

6. The anthropic principle is often very atheistic in nature. It counters the sense of privilege we might feel in having a planet which is perfect for our needs, by saying that we could only have emerged on such a planet, wherever it was.

What you really mean is the fine-tuning argument, which states that if the conditions of the universe were even slightly different, we could not exist. In the hypothetical context of a multiverse the above applies again; out of the many different universes we could only have emerged in one which suits our needs.

There are other objections which do not require this model, for example: perhaps to achieve a different but life-friendly universe, the conditions of the universe need to be wrenched rather than tweaked, and other equilibria exist far away from the current "settings". All possible arrangements have not been tested, only those near ours.

7. The mind can be easily explained, at least in broad strokes, by evolution. The mind is beneficial. Those animals including primates which developed rudimentary versions of the brain functions we think of as "mind" had a tremendous mental advantage over those which didn't. Later, any deadly contest of will or wits was won by whoever had the better mind. Natural selection favours the clever, all other things being equal.

8. Darwin was in no doubt that an undirected system had in fact produced the brain. It may not in fact be capable of determining ultimate truth, whatever that is, but it is perfectly capable of making reasoned decisions based on the evidence before it.

9. Perhaps nothing is intrinsically "right" or "wrong". We can never know. Therefore we adopt a heuristic approach to morality: that which is beneficial is usually right, and that which is harmful is usually wrong. If it works, we keep it. If it doesn't, we change it.

Without something transcendent to ourselves there is probably no absolute morality, but there is plenty of objective morality. The objects used can be simple and straightforward, like a comparison of relative benefit and harm, or they can be tried and tested, like the ancient ethic of reciprocity (the Golden Rule), or they can be complex and careful, like the law.

These objects can certainly be challenged, but in the absence of any infallible authority we actually know exists, we use the most solid things we have, such as logic, mathematics, group consensus and our common human empathy.

Tom, I notice something about your perspective, based on your nine issues. It is not science that points to God, it is rather the perceived failings of science. You point in every case to what science supposedly can't explain (though in most of these cases it's well on the way), instead of what it can. Yours seems to be a god of the gaps.

Those gaps are getting smaller. Just this year, for instance, scientists discovered a method by which RNA (a precursor to DNA) can form, and elsewhere they synthesised rudimentary self-replicators. There is now less we don't know about the natural emergence of life from non-life than there was a year ago. God is a necessary part of that process to fewer people. The nature of gods of the gaps, Tom, is that they shrink.

If you want to keep believing, you're better off embracing the world as it really is, rather than denying things like evolution for which the evidence is overwhelming. God can always fit around science if you want Him to. Just accept that things are as they are, and say God made them that way.

- SmartLX

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Secular response to a sneeze.

Ask The Atheist - Sun, 2009-05-10 18:18
Question:I once replied 'Bless You' to my born-again, right-wing, guns-and-ammo-obsessed co-worker (he's a nice guy, though, just scary sometimes with his views) and his reply to me was that 'We have not been given the power by God to bless anyone. Only God can do that." Okaaaaaay... So other than ignoring their sneeze(s), is there a polite response that indicates our joy that their heart did not stop during the event. Somehow 'Nice sneeze' or "Good one" don't seem sincere enough. Or... do we really need to say anything at all? It's just that we (I) was brought up to acknowledge a sneeze with a 'God Bless You'. I feel awkward not saying anything.Atheist Answer

Your co-worker took what you said too literally. As you say, "bless you" in this context is actually short for "God bless you" which is a request for God to do the blessing rather than a blessing in and of itself. Perhaps if you reinserted "God" the next time someone sneezes around this guy...

The tradition of acknowledging a sneeze is spread worldwide, but not all of the international sayings are religious. The most famous secular response, and the one I use, is the German version "gesundheit". It literally wishes the sneezer "good health".

- SmartLX

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Science has the answer to just about everything....

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-04-27 19:19
Question:I want to answer your question "why I don't believe in god" <p> Not anymore. I was raised Catholic and has lots of questions as a 5-yr old. My parents just threated to spank me if I ever doubted my faith again. I stayed confused for many years but then I finally had to make a decision. Am I living for myself or for these people who just seem, I don't know, sort of stupid to me. <p> The main reason why I don't believe in god is simply science, solar evolution, and human evolution. I watched a 3-hour special on the History channel and was shown all of the evidence as to who we are, how we got here, and why people started believing in god in the first place. As humans evolved and grew smarter, they developed a couple of feelings: love and grievance for example. People just couldn't come to terms with the loss of their loved ones so they had to make up this make-believe world of the after-life in order to get by. People couldn't handle the fact that we just rott in the ground when our time is up. Do I want to see my precious son Noah after I die? Of course! Is that going to happen, I don't believe so. <p> Slowly but surely, us as a human race has evolved to believe in this make-belive man-made world versus the truth. I mean you think people would be happy that us as humans are even capable enough to research fossils, figure out the answers to our questions, and come up with hard facts as to why there are different races and where we originated---but they ignore it all! I know that it is not just the Christian god that I find intollerable, but every other religion had its idocracies that drive me crazy. I asked myself, if not Christianity, then what religion? Is there a religion that I should look into that would better suit me? The answer: Yes! <p> Atheism -- I choose to believe none of it and for good reason (not a religion, I was merely making a point). We as people can't understand just how huge our universe is. I highly doubt that some supernatural element created it all. People will find, there is an answer to every question. We don't just have to have "faith" anymore, but we have the truth! We have our answers! <p> I am a woman of science. I spoke to a Christian at work today and she thinks that human evolution is made up by Hollywood and it's secretly the Devil trying to persuade those God-fearing individuals into damning themselves. What??!! What kind of a God would tell their people such stories?? <p> Our planet Earth is a grain of dust compared to what is really out there in our universe and it is just simply a question of logic...do people really believe that we, a bunch of nothings have to ultimate answer (God)? I know, from science, that it's almost definite that there is life on other planets, if and only if their planet has the same liveable conditions as ours, therefore making it possible for life to develop. Who is to say that we are the only ones? Don't most religions on this planet think so. Eveyone is so closes-minded I feel suffocated most of the time. The agnostic part of me feels that we are incapable of ever knowing even if there is a god (which I highly doubt). I just want people to think and not just believe just to believe. <p> I'm sorry for the long answer.....are my feelings shared by anyone??? <p> Atheisic Mommy Atheist Answer

I agree with almost everything you've written, but you misunderstand my question. You've given an excellent explanation of why you don't believe in any gods, but absence of belief isn't the same as belief in an absence. I asked why you positively believe there are no gods. Reading your stuff, I don't really think you do.

There's a lot you don't like about the major religions. Ditto. Thinking they're misguided has very little bearing on the existence of a real god, who if it exists might be as depicted in any of them or might be unlike anything we've imagined. I think that if there is one, it's not as concerned with this planet as people think. As you say, and as Carl Sagan famously expressed in Pale Blue Dot, we don't amount to much in many ways.

You see atheism as a religion, which was a big clue to your idea of things. Atheism is simply the absence of god-belief, whether by conscious rejection of it (explicit atheism) or lack of exposure to it (implicit atheism). Your opinion, and your conclusion based on the evidence, is that there are no gods. If more evidence came along, you might start to believe in one. All that stands between you (or me) and god-belief is lack of a good reason, not some contrarian belief that has to be knocked down first.

Strongly rejecting a position doesn't mean believing in the opposite with no more justification than one's opponents. I don't think you're really a "strong atheist", but that doesn't make you any less firmly atheist.

- SmartLX

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Strong Agnostic, Explicit Atheist, Strong Atheist, and Agnostic Atheist...

Ask The Atheist - Mon, 2009-04-27 17:38
Question:I am questioning the differences between what I have mentioned above in my title. There are obvious differences, but I can't seem to figure out if me being Agnostic is part of it all. Since I was 13 I have been Agnostic (I'm 26 now); I left room for the possibility that there is a god, but recently in the last couple of years and with my new love for watching the Science and History channel, I don't really believe that there is/are gods at all! It has been a long time since I have even thought about it, and now that I have a new baby, I want to raise him to ask important questions to our existance like I did. STRONG AGNOSTIC: They claim that not only do they not know of the existence of god, but that it is impossible to know if any god exists. (ME) AGNOSTIC ATHEIST: Accepts that we do not know, and possibly can never know, whether gods exist, but does not believe that they do. Atheistic because he or she does not believe in the existence of any deity and is also Agnostic because he or she does not claim to have definitive knowledge that a deity does not exist. (ME) EXPLICIT ATHEIST: An explicit atheist has thought about it, and has taken a position. (ME) STRONG ATHEIST: One who positively believes that there are no gods. (ME: I'm almost positive because I don't think I can leave the room for god anymore) {This being said are Weak Atheism (any Atheist who leaves room for the possibility of god) and being Agnostic is the same thing?} So I guess I would say that I'm Explicit Atheist, Strong Atheist, and is it possible for me to be Agnostic Atheist and/or Strong Agnostic as well? If any contradict (which I don't think they do) please let me know. With my new research, I need someone else that feels as I do to help--I feel so alone in what I believe when it comes to the people in my life. There are so many different terms that are very specified, and I hate to define myself with this lengthy description of what I believe. Know how I can shorten this? JessicaAtheist Answer

For those who came in late, this is where I've laid out the definitions of all these terms.

It is indeed possible to be an agnostic strong atheist, Jessica. That means you allow for the possibility that there's a god, but you positively believe there are none. A similar position is actually the exact opposite one. The world is full of agnostic strong theists: those who do not claim certainty that there's a god, usually because of lack of evidence, but believe in one anyway. The very concept of faith encourages this position.

My question to you would be the same as to any theist: "Why do you believe this, when you know it might not be true?" In the absence of hard evidence, what is your alternative basis for believing that there aren't any gods? Consider if you like, and get back to me.

You don't have to burden anyone else with these semantics. Simply calling yourself an atheist expresses most aspects of your position. If people ask you how you know there's no god, you can honestly say that you don't, and that you don't have to. If they accuse you of having as much faith as a theist, they might actually be right (since you're a strong atheist), but this doesn't make you any worse than them.

- SmartLX

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Need a fellow atheists' opinion on a list of quotes for an atheist flyer

Ask The Atheist - Sat, 2009-04-25 01:00
Question:Need atheists' opinion on a list of quotes for an atheist flyer I compiled; Why believe in God?- Everyone is an atheist about everyone else’s god- Go one god further.. When you realize why you've dismissed every other religion, you'll realize why to dismiss your own. Because we cannot disprove the existence of (any given) god, doesn't put the probability at 50/50. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. Those who offer false consolation are false friends. If complex organisms demand an explanation, so would a complex designer. So complexity as an argument for god is out. ' Our ethical behavior should be based on sympathy, education, and social ties. No religious basis is necessary. We would be in a poor state indeed if our ethical behavior was based on a fear of punishment or hope for reward after death. Faith means not wanting to know what is true. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. Faith is figurative blindness. How immoral-to advocate or espouse figurative blindness. Our greatest resource is the mind and the mind is not well trained by being taught to assume what has to be proven. The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; hater and oppressor of women, homophobic, racist, genocidal, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. When people older than 11 have imaginary friends, there's going to be trouble. There's a fine line between invisible and non-existent. Freedom from Religion Atheist Answer

My personal favourites out of that lot are "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and the brilliantly simple "Why believe in God?"

Depending on your intended audience, some of the others may cause readers to take offense and dismiss the flyer, whether or not this is justified. The derogatory descriptions of faith are in this category. Be careful with these.

Okay, your turn everyone. Which do you like? Any other suggestions?

- SmartLX

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Another Question

Ask The Atheist - Thu, 2009-04-23 00:53
Question:I am a Christian and a gentile, and I want to say that first. I believe that a good religion shows repeateable patterns. One pattern that is observable to me relates specifically to the following verse and the Jews. Romans 11:25 (King James Version) 25For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. Notice what that verse says. It basically says that there is a partial Theological blindness upon Israel (i.e. The Jewish people). Now where do I find proof of this in our present time ? Well lets look at the individuals lately who have been making the most noise against Christianity of late or in the recent past. Here is a list of some names: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Steven Pinker, Michael Newdow, Carl Sagan and Steven J. Gould. Guess what? They're all Jewish!! I'm not sure of Atheist Dan Barker's background or Richard Dawkins, but I'll bet if we scratch the surface there maybe some Jewish ancestry there. Richard Dawkins' mother's name is Ladner which sounds very Jewish. I have no doubt that in 15 years when these Atheists have lost importance that a new round of Jewish atheists will pop-up bashing Christianity just as they've done for hundreds of years prior. One of the way's that I tend to believe that the Christian bible is true is the Jewish resistance to it which the bible predicts through the verse above. This was predicted 2000 years before Hitchens. Now you tell me if there is a pattern there or not? I say there is!, and I'd bet if we scratched the surface of Sapient's ethnic background we'd find there Jewish. Jews can be saved in Jesus Christ, but they have this curse of Romans 11:25 on them. I'm not anti-semitic, but the bible does predict things such as that mentioned above which are observable. GlennAtheist Answer

Now there's a correlation I hadn't thought to examine.

Look at what Romans 11:25 is actually saying will happen: as long as there are Jews around, they will not see the divinity of Jesus and will argue against it. Well of course this was going to happen. In practical terms, Jesus didn't do what they expected the Messiah to (standing up to the Romans would have been a good start), and it was the Jews whose representatives supposedly got the guy killed. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is downright un-Jewish.

I refer you again to my piece on prophecies, and suggest #1. High Probability of Success as a far more likely explanation for the accuracy of this prediction. In other words, it was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, the cultural background of these atheists is irrelevant to the soundness of their arguments and counter-arguments. If you want to call them Jewish atheists, go ahead, but it doesn't invalidate a thing they've said or written.

One atheist writer who certainly doesn't fit the supposed pattern is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian ex-Muslim. Possible other exceptions are Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins and Brian Sapient as you say, plus Daniel Dennett, James Randi, Michael Shermer and Victor Stenger. I haven't got a single Jewish ancestor as far as I know.

I find your defenition of a Jew interesting. It's in line with that of the many religious Jews who essentially declare Judaism hereditary. By this logic not only is it impossible to stop being a Jew (from your list, only Hitchens self-identifies as a secular Jew), but one is born a Jew. Thus you needed to call yourself a gentile as well as a Christian, to emphasise your lack of Jewish ancestry.

Importantly, for the prophecy to even be accurate, the above definition must be the case. Do religious Jews (or does anyone else) have the right to label those who would otherwise be known as ex-Jews?

- SmartLX

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