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Explaining scientific understanding to a creationist

Got this email:

 

My biggest question for you guys is…
How do you believe that we (and by we, I mean the entire earth and all of its contents) are here? Of course Christians, like myself, believe in the 7 Days of Creation.
I’m watching your television show (your showdown with Ray Comfort) and I see the fallacies in his argument and the unwillingness to address your valid points. He also did not question you to the extent that I would have liked to if that were me. Somewhere in there, I came up with the question, “How do they think we got here?”
Do you accept the Big Bang/Point of Singularity or do you believe that the universe is ever-existent in itself? If it is the former, I’ve always wanted an atheist view on it. I watched a piece that Steven Hawking endorsed that was something along the lines of “Does God Exist.” He “proved” that God did not create the universe because time did not exist in which God could have created it. However, I cannot/refuse to believe that the amount of force needed to create that explosion could have been self-existent.
It would be awesome if y’all could address this question. I do not have a lot of free time, as I am a college student working 24 hours a week. Therefore, I can’t really turn on the tube and watch the show. Even if I could, I don’t think I have that channel. What I’m wondering is, if you could address it through e-mail or if you could address it on the show and send me a link where I can watch it on the internet.
I believe it will be fascinating to see a new view, as I live in a religiously-dominated area and differing opinions are few and far between.
I appreciate you guys taking the time!
[Name withheld], Freshman at [University withheld]
My reply is below.
Hi,
Of course Christians, like myself, believe in the 7 Days of Creation.
Actually this may surprise you, but as a categorical statement that is simply not true. A certain variety of Christians known as “Young earth creationists” believe in a literal seven days of creation. Although 85% of Americans are Christians, surveys indicate that only 30% of Americans accept the Biblical account of creation as literally true.
The mainstream scientific view of the origins of the present universe — that it expanded from a singularity approximately 13.7 billion years ago — is not based on a denial of the existence of God. It’s based on observations about the universe that are correlated with our understanding of how matter behaves. If you’re curious about the reasons why modern cosmologists almost unanimously recognize a big bang event having occurred at that point, including lines of evidence such as the red shift, measurements of cosmic radiation, and the observed distribution and distance of stars, you might want to check out
or possibly
Some Christians do begin with the assumption that a literalistic reading of the Bible is sufficient to establish scientific truth, and any other observations which seem to contradict this literal reading should be discarded in some way. However, scientists generally recognize that scientific inquiry cannot properly progress based on such assumptions. Therefore, most Christians who are involved in scientific research tend to gravitate towards more figurative interpretations of the Bible. Hence, there is a variation of belief known as “old earth creationism” which tries to reconcile the conflict by treating the “days” of creation in the Bible as a metaphor for longer time periods. In some cases, they point out that literal 24 hour “days” in human terms are measured by rotation of the Earth with respect to the sun, and the sun did not exist until day 4 in the Bible. Therefore, using “day” to mean 24 hours wouldn’t be meaningful, hence it could have stood in for millions or billions of years.
Even with these tweaks, the order of creation in the Bible still conflicts with current scientific understanding. Genesis describes God creating “light” on the first day, plants on the third day, and the sun on the fourth. There isn’t any source of generic “light” that exists in the universe as far as we’re aware. Light comes from matter giving off photons, and pretty much all of the light that shines on earth comes from the sun. Also, plants survive by creating energy that they photosynthesize from sunlight, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to create plants first and THEN the sun.
Because of this, other Christians who take the scientific method seriously prefer to see the Bible not as literal truth, but a story that is full of allegory and metaphor, not intended to be a literal scientific textbook at all. They generally still see it as a great, and perhaps divinely inspired, work of literature, full of poetry and guidance and good moral teachings. I personally disagree with this, but I do know many smart Christians who think this way.

Do you accept the Big Bang/Point of Singularity or do you believe that the universe is ever-existent in itself? If it is the former, I’ve always wanted an atheist view on it.

I’d like to point out that at the beginning I said that the present universe expanded from a singularity. The reason I put it that way is because when a lot of matter is packed into a very dense space, the laws of physics work in ways that are fundamentally different from those we’re familiar with. Since you can’t replicate the conditions of the universe just before the big bang, it’s not really possible to conclusively say whether the post big-bang universe really represent ***THE*** universe (meaning all things that exist). One popular lecture by Lawrence Krauss is title “a universe from nothing” and he explains how, in effect, “time” may have originated with the big bang, which means that it’s not actually meaningful to talk about any time “before” the big bang.
Other speculations include the idea that the universe could be contained in a larger meta-universe, or that the expansion of the big bang was generated by an explosion following the collapse of a previous universe. This would imply that the universe oscillates, and has indeed been around in different forms forever.
Some of these ideas are taken more seriously than others. My point is that there is not currently any definitive answer to whether the Big Bang was the beginning of “everything” or whether something else has always existed.

I watched a piece that Steven Hawking endorsed that was something along the lines of “Does God Exist.” He “proved” that God did not create the universe because time did not exist in which God could have created it.

I don’t think Stephen Hawking has ever claimed to “prove” that God did not create the universe. At most I believe he has just stated, as I do, that the assumption of a God existence is not necessary to explain the existence of the universe.

However, I cannot/refuse to believe that the amount of force needed to create that explosion could have been self-existent.

Well, science doesn’t always line up with things that you refuse to believe. :)
I hope this answered some of your questions. Thanks for writing.

Comments

  1. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I like the Big Bang/Big Crunch cyclical model of the universe, the idea that there were universes before ours and will be others after. I understand its not particularly well supported, but its appealing nonetheless.

    It means that I might get to see the start of the next one when I head to Milliways for dinner.

  2. Monocle Smile says

    I went to a top-flight research university, so this might sound pretentious, but what college could this person attend that doesn’t have books and electronic resources about cosmology?

    There’s also the issue of asking for the “atheist view” on cosmology. This is part of why you guys do the show; the populace loves bootstrapping all sorts of nonsense to the label of “atheist.” This opens up some tempting trolling opportunities by directing them to Periannen Senapathy or any number of “Electric Universe” proponents. After all, Senapathy is an atheist and so are most Velikovsky fanbois.

  3. jamessweet says

    My point is that there is not currently any definitive answer to whether the Big Bang was the beginning of “everything” or whether something else has always existed.

    This uncertainty (and learning to live with it) is really the key, inn’t it? Just because I cannot give a singular better answer, that does not imply that your terrible answer must therefore be correct.

    It’s a good bet that Russell does not currently know how many coffee mugs are on my table. “Zero” or “One” might be good guesses, but you really don’t know. At times in the recent past, it has been as high as 3. However, if Ray Comfort were to come along and pronounce that Jesus told him that I have 20,000 coffee mugs on my table right now, we could be pretty sure he is wrong. He might then reply, “Okay, how do YOU know how many coffee mugs are on James’ table?”, and Russell would be forced to admit that he doesn’t know, that he — at present — has know way of knowing for sure, and that while he can make some reasonable guesses, he doesn’t truly know which, if any, are correct. Comfort might then respond that his answer is much better, because not only has he provided a definite answer (exactly 20,000), but he has also walked us through how he deduced this number (Jesus told him).

    That’s a piss-poor argument. But it has the superficial advantage that it doesn’t need to tolerate uncertainty. An incapacity to live with that uncertainty has led to a lot of mistaken ideas over the millennia…

  4. Parlyne says

    It’s difficult to reconcile that sort of cyclic model with a universe that currently has accelerating expansion. Totally cyclic models like that also tend to have an entropy problem. There are somewhat less problematic models in which new universes arise from large quantum fluctuations in old ones which would seem to be able to solve the entropy problem (as they would allow entropy overall to continue increasing) and would not require recollapse. (Not that these models are particularly well supported either; but, they have less tension with observed reality.)

  5. busterggi says

    Your answers aren’t bad but you still haven’t said who waved the magic wand or when it was waved – that’s how creationists view science.

  6. Narf says

    His parents might have shipped him off to a Christian college of some sort. A lot of people don’t have a lot of choice in the matter, unless they want to figure out how to pay for college on their own.

    I like the general tone of this guy’s e-mail. He seems to be genuinely questioning, even if some of his questions seem a bit silly and wrong-headed to us. Give him a few years, and who knows?

  7. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Yeah, I get (some of) that. I wasn’t opining on whether or not the cyclical model is true, or even possible. I’ll leave that to the experts to work out. My understanding of physics pretty much stops at keeping buildings from falling down. I just think it makes a cool story (and I’ll use any excuse to make a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, it was Douglas Adams who got me started down the path that the emailer is standing at the tip of).

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    His question was: “How do they think we got here?

    It’s a common ploy among Christians to ask that question. They don’t give a damn about what the atheist thinks or says. The whole purpose of the exercise is to shift the burden of proof. As long as the atheist is trying to defend the Theory of Evolution, the Christian is saved the bother of proving that God exists.

  9. timberwoof says

    An important part of the explanation that I think is often left out is that the Big Bang was not thought up one afternoon by a bunch of eggheads sipping mint juleps while sitting on the front porch of their university lecture hall. The Big Bang theory is the result of observations that anyone with a reasonably good consumer-grade telescope could replicate.

    Fundamentalists accept the Bible as authority handed down from up on high … and thus take scientific knowledge the same way, but question the authority of its ultimate source. A key concept that was in there but which I think needs to be amplified is that scientific theories come from looking at the world.

  10. JT Rager says

    I don’t think the cyclical model is necessarily true, but I want to play devil’s advocate when you say it’s hard to reconcile a cyclical model with an accelerating universe. Many (if not all) cyclical models involve acceleration to some extent. When you have a pendulum just beginning to move downward from its maximum height and it converts gravitational potential energy to kinetic energy, it is accelerating. When you release a spring from its compressed form it turns spring potential into kinetic energy and accelerates.

    Of course, if our universe was in a cyclic model of expansion and contraction we would have to only be in the first 1/4th of the cycle period, since we are still observing an accelerating universe. Considering it’s taken us ~14.5 billion years for us to get here, this cycle would have to be on an absolutely massive scale. Kind of analogous to stating that if our universe isn’t flat, it would have to be a great deal larger than our observable universe.

    [/nerdgasming]

  11. L.Long says

    The important part of the explanation is i don’t really need to give one.
    But even if science has it all wrong, YOUR belief is NOT correct.
    As soon as you say ‘gawd did it!’ You must then define gawd and PROVE S/He/It’s existence.
    Science looks at the natural world and tries to describe its operation, and so far there has been NO sign of any gawd.
    So science tries to get the best operational image it can with what it has to work with and will refine or change as the EVIDENCE changes. Show REAL evidence for gawd or some other WooWoo BS and science will adapt and change to fit the new evidence.
    So how did it all start? So far as we can tell the mislabeled BIG-BANG is the best theory.
    How do I know? By listening to RECOGNIZED knowledgeable people saying so. Because I have studied astronomy, physics, chemistry, math, and read the buyBull. (Guess which is the BS?) And can use my knowledge to back check what the experts claim (to a degree).

  12. Paul Cornelius says

    An important point relates to this remark: “I cannot/refuse to believe that the amount of force needed to create that explosion could have been self-existent.” It’s OK to refuse to believe that, because the so-called big bang was not, in any sense, an “explosion” as we use that word in everyday speech. I doubt if any serious physicist thinks of the universe as debris from some sort of giant bomb. Consider that the total energy content of the universe is now thought to be zero: http://www.livescience.com/33129-total-energy-universe-zero.html

    The last century of scientific work has taught us much about quantum mechanics, elementary particles, conversion of matter into energy, relativity and the nature of the vacuum. That all plays into our understanding of the universe’s origins. The science is far from complete, of course, but Lawrence Krauss’s books and videos are excellent as a summary of the state of this research today. See http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Nothing-There-Something-Rather/dp/1451624468

    BTW, a well-written and well-reasoned answer by Russell (as usual).

  13. Parlyne says

    In the case of a pendulum, the acceleration is always towards the equilibrium position. In other words, as soon as it’s past the bottom of its swing it’s slowing down. The analogy here would be to the scale parameter of the universe, which characterizes the expansion. In a model analogous to a pendulum, the rate of increase of the scale parameter would decrease throughout the expansion phase; and, it would do so for basically the same reason that a pendulum does – gravity. The gravitation between anything like normal matter is attractive; and, that tends to slow the expansion of the universe. That the expansion is accelerating indicates that the physics around the expansion is currently dominated by something that is not like normal matter. And, our understanding of how such a thing could work indicates that, as the expansion accelerates, normal matter (and dark matter) will become increasingly dilute as compared with whatever is now dominant (which we have termed “dark energy”). That’s why I say the acceleration is hard to reconcile with a model that requires an eventual collapse.

  14. Charles Denel says

    I think the last point is something Russell really needed to expand upon as it gets to the heart of the question which the mailer has posed.

    Paul Cornelius’ link is extremely useful in this regard and, indeed; the same point about the net energy of the universe being zero is made by Krauss in his book. The fact that quantum fluctuations have been observed yet behave in a way that is consistent with the first law of thermodynamics, and the fact that the universe as a whole complies with this law through net energy of zero, leaves no room for a direct energy input from an outside actor (hello God(s) we’re waving at you!).

    Perhaps the lesson needs to be completed with a basic explanation of what is a reasonable epistemology:-

    1. There appears to be at least one very plausible natural explanation for the existence of the universe which satisfies Thermodynamics, Occam’s razor and all of our empirical observations in any related scientific field.

    2. Not only does an outside actor conflict with these points but it leads us to the question of how did God do it? And how did God come about?

    3. Scientific observation has given us an insight that is not only plausible but also needs to be seen in the context of the relatively recent (400 yrs) sustained application of the scientific method by a tiny proportion of the humans that have ever existed. I appreciate that the YEC crowd have a view on the time period of human existence but they cannot avoid the fact that even on their timeline we seem to have rapidly uncovered a lot with not many minds on the job.

    4. No theist can argue with the fact that the gaps in which their god(s) were found have been getting smaller. Before Rayleigh presumably the sky was blue (or red) because ‘God made it that way’, before Einstein and E=mc2 the sun produced energy that was God-driven because nuclear fusion could not be conceived of etc. Therefore is it not reasonable to conclude that the gaps are not evidence for god(s) ,but, instead not knowing something is simply evidence we don’t know something?

    5. Is it not suspicious that bronze age texts reflect the ignorance of their age, that their tenets persist because they are unfalsifiable and are easy to understand?.A six year old can grasp Genesis in half an hour whereas the cutting edge of any science requires 2 decades of education before you even reach the coal face.

    6. In the light of these facts which of the two explanations i.e. Natural or Supernatural would be more extraordinary and remarkable? And accordingly which therefore needs the greater proportion of positive evidence for how ‘creation’ came about?

    I know that there are more explanations for the origin of the universe than that espoused by Krauss. For the purpose of a discussion with YEC’s I think getting bogged down in the detail of the alternatives (collapsing 4-D stars anyone?) might be counterproductive :)

    These points usually open the way to another round of debate but hey ho…that’s for another day!

  15. Caitlin M says

    Do you ever wake up and see the sunrise and wonder why we are blessed with such a thing?

    In any case, I am making a case against your argument. You’re right; how on earth can we prove God’s existence – actually PROVE it, not just bring up examples of beauty and power that may indicate that there is a Creator?

    My answer is, I honestly don’t know. (Isn’t that the same with science? No one makes up evidence.) I have yet to find undeniable proof. However, throughout history, humans have believed in the existence of supernatural deities. Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?

  16. says

    Okay, so pardon my simplistic understanding of these matters as this is just a question (I’m certainly not a scientist) but wouldn’t it be possible for the existing black holes to eventually suck pretty much everything up and eventually merge into on big singularity and then explode? Since I don’t hear this idea espoused by any cosmologists I’m supposing there must be a reason why not, so I’m hoping someone will clear that up for me.

  17. says

    I’m an atheist. I’m not a Big Bang-ist. It’s obvious from observation that the universe is expanding away from a central point. We have some theories that explain what happened to make that so. I don’t “believe” in any of them. I have read about them and they make sense. I also understand that no everyone accepts those explanations and posit other ideas. I have no interest in arguing in favor of the Big Bang Theory. I’m happy to let someone who is an expert do that. My world will also not collapse around me if tomorrow we discover that some or all of the model of the Big Bang is wrong and that the beginnings of the universe happened quite differently. If that were to happen I’d think, “wow, isn’t that interesting” and then go on about my day. I don’t think theists can quite get their heads around the idea that having an understanding of a scientific theory is not the equivalent of having a religious belief.

  18. Tawn says

    ” It’s obvious from observation that the universe is expanding away from a central point. ”

    I have to be picky here and correct one item. There is no central point. The big ‘bang’, is more of an expansion across all of space. So when scientists say the universe may have been a singularity, that means all of space was the size of a singularity… not that there was a single point within space that exploded. Hope that makes sense. :)

    I’m no scientist either, but I think that’s an important point to clarify.

    Another thing, all of space is expanding away from US. So you might mistakenly think we are at the centre of the universe… until you realise that in an expanding universe, wherever you are observing from everything is getting further away from you.

  19. Parlyne says

    There are several problems with this idea. First, black holes don’t suck. They’re just misunderstood.

    No, seriously, they’re really misunderstood. It’s true that anything that falls into a black hole can’t get back out; but, “falls in” is important. If you replaced the sun with a solar mass black hole, it would get mighty cold out here; but, the orbits of the objects in our solar system would not change. This means that black holes only tend to grow very slowly, since it’s pretty rare for matter to get close enough to them to actually fall in.

    Second, for all the black holes in the universe to end up merging would require their growth to outstrip the expansion of the universe. But, as I mentioned in other posts, the expansion of the universe is accelerating and the growth of black holes is not; so, the black holes could never catch up enough to all merge.

    Finally, the big bang is not the same kind of singularity as a black hole. A black hole exists at a particular place at any given time, while the big bang existed at a particular time at any given place. To put it another way, the big bang happened everywhere. It was not an explosion of stuff from one place.

  20. Corwyn says

    Let’s say you have a galaxy with a black hole in the exact middle. Another galaxy nearby will feel the gravitation of ALL the mass in that galaxy (as if from the center of mass). If they are currently moving apart on a trajectory which doesn’t have them coming back together, then moving all the mass of the first galaxy into the black hole doesn’t change the gravitational attraction to the second galaxy at all (it is still the total mass of G1 as if from the center (only now, actually that)). It seems likely that all the mass in a galaxy will eventually end up in its black hole, but bringing the universe back together is not in the current model.

  21. L.Long says

    Yes I have AWE & Wonder and etc. BFD!! Means nothing to someone else.
    Lets use a science example, and no, MADE UP evidence is not evidence.
    A while back some dud said the landmasses move over the earth, look at SA and Africa!!!
    Scientist at the time said BFD!!! How does it do this and what is the real evidence, not that it looks pretty???
    And although it sounded strange , other scientist found things that worked toward the idea that they did drift. As more evidence was discovered and a mechanism was found the idea of continental drift was accepted, and that lead to more thorough research and a better understanding and was then added to the facts of science.

    Way back in the stone age some dud said ‘gawd did it’ and what people saw around them was very weird so why not. So ” throughout history, humans have believed in the existence of supernatural deities. ” but that does not mean they were right. As some less superstitious people started looking into the various How-When_where- etc of natural things gawd started to disappear into a puff of superstitious BS.
    And “Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?”
    because religion is a political group and to keep the sheeple under their thumb they invent BS like ‘sin’ and ‘hell’ to keep them terrified.

  22. Corwyn says

    …wonder why we are blessed with…

    Objection. Leading the witness. Until you show that there was something capable of ‘blessing’ us with anything, you don’t get to use that word.

    Why did we evolve on a planet that rotates with respect to its sun? Is that more likely than evolving in some other place? [I think so, but I don't think it is a huge likelihood ratio]

    …not just bring up examples of beauty and power that may indicate that there is a Creator?

    Why do you think examples of beauty and power are more likely given a creator than not? Is that REALLY what you would conclude if you had never heard of the concept of a creator?

    If I am waiting for a sunset and it is NOT, on that particular day, an example of power and beauty, do you think that indicates the LACK of a creator. This is a necessary consequence of your claim. If the presence of evidence is supportive of a hypothesis, then lack of that same evidence must be supportive of the negation of that hypothesis. Otherwise, the example isn’t ‘evidence’. Evidence can only be claimed for a hypothesis if (before it is collected), it is capable of affecting the hypothesis in BOTH directions.

    Do you think animals see the beauty and power?

  23. Drew says

    However, throughout history, humans have believed in the existence of supernatural deities. Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?

    Fear of death, fear of the unknown, rationalization of existence, rationalization of apparent agency, pareidolia…….

  24. Corwyn says

    4. No theist can argue with the fact that the gaps in which their god(s) were found have been getting smaller. Before Rayleigh presumably the sky was blue (or red) because ‘God made it that way’, before Einstein and E=mc2 the sun produced energy that was God-driven because nuclear fusion could not be conceived of etc. Therefore is it not reasonable to conclude that the gaps are not evidence for god(s) ,but, instead not knowing something is simply evidence we don’t know something?

    Exactly. If anyone argues that a missing link in evolution is evidence for god, ask them how much there belief in god will be reduced if it is found. If they say ‘none at all’, then that missing link is by definition NOT evidence for the existence of god.

  25. says

    By “amount of force”, it seems like he really means “amount of energy”. If that’s the case, he would be wrong-er, as a recent discovery is that the total energy of the universe is zero, nil, nada, zilch. That’s the main fact behind “a universe from nothing”.

  26. M can help you with that. says

    To put it another way, the big bang happened everywhere. It was not an explosion of stuff from one place.

    In some versions, the big bang was more like an explosion of place from some stuff.

  27. says

    Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?

    Are you crediting God with ALL of the thoughts that are “stamped” in our hearts? ‘Cause I’ve got some pretty ungodly thoughts “stamped” in mine, and I know there’s lots of other people with even worse thoughts “stamped” in theirs. Ascribing human thoughts to God opens up a serious can of worms — without really proving anything anyway.

  28. Tawn says

    “throughout history, humans have believed in the existence of supernatural deities.”

    Lots of other things as well which you would now consider to be incorrect. People make mistakes.

    “Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?”

    Because these notions are usually stamped onto young impressionable minds by their parents and society. Tell me why it is that god allows most people to believe in a false god? Or believe in the correct god, but the wrong doctrine?
    Surely the straightforward answer is that all these people are mistaken?

    “My answer is, I honestly don’t know.”

    Thanks for your honesty, but really nobody is after absolute proof, but rather a reasonable and rational argument to justify your belief in said god. Really, honestly, do you only believe in god because of sunrises? Beauty does no more to convince me of a benevolent god than the ugliness in nature convinces me an evil god is in control… if there were no god, why could beauty not exist?

  29. jacobfromlost says

    “However, throughout history, humans have believed in the existence of supernatural deities. Why would they cling to this notion if no God existed to stamp the desire on their hearts?”

    One, not all humans throughout history have clung to this notion.

    Two, most of those deities are mutually exclusive, so you don’t get to claim victory by adding up all the different gods and calling them the same (yours?). They are not all on the same team!

    Three, we know quite a bit about human psychology today that explains magical thinking, wishful thinking, mass hysteria, misperceptions, and dozens of other phenomena that you would READILY recognize in people who believe strange things that you do not believe. I mean, OBVIOUSLY the village in South America that thinks purple demons from space visited them one night in January are suffering from magical thinking and mass hysteria. (I made up that example because I don’t feel like researching actual ridiculous “urban myths” from other cultures that simply do not translate to our culture. There are many of them though. I mean “the chupacabra” sounds much scarier until Scully sighs in exasperation, “Not the Mexican goat sucker.”)

    Four, if there were such a “stamp” on our hearts, surely this stamp wouldn’t lead people to believe in deities that DIRECTLY OPPOSE the deity that put the stamp on their hearts in the first place, right? Or are we positing an irrational, crazy god? Or a trickster god?

  30. Mark Massingill says

    I’d like to point out that it has been my experience quite often that when talking to a Christian, the fact that they may ask a question does not mean that they will listen to the answer. This guy’s email does seem to contain genuine questions, yet if he actually believes in the “7 day” creation myth still, how open can his mind really be? I hope he is truly interested, most often the questions Christians ask of me seem to be designed to make me question my Atheism, as though I didn’t consider as much as possible before I stopped believing in a god through my search for truth.

    I hope this kid continues to ask questions and that he truly listens to and considers the answers. I hope he also questions as many sources as possible so that he can make the most educated determination possible. However, in my experience that is rarely the case.

  31. Tawn says

    One odd thought..

    If the ‘missing links’ in evolution are evidence for the existence of god, are the missing historical accounts of Jesus’s adolescent years evidence for atheism?

    That’s a joke of course, but it is roughly equivalent to what the creationists are arguing.

  32. Russell Glasser says

    This is my source:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/148427/say-bible-literally.aspx

    That other survey doesn’t seem to be finely worded enough. Assuming you are one of the 85% of religious people, you have to choose which of these two options is CLOSER to your beliefs: “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years,” or “God guided the evolutionary process.” This doesn’t seem to go into enough details. A person who believes that God put in some kind of divine spark that distinguishes humans from other animals as beings with free will and sin, MIGHT well pick the first answer even if they don’t think the earth was literally created in six days.

    The writer is assuming that all Christians are six day creationists, which is not even supported by a casual reading of that 47%, and definitely not true when you consider how many people don’t think the Bible is literal.

  33. says

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. So basically because of the scale of the universe and the distance of the black holes from each other, there’s no reason that their gravitational fields would be sufficient to attract each other? That makes sense.

  34. says

    Thank you for being patient with my ignorance in such matters. It’s nice to be able to ask questions of people who know more on a subject. If you ever want to know anything about opera or classical music in general, let me know!

  35. says

    You may be right, but quite a few of us atheists were once believers of that sort. (Matt Dillahunty for example. And me too!) Don’t right off all Fundamentalists as lost causes. Many will be but I think it’s worth having these discussions and debates. There are a lot of us who might still be stuck in that kind of religion if we hadn’t asked these sorts of questions. People who are really that dead set against knowing anything would not be asking nonbelievers questions (at least in my experience).

  36. says

    The difference is that when I ask sciency people questions the response is usually along the lines of “I’m so glad you asked! Let me show you what we know and why we think what we do!” but when I ask religious people I either get shamed for asking at all or some nonsensical “it’s a mystery” or worst “god’s ways are too beyond my little pea brain to understand” (yes someone actually said the last one to me).

    People happy to answer questions and entertain doubt and skepticism get my respect regardless of the field.

  37. says

    I always like it when Matt (or someone else) starts a call with “what do you believe and why?” because there’s no point in debating natural selection if that has nothing to do with what they believe and why they believe it. If tomorrow we found evidence that changed our understanding of evolutionary biology, what would that really mean other than some edits to science textbooks? And such things happen all the time. A lot of what I was taught about the solar system in in elementary school was wrong (or mostly incomplete). I remember the pics from the Voyager probes that showed us that all the gas giants had rings, not just Saturn. No astronomer felt discredited from that discovery. They took the new information and used it to add to their understanding.

  38. Mark Massingill says

    I don’t write anyone off, I do however stop talking to them when it becomes obvious that they aren’t really listening to my points but are only in it to try to convince me of theirs. That’s all I meant, that just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they want to learn the truth. This guys questions left me with the impression that he was attempting to convince Russel that he was wrong rather than being truly interested in hearing Russel’s arguments. It’s hard to tell in just a single email where their heads are really at. I was a fundamentalist until converting to Catholicism when my mother remarried (not really given a choice, just more indoctrination) and remained a ‘believer’ until I was about 22. I’ve been an Atheist for 25 years now myself.

    I’ve got one guy in a youtube comment thread about one of Matt’s talks who has asked me several times why lying is wrong, I’ve answered each time, now he’s asking who determines it’s wrong. He’s obviously not listening to my replies and he just keeps rewording his statement in a rather lame attempt to say that without god it’s impossible to determine what’s right or wrong. I’ve pointed out the 65% of the world’s population doesn’t follow or believe in Christ, yet all people have a moral code they follow so it must be possible to find right and wrong without Christ, yet he just ignored that reply. I’m giving up on him tonight since you can’t debate someone who has their fingers in their ears.

    I applaud anyone who is asking questions because they are willing to learn the truth, even if the truth they find doesn’t agree with what I hold true. It’s the search that matters.

  39. KsDevil says

    Perhaps this college student should focus more on studies and wait until life calms down a bit to delve deeply into cosmological science. I doubt the question will go away. I have seen this kind of question many times before. Usually watching Carl Sagan’s COSMOS on-line begins to answer many of the questions but there are many episodes to digest.
    Also the fact that scientists have not answered every possible question by now demonstrates that there is much more to learn.
    I find that by watching science shows I am gradually exercised to use critical thinking skills. Patience has it’s own reward, after all.

  40. Corwyn says

    College is as calm as life is ever going to get. Now is the perfect time to be questioning things. College is the perfect place to be questioning things.

  41. Mark Massingill says

    There is not a better time to question, debate, discuss and learn than while within the freedom of college. People away from the indoctrinating (guiding if you prefer) hand of their parents and able to explore new concepts before they have children of their own to attempt to teach a foundation to. For one, I’d never tell anyone not to question but instead concentrate on the task at hand. What more important task do we have in life but to question and learn? Now may well be the only time this young man has while away from the controlling influences of family to question. Even if I may sometimes doubt the sincerity of the questions being asked, I’d never once tell anyone not to ask them or that now is not the time for them. This could be the guiding principle in the young man’s life, to stick with “faith” and taught “beliefs” or to question, make his own choices and grow. The hubris and arrogance it would take to tell anyone not to ask questions because now is not the time in THEIR life for them to be asking them in unfathomable to me.

  42. says

    The problem that I have with Christians and other theists whom I try to reason with is that the ones who are at least being some what reasonable is that they have to invite the idea that some how their god must be the catalyst for how it all started. So very few are willing to rule out their god from the equation and all I end up doing is playing some mind game which ends up with a bunch of rhetorical platitudes going back and forth.
    That’s when I tell them if it needs some kind of a supernatural explanation then it’s nothing more then superstition and that is what usually ends the discussion where both sides end up in a draw.

    If anyone can prove beyond reasonable doubt the existence of their god(s), I shall remain an atheist.
    The one(s) who have the winning lotto ticket(s) gets the prize and no one else.

  43. Matrim says

    However, I cannot/refuse to believe that the amount of force needed to create that explosion could have been self-existent.

    Well, there’s your problem right there. If you simply refuse to believe the counter point by default, there’s really no point in discussing it. Also it wasn’t an explosion, it was an expansion of space itself. And the idea that the universe (or pre-universal singularity) lacked the force to expand is not solved by the addition of a god, it’s actually made less probable. Where did this god come from? Is it a product of the natural world? Is it eternal and has always existed? Basically all it does is kick the exact same problems you had with the universe down the road a little bit. You still have to explain everything about this god, and you don’t get to just handwave it away. Why do you feel that an eternal universe is preposterous, but an eternal being that existed outside of it is not? It just adds more questions and assumptions.

  44. Matt Gerrans says

    “Because of this, other Christians who take the scientific method seriously prefer to see the Bible not as literal truth, but a story that is full of allegory and metaphor, not intended to be a literal scientific textbook at all. They generally still see it as a great, and perhaps divinely inspired, work of literature, full of poetry and guidance and good moral teachings. I personally disagree with this, but I do know many smart Christians who think this way.”

    I think it is funny that Christians “who take the scientific method seriously” are able to look at a particular 1000-page book which is full of thousands of claims and apply different standards of veracity to those claims. What I mean is that this book has claims which can be empirically verified and claims which can’t (i.e. the “spiritual” and supernatural claims). These people hold to the idea that the claims which cannot be verified scientifically are 100% true. This is a simple failure of extrapolation. If we look at the book as a whole and see that a pretty high percentage of the claims which we can test turn out to be false, what is the basis for thinking that the claims we cannot test have a higher (much less perfect) fidelity? This shockingly weak standard is used just for one particular book, of course; they would never apply it to any other (eg. another religion’s “holy” book).

    Minor typo:
    “…whether the post big-bang universe really represent ***THE*** universe…” –> “represents“

  45. Matt Gerrans says

    Forgot to add that your reply to that letter was very well written, Russel.

    I think we could practically create a little database of replies for particular types of questions and save a lot of time. I guess IronChariots is something like that, but pointing someone to a wiki doesn’t quite to the same as a letter reply. So, while the wiki links might be useful to include, a quiverful (!) of stock replies would be handy (at least for a starting point in many cases).

    Also, the Atheist Experience show archive has brief descriptions on some episodes (looks like it has become more consistent over time), but it would be cool to have a project where we index the episodes by the topics they cover. So, when someone asks an origins of the universe question, they can be referred to all the episodes where it was discussed, the the time stamp where that topic began. Since there are a lot of episodes now, we’d need some sort of community effort for that. By the way, on the archives pages for old episodes, it says “recording requested” — what does that mean? Does it exist somewhere, or are those lost?

  46. Pierce R. Butler says

    It’s only those unwilling to ask who are a lost cause.

    I would like to think that, but search this website for “just asking questions” or “JAQing off” and you’ll find overwhelming evidence otherwise.

    Still, I agree with Narf – in this case, the questioner seems sincere and legitimate.

  47. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Big Bang theory is the result of observations that anyone with a reasonably good consumer-grade telescope could replicate.

    Amateur ‘scopes can measure redshift now?

    Houndentenor – Here’s a good starter blog-post on the “center of the universe” question (and a good blog on astrophysics in general).

  48. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    What does “Creator” have to do with Jesus, or whatever specific god you worship? Because there are so many possible gods it could be – all of the ones worshiped, and all of the other ones not even dreamt of by humans – even if you show there’s a “creator”, your argument is complete non-sequitir w.r.t. Jesus. It fails just like Pascal’s Wager fails.

  49. KsDevil says

    As I recall, the study of gravity suggests that the source of gravity does not exist in our universe. It requires a multiverse to explain that gravity is elsewhere and we only feel it’s weak force from ours.
    This also provides more straw for the religious in supporting the notion their god is outside of existence(our universe).

  50. Corwyn says

    Not really, There is a hypothesis for Dark Matter that postulates a multiverse with universes overlapping, and galaxies in other universes coincident with the ones in ours with their mass somehow ‘bleeding through’. In other words, the universes would need to be nearly identical. I don’t think it is the consensus view by any means.

    A multiverse is just more places where god will not be found.

  51. chris lowe says

    One point in which creationists consistently muddy the waters is with their insistence to attach “meaning” to the process. Dr. Brian Cox rightly states that after the inevitable heat death of our universe there will be absolutely nothing at all to base meaning upon. We are all here for part of the ride and while it might be fun and useful to figure it out, attaching an anthropomorphic being into the center of it given all the data we have gathered so far seems a ludicrous ride up the garden path.

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