In which Mike demonstrates once and for all the proof that God exists

Having some problems with the blog comments on this post and hoping that starting a new one will fix it.

Please direct your attention to the comments section, where MikeAdAstraSmith shall valiantly demonstrate to us poor, benighted sinners that God irrefutably exists.

[Edit: Actually we traced our problem to an overzealous spam filter, which probably thought that some comments looked too much like the work of a certain D**** M****. We're retraining it as fast as we can, but in the meantime, please do enjoy the thread.]

We get email

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is the most unusual or interesting mail we’ve ever received; it’s actually a fairly mundane rehashing of common creationist cluelessness. But the final replay really makes the email exchange one for the ages.

My responses are embedded in his italicized message, but the original message was one huge block paragraph.

I would like to know how and why atheists can knowledgeably ignore the laws of physics when considering such things as creation?

It’s interesting that you would say that, because it turns out that physicists tend to be atheists far more than most people. According to fairly recent surveys, while around 85% of people in the world believe in some kind of God, somewhere around 60% of practicing physical scientists have doubts about the existence of God, and among members of the National Academy of Sciences — one of the most elite groups of scientists in the world — only about 7% are believers.

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

It seems that more advanced a person is in scientific disciplines, the less likely they are to believe in God. Maybe you should take up your question with them.

all the laws of physics prove that nothing can come from nothing, so how did this universe come into exsistance, if not from nothing, where did that original “something”, most often referrred to as matter or ssome other form, come from?

Big Bang theory doesn’t attempt to address this question. The universe came to its present state around 14.5 billion years ago. Before that, everything in the universe was compressed into a small enough state that known laws of physics can’t be applied properly.

Therefore, the Big Bang is not an assertion that anything came “from nothing.” Could have always existed. Could have been generated out of matter from a meta-universe. Could have spontaneously come into existence through a matter/antimatter reaction. The responsible perspective is to accept that we don’t know, and won’t until a new way to collect evidence is worked out.

You, on the other hand, seem to believe that you do know. And your belief is that the universe was in fact created from nothing, by a being who either always existed or, in turn, came into existence from nothing itself. I think it’s remarkable that you don’t see the irony in that position.

more importantly, id like you to address cosmological singularity, which has been accepted by most, if not al physicists, concluding that there is, and always has been God,

I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, although my guess would be that it’s from within a certain part of your body. As I’ve already pointed out, you can get actual information from scientists about how much they believe in god, and it’s considerably less than the general public. Besides which, even scientists who believe in God would very rarely claim that this believe is in some way scientifically proven. Most of them hold to some form of Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of “non-overlapping magisteria,” claiming that faith in god and scientific evidence should be held as dealing with separate domains.

Almost no formal papers have been published in mainstream, peer reviewed scientific journals addressing the question of a god’s existence, and those that have slipped through are generally not cited as relevant by any other scientific works. This is so widely acknowledged that creationists routinely claim that the “scientific establishment” is involved in a massive conspiracy against their work. This is, of course, baseless paranoia, since the reason that their work doesn’t get published is that it’s a load of poorly supported, pseudoscientific quackery.

therefore disproving the core of atheist beliefs. in such a society today that is so scientifically based, it is ignorant to ignore such things as cosmological singularity, as well as other laws of physics, including einstiens relativity, and quantum mechanics, which even led einstien to believe in the exsistance of God.

Somebody’s been lying to you, dude.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_einstein.html
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
– Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 43.

thank you for your time, tho you’ll be wasting your efforts trying to disprove the laws of the universe to justify your living in denial.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. Ta ta!

And here’s the reply. Wait for it….

lol you actually wasted youre time to rely to me ??? hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!1

THANK YO SO MUCH FOR MAKING MY DAY! hahahahaah! thank you! wow you really would waste youre time like this wouldnt you!!! hahahaha!

im glad to know that you “care” enough about your “public” to reply to this! hahahahahahaha!

YOU ARE A FOOL!!!!!

(by the way my email contained a virus)

have a “wonderful” life and then die!!!!!

Apart from being scientifically illiterate and knowing fuck-all about computers in the bargain, I’m kind of charmed to see that the victory which made his day was the recognition that he is wasting people’s time. If only all creationists could be so self-aware!

Yomin Postelnik, poster-boy for arrogant theistic fractal wrongness

Jan. 2009 Introduction & Addendum: The following snarkalicious post has since become somewhat legendary in the atheist/creationism/science blogosphere.

To cut a long story short, this is the one that led self-styled “conservative columnist” Yomin Postelnik to respond vengefully with bizarre edits to my Wikipedia entry (accusing me of all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, including fraud, drug addiction and pedophilia — vandalism that Yomin wasn’t smart enough to realize would be stamped with his IP address, 74.233.115.163), to launch a series of blogs solely geared toward smearing me (since taken down), and to eventually make an Internet-wide nuisance of himself by posting to such forums as RichardDawkins.net (link expired) and ChristianForums.com accusing me of harassment and something he called “Google stalking.” This activity only led people back here, where they could see for themselves what Yomin was really up to, and that his histrionic claims of being victimized by “militant atheists” led by me was revealed to be projection at its worst. The only one engaging in unbridled harassment and defamation was Yomin, against me.

My opinion is that Yomin is not merely a thin-skinned adolescent unable to handle criticisms; I think he has full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. The Wikipedia entry on the condition notes, “To the extent that people are pathologically narcissistic, they can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of others’ needs and of the effects of their behavior on others, and insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen… People who are overly narcissistic commonly feel rejected, humiliated and threatened when criticised. To protect themselves from these dangers, they often react with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight criticism, real or imagined…. With narcissistic personality disorder, the person’s perceived fantastic grandiosity, often coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically not commensurate with his or her real accomplishments.”

This is Yomin to a tee. He likes to imagine himself — hell, he’s desperate to imagine himself — a powerful and influential leader, and anything that threatens to tarnish this inflated self-image is met with ferocious outbursts of emotion.

The second half of 2008 appears to have been the worst six months of Yomin’s life. In September of that year, he had his pre-paid legal service send me a cease-and-desist letter, which was odd, because I wasn’t doing anything to him while he was actively maintaining no fewer than three anti-Wagner blogs. It transpired that this was a lame attempt to intimidate me into removing posts from this blog revealing his libelous activities. Basically toothless, because C&D letters carry no legal weight. In response to this, to get Yomin, basically, to pull his head out and back off, my attorney filed an online defamation suit at the end of October. Dumb luck, however, smiled on Yomin here, because for two months, the investigator employed by my lawyer in Florida claimed he could not find Yomin, and the two addresses we had for him were no longer current. This kept Yomin from actually being served for two months.

At the end of December, Yomin sent me a bizarre array of increasingly unhinged, delusional and vituperative emails, alternating pleas to end our conflict (which was entirely of his own making) with threats of further harassment if I didn’t take certain posts down from this blog. I forwarded all of these to my lawyer, who advised me that the whole affair was “just getting petty…you need to get this guy out of your life!” Also, to continue to pursue the suit would cost thousands of dollars I didn’t have. I had raised the filing fees initially through the help of online donations promoted by folks like PZ Myers. But I didn’t feel right continuing to go back to the same people for more money, when this was, truthfully, turning into a childish battle of egos in which Yomin was simply baiting me and trying desperately to drag me down to his level of juvenile vindictiveness. Therefore I agreed to a tentative truce with Yomin at the end of 2008.

Part of me regrets this, as, given Yomin’s narcissism, it basically means he thinks he “won” and that he’s been able, essentially, to get away with the kind of behavior that, had he been held accountable, would have (hopefully) resulted in some desperately needed character building. The evidence I had linking Yomin to the Wiki vandalism was, in my opinion, ironclad enough to assure a court decision against him. But I didn’t want to do this out of other people’s pockets, and, knowing the personality type I was dealing with here, it is dead clear that a legal victory against Yomin would have been portrayed by him as further evidence of his victimhood. It is simply better to have this poor sad fellow gone.

In his last emails to me, Yomin, in a revealing moment, exclaimed, “I have to defend my reputation.” What the narcissist never understands is that any damage to his reputation is the fault of his own actions. Ultimately, I decided it simply was not my job to help Yomin grow up. Materially, I had not been hurt in any way by Yomin’s foolish behavior, while Yomin’s name ultimately became synonymous with online hysterics of the most absurd sort. One of our commenters coined the phrase “pulling a Yomin” to refer to anyone having a four-alarm meltdown online. That’s a legacy hard to undo, and, in its way, more deflating in the long term than even a court decision.

So, enjoy the following, if you are so inclined.


August 2009 addendum: A number of people have brought it to my attention that Yomin is running for the Florida House in 2010! No wonder he was so frantic to get me to remove embarrassing information about his activities from this blog. While I am amused by this, and by the way a little amount of Googling reveals he is already alienating his hoped-for voter base with his usual online behaviors (like sockpuppeting in blog comments to make it appear he has hordes of supporters, a stunt he pulled all the time in his little battle with me, which was always rendered infinitely sillier by the fact he thought no one would notice he was doing it), I have to say I just don’t care. Yes, it is funny that a man who cannot even handle criticism on a blog thinks he’s got what it takes to enter the snake pit of politics. But as the GOP has sunk so thoroughly into extremism that many of them actually view an airhead like Sarah Palin as White House material, then I have to say their standards are now such that Yomin ought to be considered an entirely viable candidate. So I wish him the very best of success for victory in his campaign!


January 2011 addendum: After polling less than 6% of the vote in the GOP primaries, Yomin was arrested on November 12, 2010, on charges of misdemeanor domestic battery.

It’s been a while since I bloodied my knuckles and let some smug ignoramus have it right in the teeth. So I figured it’s time. This is a l-o-n-g one, but a fun one. I hope.

Via Dawkins’ site, I learn of a lengthy essay over at Canada Free Press by a nincompoop with the improbable name of Yomin Postelnik, with the grandiose title of “Logical Proof of the Existence of a Divine Creator, Why Atheism is Not Logically Sound”. If you thought Ray Comfort was a cocky assclown, you’ll love this guy. Postelnik fancies himself a master of logic (if not proper punctuation or English), and yet doesn’t seem to notice that h
is entire, long-winded blather amounts to one spectacular logical fallacy, namely, the argument from incredulity, with a heaping side dish of straw men. Here he sums up his whole position on why atheism is logically unsound.

No one in their right mind would claim that 10,000 hundred story buildings built themselves from randomness, even over time. Yet those who doubt the existence of a Creator believe that an entire universe, containing all of the billions of elements necessary for life to form, may have come about without a builder. As such, they give credence to billions of times more coincidences to having come about.

Ah, yes. It’s the old “just look at all the trees!” argument that Matt Dillahunty and I goofed on on the TV show last week, just on a slightly grander scale. Apart from making the fundamental dumb apologist mistake of inferring design in nature from observing it in known artifacts like buildings — I’ll explain why Paley’s famous “watchmaker” argument actually does not demonstrate intelligent design in nature a little later — Postelnik’s whole rant reveals little more than boilerplate religious scientific illiteracy, total ineptitude at this whole “logic” thing for which he repeatedly flatters himself, and a laughable tendency to recycle any number of long-refuted and feeble apologist canards as if they were amazing new concepts no atheist had ever considered before.

Let’s have fun going through Postelnik’s catalog of failings here, shall we?

Reading through this, you might wonder: why bother? Postelnik is so stupid that he can say this with a straight face: “Would human beings survive if one organ or cavity was missing or displaced, even after somehow being otherwise perfectly formed with no designer?” Well, knowing, as I do, several people who have had kidneys, bladders, appendixes, uteruses removed, I’d say, well yeah, duh. He’s so silly that he launches his whole article with false analogies and unsupported a priori assumptions like this, which reveal the pitiful depth of his idiocy in living Technicolor…

The simplest proof (yet one that no atheist has ever been able to counter effectively) is that a universe of this size and magnitude does not somehow build itself, just as a set of encyclopedias doesn’t write itself or form randomly from the spill of a massive inkblot.

Well, I bother because millions of people sadly think like this twat, that’s why, and they’re the ones launching all-out assaults on science education around the world in the name of their invisible magic sky fairy. It’s incumbent upon atheists not merely to refute their nonsense, but to take some of the air out of their puffed-up egos by blasting it to smithereens and peeing on the ashes to boot. I’ve written before about the way Christianity allows its dumbest believers to adopt an air of faux-intellectualism. Here the stupid is unmasked for all to see, and laugh at. Postelnik is the very model of fractal wrongess.

  1. Postelnik thinks scientific explanations are all about “random chance.” Towards this end, he offers up variants on the old “tornado in a junkyard” argument.

    [Atheists] believe that not only did whole planets appear spontaneously, but also believe that the fact that these planets do not collide as meteors do, that they have gravity, that they contain the proper atmospheric conditions for life to take hold and contain sustenance to sustain this life all happened by mere fluke.

    Reality check: Naturally, nothing in science (let alone atheism) promotes any of the nonsense Postelnik spews. Where in physics or cosmology is the theory proposed that planets emerged “spontaneously,” or that collisions between worlds never happen? (Such a collision is, in fact, why we have a moon, and an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.) Nowhere, of course, but Postelnik is typically butt-ignorant of the science he attacks and, like so many apologists, doesn’t realize what a fool he’s making of himself parading his lack of education in public. Planets, as any first year astronomy student will tell you, form within accretion discs of dust and other particles surrounding a star. Gravity, which Postelnik seems to think of as some ineffable magic property (he refers to celestial bodies as “possessing” gravity) when it’s nothing more than the natural attraction between objects based both on their respective masses and the inverse square law, eventually causes the particles in all this whirling dust to coalesce into planets. It is only a “spontaneous” process if you’re a fool who thinks spontaneity takes place over lengthy periods of time. But that seems to be a basic misunderstanding of creationist twits.

    Here’s what Postelnik is too thick to grasp. Science understands the eons of time required for celestial objects like stars and planets to form. And instead of the mere guesswork Postelnik seems to think scientists engage in (typical twaddle: “…they outrageously chalk up to coincidence billions upon billions of times more detail and design in all parts of life found in this universe”), there are in fact well understood laws upon which everything in the universe operates. The “spontaneous” appearance of a planet or a life form would, in fact, refute everything science understands about how nature works, since science does not argue for the spontaneous generation of these things. The laws of physics allow us to understand why planets, once they are locked in their orbits, don’t collide willy-nilly, though eventually their orbits could change or decay, and then they could. After all, whole galaxies collide, so certainly planets could.

    (Incidentally, you would think that with all his dogging on science, Postelnik ought to have some pretty impressive CV’s, don’t you? Well in fact…I know this will come as a shock…no. His bio identifies him as “the President of IRPW, a company that offers business plans, funding advice and facilitation, SBA loan applications, SWOT analyses, bold and effective marketing strategies, general business development and grant writing and research for non-profits and certain qualified businesses.” Clearly he has all the expertise he needs to explain why all the world’s leading astronomers, physicists, cosmologists, and biologists are wrong. One hopes, for the sake of IRPW’s business clients, the “research” Postelnik does for them isn’t as deficient as that which he’s done here.)

  2. Again with the “spontaneity”! Postelnik continues to demonstrate he snored his way through junior high science class by bringing up “spontaneity” straw men over and over again.

    Even if all the planets somehow formed themselves, all somehow staying in perfect orbit and possessing gravity, even take for granted that all the chemicals needed for life were so how [sic] there as well, by sheer happenstance, would it then be possible for billions of species to spontaneously come about, each with a male and female of each kind so that they could exist in the long run?

    Reality check: I’ll take “Scientifically Illiterate Verbal Diarrhea” for $1000, Alex.

    Let’s set aside the fact planets didn’t “somehow form themselves,” they were formed by well-understood natural laws. Let’s set aside the fact that most life on Earth is microbial, with many species reproducing asexually, some reproducing both sexually and asexually, and some, like viruses, unable to reproduce on their own at all. Let’s set aside the fact that, while the ultimate origins of life are still an open question, no one in science is arguing for its spontaneous — as in “poofed into existence in a puff of sm
    oke” — emergence. Let’s set aside the fact that the vast majority of Earth’s life forms, even the ones like dinosaurs who had the run of the place for far longer than we have or will, have eventually gone extinct. Let’s set aside the fact that, for over a billion years of Earth’s early existence, the whole planet was unable to harbor life. In fact, let’s set aside every fact that science has established about the development of life at all. And once we’re that stupid, we can begin to think along the lines of Yomin Postelnik. Because it’s only through a totality of ignorance that one can hold the views he holds.

    Where does his whole obsession with things popping up spontaneously come from? Why, from religion, of course. Remember, it isn’t science claiming that stars, planets, galaxies, people and puppy dogs emerged spontaneously. It’s religion. You know, God said “Let there be,” and poof, there it was. That’s how tards like Postelnik think things really did happen. And once you think things really did happen in that way, then certainly it will seem illogical to think they happened that way all by themselves, without some agency bringing them about. But of course, things did not poof into existence spontaneously. Not even the universe. Remember: the Big Bang theory is not a creation ex nihilo theory. The Big Bang only describes the event that caused the universe to expand into its current state. There had to be something to go bang in the Big Bang, after all.

    Nothing in science, outside of the more esoteric realms of quantum mechanics, argues for the spontaneous creation of things from nothingness. Religion does. Postelnik is, hilariously, attacking his straw man of science by accusing it of making the very claims his religion makes. The problem isn’t that Postelnik doesn’t accept spontaneous creation. Being religious, he does. But religion offers up a god, and science doesn’t, and so in that context, science has the sillier explanation, you see? This is how people with a head full of Bronze Age myths and no education in actual science think. Pathetic, isn’t it?

    Postelnik babbles on a bit, repeating his bogus analogies (remember, encyclopedias couldn’t write themselves!), occasionally pausing to compliment himself on his brilliance (he has to, as no educated person would), ignoring all of the detailed fields of scientific study that do in fact show that everything we observe in nature can very easily evolve and develop over time. Like many apologists, he seems to think blustery rhetoric constitutes evidence.

    Then he offers up what he thinks are three “stand out” arguments for God, which have been demolished many times, and which I will now demolish all over again.

  3. And the “stand out” arguments are: (And savvy readers will note that Postelnik isn’t even clear on what he does claim to believe. His definitions of the three following arguments are rather confused and conflated, overlapping one another oddly. The way he defines the anthropic principle is closer to the definition of the first cause argument, while his definition of the teleological argument actually sounds more like the anthropic principle. The man argues like a drunk driver.)
    • The anthropic principle.

      Postelnik thinks: The anthropic argument contends that the universe is too complex to have no Creator. This is in effect the central point of this column, although explained in a more common manner.

      A more foolish manner, you mean. Let’s deal with the obvious initial objection, which is that if complexity requires a Creator, then that Creator must be at least as complex as his universe and must have had a Creator too, and so on, ad infinitum. I mean, it’s just logical!

      The anthropic principle has been punctured so many times and in so many different ways that one has to wonder just how many rocks Postelnik has been hiding under all his life to convince himself that “I have yet to meet an atheist who can make even a feeble argument to counter any of these points.” I don’t get the idea he’s met many atheists at all, and certainly has read no atheist literature, all of which has nuked every silly argument Postelnik proudly flogs. To date, the most interesting and unusual refutation of the AP isn’t so much a refutation at all: in The God Delusion, Dawkins makes the fascinating point that the AP is not an argument for God, but a substitute for one. Properly understood, what is known as the Weak Anthropic Principle fully supports a naturalist explanation of reality.

      Douglas Adams lampooned the AP in his famous bit about the puddle of water remarking on how amazing it was that the hole it was in was so perfectly formed to contain it. This is the problem with the AP if used to support theism: it’s a tautology. Any universe whose properties for supporting life such as ours we could marvel at would have to be one in which we existed in the first place. This fact alone says nothing about a godly designer, nor does it address the likelihood of other possible universes containing entirely different properties, under which entirely different forms of life might arise. Hey, the believer might say, there’s no evidence for those other universes, so that’s just hypothetical guesswork! To which we say, by Jove, I think you’ve got it! Your God is the same kind of hypothetical guess, chum. At least the concept of other universes or other physical properties for sustaining life are hypotheses about natural rather than supernatural things.

      Understood as supporting natural processes, the AP points out that life developed after an environment in which it could exist arose. We, along with millions of other species (making the term “anthropic” both arrogant and inaccurate — since dogs exist, why do we never hear theists argue the “caninopic” principle?), were fortunate enough to be that life. Such an environment could just as easily not have arisen, as in the false start we see evidence of having occurred — remnants of vast flows of water, etc. — on Mars. In other words, we have been fine-tuned (by the ongoing processes of evolution) for our environment, not vice versa.

      The vast bulk of this universe is deeply inimical to life. Most of it, as Postelnik might have overlooked, is hard vacuum hovering around zero Kelvin. And of all the planets we know of, ours is the only one we yet know of teeming with life.

      An all-powerful universe-creating God could easily have populated every single planet and satellite and asteroid out there with highly advanced forms of life. Argue for an all-powerful God, and suddenly the need of the universe to possess specific properties for the support of life becomes superfluous. Unless the theist wants to argue that natural laws don’t permit that. In which case, they’ve just argued their God is subject to (thus not transcending) natural laws, and not likely to be the creator of them. An omnipotent being would not be bound by the kinds of natural laws that keep the planets on their courses, and only allow life on our little blue globe while seven other perfectly lovely planets full of pretty exotic real estate go to waste. He wouldn’t need to “fine tune” the universe for life. He could merely say, as the Bible has him say, “Let there be…” and there it is.

    • The cosmological argument.

      Postelnik thinks: The cosmological argument maintains that finite matter (original matter, which was clearly finite) cannot create a universe that is greater than itself.

      The cosmological argument is better known as the “first cause” argument, one basic objection to which I’ve mentioned above: the problem of infinite regress of Gods. Postelnik adds confusion to the whole thing in trying to skirt this objection, by qualifying his version of the argument to state that “finite matter…cannot create a universe that is greater than itself.” But he offers no support for this simple assertion, and in terms of its content, it’s really not
      hing more substantial than the creationists’ routine insistence that complexity cannot arise from simplicity through natural processes. Postelnik simply wants to throw the phrase “finite matter” into the mix as a way of differentiating his God, which he naturally assumes is “infinite matter.” But in making this distinction, our Master of Logic has fallen into another fallacy, that of special pleading. Nature has to obey these particular rules which disallow it from creating a universe, says the apologist. So here is my God, who doesn’t have to obey those rules. Convenient, eh?

      Cosmological arguments answer no questions at all while raising more than they ever can. Why make assumptions about the supposed limitations of “finite matter,” and what evidence does Postelnik provide for the “infinite matter,” a.k.a. God, that he clearly sees as the “logical” alternative? Why assume, even if such “infinite matter” exists, that it needs to bear any resemblance to Postelnik’s ideas about a God? Finally, the fallacy at the core of cosmological arguments is that they assume knowledge of conditions at the beginning of the universe — mainly, that it was “caused” — that simply are not known. Their very premises are insupportable. They fail before they even get going.

    • The teleological argument.

      Postelnik thinks: Especially compelling is the teleological argument, that the existence of a Creator can be seen from the fact that the universe works in perfect harmony, as would a giant machine. Gravity, orbits, chemical atmospheres and all other ingredients needed for life to exist come together in unison to allow such existence to happen. An enormous machine that works like clockwork needs to have a Creator.

      Postelnik embarrasses himself hopelessly here. His scientific illiteracy is complete, and his fondness for bad analogies is simply spewing over. Again, good old natural laws that have been understood and derived through observation — all the way from classical Newtonian physics to the more exotic fields of study that new research and knowledge are just now opening up — are proving entirely sufficient to explain why the universe functions the way it does, and though we still have numerous unanswered questions, we don’t need to invoke any magic man in the sky just yet to fill our knowledge gaps.

      And it’s hardly a flawless, clockwork-like process. Some planets have atmospheres conducive to life (though ours is the only one we know of), most have deadly atmospheres or none whatsoever. There is evidence at least one of our sister planets, Mars, started out warm and watery, which would be life-friendly conditions, then failed. Where in that fact is evidence of a creating hand, let alone that of the Biblical God who supposedly made us in his image, whom Postelnik is clearly trying to argue for? If anything, what we observe about the way life has developed on Earth (and more importantly, where life has failed to develop) is ideal evidence of the way evolution allows organisms to adapt. Speaking of which: there are over 1,000 species of parasites that can live in the human body. Evolutionary explanations for why they exist make sense, but why would Postelnik’s God need, let alone desire, to “design” such creatures to infect us? Is this part of his “perfect harmony”? Maybe it’s part of our punishment for Eve’s “fall,” eh?

      Once more with feeling: argue for an omnipotent God, and all this talk about the universe needing to obey specific laws, work in “harmony” like a “machine,” have only certain planetary conditions to harbor life, and all that, is so much superfluous noise. Postelnik’s all-powerful creator God could, if he so wished (and, given this God’s obsession with being worshiped by as many sentient beings as possible, there’s no reason for him not to wish), have intelligent beings living on every planet in the solar system, on every airless asteroid, hell, even on the surface of the sun and floating in pure vacuum between the worlds. The great irony of apologists who employ such things as design and anthropic arguments is that they don’t realize they are using limits to prove the existence of their limitless God. The premise of their arguments contradicts the nature of the God they’re arguing for.

  4. And now for a little projection. Postelnik goes on to make a further fool of himself by throwing out some vacuous twaddle about how (he thinks) scientists think that will utterly fry your irony meters. After falsely claiming, without citing sources, that more scientists are embracing theism than otherwise, he goes into what can only be called weapons-grade projection. Try this on for size.

    However, we must realize that while the sophistry it takes to purport a falsehood can be easily countered, the person who has upheld such notions for decades must have each of his or her counterpoints addressed. This is able to be done smoothly, in light of the inherent logic that necessitates the existence of a conscious Creator, but it must be done thoroughly.

    Encouraging atheists to open their minds to pure logic and to possibilities that they hitherto only sought to counter or to avoid on any pretext also involves an emotional challenge for them, as they must open themselves to the possibility of having to shed preconceived notions that they’ve held firm for decades. And that, rather than facts, is the primary challenge to exposing them to insightful logic. However, if they are willing to address the issue honestly, a search for the truth should be of paramount importance and enough reason for them to take an open look.

    *snort* Yeah, whatever you say, Captain Logic.

    Postelnik also amusingly advises all us atheist sophists to read Anthony Flew’s book, There Is a God. Thing is, Richard Carrier has investigated this book thoroughly, and even corresponded with Flew. And the fact is that the book was not written by Flew at all, but entirely by evangelical Christian Roy Abraham Varghese, who is given a co-author credit on the cover. And one of the arguments in the book is one that Flew, in a letter to Carrier, had abandoned before the book was published. (Questions about Flew’s possible mental decline remain, but are ultimately irrelevant. If a former atheist suddenly became a theist, and did so on the basis of lousy arguments, that would not undermine the views of rational atheism. It would simply mean we had a stupid ex-atheist out there.) So if Postelnik wants to shore up his case for theism with another fallacy — argument from (ex-atheist) authority — he’ll have to do better than Flew.

And ba-dee, ba-dee, that’s all, folks. I was going to go on another round of ridicule over Postelnik’s final paragraphs, in which he claims the Bible reveals the first and second laws of thermodynamics before any stoopid scientist ever thought of them, so there. (He grossly misstates both laws, unsurprisingly.) But by this point I would hope I’ve exposed Postelnik’s staggering silliness in all its tarnished glory, and frankly I’m as tired of writing this as I’m sure you are of reading it (assuming you still are). Maybe you folks will have fun refuting those final paragraphs of his yourselves. The fellow is your typical fundamentalist apologist, an intellectual poseur through and through, and in his entire article he never once advances a single new argument. He merely recycles every tired falsehood and fallacy that defenders of the faith have tried again and again, and they work no better for him. The only novelty about Postelnik’s writing is watching a bozo who thinks he’s some kind of logical paragon when what he really means by “logical” is “Gawrsh, it makes sense ta me!”

Stick with, uh, your “bold and effective marketing strategies,” dude, okay? I have no idea if you do that well, either. But it can’t be as bad as your oh-so-”logical” attempts at apologetics. (Or as dumb as the way you chose to respond to this critique of your essay.)

Why and How

Many years ago, a Krishna friend said to me, “People often ask ‘why?,’ when what they really mean is ‘how?’”

Initially, this statement confused me. But he explained it further. It made sense to me. And since that day, I have adopted his stance.

On Yesterday’s show, we had a Christian caller who told us that she believes in god because she has personally witnessed miracles. Matt asked her to give us an example of a miracle. She said there were so many to choose from it would take too much time to go into them. Matt asked her to just give us one example.

If you are an atheist who is ever engaged by Christians, you know that it’s important to get an example of a miracle, because Christians do not agree on what constitutes a “miracle.” Like most other religious terms, the word is meaningless, and pretty much self-defined, along the lines of something like, “love” or “freedom.”

The woman explained her “miracle” pretty thoroughly. But it didn’t take much time to see this woman defines miracle as “a natural/reasonable occurrence that I interpret as a sign from god.” Her definition is not unlike an autobiographical story I once read about a Christian woman who hated the color of carpet in her church. When it was changed out, she knew it was a sign she should marry her fiancé, because, prior to that, she had determined she must be married in that church, but couldn’t bear to be married on that hideous shade of aqua carpeting. Most atheists don’t think of these types of things as “miracles,” so it’s always good to check before assuming when a Christian uses a word that relates to the supernatural. Since none of it is available for examination/verification to anyone—we’re left with the reality that any such term has only the meaning that any individual Christian assigns.

The woman on the phone said her reason for believing in god was that she began asking questions such as “why is the sky blue?” And she prayed ardently to a god (that she didn’t believe in) to let her know if he was there. She also began to research different religions. And she found one that really spoke to her, and became a Christian. So, now, in her words, “I know that I know that I know [there is a god].”

There are some obvious issues with a claim of “not believing” a god exists while I’m repeatedly pleading to that god. But this is already going to be long, so let me jump to where it ties into another obvious problem: the problem of asking for signs from spirit beings to determine whether or not they exist.

In other words, any “sign” I receive as the result of prayer is only open to subjective interpretation, and not to any verification. Christians put forward that it’s wrong to ask for any sort of verifiable miracle or definitive sign. To do so would be “testing” god—a serious no-no. So a person making this sort of plea is open to accepting any sort of subtle influence or coincidence. They’re not asking for Earth-shattering, convincing evidence—just something “meaningful” to them, personally.

What’s the obvious problem? Well, ask them how this sounds to their ears: “If you wanted to know if Big Foot exists, and I told you that I know Big Foot exists because I prayed to god for a sign to let me know if they exist. And after a few days, weeks, and months, I got nothing. So, I started researching Big Foot online—reading all I could find. I also kept on praying and asking to feel assured and have a sign. I prayed and prayed and kept on praying, and reading about Big Foot, until I finally encounter a subtle coincidence—a better job offer, a feeling of euphoria/peace, (or even a video of Big Foot online)—that convinced me god was telling me that Big Foot do, in fact, exist. And so now, I know that I know that I know Big Foot is out there in the woods.”

Would they think I had justification for belief in Big Foot? Or would they think I wanted so badly to believe that I just drilled myself until I finally accepted anything as proof of Big Foot’s existence?

If I want to know if a god exists, why not check into it like I would check into the existence of anything else—of Big Foot? Clearly define what it means to “exist,” exactly what it is I’m seeking, and where it should be found manifesting, then check to see if it’s actually manifesting there in the way I expect. If it’s not, then what I am seeking doesn’t exist. That’s, honestly, the best anyone could do to make a determination of the existence of any item-X. Praying to item-X for assurance it exists makes no sense unless, on some level, I’ve already accepted all sorts of claims about the existence of this item and how it operates—even while I attempt to assure others I haven’t presupposed these claims to be valid. I’m certainly throwing out everything I have learned in life about how to determine whether or not something exists and how to determine truth value, and it appears I’ve also, to some significant degree, accepted all the terms laid down by superstition in my search. And if I was truly skeptical—is this really how I’d go about it? Would I see proof of the validity of a god on supernatural terms? Or would I go with what I know to be tried and true in existent reality?

But that’s a huge digression. Back to “why” and “how.” Definitions can change, I understand. And I will be the first to admit that people I know use “why” and “how,” often, interchangeably. I’m not writing to say “you’re wrong.” I’m writing to call out a subtle difference that may/may not speak to a difference in perspective that an atheist should be aware of when he or she is engaged by a Christian. When the Christian says, “I was asking myself, ‘why is the sky blue?’” I should already be wary, because the Christian is potentially starting off asking the wrong (and potentially very loaded) question. With my prior disqualifier regarding definitions firmly in place, I’m going to appeal now to Webster for a standard, accepted definition.

“Why” is listed as basically meaning: “For what reason, cause, purpose or motive.” “How” is listed as “in what manner, in what way, by what means.”

Can they be used interchangeably? I think so. However, consider this: In a discussion about whether or not the universe is the result of natural causes or intelligent purpose, doesn’t the term “why” carry with it the potential to muddy the waters with presupposition, whereas “how” is more unpresuming and more to the point? If a god did it, “how” will get to that. If a god didn’t do it, “how” will also get to that. But if a god didn’t do it, “why” may or may not get to that—depending on how we’re using it.

Depending on what the Christian means by “why,” the word comes preloaded to presume purpose and motive in creation. When I hear a Christian ask “Why X?,” where X is a natural function, I will say, “I think you mean ‘how’ X.” The less biased and more accurate question is “How is the sky blue?”

We use “why” rather than “how” so often that that last question may sound awkward to some. But I recommend getting used to it. And I recommend pointing out the bias that comes with a preloaded word like “why” when a Christian uses it. “Do you recognize that a more appropriate word would be ‘how’—since ‘why’ presupposes motive in natural functions and causes? You’re potentially already starting off with a bias that the universe has purpose. And since that is the very point of our debate, I have to declare that I don’t know if there is any reason ‘why’ the sky is blue—but I believe we can discuss something of how the sky is blue; and if it leads to a purpose, so be it.”

Am I being over-analytical here? I don’t think so. Consider that the Christian on the phone was responding to Matt’s question about what made her believe a god exi
sts. She answered that she was putting questions to herself, such as “Why is the sky blue?” What does that have to do with god unless you perceive a motive behind the reality that the sky is blue? If Matt had asked her a question about determining truth values or finding the cause of natural realities, then there probably would be no reason to consider the word “why” to have any ulterior meaning beyond it’s interchangeable use with “how.” But in the context of “Why do I believe an intelligent being is behind the natural universe?,” the idea that someone pondered “Why is the sky blue?,” takes on a whole new (pardon the pun) shade of meaning.

Make of it what you will. Draw your own conclusions. If you think I’m being too detailed in analyzing the language people use, then disregard my point entirely. But I find that definitions often are key source of misunderstandings in any discussion with a Christian. And, so, I see no reason to allow for more than will certainly already occur. “Why” has, over the years, become a red flag to me in discussions with Christians. I don’t know there are any “why”s for the things they want to know. But we can talk about “how”s, if they’re ready to investigate nature in an unbiased fashion.

Machine guns in the Yu dynasty

Please note: It was brought to my attention that this was a repeat of an argument that I already posted on this blog earlier. I have decided to leave it up because the argument is more fleshed out than it used to be. See the comments section for a link to the first time I posted it.

One of the more interesting, but frustrating discussions I had online recently was on the first cause argument. The fellow with whom I had this discussion has a good scientific mind and frequently denounces creationism very eloquently. I don’t know eactly what his beliefs are, but I think I would characterize him as an agnostic theist. He appears to believe in a God, doesn’t claim that he can know for sure, but frequently insists that carefully qualified belief is a superior alternative to qualified non-belief.

The reasoning, as I understand it, goes like this: We don’t know where the universe comes from. But we do know from experience that intelligent agents can create many wonderful and complex things. We can’t be certain that the universe was created by an intelligence. But we do know that it’s POSSIBLE in principle. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense, purely from a scientific, deductive point of view, to take seriously the hypothesis that intelligence was probably involved?

So I have a counter-proposal, and it’s this. Emperor Yu the Great, who founded the Chinese Xia dynasty around 2070 BCE, was killed by a machine gun.

Now you may say that this is implausible. You may even complain: “But that’s ridiculous. There weren’t any machine guns in 2070 BCE.” To which I say, no, that’s just your opinion. You weren’t there in ancient China, and the historical records from that far back are kind of spotty anyway. But I say it is worth seriously considering the hypothesis that there was a machine gun that killed Emperor Wu, even though we’re not aware of any that exist.

Why? Well, it is much easier to kill someone with a machine gun than without one. Wikipedia’s description of his death is pretty vague, saying only that he was killed “while on a hunting tour.” Well, there’s another point in my favor. We know today that many people hunt with machine guns, and that machine guns actually make a hunt much EASIER than being without one.

So, if there is even a small chance that some machine guns were present, then shouldn’t we deduce that the use of one on Yu’s hunting trip is extremely probable, and his subsequent “accident” was in fact machine gun induced? Why should we rule out the existence of something as complex as a machine gun, which can supply such a handy explanation for Emperor Yu’s death, just because of nitpicky details like incomplete historical knowledge?

Yeah, I’m not particularly persuaded by my own argument either, but I think it’s no more egregious than the logic that is applied to some unspecified intelligent creator.

I mean, in the first place, all of our experience with machine guns shows that they don’t just existence at random. They are the end result of a extensive tinkering with progressively more sophisticated designs. There is a historical progression of technology that we can follow. These technological changes are based purely in physical laws and processes. Humans don’t pluck designs out of some magic supernatural ether; they build on past successes over time. We have never seen an example of a machine gun that didn’t require the historical development of a machine gun.

Well, we know much the same thing about brains. We have seen the historical record of brains coming into existence; we know that they come about as the end product of highly complex natural processes. We have never seen a brain that didn’t require such a thing. No magic. No anachronisms. No human brains appearing out of place during the Cambrian explosion. No signs of brains that are as smart or smarter than ours during times when plants or bacteria were the dominant life forms on earth.

Is it possible to imagine a magical brain that exists outside of earth and didn’t require an evolutionary process? Sure it is, and by the same token, it’s possible for a fully formed machine gun to have spontaneously appeared in the hands of Emperor Yu’s enemies, without the need for all that messy “historical progression of technology” to get in the way. I can’t prove that didn’t happen, nor can I prove that there isn’t a superbrain that didn’t evolve.

But I don’t find it a plausible assumption in either case. If you don’t like the logic of having a machine gun in 2000 BC, then I think I’m free to raise the same objection to having a brain in 14 billion BC.

You can’t just assume the existence of things like guns or minds at all periods in history for the sake of convenience. You are only justified in treating this as a reasonable suggestion when some other information specifically points to even the basic possibility of such a thing. And that’s what we mean when we say “We don’t believe in God because we lack evidence.” It isn’t enough to say “How else could these wonderful things have gotten here, if not through intelligence?”

First cause argument and machine guns

Sometimes in apologetics, you get an argument that something (i.e., morality, the universe) cannot exist without a creator. But when you try to pin down the fallacies in these arguments, the person presenting them will often back off to a safer position, such as: “All I’m saying is that there COULD be a God who started everything, and that is at least as plausible as the foolish idea that the universe (or whatever) came into existence without intelligence behind it. Surely you must grant me that much.”

Case in point: a theist wrote to me:

Current observations indicate that order and consistency (e.g., “design”) can arise from intelligence or from undirected events (e.g., Mandelbrot patterns, chance).

Given those observations, is there any reason to assume that the design of the universe more likely arose from intelligence (theism/deism) or from undirected events (atheism)?

First of all, just because you have two possible events doesn’t mean that the two must be equally likely. Some people actually play the lottery this way. They reason: “I either win or I don’t. So my odds of winning are 50%.” Wrong. The odds of winning the Texas jackpot are about 3*10^-8, which is way WAY less than 50%. Likewise, even if we grant that the existence of God is “a possibility” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the probability is any more that 10^-googleplex. Just about anything that you make up off the top of your head COULD turn out to be true, but probably isn’t.

But explaining logical fallacies can be difficult when dealing with somebody who is convinced that he’s got an airtight case. So I responded with:

Current observations indicate that people can be killed by machine guns, or by things that are not machine guns.

Given those observations, is there any reason to assume that Julius Caesar was more likely killed by a machine gun, or by a non-machine gun event?

He wasn’t buying it:

We know with reasonable certainty that there were no machine guns during Caesar’s time, so the latter is best assumed.

So what is it that you know about the origin of the big bang that makes your analogy relevant?

But I said:

We certainly do not know that. All we know is that we don’t KNOW of any machine guns in Julius Caesar’s time. Yet we know that it is possible for machine guns to exist. So what is your proof that machine guns did not exist then?

Another thing we know is that it is much easier to kill someone with a machine gun than without one. Given the reasonable belief that Julius Caesar was killed (rather than dying of natural causes), isn’t it fair to say that if there is even a small chance that machine guns existed, then it is at least equally likely that they were used as that they were not?

Why is assuming the existence of something complex, like a machine gun, not plausible to you, when it can be used as a handy explanation for Julius Caesar’s death?

What’s wrong with this logic? As far as I can tell, nothing. Oh sure, it sounds stupid, but I think it’s just as solid as the first cause argument.

The problem with postulating “an intelligence” as the answer to “where did the universe come from?” is that as far as we know, there wasn’t any intelligence available at the time. Intelligence in the world we’re aware of universally requires some kind of brains, and the brains that we know didn’t just happen to exist; they are the end result of billions of years worth of painstaking evolutionary processes.

Could there have been a cosmic super-brain, long before the brains that we know of came into existence? Sure, anything’s possible. And Julius Caesar could have been killed by a machine gun.

But you know, I think he probably wasn’t anyway.