Show #704: Open Thread

I don’t have much of a topic today. May be discussing a bit about a conversation I had recently that included a few things of note:

1. I was told recently that the amazing things in nature couldn’t have been produced naturally. I said nature is so amazing–in the things I see it do–I can’t really put much past it. Why wouldn’t I think nature could do something cool–like produce a tree? The person replied that’s the reason they believe a god is involved, precisely because nature is so amazing–so unbelievably, incredibly, mind-blowingly amazing–that only a god could have created.

2. Next I was told (during the same dialog) that I was being “negative.” The reason I was being “negative” was that I pointed out they worship a god that commanded genocide, mass infanticide, execution of gays, endorsement of slavery, making raped women marry their rapists, telling people to “take no thought for tomorrow,” setting up a human sacrificial plan to deal with the heinous and self-imposed crime of being imperfect and human and exercising freedoms He supposedly gave us. I asked “if this god did what your Bible indicates…why on Earth would you choose to worship it?” I was told that anybody could go through and pick out the “bad” bits…but why focus on the negative–when there are good things in there, too? So, it’s “negative” to say we ought not to worship a god who tells us to put the babies of our neighbors to the sword; but it’s positive to worship a god who tells his followers to put babies to the sword if you simply ignore that part and focus on “love one another.”

It reminds me a bit of the caller who said that the recent Giffords assassination attempt was a miracle. The idea that a woman is severely brain damaged, several people–including a child–are dead, and more are wounded, and that is evidence of god’s merciful benevolence, just continues to floor me. When a random shooting that results in hideous loss of life and pain can be evidence of goodness and loving mercy–what isn’t evidence of goodness and loving mercy? Honestly?

As the show is an hour these days, I’m not sure how much time there will even be for discussion. But these would be my points for today if we have time or lulls in the calls.

Authentic Angel Sighting – or Fail?

A reply I offered to a claim of an angel sighting (by an atheist). Below is my answer. I clipped their content, only because several paragraphs were not about this event, but other unrelated stuff. Below, however, is the full content of their text (in red) relating the tale, and my responses:


I checked the e-mail list, and your note didn’t show up in regular e-mail or in spam, so no idea what happened to it. I haven’t been answering mail for a bit, because I’m horribly busy this summer, but will answer this one for that reason. I’ve snipped out all the superfluous paragraphs, and I’m putting your story (whether or not you like the show or are an atheist is not relevant to anyone’s evaluation of the story below) to the blog where it can receive skeptical feedback.

BRIEFLY–what I’m about to write I experienced with my twin sister, myself, and our friend C in about 1986-1987. Three months ago, I revisited this experience and I called them both. I asked my sister what her memories were of this experience–she remembered it in clear detail…



It may seem like “clear detail”–but research on memory says otherwise. Forgetfulness of events varies widely, but learning method makes a demonstrated difference. In your case, there was no method–and no matter how “clear” it feels, none of us, including her, can know how reliable the recollection of any of the three of you is now.

…which were consistent with my own. When I called our friend C and brought it up she responded with GREAT enthusiasm–she remembered it perfectly and was astonished that I would call her to ask her if she remembered it…she was shocked.

This is not only not a surprise, but unfortunately, we have an issue known as “conformity” with memory that causes a sticky wicket here. When cops come to a crime, they pull the witnesses apart to question them. This is to avoid the witnesses contaminating each others’ stories by coloring each others’ recollections by hearing what others say they saw. People have been demonstrated to actually change their correct evaluations to incorrect ones when confronted with very small groups (yes, including three people) with different evaluations. And below, you say you were initially mocked for your reaction and that even the one who mocked you thought the event was “amazing.” It’s unrealistic for me to believe you saw something bizarre and decided not to discuss it among yourselves at the time. And by doing so, you contaminated all three stories/memories for all time. I do get it’s natural to talk about a thing like this. But it’s an unfortunate reality that it calls all your stories into question now. Are parts that align aligning because of what you all independently saw? Or due to influence between you during your later discussion of the event? We now have no way to know.



Here’s what happened.

On a summer day in 1986 or 1987,

Again, far in the past–decades ago.

me and my twin sister S were living in Ft. Mohave Arizona. We went to our friend C’s trailer where she lived. We visited, whatever, I don’t remember what we did or said. We went outside her trailer. Climbed down her steps. Now before I express what we saw let me state the geography because this is very important. We were looking due west at a mountain range that is just across the Colorado River in extreme Southern Nevada/California right where the three states meet. It was just after dusk and when we looked at the sky

OK. So it’s around sunset as you are facing the sun, or it’s after sunset, and light has already begun fading. Either option is not the best for clear sight. You are staring toward what is, or was, a huge source of light that is now filtering at an angle through the atmosphere at a point where atmospheric distortion is common.


we saw a multicolored


Stop right there. When I hear “multi-colored” in the sky, it’s impossible NOT to think “light refraction.” There is a huge list of bizarre light phenomena that cause “multi-colored” phenomena of countless types in the sky when the sun filters through (or other factors are present): rainbows, aurora borealis, halos, coronas, aureoles, and many, many more rare phenomena. Any level of dust or mist can sometimes exaggerate this. So, my first thought is that what you’re describing is a huge candidate for one of these.


angelic being


Since nobody knows what an angel is, this is unhelpful. We don’t know it was a “being” or an “angel.” You give no indication you even tested in any way to see if it was solid and not a mirage of some sort or a light phenomena of some kind.

that can only be measured in size by degrees: It was perhaps if you were to look at the sky 20, perhaps 25 degrees in height/size.

The sky presents size and distance dilemmas that are uniquely problematic. I can cover the entire sun on a summer day in Texas, just with my thumb. That should not be confused with my thumb being as large as the sun. So, I don’t know size/distance of what you describe–nobody does, because saying it covered from x-degrees to y-degrees is as unhelpful as saying my thumb blocked out the whole sun.


It was a being


You don’t ever demonstrate how you determined this.

with wings,

With what appeared to be something shaped like wings.


multicolored,


Again, sounds like light refraction.

with it’s face hidden in it’s right wing.

If the “face” was “hidden”–then how do you know there was a face?

It was not looking at us.

See above question.

It was hiding or shielding its eyes from us.

Then how do you know it had “eyes”?

It was hovering in the sky,

And yet seemed to have “wings”? And this didn’t strike you as evidence that it was potentially illusory rather than real?

just before the mountains but floating if you will in the sky.

Again with the mountains. And again, doesn’t “wings,” but “floating,” seem nonsensical? But let me get back to the mountains. There are specific illusions/mirages that are only observed in/around mountains. Not surprisingly, one is a giant human form encased in a rainbow (multi-colored) halo. It is even sometimes called a “mountain specter.” Here is a picture of one that looks like a human figure with wings in a multi-colored background:

http://www.allthesky.com/atmosphere/preview/glory-p.jpg

I can’t help but relate this to your description. For the record, these things can be quite large and appear above the mountains as well:

http://lh4.ggpht.com/_tRvFu2q3QCA/Sbtk1xbtiWI/AAAAAAAAApQ/GpDnIn-S2eo/Broken_Spectre2.jpg

http://www.southamptoncameraclub.co.uk/html/scc2007/html2007/html-advanced/08.htm

It was HUGE. It wasn’t like an angel that you would see in a painting

Which just goes back to “then what sort of angel was it like? A real one?” I don’t know what an angel is, and you’re saying it isn’t like the depictions…so I’m back to square one. Or do you just mean it was exactly like religious depictions, but larger? Except I don’t recall rainbow angels in any old depictions.

…being a bit larger than a person–ten feet high. It was immense.

Like the mountain specters. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it was a mountain specter. I’m saying that you can see a lot of weird crap in the atmosphere–all of which you discounted in Facebook chat when you said it was supernatural. How you determined it wasn’t any sort of atmospheric illusion is beyond me, because you offer no verification or evidence, just a story including that you never verified what it was. So how you rule out a battery of odd atmospheric possibilities is a larger mystery than your story. But, before you write back to insist that a mountain specter isn’t the specific phenomena you observed, don’t bother. It’s never what I suggest to people, and it’s always exactly what they’ve already decided it was–despite the fact it was ages ago and they took no steps to verify any cause (like toss a rock toward it to see if it’s at least a stone’s throw away? Or try to talk to it–since it’s a being?). It may not have been a Broken Spectre (mountain specter), but this is only put forward to suggest there is at least one easy-to-find explanation that matches everything you described so far: multi-colored, winged, large human, no visible face, in the mountains. Bingo. But even if it’s not that–it shows the atmosphere can do some pretty bizarro crap–that you aren’t considering as possible. (Again, based on the Facebook chat where you told me it could only have been supernatural).

It’s size could only be measured in degrees from the top of the mountain to it’s top…probably 20, maybe 30 degrees.

Again, is my thumb as big as the sun?

When I saw this angel, at the age of 16 or so, I IMMEDIATELY fell on my face. I prostrated myself onto the ground in sheer horror and fear. I was praying and was in total shock.

Immediate facepalm. You’ve offered this long, detailed description—and now you say you immediately turned away upon seeing it and laid on the ground praying? Additionally, praying? So, at the time of this sighting you were theistic at some level. This means primed for a vision of an angel in the same way Christians who have NDE seem to always see Jesus.



I don’t know what my twin sister S did when she saw it

Clearly, as you were facing the ground. So, there’s a lot you didn’t see. Additionally, your brain was in a state–you admit you were in “fear”–which releases a lot of odd brain chemistry.

but our friend C mocked me.

Odd reaction, isn’t it–for a woman who just saw, like you, a real live angel and not just a cool atmospheric phenomena?

She said to me, “you’re just like Shirley MacLaine”…you know–kinda mocking me about it.



Again, she wasn’t saying “Wow–we just saw some weird angel being?!” And that isn’t a clue that maybe what she saw was interpreted a bit differently?



For years, I was totally floored that she could react to this experience in such a mocking way.



I’m sure you were–because if she saw what you claim was actually there, her reaction would make no sense, right?



Twenty years or so went by.



Again…big problem with time/distance from the event.



In 2010–don’t remember the month–I was thinking about this. I called my sister. I asked her if she remembered this experience. She did.



Recalling the event is not evidence you saw an angel, just fyi. It’s evidence she recalls an event. I don’t know what her perception of it was–or has become. However, as described above, since you’ve discussed it (contamination in the form of conformity) and it was 20 years ago or more (memory distorts and fades with time, even if it doesn’t feel like to us), her recollection of the event at this point would be little to no help.



I called C. She not only remembered but was like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing, I remember it vividly”.



Again, “vivid” should not be confused with “accurate,” when we’re talking about 20+ years ago.



Again–I can’t PROVE to you guys that I experienced this. There is no way I can prove to you that this occurred other than to take perhaps a lie detector test…maybe in an ideal world us three could come to Austin, take Sodium Pentathol or lie detector tests, or whatnot to try to prove that this is true.



Here is where perhaps the biggest fallacy occurs. Many people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. They tell very similar stories. I don’t doubt their sincerity. I doubt their interpretation of events. Here, I only have your interpretation of the event. And two other people recall “something” happened. You did nothing to verify what you saw–so you don’t know, and I don’t know, and nobody knows what it was. It was 20 years ago, and we can’t go back and investigate. I only have you saying “this is what it was” and offering no evidence except contaminated witnesses of 20+ year-old events.

It’s lost to the past. And there’s nothing in the story–and nothing that could ever be in any testimony-only tale–to confirm whether what you saw was real or illusory–natural or not. However, all verified explanations for all phenomena ever observed that have been explained, have been confirmed as natural events. So, I’m putting my money on “natural event.” But if you ever find a way to demonstrate otherwise (not just insist), feel free to provide your evidence.

[Addendum: I shot the first mountain specter link to a skeptic friend on Facebook chat this morning while I was editing the blog. I hadn't told him about this correspondence or what I was blogging. I included no context--just said "cool phenomena" and the link. He posted back immediately "It's an angel!!!"]

Pretty crappy for a miracle, I’d say

Following up on our earlier miracles post, a viewer emailed Tracie with some other examples of miracles and, while not entirely endorsing them, still seemed to think there might be something to them. One of these was the story of eight Catholic missionaries who supposedly survived the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima without so much as a scratch, or any trace of radiation poisoning in their bodies. I responded to the effect that, if this story were true, it would paint a rather unpleasant picture of God.

First, I couldn’t find any source for this claim that was not from a Catholic site, or that didn’t simply copy-and-paste the exact text from said sites. So until I see something credible from a neutral, scientific source, I have to remain skeptical of the claim, since I am well aware of religion’s history of coming up with all kinds of miraculous claims.

But it’s known that some people survived the bomb, even those very close, if they were in structures that managed to absorb the worst of the explosion. In fact, this year marked the death of 93-year-old Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I just happened to know about him because he was featured in a Cracked.com article a few days ago.

But think again of what this miracle claim is really saying below the surface. The atomic bomb at Hiroshima killed an estimated 150,000-200,000 people instantly. Many of these people were women and children.

And we are supposed to be in awe of a “miracle” in which, out of all those people, God chose to save not any women, children, or little babies — but eight missionaries!? Uh, thanks a lot, asshole.

If this were actually a miracle, it would be the miracle of a god so completely morally reprehensible and evil that it would not be sufficient to disbelieve in him. The only morally appropriate act would be to angrily repudiate and reject him. Seems to me the Church really ought to rethink using this one as part of their sales pitch.

Today’s Show: Deconstructing a Miracle

Since we’re only on for an hour now, I’m not sure how much time we’ll have for a topic, but if we have time, I would like to address the following miracle claim I was confronted with in a recent dialog:

Out of curiosity though, I ask how you can scientifically prove how this happened:

A young girl, between the ages of 3 & 4 drowns and dies. A man who has failed every CPR test in his life, brings her back to life. Later on, she tells her mother that she has a little sister named Emily. Emily does not exist. The little girl says she does. When asked who told her this, she said a lady in white did in a white room. Keep in mind the hospital had no white rooms where she was at and the nurses were not wearing white. Later on the mother is pregnant, the little girl says this is not Emily. It is not. It is a boy. Later on the mother is pregnant again, same thing happens, another boy. The family decides they are not going to have anymore children, but then the mother gets pregnant one more time. The little girl says this is Emily. A girl is born.

For the record, this is a true story, with many witnesses. How is it that this little girl saw this lady in white in a white room while she was dead and then predicted the birth of her sister?

This is why I am not atheist because I believe something or someone does exist and there is some kind of place after death besides six feet under or ashes.

Not to give too much away, but to skip to the end of the discussion, after making a few requests for clarification from the claimant, this miracle is exactly as impressive as saying “Yesterday I flipped a coin, and before it landed, a little child shouted ‘tails!’—and it did land on tails. How do you explain this?!”

Hope you’ll be there for the live feed!

Proof of Miracles Tonight on 20/20

I just saw a blurb on television that tonight on 20/20 they’re going to demonstrate real miracles. From the look of it, it appears they’re going to use healing as their thrust. One quote from the show they shared was a theist saying you have to differentiate between miracles and magic. Really? And how exactly do we do that–since a miracle would have to be magic rather than the result of natural cause and effect?

And on a side note–thanks to Don for keeping up the April Fool’s Day blog tradition!

Bogus miracles, fake news, intellectual and moral cowardice

Okay, this is fun.

The other day we got an email from a fellow who described himself as an atheist, but who professed he was a bit taken aback by a miracle claim that had come his way, about a Florida doctor who is supposed to have prayed a man back to life. He pasted a news story into his email, and some quick Googletronic Googlefication confirmed my suspicions: that this is one of those stories making the rounds in fundagelical circles, that they email one another as a big social reinforcement exercise, but for which there are no accounts — either confirming or disconfirming — from a secular source anywhere.

I tracked the story down to one website (which probably isn’t the one that originated it, but they’re certainly spreading it), Australia’s Catch the Fire Ministries. Here you may read the 2007 story in full. It is written in the form of a press release, but it comes from Assist News Service, one of those phony Christian “news” services that feeds press releases to the likes of the 700 Club, and probably WorldNutDaily, the AFA’s One News Now, and so on. The medical “conference” at which this miracle testimony was given is — you guessed it — a “Christian doctors’ conference”. If it dismays you that there are people out there with at least enough going on between their ears that they can pass eight years of med school, eight years of residency, go on to become M.D.s, and who are yet gullible and nonskeptical enough to swallow bullshit about Jebus doing miracle resurrections in the ICU, it should. And really, they’re everywhere.

Anyway, in response to the first comment on that page I linked to, where some dimwit tries to say that “…unbelievers will ignore the doctor’s eyewitness testimony and will cite the fact that they have never witnessed such an event,” I wrote:

No, we will point out that there’s not a shred of evidence that this anecdote is true. A Christian doctor gives a testimonial in front of other Christian doctors abut praying a man back to life, and hallelujah! they believe him. Big surprise there. No religious confirmation biases at all, nosiree.

Christians have a little problem understanding that the plural of anecdote is not data.

You should not be surprised that my comment was not approved. Unlike atheist sites, many Christian sites are completely closed to comments from dissenting voices. (This is perhaps the one regard in which Ray Comfort can be said to be better than most of his ilk. But then, baiting atheists is really the only shtick Ray has.) We only turn moderation on to prevent outright spam and trolling from guys like Dennis Markuze. But we love it when guys like Seth R. in the Mormon thread, or “MrFreeThinker” drop by to mix it up.

But that isn’t the most fun part. Guess what is. Catch the Fire Ministries sent me a concern-trolling evangelizing email! They wouldn’t let my comment through, but they will use my email address for stuff like this. Hilarious.

May the one true living God bless you Martin, atheists and all people with His Saving Truth and Everlasting Love! (John 3:16-21)

We at Catch the Fire Ministries will keep praying for you to believe the Bible (Word of God) as the mighty Voice from Heaven that calls, “I died on the cross for you and rose from the dead to save you from eternal death, hell and destruction! Repent of your unbelief / doubt and surrender your life (past, present and future) to Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord before it is too late!”

Time is running out as we will soon stand before Him face to face as our Final Judge! (Revelation 20:11-15)

Say, ‘Yes to Jesus, Yes to Heaven Forever!’

Say, ‘No to Jesus, Yes to Hell Forever!’

Make the Right Choice, Your Eternal Future Depends On It!

I wrote back:

Hello, and thanks for writing.

So, it’s the usual thing, in other words. Lacking evidence, Christianity must resort to threats to compel belief. Most atheists have heard this tiresome routine before, and it always makes us shake our heads sadly that you do not realize how much it confirms both how intellectually and morally adrift your religion is.

And anyway, I notice that in your zeal to evangelize you utterly failed to refute or even respond to my point. Where precisely is the evidence that this doctor prayed a man back to life? “Uh oh, gotta thump my Bible harder!” is not a way to deal with tough questions.

So, what else you got?

Martin

PS: I noticed you refused to approve my comment. The kind of cowardice that suppresses dissenting opinions and hard questions rather than addressing them is indicative not of righteousness, but insecurity and weakness.

(And before some creotard latches onto my PS, thinking he’s found a “gotcha” quote exposing atheist hypocrisy about intelligent design, be aware the scientific community has addressed ID, comprehensively, and shown it to be vacuous and utterly nonscientific rubbish. It’s kind of what the whole Dover trial was about.)

Christianity is peddling an inferior product. Its adherents know this, and yet they cannot allow their reason to overcome their emotional investment in the fear of death and desire for a celestial daddy who’ll keep them safe from the monsters under the bed. So this is why, when you ask a tough question, many times they’ll just stick their fingers in their ears and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in a loud voice until you’re done, at which point they’ll switch on Witnessing Mode, ignoring everything you’ve said. I know the answer to my last question: they got nothin’, and they’ll prove it by writing me back (if they do) with just more Bible quotes, more emotional appeals, more veiled threats of the dire fate that awaits me if I reject God’s “love,” and ad infinitum into the moral wasteland and rhetorical cul-de-sac that is evangelism.

If they do write back, I will naturally let you know.

Show #572: A Missed Opportunity

What does it mean to say “God Exists”? That was what I examined Sunday afternoon on The Atheist Experience. The statement is brief–only two words. It should be simple, but for some reason, it’s always disproportionately hard.

What is god? Every theist seems to know. Yet no two theists seem to agree. And no one theist seems able to communicate it in a way that actually provides any real, informed data.

I think it’s safe to say a concept of god can exist in any mind. But most apologists put forward that god is not merely mental concept–an idea; god is, rather, existent outside the mind. Despite the often used refrain “god exists like love exists,” I have yet to meet the theist who will then declare that god, like love, is a mental concept with no external referent–solely an idea. God does not exist like love exists, to theists, when you explain how love exists, and ask them if this is what they mean by “god.”

I have been told on air that god is “ultimate strategy,” and tonight someone told me god is “the set of all [logical] possibilities.” What does this mean? I agree there is a set of logical possibilities–but how does that constitute a “god” any more than the set of all ipods constitutes a god? I’m less willing to agree there is such a thing as “ultimate strategy.” I have actually witnessed many times when there are equally efficient strategies for achieving any given goal. But even if there is a most efficient strategy–again, how is that a “god”? This might provide me some shred of information about an individual theist’s concept of a god–but it gives me no data about any god that exists outside this theist’s mind.

Without a god to compare to the theist’s idea, I must acknowledge no real information or data about a god has been provided to me. If a theist claims god is “ultimate strategy”, and I cannot examine god, then I understand his idea of god is “ultimate strategy”–but is there an existent god that actually is “ultimate strategy”? Telling me about an idea of god does not provide me with data about a real, existent god. And our argument is not about anyone’s concept of god. As I said, I fully agree that a person can have a mental model of a god. No one needs to convince me of that. But if a theist is claiming god is more than an idea, then providing me with more and more information about his idea of god helps me not at all. Explaining his idea of god does nothing to support the existence of a god outside his mind.

If his idea of god cannot be verified as correlating to any “god” in objectively verifiable, existent reality, then his idea of god cannot be said to be a god until some external referent can be provided with which to compare his claims. I don’t doubt the theist has an idea of god. I understand that he clearly does. What I doubt is that there is an external referent, “god,” to compare to his claims about his idea. I doubt that his mental model exists in any way outside his own mind.

Meanwhile, there are attempts to “define” god by putting god forward as the cause of particular effects. “God is the creator of the universe,” is one common example (but “the Bible” or “manifestation as Jesus” would work just as well). Ask this theist, “if we examine the universe to determine the cause, and it turns out to be a singularity–is that god to you?” You will find that is not god to the theist. So, “god” is not whatever the evidence asserts is the cause of the universe. God, to this theist is a preconceived concept that exists regardless of the actual cause of the universe. If a singularity turns out to be the best model of what caused the universe, but god, I am told, is not a singularity–then this helps me not at all to understand what it is this theist is calling god. And I am only confused now by his claim that god is what caused the universe. Going back to an earlier point, without a god to examine, I have no idea whether a god is at all connected to the production of any universe, holy books, manifestations of Jesus or prophets, miraculous events, or anything else we can drum up. What is this theist calling god, then? I have no idea.

There are also those who define god as “nothing.” God cannot be measured. Cannot be examined. Cannot be verified. Cannot be known or understood by mere mortals. God is transcendent, supernatural (and what does that mean?), outside time and space. In other words, god shares all the same attributes in objective existence as “nothing.” Except that god is “something,” insists the theist. God is exactly like nothing–except god is something. Not helpful.

In fact, definitions of “god” are as unhelpful as they are confusing. And the only external referents we are given are insufficient, to be kind. Intuition and instinct are often defined as evidence of “god” guiding believers. In my earlier post about Jung’s book “Psychology of Religion,” I discussed his reasons for pointing out that the subconscious mind is more than sufficient to explain why most people who believe in a god, believe in a god. Alternately, claims of miracles are sometimes provided. In fact, on the program, a woman claimed that several years back, she had an indeterminate mass in her chest one morning. She never went to a doctor, so we have no idea what it was. She prayed. It was gone the following morning. Ergo god. I feel no need to critique this “miracle,” as I trust any reader’s capacity to identify the problem here.

I don’t doubt such experiences. However, I’m highly dubious of the presumed interpretations and implications that people place upon them, unfounded.

In the end, I have no idea what any of these people mean when they say “god.” And explanations of what “exist” means only appear to cause more trouble.

Humans use the term “exist” in normal conversation to mean “manifest to humans”–to be somehow measurable in a way that is perceptible to human beings. If I say to you, “give me an example of an existent item,” you will, no doubt, point out something that clearly manifests. Certainly some things are more difficult to make manifest to us than others–but the things that we can measure–difficult or easy–are the only things we can legitimately toss into the group we label “existent.” And, again, just to clarify, I’m not referring here to the existence of ideas–but of the objectively verifiable items we think of as being existent outside our minds.

How do theists tell the difference between existent and nonexistent items? Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? We all are called upon every day of our lives to perform this task. People who can’t perform it are sometimes locked away–considered too defective as human beings to function properly in reality. But never, under any circumstances, underestimate the power of a theist to confuse the simplest of things if they conflict with his belief in god. Don’t get me wrong–existence itself is a real wonder. I’ll be the first to agree that I’m amazed at the idea that I am “here.” I’m confounded by the properties of light. I have no idea what causes matter and energy act on one another as they do. But as odd and wonderful as existence can be, is it incorrect to claim that we can tell the difference between that which exists and that which does not exist? If we can, how can we? If we cannot, then how can it mean anything to say that any item or entity exists?

This is a fair question–and one I was repeating often on the program. But at a pivotal point, with a caller on the line, I failed to address it. Alisha called to talk about “The Void.” Apparently god is a physics model called “The Void.” Alisha is going to send us some information so we can look into this for ourselves. “The Void,” according to Alisha, is the set of all possible items. Somehow, we reached a later consensus of “logically possible” items. But, when pressed as to whether she believed in a god or not, she said it was possible. “All things are possible,” she quickly added.

My first failing was in not pointing out that not all things are possible. As I had noted earlier, logical impossibilities can be formed. There are no married bachelors. I might have asked Alisha how much she believes her own statement. If I drop a lead weight off a building on a normal day–does Alisha think we can predict accurately whether the weight will float away like a soap bubble or fall to the ground? Or is she unsure what the weight will do–since all things are possible?

Carl Sagan once repeated a quote that it is fine to keep an open mind, but it may not be wise to keep your mind so open that your brain falls out. Did Alisha mean that at the singularity, we cannot say what is and is not possible? I don’t know, because she didn’t mention the singularity. Did Alisha mean that relativity and uncertainty and subatomic behavior wreak havoc with our physical “laws”? Perhaps. That was my initial assumption. But should I have to assume and guess at what someone means? If a theist expects to communicate an idea, and he is unclear about this idea–how can he possibly hope to provide an understanding of it to another human being? If a theist can’t explain what he means, he will sound as though he is saying he doesn’t understand what he believes. And if that is the message, how can he then ask me, not only to share that belief, but to even comprehend it?

But I missed a golden opportunity. We asked the caller if she believes fairies exist. Her response was “It’s possible.” OK, I understand her framework. No matter how farfetched I make the example, I am going to get “it’s possible.” While this may be an interesting philosophical thought, is it not the case in reality that we operate as though certain possibilities are not possible, and that others are so probable that one would be a fool to doubt them? For example, there may be an invisible, pandimensional vehicle in the middle of my lane as I’m driving forward on the highway. Should I swerve to avoid it–since it is possible the cars on either side of me will not be impacted by my car as the mass of my vehicle moves through them effortlessly? Philosophically, we can acknowledge this is possible. Realistically, however, will it work? Does anyone who holds to this philosophical claim walk the walk in their life outside of their god claims? Not that I’ve ever seen.

Did my brain lock up? I’m not sure. But the next question I should have asked was “is there anything you are willing to acknowledge does not exist?” At this point I can only wager a guess–since I didn’t ask. But based on her response about the fairies, I’ll wager that Alisha would not be willing to state conclusively that any item-X does not exist. I do not think that is an unfair characterization of her mindset during our discussion. All things, after all, are possible, to Alisha. She cannot, therefore, say they do not exist. Gods, fairies–sky’s the limit.

Alisha scores a brilliant gold star for consistency. However, she presents a major dilemma for the claim “god exists.” What does it mean to exist in a reality where nothing can be said to NOT exist? If we cannot differentiate between existent and nonexistent items–does it mean anything to claim that any item-X “exists”? Rhetorical as that could be, let me answer for clarity’s sake: No.

In order for Alisha’s god to “exist” requires “exist” to be redefined to include all items–whether they actually exist or not. In other words, it’s the same as defining “red” as “all colors–whether they are red or not.” If we accept that, does it then mean anything anymore to call something “red”? No. It doesn’t.

I missed my chance to exercise the point of my presentation live and on the air. And I couldn’t have asked for a more serendipitous opportunity. My only excuse is that when presented with claims that are unfamiliar, unclear, and that defy my experience with reality, it is sometimes difficult for me to wrap my brain around them in the present moment. And it is only later, after some consideration, that the bizarre contortions of logic that were used become clear.

“God exists.” Three callers later and I still don’t have a clue what I’m even being asked to believe.

God likes you better if you’re a white missionary

That old selective God is at work again, doling out random miracles to some while flipping the divine bird at others. Story at CNN about a plane crash in the Congo, which some members of a missionary family survived by crawling through a hole torn through the fuselage by another survivor desperate to escape the wreckage. Naturally, they credit the Invisible Space Fairy for their survival.

Marybeth Mosier, 51, suffered a black eye and bruised ribs, said her husband, who added that he was unhurt.

“We couldn’t believe that our family of four could all escape a plane that was crashed and on fire, but by God’s mercy, we did,” he said.

Mosier said he believes the family made it for a reason.

“I think the Lord has a plan for us, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “He still has work for us to do.”

Regarding the 36 people who died in the crash, Mosier had no opinion. Obviously God had no plan for them nor any work for them to do, so they were no great loss. Probably black too.


Okay. I admit it. That last sentence was a cheap shot. As stupid and offensive as I think it is for people to think they’re privileged by their deity of choice over others, obviously, there’s no basis to think there’s anything racist about these missionaries, since they are, after all, over in Africa doing something they think is a good thing for the locals. Living in America surrounded by the racist ravings of right-wing sleazebags, it’s easy to slip into the unfair “these bad apples over here spoil the entire batch” view. One set of absurd beliefs does not imply the person subscribes to another set as well.