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Sep 15 2008

The Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God

Noreligion
So why — exactly — do I not believe in God?

In many of my writings about religion, I take my atheism as a given. When I critique religion, or gas on about atheist philosophy, I generally start with the assumption that religion is a mistaken idea about the world and that atheism is a correct one, and go from there.

Which is generally fine with me. If I always had to start with first principles — on any topic — I’d get nothing written. (Nothing interesting, anyway.)

But it occurred to me recently that a newcomer to my blog might think that I hadn’t carefully considered the question of God’s existence. My arguments against God and religion are scattered all over my blog, and I don’t expect even my most devoted readers to read every single piece of my Atheism archives just to dig them all up.

So here — largely for my own convenience, and hopefully for the convenience of readers both atheist and not — is a summary of the Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God. Or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s). Something I can point to, and that maybe other atheists can point to, when theists ask, “But have you considered…?” (And since I’ve probably missed some good ones, I’ll be asking for your own favorite arguments at the end of the piece.)

God delusion
A couple of quick disclaimers first. This is really just a summary: a summary of ideas that I, and other atheist writers, have gone into in greater detail elsewhere. People have written entire books on this topic, and this post isn’t an entire book… nor is it meant to be. If you’re going to critique me for oversimplifying, please bear that in mind: It’s a summary. It’s meant to be somewhat simple. (I’m giving links to my own writing and to other people’s that go into the ideas in more detail.)

And no, I don’t think any of these arguments provide a 100% conclusive airtight case against God. Not even all of them together do that. And I don’t think they have to. I’m not trying to show that belief in God’s existence is absolutely impossible. I’m trying to show that it’s implausible. I’m trying to show that it is — by far — the least likely hypothesis for how the world works and why it is the way it is.

Oh — and for the sake of brevity, I’m generally going to say “God” when I mean “God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s).” I don’t feel like getting into “Well, I don’t believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe…” discussions. It’s not just the man in the white beard that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn’t the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.

And here’s why. (Divided into two parts, to keep it from being insanely long.)

1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

Apollo
When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a very noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller.

Why the sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All of these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the religious explanations were replaced by physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural or religious explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural or religious one? The number of times humankind has said, “We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it’s actually caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul”?

Zero
Exactly zero.

Sure, people come up with new supernatural explanations for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources?

Again — exactly zero.

Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don’t have a thorough explanation — human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the universe — will be best explained by the supernatural?

Given this pattern, it seems clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can comfortably discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn’t understand the world as well as we do now… but that, on more careful examination, has never — not once — been shown to be correct.

If I see any solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of a phenomenon, I’ll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I’ll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.

More on this:
The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely

2: The inconsistency of world religions.

Religious symbols
If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?

When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we’re looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree — what other plants it’s most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary tree, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree’s basic existence, and the basic facts about it.

Argue
This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement whatsoever as to what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or does not act upon the world, whether he’s a he, whether there’s one or more of him, whether he’s a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful, sane people. What’s more, many smart, thoughtful, sane people don’t even think that God exists… and the number of those people is going up all the time.

And if God existed, he’d be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don’t see God in even remotely the same way whatsoever?

The explanation, of course, is that God does not really exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren’t actually perceiving anything that’s real. We’re “perceiving” something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brains that’s wired to see pattern and intention (even when none exists) is wired to see and believe.

More on this:
The Cosmic Shell Game, by Ebonmuse, on the Ebon Musings website.
The Argument from Divine Hiddenness, ditto.

3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.

Broken_chain
I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following:

The argument from authority. (Example: “God exists because the Bible says God exists.”)

The argument from personal experience. (Example: “God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.”)

The argument that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims. (Example: “God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.”)

Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle — so abstract that it can’t be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: “God is love.”)

And all these arguments are incredibly weak.

Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn’t have any mistakes. (The Bible, for just one example, is shot full of them.) And the feelings in people’s hearts can definitely be mistaken. They are mistaken, demonstrably so, much of the time. Instinct and intuition play an important part of human understanding and experience… but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject.

I mean, if I told you, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves,” and offered as a defense, “I know this is true because my mother/ preacher/ sacred book tells me so”… or “I know this is true because I feel it in my heart”… would you take me seriously?

Bible
Some people do still try to point to evidence in the world that God exists. But that evidence is inevitably terrible. Pointing to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document, for instance, when it so blatantly is nothing of the kind. Or pointing to the complexity of life and the world and insisting that it must have been designed… when the sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what looks, at first glance, like design.

As to the “We don’t got to show you no stinking reason or evidence” argument… that’s just conceding the game before you’ve even begun. It’s basically saying, “I know I can’t make my case, therefore I’m going to concentrate my arguments on why I don’t have to make my case in the first place.” It’s like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, and thus tries to get the case thrown out on a technicality.

Ditto with the “redefining God out of existence” argument. If what you believe in isn’t a supernatural being(s) or substance(s) that currently has, or at one time had, some sort of effect on the world… well, your philosophy might be a dandy and clever one, but it is not, by any useful definition of the word, religion.

Again: If I tried to argue, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves — and the height and color of trees is a question that is best answered with personal faith and feeling, not with reason or evidence”… or, “I know this is true because I am defining ’500 feet tall and hot pink’ as the essential nature of tree-ness, regardless of its outward appearance”… would you take me seriously?

More on this:
Oh, all over the place. But probably most succinctly:
A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside
The Argument From Design, Part One and Part Two
“A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations

4: The increasing diminishment of God.

INCREDIBLE_SHRINKING_MAN
This is closely related to #1 (the consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones); but I think it’s different enough to deserve its own number.

When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God himself, among believers themselves, has been diminishing. As our understanding of the natural, physical world has increased — and our ability to test theories and claims has improved — the domain of God’s miracles (or other purported supernatural/ metaphysical phenomena) has consistently shifted, away from the phenomena that are now understood as physical cause and effect, and onto the increasingly shrinking area of phenomena that we still don’t understand.

Examples: We stopped needing God to explain floods, but we still needed him to explain sickness and health. Then we didn’t need him to explain sickness and health any more… but we still needed him to explain consciousness. Now we’re beginning to get a grip on consciousness, so we’ll soon need God to explain… what, exactly?

Or, as Ebon Muse so eloquently put it, “”Where the Bible tells us God once shaped worlds out of the void and parted great seas with the power of his word, today his most impressive acts seem to be shaping sticky buns into the likenesses of saints and conferring vaguely-defined warm feelings on his believers’ hearts when they attend church.”

This is what atheists call the “God of the gaps.” Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that’s what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God.

Crayon
But the blue crayon is worn down to a nub. And it’s never proven to be the right color. And over and over again, throughout history, we have had to go to great trouble to scrape the blue crayon out of people’s minds and replace it with the right color. Given this pattern, doesn’t it seem that we should stop reaching for the blue crayon every time we see an empty space in the coloring book?

More:
The Incredible Shrinking Deity, by Ebonmuse, on the Ebon Musings website, from whom I stole this idea outright.
The Shrinking Deity and the Empty Coloring Book

5: The fact that religion runs in families.

Family_tree
Here’s what I mean by this one. The single strongest factor in determining what religion a person is? It’s what religion they were brought up with. By far.

Very, very few people carefully examine all the religious beliefs currently being followed — or even some of those beliefs — and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.

Now, we don’t do this with, for instance, science. We don’t hold on to the Steady State theory of the universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it’s what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, the understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it’s a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong…)

Even political opinions don’t run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that consistently show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each younger generation. Even political beliefs learned from youth can and do break down in the face of the reality that people see and live with every day. And scientific theories absolutely do this, all the time, on a regular basis.

Bible stories for tiny tots
Once again, this leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn’t just believe whatever religious belief they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of anything real. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure — and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.

More:
I haven’t written about the “religion running in families” argument at length before, and while I’m sure it must have been addressed in the atheosphere, offhand I don’t know where. But Richard Dawkins addresses it in The God Delusion. You can look it up there if you like.
I have, however, discussed religion as an idea perpetuated largely by fear, intimidation, tradition, and social pressure… and the ways religion armors itself, not only against criticism, but against the very idea that religion is a legitimate target for criticism. That discussion: Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions.

End of Part One. I’m breaking this up into two parts, since it’s already ridiculously long; Part Two will appear tomorrow. I realize this will probably be a fruitless plea, but if you can stand it, please hold your comments until Part Two is posted: I may have already addressed your ideas there, and anyway, that way all comment threads can be in the same place. Thanks.

103 comments

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  1. 1
    The Count

    I absolutley love reading your blog. Yes, I’m a fanboi, but tis true.
    However, just playing the part of con’s advocate, do you worry of reacting to the godbags by having to keep explaining or justifying your atheism? I say this because this post seems, to me, to fall into that mode.
    When I argue, the very first thing I start with is “ok, stop wasting our time, you know there’s nothing to validate your belief, so let’s get to the brass tacks…” and go on from there. It’s amazing how many people fold to reason right up front.
    When I speak that way to normal folks, ones who don’t have a stake (financial or political) in fooling other folks into buying this shite, I usually get a much better discussion, and at times have been able to drive home a point.
    I worry that if we continue to be atheist apologists, we waste time defending ourselves as opposed to making gains. To put another way, a Xian apologist gets me all excited, because I know it’s someone who is on the defensive to start with.
    Just saying… and I really do appreciate your mind, courage and thought process.

  2. 2
    David Evans

    Have you thought about writing a book on this?
    Seriously.
    I’ve read and like Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett etc, and I think your writing has a clarity that they often lack.

  3. 3
    J. J. Ramsey

    I second David Evans.
    That said, if you are going to link to a shorthand reference to holes in the Holy Bible, linking to, say, Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version gives you a heck of a lot more credibility that linking to the “Skeptic’s” Annotated Bible which got caught pulling a fast one, even by skeptics, and to this day is dishonest enough to present nazirite vows of teetotaling, e.g. Numbers 6:3, as examples of a general prohibition on alcohol.
    To be fair, the author of the “Skeptic’s” Annotated Bible did eventually fix his howler regarding Leviticus 14, but it’s a sort of blatant screw-up that no one trying to do a fair critique of the Bible would have made in the first place.
    (And if you haven’t read The Unauthorized Version, you really should. It isn’t perfect, but it is both hard-hitting fair-minded … kind of like a certain blogger we know. :))

  4. 4
    Rich

    Hello,
    I will keep this very short and sweet since I just dont have the patience to type all night dispelling all your arguments, but one of the strongest reasons that atheists are wrong is that there are two major religions in the world…Christianity and Muslim/Islam(whatever you wanna call it). Atheist; and maybe this is only in America…Im no atheist expert…, mainly focus on religion and more so on Christianity. Now, why is that? If there is something so wrong with religion, which is not the same as Christianity, why not just continue your scientific pursuits and let the results speak on their own??? You cant!
    The so called logic atheist pride themselves on is always based off of reason(whether their own or not or scientific). Using this and comparing it with the masses of people who reason God is real….who do you side with. If sociology teaches one thing it is that in mass groups of people a majority of people will do what is right a majority of the time.
    Lasty to finish the point above is the fact that atheist, or so I see, only choose to focus on Christianity….why is that? Reason and logic as you may put is to see that there is something there that scares you…there has to be. If there wasnt, then it would be a irk to likes of people chewing food with their mouth open which is no reason to argue continuously when we know that the person will continue to do it. The logic of an atheist is like running on a ball while telling me that they will get to the end of it any minute now.

  5. 5
    Rich

    Rich,
    Not addressing her arguments becuase you don’t have patience? What a week and insulting way to start a rebuttal? More likely you don’t have the ability as evidenced by the rest of your badly worded comment.
    Please go back to school, get a high school diploma, go to a good community college and come back.
    I won’t comment on your arguments as they are largely unclear and incoherent and you expect us to show you the courtesy of considering your opinion, while you, on the other hand wave away Greta’s points because you are lazy.
    I rather be perceived as an arrogant atheist, than an lazy asshole(meaning you Rich).

  6. 6
    Greta Christina

    Your argument was addressed in #3, Rich. It’s the argument from tradition: “if lots of people believe it, it must be true.” And it’s a terrible, terrible argument. For thousands of years, most people believed that the sun went around the earth — did that make it true? Sociology does not teach us that “if most people believe it, it’s probably right.” It teaches nothing of the kind.
    What’s more… not that it’s relevant, but it’s simply and flatly not the case that either (a) there are only two major religions in the world, and (b) atheists only criticize Christianity. Judaism has over 13 million adherents, Buddhism has over 200 million adherents and possibly many more, and Hinduism has approximately one billion. And many atheists do criticize religions other than Christianity, and do so at some length. Islam especially has been heavily and publicly criticized by many atheists, prominent and otherwise, including Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.
    Again, this question isn’t even remotely relevant to the question of God’s existence or lack therefore, However, if you’re going to engage in any more debates with atheists, I advise you to get your basic facts right first.

  7. 7
    Sean the Blogonaut

    Hey that response to rich saying it was from Rich is actually me damn it

  8. 8
    Yelena

    Your arguments definitely have a basis. However, in response to your point on “the inconsistency of world religions:” on your subpoint about being able to see a tree as a tree–a tree in this sense is a very small idea in comparison to the conceptualization of god or the supernatural, i.e. the latter is much more complex. Economics, for example, is an abstract category for real-life effects, it is a very large category and one not agreed upon by economists, i.e. economists do not agree on the ruling principles of economics, but I believe most would agree that economic practice exists in the world, though we can’t seem to neatly explain it or categorize it. The conceptualization of God or the supernatural, etc. may be seen as similar to economic principles, i.e. explaining a complex system while the explanation is not nearly perfectly descriptive.
    And one last tidbit for your argument on disagreement in various religions: there is a parable that I cannot place: three blind old men are standing around an object, trying to determine what it is. One says, its a snake, another a tree, a third a hippo. Each argues the other is wrong based on his perspective. And they are standing around an elephant. No matter how disparate their conclusions, those conclusions could lead, if properly put together, to a correct answer. But the men are blind and stand at different places, and as far as they know, only one can be correct.

  9. 9
    Xinran

    Quick question.
    Why does no-one ever bring up the problem of thermodynamics when talking about the existence/non-existence of god?
    If god existed then wouldn’t a huge amount of energy be required to ‘power’ it? If god was an entity with a mind and consciousness, would it not have to need some kind of energy source to maintain its life? How else do other systems work alive or not. Even an engine needs to burn petrol the same way a tree needs to respire.
    So how can something as apparently large and cosmic as god do that without it being really obvious.
    If god had a food source wouldn’t it fill the sky? If god burnt something to keep running wouldn’t it outshine the sun?
    Is there something fundamental I am missing that explains why people never mention this?

  10. 10
    mike

    “If sociology teaches one thing it is that in mass groups of people a majority of people will do what is right a majority of the time.”
    Except, y’know, for all the times when they don’t.
    For almost all of human history, everyone knew that the earth was flat, that disease was caused by demons, and that solar eclipses were bad omens. We know that they were wrong and we are right about these things, because we have evidence to show for it.
    For almost all of human history, no one believed in your god of choice. What evidence do you have to show that the old superstitions & religions were wrong and that you are right?

  11. 11
    Greta Christina

    Yelena: I don’t think the elephant analogy is a good one at all for the supposedly differing perceptions of God. If anything, it’s an analogy for the process of science perceiving and understanding the physical world.
    Because the blind people fondling the elephant can say to one another, “Hey. Over here. This is what I’m feeling. You can feel it, too. This is why I think it’s a snake (or a tree, or a hippo).” And by walking all around the elephant, and telling each other what they feel, than can, over time, come to a better understanding of what it is they’re experiencing. Not so with religion.
    I also don’t think economics is a good analogy. For one thing, economists can and do point to rigorously gathered evidence in the world to support their particular theories, and theories can go by the wayside if they’re not supported by the evidence. For another, economics isn’t an entity or a force in the world. It’s a relationship between people (and arguably, some other social animals) — which, almost by definition, is much harder to clearly perceive and describe.
    And finally… well, I’ll grant that I’m not an expert in economics, but it seems to me that economists have a whole lot more agreement over the basic facts of economics — people exchange money for goods and services, or barter their goods and services directly, and make their decisions about how to do so for an assortment of reasons — than religious thinkers have with one another about religion.
    Religion isn’t like economics. It’s like alchemy: a theory that people thought about and argued about for a long time, but that didn’t turn out to be a good hypothesis.

  12. 12
    Greta Christina

    Xinran: The usual answer to questions like yours is, “Because God is magic and he can do anything.” Nothing in the physical universe can exert force without using energy, or create itself, or create something out of nothing… but God can, because he’s magic, and he can do anything.
    I agree, though, that it’s a very unsatisfying answer.

  13. 13
    cl

    Note from Greta: The following comment has been disemvowelled. The commenter has been told previously that, because of unacceptable commenting behavior in this blog, he is no longer welcome to comment here, unless is it to provide links to commentary he makes about this blog on his own blog. This comment violated those rules, and has therefore been disemvowelled. Any future comments from this commenter will either be disemvowelled or deleted.
    fw cncrns / qstns: . Y s, “W sd t thnk (X) ws csd b physcl cs nd ffct, bt nw w ndrstnd tht t’s ctll csd b Gd, r sprts, r dmns, r th sl”? f w r dscssng ntrl vs. sprntrl mpts, d th ptntl css f gvn phnmnn hv t b mtll xclsv? Fr xmpl, lt’s s fr fn th rgmnt s tht Dmn X css cndtn . n prsn sys Dmn X dd t, nthr prsn lsts bctr s th clprt. D y hv n gd rsn wh th bth cldn’t b crrct t lst sm f th tm? s th sm pttrn whr y s, “W stppd ndng Gd t xpln flds…” Nw, ndrstnd yr pnt nd whr y’r gng wth t, bt hv w rll xplnd flds? Sr, w knw th mtrlgcl mchncs f fld, bt ds cmprhndng physcl prcss mk tht prcss ‘prl physcl’ b dflt? Wh cn s wh mlcls nd nrg r s rrngd t vn llw th pssblt f fld t ll? Nt . gss m grp wth # s tht ndrstndng ntrl prcss s nt sffcnt grnds t rjct sprntrl ptntlts nd/r mplctns. Rgrdng #, y s, “nd f Gd xstd, h’d b whl lt bggr, whl lt mr pwrfl, wth whl lt mr ffct n th wrld, thn tr.” Myb, myb nt. Tht’s jst yr wn prsnl ssmptn, hw y mgn Gd wld / cld / shld ct f Gd ws wht ll hs / hr fllwrs s h / sh s. t’s n rsn t ll, mr f n nttn f yrs bt wht Gd ght t b. ls, cmprng Gd nd tr s stckd dck t bgn wth – y r tkng smthng whs xstnc s flsfbl nd cntrstng t wth smthng whs xstnc s nt flsfbl. s fr s # gs, dn’t thnk ppl frm thr blfs n th bss f vdnc, whthr th r rlgs, thst, r prpl n th fc; thnk ppl frm thr blfs n th bss f dp pyschlgcl, sbcnscs fctrs, thn ntrprt vdnc ccrdngl. t gs wtht syng tht th sm prsn vws th Bbl mch dffrntl whn th blv Chrstnt thn th d whn th blv thsm. Yr ‘rns n th fml’ rgmnt dg nd gr wth, bt t’s nt cnvncng rgmnt gnst th xstnc f Gd r th sprntrl t ll. t s cnvncng rgmnt tht ppl rrl thnk tsd th bx r qstn thrt, nd tht mst ppl r trrbl frd f dyng nd thnkng fr thmslvs.

  14. 14
    terrence

    Wow, disemvowelling….what a cruel fate. Seriously, Greta, this is absolutely great. I once tried to compile a “summary” like this, but your post is superior by far — you’ve just replaced “Comforting Thoughts” as the Grand Champion Post.
    HEY RICH – you’re right about mass groups of people usually doing the right thing. I was reminded of that (fact) while watching film of the Hitler rallies in the 1930′s…

  15. 15
    terrence

    Wow, disemvowelling….what a cruel fate. Seriously, Greta, this is absolutely great. I once tried to compile a “summary” like this, but your post is superior by far — you’ve just replaced “Comforting Thoughts” as the Grand Champion Post.
    HEY RICH – you’re right about mass groups of people usually doing the right thing. I was reminded of that (fact) while watching film of the Hitler rallies in the 1930′s…

  16. 16
    chancelikely

    Funny, I’m an economics major, and I recently came to the realization that economics is rather like evolutionary biology – it’s a description of a messy state of affairs, at a series of unplanned equilibria, that’s both strangely resilient and easy to poke out of place.
    If religion is like any economics, it’s like Stalinist Marxism with a double dose of Lysenko. You know, the sort of situation where you throw away the facts (or people, often enough) that don’t fit your model rather than improving the model.

  17. 17
    George

    Bravo. In this day and age it’s always refreshing to see some people are still thinking on their own. Enjoy life, lovely. Peace.

  18. 18
    Thorin N. Tatge

    Hi! This is my first brush with your blog, but I intend to look further and I’m guessing it’s great. This is the best summary of arguments for atheism I’ve ever seen. I’m not the sort who gets into religious arguments, but if I ever do, I hope to be able to link here to illustrate my positions.

  19. 19
    BillyWarhol

    I’m thrilled U mention Dawkins The god Delusion right off the Top!! A must read for Everybody on the Planet!!
    I read Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything first + both are Excellent Informative + Entertaining Reads!! It was Fantastic to see both Books at #1 & #2 on the BestSeller Lists!!
    Hitchens book is now out in reprint + is again on the List!! Perfect Christmas Gift!! ;))
    Peace*

  20. 20
    Michael Webb

    Interesting Blog. Thanks for the effort involved. You obviously take your responsibility to think things through seriously.
    A few thoughts. Firstly, its hard to communicate any personal experience to someone else. If I say “I love Sue” you may hear the words but knowing what that means for me is something else altogether. This is true of all human experience – ultimately its personal.Therefore, when a Christian says they love God, that Jesus is someone they know personally, that this love brings great joy into their life – people hear the words but the experience is remote to them.
    In faith, or religion or the experience of God this is exactly what is happening on a large scale. A large majority of the world feels that they have touched the divine, the numinous in some way. For myself, I am a Christian. I have experienced the love of God and it brings me great joy. Others have different beliefs but still feel that they have known or do know God.
    What is interesting about this, in the context of the above discussion, is that it makes atheism and extreme view – divorced from the experience of a very large section of humanity. Atheism contends that there simply is no God and that therefore all these people are in some way confused or deluded. Given the relative numbers of atheists and believers, atheism is at the edge of the human condition. For an informative discussion of this – “The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World” by Alistair McGrath is good. He is professor of historical theology at Oxford University and a very good scholar.
    My second observation goes to the books you quote. Hitchens, Dawkins and co are not in the first rank of either thinkers or writers.Both are extreme even within their own disciplines despite their many appearances on the talk shows. Both show little understanding of theology, history or philosophy and yet this is the domain they tread. The most amusing thing about Dawkins is that he writes a book called the God Delusion in which he presents us with his own version of the Ten Commandments ( I am surprised they don’t come in tablet form). After such an effort I have to ask – who exactly has the God delusion?
    I see no reference in any of the comments above to the best of the believers. Plato for example (who did believe in God). I also see no reference to first rank Christian apologists – C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) of GK Chesterton (Orthodoxy) or if we go back further to Augustine. A good contribution from a fine legal mind can be found in “Reason in the balance” by Johnson.
    If we want to know the truth – lets us seek the best of what our opponents have to offer. Any of the above writers will lead in interesting directions. I hope this is a useful contribution.

  21. 21
    Joel Rosenblum

    Obviously there’s no way to prove God. There is a lot of evidence for reincarnation (or some paranormal phenomena that would appear to be reincarnation, or massive fraud). Most of the evidence is not strong because it is based on personal accounts. Some of it is medium-strong as it is based on investigators finding facts before the subjects themselves have (it seems) had a chance to do so. Here’s one article: http://www3.hi.is/~erlendur/english/cort/Replication_Studies_of_Cases.pdf
    There’s also much evidence of verified spirit communication via mediums, scientifically investigated and published. This evidence could also be due to some other paranormal phenomena such as tapping into some kind of cosmic knowledge, or of course massive fraud being perpetrated by investigators.
    http://veritas.arizona.edu/

  22. 22
    Kyle

    Michael: You are actually demonstrating a common misperception about atheists. Atheists experience the world as much more magnificent, mysterious, and beautiful than the people you speak of who have “felt the love of God.” When I look at a tree, I am enthralled by what it is, not astounded that God created it. I see patterns of matter and energy that have replicated and organized themselves into something utterly unfathomable. I see the way it’s branches defy gravity as a majestic feat. I see myself viewing the tree as the universe literally aware of itself, finding beauty within itself. That view of the world is much, MUCH more awe-inspiring and creates much more love in my heart than my Methodist upbringing ever did.
    Atheists do not believe that science necessarily has all the answers, but they do think that attributing all beauty, goodness, and meaning to a god actually distracts the human mind and heart from the real beauty, goodness, and meaning in the universe.
    Here is where most religious people would say, “but when you see something so beautiful as a tree or fall in love, how can you not believe that there is a god who created it?” Well, I’ll tell you why: It is because the experience of beauty and the existence of a god have nothing to do with one another. The existence of a god neither adds to or detracts from the beauty of anything, or even the human experience. It is exactly because people believe that all good comes from some Sky-Father that they stop seeing the beauty in the world and begin committing atrocious acts. If you see a happy farmer in a field tending his crop, do you teach him that God created him and that the things he does naturally may in fact be sins punishable by eternal hell? NO! You leave the guy alone. Here’s my point: Religion CREATES the very sins that it forbids (by forbidding them). In fact, that is the definition of sin. It grows and feeds off of its own creation. It is a way to trap people in an illogical loop that they can only get into by jumping over a chasm of missing logic with the pogo stick of faith. Also, if you think that people in their natural state will spontaneously start murdering and stealing were it not for the threat of Hell, I’d ask you to cite evidence.

  23. 23
    paul Siemering

    I think fussing about those worn out religions is a waste of time. Reading a whole book about unfaith is silly.
    Look it’s really simple- You have Mother Nature and all her children we can see and feel and know. And then you have supernatural imaginary beings. god is a concept on a par with tinkerbell and santa claus.
    also think about this: humankind has been running around on this planet for 500,000 years- so that’s like 99% of all our actual history, OK? and so for all that time we managed to live very happily with no “holy books” and no “God” thing. Imagine that. How did we ever manage? easy. we never needed that stuff, and we don’t now.

  24. 24
    Beetle

    First time visiter here, just expressing my appreciation. I have read my fair share of lists about how to lose an argument with an atheists, but yours is my favorite. I hope you will excuse me for not posting to the second half of the article, I promise to do so if I come up with anything substantial. In the interim it amuses me how this first half has become a honey pot for trolls who can’t be bothered to read.

  25. 25
    inter-something

    Michael — I have read that book by Alister McGrath, and I feel that you would get a much clearer demonstration about how atheism functions in relation to the world if you read a book on the subject that was not written by a Methodist evangelical.
    I think it is also significant to point out that there are many intelligent writers who are believers — not many here deny that — but that a lot of great writers in the ages may have been atheists (or at least agnostics or nonreligious) in secret. People simply weren’t allowed to be nonbelievers in the past unless they wanted to give up their lives. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin would almost certainly have been classified as nonbelievers, had they been able. Also consider that Einstein was in no way a Christian, and that were he alive today, he would probably take new atheists with much more consideration than he took with the first wave of atheism. I say this simply because I think it would do well to recognize that there have been wonderful nonbelievers contributing intellectually to society.
    Greta — I’ve been a long-time reader and posted a few times, but I just wanted to comment that I really appreciate this succinct summary, and that I use it as a starting reference point every time someone asks me a question about atheism. Your writing has always been exceptionally clear and lovely.

  26. 26
    Victor Garrod, Th.M.,

    Hello there!
    I enjoyed reading this blog.
    Have nearly finished writing my second book titled: “Did God Screw Up?” being sent to Vantage Press, Inc (New York) for publication.
    My first book is titled: “The Demise of Christianity” and can be viewed at http://www.victorgarrod.com
    I would like permission to add a few chapters from this blog and will quote the references.

  27. 27
    Rose

    About the “religion running in families” thing – I remember when I first “came out” as an agnostic at age 10, my bio dad (whom I’m now estranged from, for unrelated reasons) flipped out. His main reason for why I couldn’t be agnostic (or, more specifically, anything other than Missouri-Synod Lutheran)? Because it was defying my family to not take the “family faith.” In retrospect, that really struck me – since most religious people, whether progressive or evangelical, seem to see religion as something you have to come to on your own, as a very personal, individual thing. It was really bizarre that he basically admitted that the only reason he was religious is because it was what his family taught him.
    Ironically, my stepdad is a Presbyterian pastor and he has always been accepting of my agnosticism. He says Christianity is not helped by “fake” believers, and it’s better that I follow whatever religious persuasion – or, in my case, none – with genuine feeling than pretend to be a Christian for his sake. (He has, over the years, had difficulty understanding the extent of my agnosticism, that I’m not merely “searching” for a religion but that I find faith fundamentally flawed and have no interest in joining any religious movement. But he tries.)

  28. 28
    Peter

    ” I see myself viewing the tree as the universe literally aware of itself, finding beauty within itself. ”
    Greta, that is awesome! You are a poet. That is a hallelujah moment right there.
    One thing you didn’t comment on, and which probably is slightly off topic, is the comment made to me by religious friends about how we atheists don’t believe in an afterlife. They comment that my belief that “when you are dead, you are dead (and get eaten up by maggots and weevils or are burned – crackle crackle crackle)” is absolutely horrid. they can’t come to terms with it, and cling to religion because it takes away that fear of death. I think this is a major factor in people adhering to religion. Maybe the main one.
    I don’t know about you, but I had kids recently, and now I look at them and see that there I am (well, 50% me anyway) and I am continuing on, even if this particular consciousness is not. And those kids are a continuation of over 3 billion years of an unbroken chain of life. So that technically is immortality and an after life – a real one that requires no imaginary “heaven”. And it is one that requires my care and attention during my lifetime to ensure it continues, rather than some belief that following silly rituals guarantees entry into it.

  29. 29
    jeffreyT

    I think the main reason that the majority of “believers” cling to religion is not the fear of death (though I’m certain that’s part of it), I believe it’s their fear of “Hell.” People are coerced into Christianity through the fear of eternal damnation. They seem to have no problem reconciling a “God of love” and a God that will throw you into an eternity of torment because you chose a different religion or no religion at all.
    They also don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that we seem to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold “God.” For instance, if I were to come into your home and hurt or kill one of your loved ones, you would certainly (and rightfully so) seek retribution. But if “God” takes the life of a loved one (no matter how horrible the method – cancer, fire, violence, whatever) then it’s just part of “God’s Will.” WTF? So I’m more accountable than God?
    And, let me add that no matter what my children choose to believe or do in their lives that I will love them and care for them. If I had the power to damn them for their choices, I wouldn’t do it. So does that mean that I am capable of a more unselfish love than God?
    I could go on for hours.

  30. 30
    Lane

    You guys are pushing the link between religion and God too far: while essentially the main tenet of Christianity and Islam, it is not addressed in Buddhism and is not a huge deal in Judaism.
    Religion can be great; don’t dismiss it too quickly.

  31. 31
    DA

    “You guys are pushing the link between religion and God too far: while essentially the main tenet of Christianity and Islam”
    Yes, the two largest religions by far, which claim half the world’s population between them, are centered around God, but besides that there’s no connection between God and religion! Except for Sikhs, Jews, Pagans, Hindus, Bah’ais, Druze, etc.
    “and is not a huge deal in Judaism.”
    What? Do you think Orthodox Jews follow 613 commandments just for the hell of it?
    “Religion can be great; don’t dismiss it too quickly.”
    Greta hasn’t, she’s written a lot of incredibly well thought-out stuff on religion, most of which is viewable here. Don’t dismiss her work so quickly.

  32. 32
    Nick

    Ok, i read like all of that and i agree, that this should be a book! i was raised as a christian, but i dont pray, go to church, or all that crap. i was raised with getting presents in december and looking for eggs in the spring. I started to read the bible and i laugh so hard at the stupid things it says in there! my aunt tried (and failed) to get me to start going to church and i cant understand how she believes that god came to abraham and told him to circumsise all the men in his house, and he did! they must have hade some serious drugs back then, huh?

  33. 33
    [email protected]

    Veritas response:
    All of the author’s reasons for not believing in God are irrelevant and illogical. If she truly believes there is no God, and concurrently it is true that God does not really exist, then there is no point to these attempted refutations. Further, none of these arguments are scientific, but commit the fallacy of – Appeal to Authority – mainly science itself. But, if these arguments are not scientific, then they in themselves are philosophical and therefore are not set, if the author posits science as the one true authority on truth. As these arguments are, in fact, philosophical, then they are also subjective and are open to rebuttal and refutation by definition. If God does not truly exist, then she cannot be a true atheist – because you cannot affirm a negative in the absolute. This is why the modern neo-atheists have fallen back and taken a position that no longer attempts to affirm that there is no God (which concludes that only God could deny God), only that each atheist can only testify that they personally – lack belief in any god/gods/or goddesses. But, what therefore is this new atheist definition attempting to assert? Nothing. This new neo-atheist position asserts nothing more than each atheist’s own subjective and unfalsifiable belief. But this is precisely what they are accusing religious folk of. In the end, the neo-atheist position is meaningless for it asserts nothing. If there is no God, what therefore is she attempting to affirm in the absence of denial? If we cannot falsify her subjective claim, is she really claiming anything at all? According to her own position in relation to scientific truth and her advocacy of Karl Popper’s Falsification Principle, the answer is no. In the final analysis, if God does not exist, then there is therefore nothing to be said either in the affirmative, or in the negative. To attempt to do so is illogical, for we do not debate whether or not unicorns and Santa Claus have any real potential to the actual in the topic of metaphysics. If the author believes there is no God, then any speech on her part concerning God reaches into the realm of metaphysics, but that, ladies and gentlemen, is the very thing she is denying.
    “If there really was no God, you could not be an atheist.”
    G. K. Chesterton

  34. 34
    DanielHendrycks

    Why did you have a cross through mark on the wheel of dharma? Considering it doesn’t cohere with “The Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God”; since, in Buddhism, there is no claim of a God.

  35. 35
    Greta Christina

    Why did you have a cross through mark on the wheel of dharma? Considering it doesn’t cohere with “The Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe In God”; since, in Buddhism, there is no claim of a God.

    Because, as I said in the piece, I’m not just talking about God here. Quote:
    “Oh — and for the sake of brevity, I’m generally going to say “God” when I mean “God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s).” I don’t feel like getting into “Well, I don’t believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe…” discussions. It’s not just the man in the white beard that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in *any* sort of religion, *any* sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, *anything* that isn’t the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.”

  36. 36
    DA

    Not to beat a dead horse (as I know I’ve remarked on this before) but day to day Buddhism in Asia is effectively theistic; people pray to omnipotent beings to give them good luck, salvation, and so on, and build temples where a clergy does complex rituals involving these beings. Sophisticated “atheist Buddhism” is a really, really Western thing for people who still have a religious impulse but find religion justifianly impossible to accept.

  37. 37
    themann1086

    DA hits the nail on the head. Buddhism historically, and practically outside of Western adaptations, has as many unjustifiable beliefs as any other religion. Also: tons of misogyny!

  38. 38
    CW

    I have to say, debate on religion is a pointless one. There is almost no way to change another persons mind when it comes to this, it’s almost as if they’re typing just to reaffirm their beliefs, whether it be in god or in no god. My point is this, and excuse me if I get too John Lennon esque on you guys, we need to stop trying to convert people of opposite faiths and just give peace a chance. In my eyes atheists present themselves as elitists that have found the light and will not be associated with the morons of such inferior beliefs. While on the other hand, religions justify their beliefs by saying “because this person said so”. Both are total bs. Atheists blindly follow what scientists tell them and religious people blindly follow what preists tell them because we are either too lazy to fact check or just can’t fact check. We are no different. Atheists have a loose form of religion, minus the god part. The thing I’m getting at is this, allow others to have differing opinions without looking down upon them. Religious people, if you are going to believe in a god, awesome, but believe in it because after your research this is what you’ve come to believe, not because that was how you were raised or what you were told. And atheists do not feel as though you are the superior ones because you can prove your beliefs, because in the end, no one can say 100% one way or the other. As for me, I believe in a god, but not in religion. I am not going to limit my living because of something that I am 90% sure of. Besides, we need to stop trying to get in to heaven and make our own right here. Sorry for the soap box that I was just on, but I hope that it opens at least one persons mind. Loudest of love to all!

  39. 39
    Eclectic

    CW, if religious conversion is impossible, why do religions put so much effort into missions?
    I agree that it’s almost impossible for a single person to convince another, but a larger chorus can often have a great effect.
    One important reason to speak out is to encourage others to do likewise, so they can complete the necessary quorum.
    It’s also important for someone vacillating. That’s the big message of groups like ACT-UP: It’s a terribly lonely world if you think you’re the only person who feels like you do.

  40. 40
    DA

    People who judge atheists for being judgemental are such a crack up. Anyone who says that atheism is a religion based on science doesn’t understand any of those three terms.
    “religious people blindly follow what preists tell them because we are either too lazy to fact check or just can’t fact check. ”
    You can’t fact-check religion. That’s the central, unfixable problem with it. Everything comes back to faith sooner or later.
    See, science now, I can CHECK the conclusions. I’m bad at math so I’ll never be a scientist, but I’ve had some very smart people show me how to test some commonly held assumptions on a small scale. Philosophy, you can ask questions and make allowances for future knowledge.
    Religion can’t do that.
    “Religious people, if you are going to believe in a god, awesome, but believe in it because after your research this is what you’ve come to believe, not because that was how you were raised or what you were told.”
    Religion would vanish very, very quickly if people actually followed your advice on this point. Which is fine with me, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
    “The thing I’m getting at is this, allow others to have differing opinions without looking down upon them”
    You can respect someone as a human being without validating beliefs they hold. A very close friend of mine is a schitzophrenic; I don’t dislike him for this but I’d be doing him no favors if I told him that his delusions had a basis in reality. Incidentally, like many schitzophrenics, his delusions seem to express themselves largely in religious terms.
    “no one can say 100% one way or the other”
    Greta has written like a million times on this exact point. I’d urge you to check the archives a bit.
    ” As for me, I believe in a god, but not in religion. ”
    I’m a fan of Luke Skywalker, but I hate Star Wars. Wait, what?
    “Besides, we need to stop trying to get in to heaven and make our own right here.”
    Uh, yes. I agree with that sentiment. Most atheists would,to one extent or another. So tell me why you’re against us exactly.
    ” but I hope that it opens at least one persons mind.”
    What makes you so sure you’re the one with the open mind?

  41. 41
    Greta Christina

    There is almost no way to change another persons mind when it comes to this

    CW: That is simply and flatly not true. Rates of non-belief are going up at a dramatic rate, all over the US and all over the world. Why would that be happening, if people’s minds weren’t being changed by other people’s ideas — in this case, the increasingly visible atheist movement?
    If you talk to atheists who used to believe in religion, you’ll find that many of them were persuaded out of their beliefs by arguments made by atheists. Those arguments may not be the sole reason for changing their mind… but it’s often a significant part of it. It certainly was for me.

    In my eyes atheists present themselves as elitists that have found the light and will not be associated with the morons of such inferior beliefs.

    “In my eyes” being the key words. There are, I will admit, a handful of atheist jerks on the Internet who think they’re superior to believers. But from what I’ve seen, that’s not true for most atheists. Most atheists don’t think we’re superior. We just think that, on this particular question, we’re correct, and religious believers are mistaken. Thinking other people are mistaken isn’t the same as thinking they’re inferior.
    And in every other field — science, politics, philosophy, medicine, art, etc. — people try to persuade others to change their minds all the time, without being seen as “elitist” or “superior” or “looking down” on people. It’s called the marketplace of ideas. And it’s considered one of the best ways we have to weed out bad ideas and refine good ones. Why should religion be immune to that process?
    Oh, and what DA said is right: I’ve addressed the “100 proof” argument many, many times. Quick summary: Atheism is not the 100% certainty that there is no God. It’s the conclusion that there’s no good evidence or arguments for the God hypothesis, and unless we see some better evidence or arguments, we will provisionally conclude that God is not real. (I discuss this idea more thoroughly in another piece, The 100% Solution: On Uncertainty, And Why It Doesn’t Matter So Much.)
    Finally: I can’t help but notice that you didn’t actually address any of the arguments against God being made in this piece. You didn’t answer the question of why natural explanations for phenomena have consistently been replacing supernatural ones for thousands of years, or why different religions around the world are so inconsistent, or why supposedly supernatural phenomena have consistently failed to stand up to rigorous testing, or anything. All you’ve done is say “There’s no point in making this argument, since nobody is willing to change their mind.” What that tells me is that you are not willing to change your mind. If you’re not — why should I take anything you say seriously?

  42. 42
    John Prichard4

    Very interesting blog you have here. I applaud you for being a free thinker and debating the plausability of religious belief. I, myself fall somewhere between the terms atheist and agnostic. There is certainly alot about this world and existence that we dont nor will ever understand. What I believe in is always open to be redefined by new input of information and experience but I certainly know what I don’t believe in…. and that is religion of any sort. There are just some things that defy explanation. Once a person thinks they know the truth they close their mind to all other possible explinations. Keep up the good work by provoking people to think about what they truely believe. If you can’t defend your position rationally, then it isn’t a very rational position

  43. 43
    ben myers

    Gretta, you are highly intelligent and I love your candor and clarity. I am writing this in response to Xinran (and your response to him).
    First of all, Greta is right when she says that theists often use God to “fill in the gaps” of our understanding of the natural world. I (and much more pious men, like Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and almost everyone during Reformation Europe) use God as a motivator to understand His universe, and Him, more fully (Romans 1). I (and wise theistic scientists) plug God into appropriate gaps; for example, the law of gravity (using REALLY smart language) basically says that objects of larger mass tend to attract objects of lesser mass; however, science will never be able to provide a reason for why this really occurs.
    Of course, we will discover new laws that give us a better understanding of how the system works, but science will never answer the question of “why” there are these laws in the first place – and why matter feels compelled to obey! The existence of natural law will forever remain a “gap” unexplainable by scientific methods, and we are therefore, where science comes to a dead end, compelled to humbly look outside of the material universe for an explanation.
    So, “Why do laws exist?” Well, reason seems to indicate that where there is law there is a lawgiver. Therefore, I submit that an intelligent being designed the universe and its laws. This is a much more logical argument than “because.”
    Now, this brings me to Xinran’s question:
    “Why does no-one ever bring up the problem of thermodynamics when talking about the existence/non-existence of god?”
    As the above argument follows, Xinran and Greta, a God so infinitely incomprehensible that He created laws governing the trillions of galaxies, The Milky Way being roughly a hundred thousand light-years across, is outside of reality and law as we know it
for to create something from nothing (i.e. a single atom, or the law of gravity) would violate the very law created, in this case, the first law of thermodynamics, which states:
    “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed.”
    The atheist must stick to the laws of science to explain everything, including the origin of the universe. Of the Atheist, I do not ask how the universe created itself, for that would be too harsh; rather, he must explain how to create a single atom from nothing – not even law (a single atom being made up of a universe of parts, we are finding). Such a task is impossible, since for matter to come into existence on its own accord would require it to create itself, thereby existing before it existed!
    I am hoping that your comments, Xinran and Greta, were tongue in cheek. But to answer your other question, Xinran; yes, God would have to eat a lot of pasta to power up the sun, let alone a hundred quadrillion suns.

  44. 44
    DSimon

    [...]I submit that an intelligent being designed the universe and its laws. This is a much more logical argument than “because.”

    Ben, the default answer to a question we don’t know much about yet is not “because”, it’s “dunno”.

    Of course, we will discover new laws that give us a better understanding of how the system works, but science will never answer the question of “why” there are these laws in the first place – and why matter feels compelled to obey!

    There doesn’t have to be a “why”. It’s quite plausible that the universe exists, and operates the way it does, due entirely to impersonal forces.

  45. 45
    Eclectic

    So, “Why do laws exist?” Well, reason seems to indicate that where there is law there is a lawgiver.

    Poppycock! Human “laws” and natural “laws” differ in innumerable ways.
    A human law, which is indeed created by personalities, is eminently breakable. There’s a whole complex and highly visible mechanism to punish those violations, but it’s hardly physically impossible.
    What we call a physical law, such as conservation of mass-energy, is a restriction that we have never seen broken, despite efforts to try.
    If natural laws were given, then it is at least conceivable to take them away. For many, this is not the case. For example, let me ask: what would happen if the distributive law were repealed?
    Is it possible to consistently describe such a place, even if we don’t live there?
    And if it can’t even exist in imagination, why is any special lawgiver needed to ensure that we don’t live there?

  46. 46
    Ben Myers

    Ben’s response to DSimmon and Eclectic
    Laws Governing the Universe
    [DSimmon said: Ben, the default answer to a question we don't know much about yet is not "because", it's "dunno".]
    Please know that my former statement – i.e. the “atheist’s” response to why there are universal laws governing the operation of all matter is simply “because” – was not meant to be disrespectful.
    [DSimmon said: There doesn't have to be a "why". It's quite plausible that the universe exists, and operates the way it does, due entirely to impersonal forces.]
    You mean, “Because [physical laws just exist]”?
    Eclectic,
    [I said: So, "Why do laws exist?" Well, reason seems to indicate that where there is law there is a lawgiver.]
    [Eclectic responded: Poppycock! Human "laws" and natural "laws" differ in innumerable ways
 human law, which is indeed created by personalities, is eminently breakable.]
    After the above quote, you went on to demonstrate what we both agree on; that natural law differs from civil law in that it is not breakable. You then leap to the conclusion that in order for a law to have had a maker, it must be breakable? Where you conclude that a perfect law indicates no maker, I conclude that a perfect law indicates a perfect maker.
    Your argument:
    Societal laws are flawed
    Societal laws have a maker
    Natural laws are not flawed
    Therefore, natural laws have no maker
    This is what they call, I think, an “Ad hoc ergo propter hoc” argument, since it does not logically flow.
    Let me back up to explain how the existence of law (any law) implies (d/n prove) a lawgiver, and then I hope you will see how the nature of a law indicates the nature of its creator (i.e. that maker being either inept or all powerful).
    If you have ever been to the Sahara, it is as you might have guessed
enormous and relatively untravelled in many parts. Let’s imagine that you and I were walking through an area way off the oasis trail routes and found, lying in the sand, an alien contraption of some sort (to borrow the illustration). After stooping over to pick it up, we examine its workings and find it looks like one of those old watches with all the gears and cogs, springs and things, except it also makes beautiful sounds and seems to be aware of us in a cold, inhuman way. There is data on the thing in an LED-type setting, and after we take it to the Red Sea for some snorkeling, we find it is hermetically sealed to withstand a 200 ft. plunge.
    It would be silly to conclude that since we saw no one around where we found it, and there was no evidence of humans ever crossing that area of desert, that the device must have just come together all on its own accord through time. Now consider that the brain of a bumblebee rivals, and in some ways surpasses, the complexity of our world’s fastest supercomputers, is portable (no outlet required), rests on the head of a needle, and runs with far more efficiency (minimal heat loss). Obviously, the relatively simple apparatus we found and the bumblebee brain we would both say have an evident “design”. The law of the universe is, well
GENIUS!!! The very word “genius” implies a brain or center of consciousness/intellect. Greta’s “short list” of defective aspects of the universe are in many cases could be explained as flaws that have been the outworking of micro-de-evolutions that may hint at a time when the earth and its lifeforms were without these flaws.
    Anyway, to say that everything came from nothing is infinitely illogical. It may be a little more rational to say that laws just “are
because”, but this is still not the most reasonable answer.
    (Regarding the “first cause” rebuttal, i.e. “If everything must have a cause, then what caused God?” It is half-baked thinking to apply the rules of the system to the one who created the rules and the system.)
    Thanks for giving me something to think about. We will not change each others’ presuppositions, but the great equalizer will be by soon enough to do so for us.

  47. 47
    Greta Christina

    You then leap to the conclusion that in order for a law to have had a maker, it must be breakable?

    No. That’s not the point. The point is that you are assuming that a law must have a lawmaker… and this assumption is based on a linguistic confusion/ conflation between the two different meanings of the word “law.” Just because human laws have lawmakers doesn’t mean natural ones have to — they’re not the same meaning of the word “law.”
    What’s more, if natural law is perfect and immutable because it was created by God, then what you’re positing is an entirely deistic God — one who created the universe, but then no longer intervened with it at any point after that. And that hypothesis, for all intents and purposes, is entirely indistinguishable from atheism. In which case, we should accept atheism purely on the basis of Occam’s razor, and purely on the basis of the unfalsifiability of the God hypothesis in question.
    And if you think that God does intervene, then (a) you need to provide some evidence for that, and (b) your whole “perfect law, perfect lawmaker” argument falls flat.

    Anyway, to say that everything came from nothing is infinitely illogical.

    Actually, modern physicists don’t think that’s so. I don’t fully understand the physics in question, but the idea seems to the be that there is something instead of nothing because “nothingness” is physically unstable. And in fact, if I understand the quantum physics correctly, somethingness comes out of nothingness all the time, on a regular basis.
    In any case, if it’s illogical to say that something came from nothing, then that applies to God as well. Where did God come from? And if God always existed, why can’t that be true for the universe as well? (And don’t say, “Because God is magic and he can do anything.” That’s a terrible argument.)
    Finally — please. Paley’s “watchmaker”? You can do better than that. Evolution provides a perfectly wonderful explanation for why there is the appearance — I repeat, appearance — of design in life. A much better one than theism, in fact — since evolution explains why the purported “design” of life is so shot through with flaws, and a perfect theistic creator God does not. Ditto the supposedly “perfect” laws of physics and the universe — which are, when you pay attention to them, anything but perfect.
    More on that:
    Why “Life Has To Have Been Designed” Is a Terrible Argument for God’s Existence
    Why “The Universe Is Perfectly Fine-Tuned For Life” Is a Terrible Argument for God

  48. 48
    Locutus7

    And Paley’s watchmaker argument is self-refuting. So you walk on a beach, or lawn, or in a jungle and stumble upon a watch. Why do you perceive it as designed? Because it stands in contrast to sand, grass, flowers, and the other surrounding environment THAT IS NOT DESIGNED.
    The watch stands in contrast to its natural surroundings, which is how you recognize it as designed. If everything were designed, you would not pick out the watch as different in its conception from its surroundings.
    So using the watch or any other human designed object actually undermines your argument.

  49. 49
    Greta Christina

    So you walk on a beach, or lawn, or in a jungle and stumble upon a watch. Why do you perceive it as designed? Because it stands in contrast to sand, grass, flowers, and the other surrounding environment THAT IS NOT DESIGNED.

    Locutus7, you are freaking brilliant. I can’t believe that never occurred to me before. I may have to steal this idea and run with it in a separate essay.

  50. 50
    themann1086

    Something from nothing happens all the time. We have even predicted (and observed!) the effects of these “virtual particles” via the Casimir Effect. You can even, hypothetically, create a local region of space-time with negative mass with that.

  51. 51
    Ben Myers

    To all those who responded to my post above:
    Thanks and I have to apologize; after re-reading my post I used some language that was abrasive and I feel could have caused some anger. I should have showed more tact. Also, I attributed Paley’s watch argument (or a likeness thereof) to Lewis – big mistake that I must retract.
    Locutus;
    I would just like to address your rebuttal that the watch stands out because it contrasts the area around it which is NOT created:
    A blade of grass whereupon a watch might be found lying is to the naked eye a simple green shape, and a honey bee’s brain is a blob of pointless matter. However, with the aid of instruments, we now know each of these to be machines of such intricate design and complexity that the watch is in relation the design of nincompoops.
    The reason that I say the watch is obviously designed is because it is just that – obvious…even to the most casual observer.
    Do you know what I mean?

  52. 52
    Steve Gerrard

    I simply have to make time to read ALL of this blog. Never knew so many people felt like me. So many stupid arguments in favour of religion. Wish some of this could be published in our local newspaper.
    I live in a religious village north of Calgary and the guk that is written in the Three Hills Capital has to be seen to believed. Like no-one here actually dies. They go to join their Lord and Master and sit at His side. Wow it must be crowded there! The latest one was on the one year anniversary of someones demise it was published thus: ” mom has settled into her new home well and is catching up with old friends.” Unbelievable that people actually believe this stuff. Well I’m now going on 73 so not long to go before I’m cast into the firey inferno. Somehow I will find a way to blog here and let you know how wrong u all are. StevieG

  53. 53
    Steve Gerrard

    I know my little comments are not as learned as some of my previous bloggers but are relevant I think without being overly technical. I wonder did Darwin and Einstein think in vain? Were they lunatics? Does Richard Leakey’s discoveries of mans evolution, not in abstract thought, but concrete evidence mean nothing? How much evidence does one need to realise those big books called THE KORAN and THE BIBLE are a bunch of made up stuff from primitive people who were running scared about life and needed something to hide behind. How soon before this terrible disaster in Japan is blamed on a god wreaking his wrath on an evil people. Guess the ring of fire was conveniently built into the Earth for just such occasions. Thanks for letting me have a voice somewhere, Stevie G

  54. 54
    Locutus7

    Greta, feel free to steal any of my comments; I’m too lazy to blog myself.
    I actually posted a similar idea on a Richard Dawkins “Apppearance of design” thread a couple of years ago because unlike the redoubtable RD, I never saw the appearance of design in nature. To me, nature always looked, well, natural.
    Slightly off-topic, there is an “Angry Atheist” thread on the RD site, in response to Rabbi Wolpe. I recommended your site -especially your blog on the same topic – in two separate posts. Hope that was okay.
    Ben, my point is that if you believe that everything is designed – some things by man, the rest by god – then you cannot use design as a selection criterion. It is the constrast between a designed and non-designed “thing” that enables one to discern the designed one.
    Now you can argue that god’s design was intended to look natural, but that was not Paley’s argument and it really does not make sense if you think about it. Because in that prelapsarian bliss before man’s fall, or even before man himself was “created”, god would have nothing designed by man to intentionally contrast his own soi-disant “subtler design.”
    Put differently, he would just make stuff because who was around to know the difference between designed, appearing to be designed, and non-designed? Through our present-day optic, these distinctions look to be the hindsight rationalization of desperate theologians plugging a leak in their creation narrative.
    Of course, you could assert that god knew I was going to point this out so he took my contention into account during the six days of creation. And we both know how likely that was.
    Make sense, Ben?

  55. 55
    ben myers

    Locutus said, “…if you believe that everything is designed – some things by man, the rest by god – then you cannot use design as a selection criterion.”
    This is very good “if-then” argumentation, Locutus; however…
    Locutus: “Now you can argue that god’s design was intended to look natural”
    Almost; I would argue that God’s design is far more advanced than our own and it tends to be curvilinear and organic in form, unlike our own. Like our own, however, it has order and functionality. The man-made object contrasts the God-made object in these two ways…
    1: They tend to have different formal qualities.
    2: Man-mad objects tend to look complex (and be simple), whereas God-made objects tend to look simple (and be far more advanced).
    Locutus: “…but that was not Paley’s argument and it really does not make sense if you think about it.”
    (I do not care about Paley’s intent)
    Here is where your argument breaks down, I think, because it seems you proceed to call it impossible that God, during pre-man times, would take pleasure in His own handy-work. The Bible says that to God a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years. Also, it speaks about how His heavenly host that worship him look at His creation in awe.

  56. 56
    Maria

    The Bible says
    Well, there’s your problem!

  57. 57
    DSimon

    Ben:

    Please know that my former statement – i.e. the “atheist’s” response to why there are universal laws governing the operation of all matter is simply “because” – was not meant to be disrespectful.

    It’s not that it was disrespectful, it’s that it was inaccurate in a crucial way!
    It’s not that the physical laws “just are”, because that literally doesn’t mean anything; saying that something “just is” is merely a stop-sign for investigation, not an explanation for anything.
    The question of how the physical laws of the universe came to be what they are is darn interesting, and at the moment, largely unanswered: we don’t have any really good information about the topic, just a bunch of hypotheses.
    Atheism is the correct stance because the “God set up the universe” hypothesis ranks very very low: there’s no good evidence for it, and its prior probability is very tiny because it’s such a complicated explanation.

  58. 58
    Locutus7

    Ben, If I understand your point, god’s design is subtler and more curvilinear and organic; in other words, it looks more natural. Then how does man distinguish it from nature? How does man say, “this tree is not the product of nature, but rather the designed creation of god”?
    The entire Paley argument rests on man being able to recognize design. But to recognize design, it has to be in contrast to something not designed.
    I don’t think I’m communicating this to you very well, apparently. So I’ll consider us at an impasse on this issue.

  59. 59
    Greta Christina

    Ben: I think you may be missing two of the most crucial problems with the “appearance of design” argument.
    One: The theory of evolution provides a completely satisfying explanation explanation for why life forms are so complex. I strongly suggest that you read “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry A. Coyne, or “The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” by Richard Dawkins, or “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” by Donald R. Prothero, or even just this online primer on what evolution is and how it works. The God hypothesis is entirely unnecessary.
    Two, and very crucially: If life was designed by a perfect designer, why is so much of the “design” so terrible? As I wrote in my Why “Life Has To Have Been Designed” Is a Terrible Argument for God’s Existence piece: Yes, there are many aspects of biological life that astonish with their elegance and function. But there are many other aspects of biological life that astonish with their clumsiness, half-assedness, inefficiency, “fixed that for you” jury-rigs, pointless superfluities, glaring omissions, laughable failures, and appalling, mind-numbing brutality. Here’s just a partial list.
    The theory of evolution accounts for these terrible flaws quite nicely… as nicely as it accounts for the magnificent complexity. In fact, in the theory of evolution, you wouldn’t expect life forms to be perfect. (Again, I explain all this in Why “Life Has To Have Been Designed” Is a Terrible Argument for God’s Existence.) The theory that life was created by a perfect and powerful God fall entirely short. You don’t get to point to the elegant and complex functioning of life as evidence of it being created by a perfect and powerful God, and then, when faced with its clumsy and brutal flaws, shrug your shoulders and say, “Mysterious ways.” You can’t have it both ways.

  60. 60
    Locutus7

    What Greta said.

  61. 61
    ben myers

    Greta, I am an avid reader of Scientific American and went to U.S. government schools for 20 years where I was taught evolution. Out of fear that the only other alternative to man coming from monkeys was God, we were never given any evidence against macro-evolution; scientific inquiry was halted, the theory was taught as law, and I was indoctrinated.
    Greta said: “You don’t get to point to the elegant and complex functioning of life as evidence of it being created by a perfect and powerful God, and then, when faced with its clumsy and brutal flaws, shrug your shoulders and say, “Mysterious ways.”
    If it is true that you get this response to such simple questions I think you should actively seek out more intelligent religious types who know orthodox Theology and have a passion for science and history. There are morons in both of our camps and I think we should avoid publicizing their thoughtless remarks to help our sides out.
    Now, then, it seems that most of the flaws I’ve heard described may possibly have an explanation we have not discovered yet, and may therefore not be “flaws” at all.
    For example, as children we all thought giraffes were beasts whose necks and awkward legs served no purpose but to make life difficult and clumsy; and then Ranger Rick told us that the giraffe’s long neck and legs are indispensable. Almost all of the “flaw” lists I’ve read are quite possibly “unsolved mysteries”. So allow me to turn your own argument upon you: science will give us the answer!
    If you want to continue using the argument that what was once thought mysterious science has managed to explain away (i.e. “the incredible shrinking god”), you should probably not argue that so much of our material universe is flawed. After all, it is probably just not yet understood scientifically!

  62. 62
    DSimon

    Now, then, it seems that most of the flaws I’ve heard described may possibly have an explanation we have not discovered yet, and may therefore not be “flaws” at all.

    What about flaws whose downsides are so bad that there’s no plausible upside that could make up for them? Huntington’s disease comes to mind, as well as many other degenerative genetic diseases.
    These diseases occur because some of our genes are very vulnerable to simple errors in just the wrong place, due to random changes introduced between generations. If these particular genes were only slightly better designed, the frequency of the diseases would be much much lower.
    Transmission errors happen, but there are straightforward ways to build systems that can detect and correct errors in transmission; the computer you’re using right now has several!
    If a benevolent and ultra-intelligent God created our genome, why did he make design mistakes that a typical graduate Computer Science student would know how to avoid?

  63. 63
    ben myers

    DSimon, I am glad you brought this up.
    Genetic defects are abundant, and their mere existence seems to indicate that if God exists He is either lacking in love, power or intelligence.
    We are still learning much about the DNA strand, but you are right that there are new and increasingly detrimental mutations appearing as each new generation is born.
    There are many linguists, biologists and doctors who see the human species as de-evolving, coming from a more excellent state to a lesser one. Vestigial structures in our bodies and DNA sequence are showing us the imperfect and sickening state of our already decaying flesh.
    This of course all fits so snugly with the Biblical account of longevity among antediluvian people, and the ramifications of disobeying God’s moral laws, which He established for our own benefit.
    (Note: Death and disease of course increase all the more rapidly in cultures of extreme promiscuity and other harmful/sinful behaviors)

  64. 64
    Doug

    Note: Death and disease of course increase all the more rapidly in cultures of extreme promiscuity and other harmful/sinful behaviors)
    Citation needed.
    The longest lived people on the planet are the japanese and the Norwegians; both cultures that are predominately NOT christian.
    Also you cannot equate sinful with harmful. For example, guaranteed free speech and freedom of religion are both sinful (I am the lord thy god, thou shall have no gods before me and though shall not take the lord’s name in vain), but only harmful if the society DOESN’T guarantee them.

  65. 65
    themann1086

    *Snort* “de-evolution”. Look, I love science fiction too, but let’s not confuse its tropes with reality.

  66. 66
    DSimon

    Vestigial structures in our bodies and DNA sequence are showing us the imperfect and sickening state of our already decaying flesh.
    This of course all fits so snugly with the Biblical account of longevity among antediluvian people, and the ramifications of disobeying God’s moral laws, which He established for our own benefit.

    You’ve made a testable predictions here: That there should be a big difference in the prevalence of genetic disease between two otherwise similar groups if one of those groups is Christian and the other is not.
    Are you prepared to reduce your confidence in your belief in God if that prediction turns out to be incorrect?

  67. 67
    Greta Christina

    Almost all of the “flaw” lists I’ve read are quite possibly “unsolved mysteries”. So allow me to turn your own argument upon you: science will give us the answer!

    They’re not unsolved mysteries, Ben. Science has already given us the answer. The answer is that evolution happens very gradually, with small changes adding up over long periods of time, so there’s no way to wipe the slate clean and start over when a particular “design” becomes maladaptive. It’s an excellent explanation. Do you have any actual solid, positive evidence that it’s wrong, and that God had anything to do with it? Or is your only argument “it could have happened that way, and you can’t absolutely prove with 100% certainty that it didn’t”?

    This of course all fits so snugly with the Biblical account of longevity among antediluvian people…

    You’re kidding, right?
    There is not one scrap of fossil or anthropological evidence that pre-modern people had anything close to the long lifespans described in the Bible. In fact, the exact opposite is true: every piece of hard evidence we have points to the conclusion that human lifespans stayed roughly the same for thousands of years, began to increase with the advent of the modern era, and have increased dramatically in the last century. (And in fact, as Doug pointed out, many countries with high longevity averages are non-Christian countries with high tolerance/ enjoyment of sexual behaviors you seem to consider sinful — such as Japan, and many European countries.)
    The fact that you would try to back up your point with the notion that Old Testament people had lifespans of hundreds of years makes it clear that your arguments are not to be taken seriously.

    …and the ramifications of disobeying God’s moral laws, which He established for our own benefit.

    Really? What about birth defects? Pediatric cancer? Childhood diabetes? Are you arguing that babies and children are being punished for disobeying God’s moral laws?
    Finally: You seem to be arguing that the magnificent perfection of life is evidence that God exists… and that the flaws in life are also evidence that God exists. You’re trying to have it both ways. Is there any evidence at all that could possibly persuade you that God does not exist, and that evolution happened entirely naturally? I can tell you exactly the kinds of evidence that would persuade me that I was mistaken. (The classic example of evidence that would disprove the theory of evolution: A fossilized rabbit in the pre-Cambrian layer.) If you can’t show us that you’re open to being persuaded by telling us what evidence would convince you that you were mistaken, I see no reason to continue this conversation.

  68. 68
    Ben

    I have tried to treat everyone’s questions shortly here

    Ben:
    “Death and disease of course increase all the more rapidly in cultures of extreme promiscuity and other harmful/sinful behaviors”
    Doug:
    “Citation needed”
    Ben:
    People who have sex with many people are higher at risk for STD’s than my parents, who just have sex with one another. Citation: Sane MDs.
    Doug:
    [Japanese and Norwegians have long life spans but are not Christian]
    Ben:
    A culture’s diet has long been known to play a role in determining human lifespan, along with numerous other factors.
    Nevertheless, this is an interesting observation, Doug. It is interesting because most data shows that America ranks the highest in STDs, yet it is supposedly Christian. However, you and I both should know that being a Christian is not just saying so, but in acting so. Jesus said that you can judge a tree by its fruit; therefore, from our sky-scraping homicide and divorce rates, the Bible would judge that there are actually very few true believers in America, despite what they themselves claim. Japan, though it is an “atheist” nation, may actually be more Christian in its behavior.
    Doug:
    “
guaranteed free speech and freedom of religion are both sinful [yet not harmful]. ‘I am the lord thy god, thou shall have no [other] gods before me and 
shall not take the lord [your God’s] name in vain’”
    Ben:
    Fortunately, our “freedom” laws were developed by Theologically-minded people with a better grasp of the Bible than you. This is a severe textual mistreatment, Doug. The passage is talking to the people of Israel before they had even established a king. They were living in a Theocracy ruled by priests and prophets and the laws of that nation were more like the laws that should be applied to a modern church. In the New Testament, Christ in Matthew 5 lays these laws upon the individual
not upon the unbelieving nation of Rome. I can give you a fuller treatment of this if you’d like, but I have a feeling you are more interested in decrying the Bible as false, rather than discerning what it actually has to say. Is this true?
    DSimon:
    “You’ve made a testable prediction here: That there should be a big difference in the prevalence of genetic disease between two otherwise similar groups if one of those groups is Christian and the other is not.”
    Ben:
    DUDE! I love your mind, DSimon! So rational! Sadly, you are wrong in saying my prediction is testable. Looking at the data regarding adultery, divorce rate, cases of pedophilia, and how these figures seem to be the same among the “Christian” community as among people of other leanings tells me that there are a whole lot of people calling themselves “Christians” who have not had a heart changed by God, and are therefore unbelievers (Christ: “You can judge a tree by its fruit.”). It is funny and sad, Dsimon, but I’d bet that if you were to proceed with your test you’d find not only just as much “death” and “disease” in the professing “Christian” community of America as you would in any other
BUT MAYBE EVEN MORE!!! This, I think, is due to man’s favorite sin
hypocrisy. Agree? (I often find myself most strongly opposed to the sin in others that I myself am the most enslaved by)
    Gretta:
    “There is not one scrap of fossil or anthropological evidence that pre-modern people had anything close to the lifespans described in the Bible.”
    Ben:
    I never said there was fossil evidence, Gretta. In fact, I would assume there would not be, since earth’s population would have been small enough to make the survival and our finding of naturally lying bones highly unlikely.
    Regarding early hominids, it just seems to me that some folks desire so much to prove man came from another species that they do not allow for even the entertainment of alternate explanations (much like the Roman Catholic Church did in reverse to our friend, Galileo). Java man was not collected in a scholarly manner, with human skulls being found at the same layer and not reported. Piltdown man was a hoax with teeth filed. Peking man has numerous alternate explanations, and Lucy…well looks like a creature of some sort. Just a thought: Years ago I heard a skull scientist once offer that the human skull grows until you die, with the forehead, rear cranium and jawbone constantly changing shape, a man of about 900 years old would look pretty grotesque.
    As a Christian I am bound to practice good science. At its very heart, good science asks questions and is always engaged in the inquiry after truth. This to me means holding up a red flag when a theory is accepted and taught as law. Both of our systems appear to have huge areas that are scientifically unexplained; the question is which one offers the BEST explanation for life’s origin, meaning, morality and destiny (R. Zacharias).
    I believe that if you’d endeavor to study the historicity and message of the Bible with an open mind an in a spirit of gaining understanding to the answers it offers to these questions, you would find it the most thorough and logical explanation for all things.
    Gretta, I have some things to say regarding your response to my statement that you would not be convinced were evidence given for God’s existence. I will post my thoughts on the link you guided me to above. Thanks.
    Thanks everyone, I think that is all I’ll have time to communicate on this blog
I’ll give you the last word.

  69. 69
    Indigo

    Ben – I must say, the sheer audacity with which you combine the No True Scotsman fallacy (Christians aren’t Christians if I say they’re not) with begging the question (Christianity is better because it’s healthier for you, and a healthier lifestyle is inherently Christian) AND the appeal to consequences (Christianity is true because it’s better for you) – it’s positively breathtaking. How DO you do it?

  70. 70
    ben myers

    (When I said I’d not post anymore, I didn’t expect to have to defend myself against false accusations; sorry everyone.)
    Indigo,
    You said that I said: “Christians aren’t Christians if I say they’re not”
    I didn’t say this or even imply it.
    You said that I said: “Christianity is better because it’s healthier for you”
    I didn’t say this or even imply it.
    You said that I said: “Christianity is true because it’s better for you”
    I didn’t say this or even imply it.
    And you challenged me “…it’s positively breathtaking. How DO you do it?”
    I don’t.
    If you would like to ask me a serious question I’d be glad to answer, but I don’t think being libelous will get us anywhere.

  71. 71
    DSimon

    Sadly, you are wrong in saying my prediction is testable. Looking at the data regarding adultery, divorce rate, cases of pedophilia, and how these figures seem to be the same among the “Christian” community as among people of other leanings[...]

    Ben, if you like you can define Christians as people who both believe in the Christian God and also do not commit adultery, get divorced, or rape children.
    But, your earlier implication that such diseases are a consequence of disobeying God remains testable: does the Christian group have a lower incidence of genetic diseases than otherwise similar non-Christian groups?

  72. 72
    Indigo

    Ben, I apologise for the snark. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling ignored due to having been very shy, and now sometimes overcompensate in my efforts to be heard. I’m sorry for having been flippant.
    Nevertheless, I still believe my points stand. You declared that the US is not a particularly Christian nation despite the census records indicating that most of your country believes they are; this is No True Scotsman, or No True Christian if you prefer.
    You said that sin, as defined by Christians, causes the deterioration of the physical body, and when it was pointed out that many non-Christian cultures have longer average life expectancy than some Christian ones, said that indicated those cultures were actually more Christian than the ones that professed belief in Christianity.
    Finally, if we allow that Christian cultures have longer life expectancy, you pointed to this as proof that less sinful people live longer, therefore this is evidence that sin causes decay, thus evidence for humanity’s Biblical “fall” a few thousand years ago, amd thus the truth and necessity of Christianity.
    If I’m wrong on any of this, feel free to clarify.

  73. 73
    ben myers

    Indigo, what a breath of fresh air. Although I must admit DSimon is nearly as cordial.
    Indigo said: “You declared that the US is not a particularly Christian nation despite the census records indicating that most of your country believes they are; this is No True Scotsman or No True Christian if you prefer.”
    It is only “No True Scotsman” if I use my own standard to determine who is or who is not saved. Let me state: The Bible is the standard, and though it says salvation comes by God changing a person’s heart and cannot therefore be seen directly, it also says that there are visible “symptoms” that WILL follow in any case of true conversion. Therefore, you and I can usually “recognize” true believers from “fake” believers (those who are in it for fringe benefits, etc.).
    When a person has had his/her heart changed by God, certain signs or “symptoms” will be evident.
    “
by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Jesus Christ – Matthew 7:20)
    What Christ means is that we can distinguish a true believer from a fake one by asking, “Does this person act in obedience to Christ’s commands? When this person acts sinfully, does he/she respond with deep sorrow and repentance, seeking to change said behavior?” These are some of the Biblical “fruits” to which Christ refers and they are in many cases visible. (also, Ezekiel 36:26-27)
    Regarding most Christians in America today; if a talking tree told you that it was an apple tree, but after you looked at its fruit and noticed all oranges, you would have to conclude that the tree was either lying to you or self-deceived.
    Indigo said: “
and when it was pointed out that many non-Christian cultures have longer average life expectancy than some Christian ones, [Ben] said that indicated those cultures were actually more Christian than the ones that professed belief in Christianity.”
    I did not say this. I merely pointed out that Japan MAY be more Christian in its “behavior”, and I was offering this along with diet and innumerable other factors as a possible explanation for their longevity.
    Indigo said: “…if we allow that Christian cultures have longer life expectancy…”
    I do not allow for this, since there are too many other factors involved in determining lifespan. Nevertheless, in such a hypothetical culture there would be almost no incidents of drunk-diving accidents, probably zero STD’s, and negligible rates of suicide, homicide, and drug abuse
all of these having a negative effect on a culture’s life expectancy, but not being sole determinants.

  74. 74
    Tim

    To play devil’s advocate I would like to introduce the only truly logical argument for God that I know of, and that is Berkeley’s Immaterialist concept. Ontologically for Berkeley, to be is to be perceived. Our perceptions create the real world, our objective reality. Think about how there is no objective “color” but how it is only a projection/perception of the mind through the transduction of the color spectrum (angstroms) which we then experience as color. But does the object itself have color? Scientifically, it doesn’t. It is a biologically created experience. If this undermines the senses, the empirical nature upon which science itself largely rests (though not completely), then Berkeley has a point in saying that the real world doesn’t exist- clouds, oceans, rocks, trees, etc. All the things we believe to be part of the real world is only based on perception. But, following his assumption that to be perceived is to exist, can we perceive ourselves? Berkeley says no. We are perceived in the mind of God. He is obviously assuming God to exist but in his system of thinking it is not illogical to make that assumption because the idea of “substance” is removed. That is why when the tree falls in the forest when no one is around it does make a noise because God perceives the sound. It is a very irritating philosophy because it is difficult to refute because his logic, to me and others, is sound. This extreme idealism chafes me but is difficult to refute. Even Hume had to concede to power of his argument, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe it or can’t try to refute it.

  75. 75
    DSimon

    Tim, I don’t think that makes logical sense at all. It follows the standard God of the Gaps pattern to a T:
    1. How do we solve mysterious problem X?
    2. *mumble mumble*
    3. God!
    Historically X would be something like “How life came to exist on Earth” or “How the weather works”. In this case, it’s the lack of direct and perfectly reliable information about objective reality.
    A trickier problem, but still no more suited to the “God did it!” explanation than the previous subjects. In particular, how does removing the notion of objective reality imply the existence of anything like the sorts of entities that people call gods?

  76. 76
    Bruce Gorton

    Posted by: Tim | March 29, 2011 at 06:33 AM
    Our perceptions create the real world, our objective reality.

    If our perceptions create our objective reality, then if someone robs my house without me knowing about it, the stuff that someone stole will still be there when I return home.
    Because I would not have percieved it being removed in the first place – the stuff will not have been removed.
    In short if perception creates reality were true, it would save a lot of people a lot of money on their insurance.
    The more logical answer to reality vs perception is that our brains take sensory data from reality and translate that into an imperfect yet useable model of reality.
    This model means that we can be tricked or ignorant, something that perception created reality cannot allow for.

  77. 77
    DSimon

    Bruce Gorton, well, perhaps we just believe that we can be tricked, and so we are. ;-)

  78. 78
    Bruce Gorton

    Posted by: DSimon | April 05, 2011 at 02:10 PM
    It still wouldn’t account for the very specific way in which our senses would be providing incomplete information.

  79. 79
    DSimon

    Well, suppose we believe strongly in advance that we would tend to be surprised in unexpected ways. If our beliefs determine reality, then perhaps reality would be modified such that it randomly or pseudo-randomly chooses surprising events. Or alternately, chooses non-surprising events but affects our minds so that we interpret them as surprising.
    I don’t think Tim’s idea is internally contradictory. But, it is *totally and utterly unfalsifiable*, which is very nearly as bad.

  80. 80
    Tjbeorn

    Hello all. I’ve noticed that Zen Buddhism doesn’t ascribe to ‘God’, ‘gods’, and other supernatural stuff. One of the ‘three marks of existence’ as found in Buddhist tradition is anatta/anatman or ‘not-self’ or no soul. Has anyone else seen otherwise?

  81. 81
    Colin Reid

    I believe that justifying atheism as opposed to finding what truths or dis truths are behind religion is like trying to prove a negative…which cant be done….get to the meat & potatoes of it…
    I prefer to give people a long rope to hang themselves with their own arguments…such as, if god is the creator of this infinite universe that we know, & we understand infinite to mean, in terms of space, that there is no space outside of it, in terms of time, there is no before or no after, & in terms of energy, it contains all energy ever expended or that will ever be expended, that this argument in & of itself leaves no space for the god concept…
    This leaves me to believe that the universe itself is the mother of all things, & nurturer of all…
    No supernatural metaphysical garbage, all natural, like how i like my food…without the additives…..
    Another argument i favor is that we portray GOD to be this loving kind force, yet the origin of religion through the course of it’s existence is strife with wickedness & evil perpetuated by believers pillaging non believers,& the elimination of entire tribes of peoples who dont favor the GOD argument….God seems more to be the wicked should who has but damnation & curses on the entire lineage of human kind for the one simple act of Adam eating an apple he was told not to eat…seems more to be the act of a wicked, grudge full god who know not forgiveness…To each his own i guess, but we non believers have been put here in a world of the majority of believers, the ultimate test of ones fidelity & inner strength…be strong ye mighty soldier, endure your battles fearlessly…

  82. 82
    Twinkletoes

    For the gentleman who insisted that we atheists MUST be afraid of something to concentrate on christianity so much is absolutely right. We’re afraid of the followers of such a hostile belief system! However, to be fair, we also fear the followers of ANY fundamentalist religion as they do nasty and scary things to others. So much for god’s love!

  83. 83
    tjallen

    Locutus7′s argument above does not respond to the argument from design as made by the holders of that argument. They are not contrasting the watch with blades of grass, trees, sand, etc. They contrast the watch with a pile of metal, stone and glass bits, of the same amounts materially as the watch, that are not designed into anything. That is how the design argument makes that contrast between designed and non-designed, by which the argument is supposed to work. In a sense, L7′s design argument opponent is a straw man.
    On the positive side, Locutus7′s argument resembles an abridged version of David Hume’s “incomplete analogy” argument.
    Hume correctly sees the holder of the design argument as contrasting the designed watch with the non-designed pile of materials, and Hume says for the design argument to work, we now need to compare designed and non-designed universes. But we only experience one universe, so there is no way to complete the analogy, by making a contrast similar to the designed watch and non-designed pile of rubble. By definition, there is only one universe, or we only experience one, and do not have others to compare it to, or contrast it with.
    Locutus7 I am not dismissing your interesting argument, and there is much food for thought in what you say, and maybe a good argument is hiding in there, but it is (maybe) a mistake to think the design argument contrasts the watch to “everything else” which is not how the design argument holders see their own argument.

  84. 84
    RhS

    why is there anything at all? thats the only question. we debate details that give no true evidence of a god or lack thereof. the faiths of atheism and religion are one and the same. agnosticism rules.

  85. 85
    Brimshack

    Reason number 4 is particularly interesting.

  86. 86
    skado

    Hi Greta. I originally posted this comment at your article on AlterNet. I thought there might be a better chance you’d see it if I posted here also. I call it…

    “The Top One Reason I Don’t Believe In Not Believing In God”

    Dear Ms Christina,

    I enjoyed reading your article and suspect that you and I have very few substantive differences regarding the objective points you were expressing. However. I’m not one to let a little harmony stand in the way of a good nitpicking. I’m not scholarly enough to suggest any quantitative assessment of the volume of written (not to even mention unwritten) conjecture, opinion and authoritative declarations that have been made regarding the existence or non-existence of God, other than to say… we know it’s one helluva lot! When I see yet more of it, I want to say wait. Doesn’t the answer to this question depend on the definition of God? And that definition, as you point out in your article, is hardly one that has found universal agreement.

    Without a clearer consensus about the exact nature of God the question becomes “Does ANY God of ANY description exist?” and the answer is clearly “Yes.” An estimated 80% of the entire population of humans on the Earth claim some kind of belief in some kind of god. Most of these people allow their belief to influence their daily lives in varying degrees up to and including ordering their every thought and act around this concept. For better or for worse, taken collectively, this is one powerful influence in the world. Since before recorded history and to this very day empires have been built and destroyed in no small measure through the focus afforded by the devotion to some character or other held in the hearts and minds of the people and given the status and respect of a god.

    Recent developments in cognitive sciences and brain physiology suggest there may even be a specific function of the brain evolved to manifest images of, and/or voices of “god” as an adaptive advantage in team work. Another suggestion is that such a belief may help individuals persevere through moments, or indeed, lifetimes of otherwise psychologically unbearable hardship. Clearly countless millions of earnestly toiling souls throughout time have received comfort and a perception of guidance from this function called God, and continue to today all over the world. For as varied as the reports of experiences and beliefs may be, the existence of this phenomenon is more consistent throughout history than a reasonable observer could blame on simple ignorance or a “belief fad” with a remarkable run of popularity. This god exists as certainly as dreams exist or ideas. In my view it would be unkind, unnecessary, and unsupportable by common sense or science to claim that this phenomenon doesn’t exist. It’s observable. The more useful question may be “What is its nature?” And even that troublesome question is likely to eventually be answered by science in its slow, but sure way.

    Meanwhile, is any good purpose served by telling 5.6 billion of our struggling fellow humans that their most meaningful experiences aren’t real? that their dreams don’t exist? that they have no ideas, and no such things as hope or forgiveness can be had? I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest otherwise. You have well described how insubstantial an obstacle to the progress of science religion has been, so you can’t see it as any kind of threat. Is it reason that bids us to go to war with an enemy that poses no threat and doesn’t even exist?

    Respectfully submitted,

    Skado

  87. 87
    Philip

    I’m often amazed at the naivety of atheist blogs most of which are self-serving, negative, anti-intellectual rants with a preference for expletives to replace any thought that may occasionally cross the empty space where most people have a brain. Greta is no different.

    In the five reasons Greta provides for disbelief she manages to show she is a believer. The fact that historically some have sought to explain the world by reference to the supernatural is no different from her claim that the supernatural does not exist. Both represent the prevailing paradigm of their times and Greta should be sufficiently acquainted with Thomas Kuhn’s “Theory of Scientific Revolutions” to know that the scientific community has a long history of resisting alternative and accurate explanations to the one which brought kudos to their own careers.

    The conclusion that the supernatural hypothesis can be discarded is not based on fact but opinion. For those who do not believe in the supernatural the only correct conclusion is agnosticism. That Greta goes beyond that is evidence that in her case atheism is a belief.

    Similarly in claiming that God is a human perception of something that does not exist is not a fact, it’s an opinion. The fact that human beings have different ideas about the concept of God is not proof of non-existence but of the limits of human perception and the external influences which create perception itself. Whether the arguments developed in an attempt to define God in language humans use are adequate is irrelevant to the discussion, the more so when Greta selectively uses arguments she chooses to believe are weak and pronounces them so without investigation.

    Greta’s reliance on the “God Of The Gaps” argument is so out of date she should be embarrassed to mention it. She appears to be embarrassed by the “Evolution Of The Gaps” argument which seeks to explain what is not known by postulating a time frame that allows for everything but proves nothing. Greta claims that scientific explanations confront us with reality every day but neglects to mention the frauds which science sought to impose on society of which the development of genetics holds a particularly dishonourable place.

    As for religion running in families: if that were true then the number of believers would constantly rise with each generation. Her claim is undermined by the fact that people do leave the faith they were taught or have a different perspective on it than their forefathers. The diminishing God to whom she refers is not diminshing. What has changed is the ontological tools used by humans to explain their perception of reality. The idea that religion may be a social construction is undermined when applied to “scientific” subjects. In that respect Greta may find Michael Ruse’s “Is Evolution A Social Construction?” an interesting comparison. Ruse is an atheist by the way.

    However, there is a further weakness in Greta’s argument. In suggesting religion is “an idea perpetuated largely by fear, intimidation, tradition, and social pressure” she fails to recognise that what historically passed for religion was, in practice, politics. As Carl Becker brilliantly demonstrated when eighteenth century atheists set out to undermine Augustine’s City of God all they succeeded in doing was to replace with their own “Heavenly City of the Philosophers”.The rest, as they say, is history, a history which repeats all the failings which were traditionally ascribed to God.

  88. 88
    Mike F

    Philip,

    Your argument is saddeningly terrible. All you’ve managed to do is attack the author with out giving any real evidence of your own.

    “Similarly in claiming that God is a human perception of something that does not exist is not a fact, it’s an opinion.”

    Fantastic, I’m glad we agree that the actual existence of god is still just an opinion and still not a fact.

    “Whether the arguments developed in an attempt to define God in language humans use are adequate is irrelevant to the discussion, the more so when Greta selectively uses arguments she chooses to believe are weak and pronounces them so without investigation.”

    Read the article, there are tons of sources and hard facts, but then again, you’re like every other bible thumping hypocrite who believes that everything besides the Bible must be false.

    “Greta’s reliance on the “God Of The Gaps” argument is so out of date she should be embarrassed to mention it.”

    How old is your bible again? oh yeah, let’s not forget that part, unless you’re a Christian, then the rules don’t apply to you right?

    “As for religion running in families: if that were true then the number of believers would constantly rise with each generation.”

    This argument has so many holes I wont even bother with it… Oh wait, look I just pulled a Christian argument. Really though, now you’re saying that the number of believers is in fact not increasing, which brings me to my next argument…

    “The diminishing God to whom she refers is not diminshing.”

    Two things, this already conflicts with your previous argument, and see here (Look it’s actual evidence)http://www.gallup.com/poll/128276/increasing-number-no-religious-identity.aspx

    “In that respect Greta may find Michael Ruse’s “Is Evolution A Social Construction?” an interesting comparison. Ruse is an atheist by the way.”

    Never read the book myself, but let me enlighten you on what being an atheist actually means. Most people understand the definition to be that it rejects the belief of deities, mostly due to lack of evidence. However, if I were you, I would read into the differences between things like positive and negative atheism. It’s also wise to note that atheism is accepted in many organized religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which have their own creation stories. You should study those at some point.

  89. 89
    Stu

    A couple of points before I get started… firstly, apologies if this turns out to be a huge wall of text but this article (and the others on this site) have raised a huge thunderous cloud of questions that are currently in a totally disorganised state but I feel the need to express. As I think this was your intention then well done, I thoroughly enjoyed the read! Which was the second point I wanted to make before starting… preempted myself a little there and I can’t guarantee that it will not happen again but I will try and keep this as structured and coherent as I can.

    Well, bang goes my nice life I had categorised as agnostic. I have lived for a large proportion of my life happily believing that atheists denied the existence of god (even if proved) and agnostics did not believe in god but would not deny god’s existence either. The second of the two (what I thought was agnosticism) is a state I found myself in when I started questioning the bible (I was kind of raised CofE, went to sunday school and church with the Scouts) and count myself fortunate that my parents never forced the issue of religion on my brother and I, the thing they really drummed in was empathy. So if someone could clearly define the differences between the two I would be most grateful – it shouldn’t really matter but wanting to be part of a clearly defined group is part of the human condition so I can’t really help it :)

    I was also ready (halfway through the response posts) to argue about religions not having to stand up to scrutiny and not being abandoned due to their teachings being proved false and was all ready to list a number of dead religions… but then I realised that those religions had not been abandoned in that way, they had been subsumed by other religions that gained popularity through promising more/better rewards in the afterlife or better rewards for their followers, so much for that argument although it’s worth noting that the Catholic church’s views on the use of condoms has changed recently – so maybe there’s hope yet!

    So here’s the biggy – religion is harmful. On this point, which is the entire point of the post I have to disagree. Belief of any kind is the acceptance of something to be true with no proof on which to base it, that’s the fundamental difference between belief and knowledge. You may believe something based on precedent (like the belief that your body still exists when you wake up, before you feel that desperate urge to pee which turns the belief into knowledge) or conjecture (scientific hypothesis which becomes a theorem (knowledge) once proved) or community (religion, as yet unproved). Religion as an abstract form is a set of beliefs used to fill in the gaps in the understanding of the world around us, before us and after us to alleviate the fear of the unknown and as such is not inherently evil. Just because religious leaders can use religion and the belief of the faithful to enforce their own social rules (no matter how draconian and prejudiced they may be) does not make religion harmful, it is the person in authority abusing their power that does the harm, religion is merely the tool they use to make their abuse be tolerated or at the very least ignored. I will concede the point that religion is the most often used excuse for attrocities committed because it is such an easy tool for those in power to wield, but then it’s also easy for a sports coach to do the same with a child’s desire to be on the team, that doesn’t make sports harmful, just the actions of the dirty sod coaching that team.

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that I don’t believe religion is harmful, but people can be. You’re right in saying that the world would not be all sugar and spice if there was no organised religion, evil people would find another tool with which to gain power over others. But then again, that’s just my opinion on it. Thanks again for an enjoyable read and lively debate!

  90. 90
    Stu

    note: apologies – I posted this response at the bottom of the wrong article!

  91. 91
    Taylor Hartley

    I enjoyed reading this article because it’s well thought out and not unduly harsh. I’ll try my best to give thoughtful answers.

    So you know where I’m coming from, I am as follows:

    1. The most-scum-suckingest-kind-of-a-lawyer (a criminal defense attorney)
    2. A left-of-center-Utah-County Democrat
    3. A first degree Black Belt in Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate
    4. A sincere member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), and
    5. A lover of Kimchi (fermented cabbage with spices, originating out of Korea)

    I’ll be speaking from some of these perspectives.

    On a more serious note, I have personally seen repeated instances of God’s living reality. I know numbers are sometimes important to critically-thinking minds, so, let me share some details about explicit experiences I’ve been keeping track of since 11 years old when I began really searching to discover if some sort of God existed or not (I don’t share this out of arrogance, but as a sincere attempt to demonstrate evidence of God’s reality to people who genuinely doubt His existence):

    12 clear answers to specific requests in prayer
    16 unmistakable revelations from a Higher Power than me
    6 visions with confirming circumstances
    6 instances of healing others by priesthood authority
    5 miracles demonstrating a Power that is not natural
    7 instances of prophecy fulfilled with precision
    32 other spiritual experiences that are not answers to prayers, revelations, visions, healings, miracles, or prophecies

    So, over my life so far, I’ve recorded 84 experiences dealing with God’s reality. This is the background I submit as I discuss the following points given in the article to show God is not real.

    1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

    “People come up with new supernatural explanations for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources? Again — exactly zero….If I see any solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of a phenomenon, I’ll reconsider my disbelief.”

    I agree that many people “come up with” explanations of things all the time that are wrong.

    Professionally, I see both prosecutors and clients doing it frequently. I see myself doing it as well. Spiritually, I know it happens all the time—a lot of spiritual conclusions are just plain wrong. For example, I hear people say it all the time, “Everything happens for a reason.” They mean to say that God intends whatever happened. I say bologna. It’s wrong. God does not cause everything to happen. That attributes far too much fault to Him. Some things happen for bad reasons that God does not will.

    So, my first point is that just because many people are wrong about a specific conclusion they draw does not mean that conclusion can never be right.

    Second, the position that there needs to be “replicable evidence” in order to prove God’s reality assumes a false premise. The premise is that God is an automaton. That He cranks out assembly line products and can always be relied on to do so without fail. It’s just a false assumption. God is our Father who’s trying to develop us into becoming as He is. This process requires that He not act like science. Instead, He builds our spiritual muscles by giving us trying circumstances. Those trials include some inconsistency. They include nearly double blind tests where we’re all the ones who are blind. At some point, which differs for each of us, the blind fold gets taken off in part and then in whole.

    Third, there are large amounts of evidence of God’s existence. They are recorded in the Hebrew scriptures made by fallible men that have made some errors, but they are substantially correct and can be relied on to teach us about God’s reality. We still need to understand accurately what’s written, but the truth is there. It’s also there in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament. It’s also there in the scriptures from the New World. It’s also there in the scriptures from the modern world. All of the scriptures preserve instances and evidences of God’s reality. There are other claimed scriptures from other faiths that have substantial inaccuracies (although containing some truth here and there). But just because a forged $100 bill exists, that does not mean all $100 bills are fake. It seems the non-believers like to say that because something false about God out there exists, everything out there about God is also false.

    The point, though, is the true scriptures that do exist record vast amounts of evidence of God’s reality—very “large amounts.”

    The difficulty, as mentioned later in the article, is to know whether the scriptures are true. Can you speak with the original authors? Can you put them in front of a jury, have them relate their testimony, and then have the jury decide if what they’ve said is true? No, but that doesn’t mean you cannot determine the veracity of the records.

    There are a number of other methods. Scholastic research and analysis is one way, but it is as strong as is the method of reason. Reason and logic are very low standards for determining truth because “reasonable minds can differ,” as our jurisprudence has discovered years ago.

    Another way is asking the alleged God if they are His records, which He willed to be written. Then, wait for an answer. The lack of an answer is just that—not an answer. Repeat your requests. If you expect God to give replicable answers as evidence, then He can expect you to make replicable requests as a demonstration of your sincere hope. Be patient. Be sincere. Don’t be discouraged. Continue and at the right time, God your Father will certainly answer you. How can I promise you this? Because I know from personal experiences that God our Father is highly interested in all His children individually and collectively knowing, understanding, and embracing what is morally true in order to achieve the life He wants to provide us. You will see solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of certain phenomenon.

    The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely
    2: The inconsistency of world religions.

    QUESTION: “If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?”

    ANSWER: This is a troubling reality. Here are my thoughts: (1) Witnesses of physical events can differ wildly, and yet they were all eye witnesses—how is this possible? The answer to that can answer the above question; (2) God is a moral Being; He manifests Himself in differing degrees to moral and immoral people in an effort to bring them step by step closer to Him—unfortunately, the immoral frequently have false assumptions and suppose that their experience of God is exactly what God is when, in reality, they only experienced a portion of God’s influence rather than His person; (3) Satan exists; He is the “father of all lies” and intentionally distorts people’s perceptions of God to create confusion and to make the concept of God less credible; and (4) people are creative and will embellish the truth about God for various reasons.

    All four of these reasons add up to a very distorted picture of God, which He allows for now in order to train us in areas of spirituality that we could not gain as effectively if in His immediate presence. One area of training is to help us help ourselves. He has given a mission to those who know the truth to teach it to others who don’t have it. He wants us to be capable of doing things without Him intervening directly all the time. It’s a plan of empowerment. Empowering us to teach each other the truth about His reality wouldn’t work as effectively if we were all sitting at His feet and looking at His person constantly.

    This explanation I’ve given adequately answers the question of why we have wildly differing perceptions about God. But, the explanation that God does not exist and that we’re “perceiving” something we made up ALSO adequately explains why. I acknowledge that. The challenge is to find out what’s true, not what adequately explains an answer to the question “why”. I know it’s the first explanation (God’s tutoring us) from personal experiences, as noted previously.

    3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.

    The article says, “I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following:

    The argument from authority. (Example: “God exists because the Bible says God exists.”)

    The argument from personal experience. (Example: “God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.”)

    The argument that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims. (Example: “God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.”)

    Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle — so abstract that it can’t be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: “God is love.”)

    And all these arguments are incredibly weak.”

    I agree that the argument from authority is weak when the veracity of the authority isn’t established. If you know the Bible is true, then you can safely reason that its component parts are also true or at least substantially true in order to rely on them without causing any significant moral error. I know there are errors there, but are they of the kind that will prevent you from progressing spiritually, at least a little? No. With the help of a second witness or more, you can progress even better and with more confidence that you accurately understand what is recorded there, hence the need for The Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, scriptures I study from together with the Bible.

    The argument from personal experience is weak when it is purely subjective. But, if there are objective indicia of reliability, then the personal experience is not a weak argument from an intellectual’s perspective. So, if a person witnesses another walking on non-frozen, deep water without sinking, then we begin realizing there are distinctive marks of trustworthiness because normally, without supernatural aid, physical things sink. If we then try ourselves and begin sinking in the same water, we again see something supernatural is occurring and we can trust that a Higher Power is involved.

    If we haven’t taken any drugs and don’t have any abnormal physiology and are attending a religious lecture and are then pierced into a seemingly eternal distance within our chest cavity with joy, and, simultaneously, thoughts not of our own enter our mind confirming the correctness of what the speaker mentioned, then we can begin to know from personal experience that this “feeling” in our heart and concomitant “thoughts” in our mind were not of our own making.

    This is evidence of a Supreme Being. Is it conclusive evidence? Only you can know that. It won’t convince another person, necessarily, because they can always, always doubt that it really happened since it did not happen to them—even the bystander on the shore who sees Jesus and Peter on the water could doubt it really happened since there may have been an island or something just under the water out there, or something like that. It didn’t happen to the bystander, so, he can always doubt.

    The lack of personal experience is one of your strongest tools for doubting something. It seems to defy logic to also say that the presence of personal experience is a weak tool for determining truth. It’s either one or the other, not both. You decide which one’s accurate and hope that your decision is not based merely on subjectivity—that you simply want to believe one over the other.

    I’m personally offended by this comparison: “It’s like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, and thus tries to get the case thrown out on a technicality.” Just kidding. But the argument that religion should not have to defend its claims is distasteful to me. I don’t use that argument. I think it should. Defending is different than proving. Reason or logic can never prove anything. Reason and logic are always a form of guessing—educated guessing—but ultimately less than 100% certainty, always. But, they can help in defending.

    So, religion should use logic and reason with a grain of salt. It helps, but doesn’t fully satisfy. The lack of it as a defense is detrimental, though. That’s why I engage in these discussions. I hope to influence one of you to understand that the truth about God is not as weak a proposition as the others may make you think. Then, when a person is more open minded and not closing his or her mind to the evidence that is there and the evidence that will come to them, then they can eventually come to know as I have that these things are true. I don’t mean to say this in any condescending way, but in an expression of excitement about what the future holds for you.

    The argument of redefining God as an abstract principle I don’t agree with either. It muddies up the concept of God’s nature, which, in turn causes more and more radically different perceptions of God. God is not simply love. That may be His greatest attribute, but it’s a quality, a trait, a characteristic, not His person and not an entire description of who He is.

    The article downplayed the design argument, which believers us to point to the complexity of life and insist it must be designed. First of all, the design argument is a statement of reason. It’s reasonable to believe that the world “must” have been designed. Notice the word, “Must.” I hate using reason as the only standard of truth because it’s also reasonable to say what the article here said: the “sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what looks, at first glance, like design.”

    That being said, it’s not unreasonable to point to the existence of order in life and infer that chaos could not have evolved by itself into order. Order is difficult to achieve without a conscious will making it so. That’s physically demonstrable (that order does not come from chaos by itself). It’s replicable (to show that chaos is highly incompetent at creating order). There’s a large degree of evidence to this point (over and over, chaos does not become order). So, believers point to this kind of scientific evidence as evidence of God. Okay. I can see it, but, I don’t think it’s a convincing argument that believers use. And I don’t think it provides a very high degree of certainty about God’s reality. In the end, though, you have to admit that it’s at least not unreasonable to use order as evidence of God’s reality.

    “A Different Way of Knowing”: The Uses of Irrationality… and its Limitations
    4: The increasing diminishment of God.

    The article spoke of the “God of the gaps.” It said, “Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is responsible for.” Let’s say all the gaps get filled. Is there still room for God? Could God have initiated whatever we find out initiated the next thing that started the next thing that instigated the beginning of the Big Bang? Sure, there will always be room for God because there will never not be a gap. We assert that God exists. Some atheists claim they “know” God does not exist. They then go about trying to prove He does not exist. Good luck. It’s a logical fallacy to prove a negative. To prove that God does not exist, you would have to be everywhere present and all knowing in order to conclusively say God does not exist. But, then you’d be wrong because that means you were God.

    Instead, what you need to do is decide what kind of evidence you’d accept as evidence and what degree of certainty you’ll use in order to comfortably say, “I believe.”

    I propose the following, based on legal principles for determining truth:

    Degree Legal Degree of Certainty Spiritual Degree of Certainty

    100% Absolute Knowledge Perfect Knowledge
    95% Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Knowledge
    70% Clear and Convincing Evidence Strong Faith
    51% Preponderance of the Evidence Faith
    40% Probable Cause Belief
    25% Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion Cause to Believe
    0% Hunch Desire to Believe

    Some people refuse to believe something is from God because they require 100% certainty before they believe it. But, that’s a requirement for perfect or absolute knowledge. You only need 40% certainty in order to believe something, or have probable cause to believe it. You can be 60% in doubt and still believe it, by this standard. I don’t think a person should be satisfied with merely believing. They should demand that certain of their “beliefs” be in the area of clear and convincing evidence, at least, or better.

    But, even still, atheists need to acknowledge that evidence for God exists (i.e. prophets claiming to have seen and spoke with Him, etc.), but it may not give them as high a degree of certainty as they would like, so, they say it’s not evidence. They are wrong to classify that as non-evidence. They need to say, “It’s not conclusive evidence for me.” Notice the subjectivity that even atheists have to use in refusing to accept some evidence as evidence. Take this as food for thought, not an accusation. I don’t mean to be insulting here.

    5: The fact that religion runs in families.

    The article says, “The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of anything real. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure — and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.”

    This is a good argument on its face, but it assumes that all people in those differing religions care deeply about their religion. But, if they don’t care about religion so much, then they won’t care enough to leave it. Leaving it is a hassle. It’s hard. It’s inconvenient. It brings a lot of discord. Why subject yourself and others to that unpleasantness if you don’t really care about the religion you’re in? It’s more pleasant just to stay in it.

    So, after considering these facts and human tendencies, this argument has no real strength to it.

    I hope these answers are helpful. I’m excited to see the next five reasons.

    Taylor

  92. 92
    Taylor Hartley

    (Sorry for the redundancy here. I repeated the above comment and added more. I didn’t know 6-7 were on another thread)

    I enjoyed reading this article because it’s well thought out and not unduly harsh. I’ll try my best to give thoughtful answers.

    So you know where I’m coming from, I am as follows:

    1. The most-scum-suckingest-kind-of-a-lawyer (a criminal defense attorney)
    2. A left-of-center-Utah-County Democrat
    3. A first degree Black Belt in Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate
    4. A sincere member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), and
    5. A lover of Kimchi (fermented cabbage with spices, originating out of Korea)

    I’ll be speaking from some of these perspectives.

    On a more serious note, I have personally seen repeated instances of God’s living reality. I know numbers are sometimes important to critically-thinking minds, so, let me share some details about explicit experiences I’ve been keeping track of since 11 years old when I began really searching to discover if some sort of God existed or not (I don’t share this out of arrogance, but as a sincere attempt to demonstrate evidence of God’s reality to people who genuinely doubt His existence):

    12 clear answers to specific requests in prayer
    16 unmistakable revelations from a Higher Power than me
    6 visions with confirming circumstances
    6 instances of healing others by priesthood authority
    5 miracles demonstrating a Power that is not natural
    7 instances of prophecy fulfilled with precision
    32 other spiritual experiences that are not answers to prayers, revelations, visions, healings, miracles, or prophecies

    So, over my life so far, I’ve recorded 84 experiences dealing with God’s reality. This is the background I submit as I discuss the following points given in the article to show God is not real.

    1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

    “People come up with new supernatural explanations for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources? Again — exactly zero….If I see any solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of a phenomenon, I’ll reconsider my disbelief.”

    I agree that many people “come up with” explanations of things all the time that are wrong.

    Professionally, I see both prosecutors and clients doing it frequently. I see myself doing it as well. Spiritually, I know it happens all the time—a lot of spiritual conclusions are just plain wrong. For example, I hear people say it all the time, “Everything happens for a reason.” They mean to say that God intends whatever happened. I say bologna. It’s wrong. God does not cause everything to happen. That attributes far too much fault to Him. Some things happen for bad reasons that God does not will.

    So, my first point is that just because many people are wrong about a specific conclusion they draw does not mean that conclusion can never be right.

    Second, the position that there needs to be “replicable evidence” in order to prove God’s reality assumes a false premise. The premise is that God is an automaton. That He cranks out assembly line products and can always be relied on to do so without fail. It’s just a false assumption. God is our Father who’s trying to develop us into becoming as He is. This process requires that He not act like science. Instead, He builds our spiritual muscles by giving us trying circumstances. Those trials include some inconsistency. They include nearly double blind tests where we’re all the ones who are blind. At some point, which differs for each of us, the blind fold gets taken off in part and then in whole.

    Third, there are large amounts of evidence of God’s existence. They are recorded in the Hebrew scriptures made by fallible men that have made some errors, but they are substantially correct and can be relied on to teach us about God’s reality. We still need to understand accurately what’s written, but the truth is there. It’s also there in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament. It’s also there in the scriptures from the New World. It’s also there in the scriptures from the modern world. All of the scriptures preserve instances and evidences of God’s reality. There are other claimed scriptures from other faiths that have substantial inaccuracies (although containing some truth here and there). But just because a forged $100 bill exists, that does not mean all $100 bills are fake. It seems the non-believers like to say that because something false about God out there exists, everything out there about God is also false.

    The point, though, is the true scriptures that do exist record vast amounts of evidence of God’s reality—very “large amounts.”

    The difficulty, as mentioned later in the article, is to know whether the scriptures are true. Can you speak with the original authors? Can you put them in front of a jury, have them relate their testimony, and then have the jury decide if what they’ve said is true? No, but that doesn’t mean you cannot determine the veracity of the records.

    There are a number of other methods. Scholastic research and analysis is one way, but it is as strong as is the method of reason. Reason and logic are very low standards for determining truth because “reasonable minds can differ,” as our jurisprudence has discovered years ago.

    Another way is asking the alleged God if they are His records, which He willed to be written. Then, wait for an answer. The lack of an answer is just that—not an answer. Repeat your requests. If you expect God to give replicable answers as evidence, then He can expect you to make replicable requests as a demonstration of your sincere hope. Be patient. Be sincere. Don’t be discouraged. Continue and at the right time, God your Father will certainly answer you. How can I promise you this? Because I know from personal experiences that God our Father is highly interested in all His children individually and collectively knowing, understanding, and embracing what is morally true in order to achieve the life He wants to provide us. You will see solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of certain phenomenon.

    2: The inconsistency of world religions.

    The article asks, “If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?”

    This is a troubling reality. Here are my thoughts: (1) Witnesses of physical events can differ wildly, and yet they were all eye witnesses—how is this possible? The answer to that can answer the above question; (2) God is a moral Being; He manifests Himself in differing degrees to moral and immoral people in an effort to bring them step by step closer to Him—unfortunately, the immoral frequently have false assumptions and suppose that their experience of God is exactly what God is when, in reality, they only experienced a portion of God’s influence rather than His person; (3) Satan exists; He is the “father of all lies” and intentionally distorts people’s perceptions of God to create confusion and to make the concept of God less credible; and (4) people are creative and will embellish the truth about God for various reasons.

    All four of these reasons add up to a very distorted picture of God, which He allows for now in order to train us in areas of spirituality that we could not gain as effectively if in His immediate presence. One area of training is to help us help ourselves. He has given a mission to those who know the truth to teach it to others who don’t have it. He wants us to be capable of doing things without Him intervening directly all the time. It’s a plan of empowerment. Empowering us to teach each other the truth about His reality wouldn’t work as effectively if we were all sitting at His feet and looking at His person constantly.

    This explanation I’ve given adequately answers the question of why we have wildly differing perceptions about God. But, the explanation that God does not exist and that we’re “perceiving” something we made up ALSO adequately explains why. I acknowledge that. The challenge is to find out what’s true, not what adequately explains an answer to the question “why”. I know it’s the first explanation (God’s tutoring us) from personal experiences, as noted previously.

    3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.

    The article says, “I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following:

    The argument from authority. (Example: “God exists because the Bible says God exists.”)

    The argument from personal experience. (Example: “God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.”)

    The argument that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims. (Example: “God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.”)

    Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle — so abstract that it can’t be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: “God is love.”)

    And all these arguments are incredibly weak.”

    I agree that the argument from authority is weak when the veracity of the authority isn’t established. If you know the Bible is true, then you can safely reason that its component parts are also true or at least substantially true in order to rely on them without causing any significant moral error. I know there are errors there, but are they of the kind that will prevent you from progressing spiritually, at least a little? No. With the help of a second witness or more, you can progress even better and with more confidence that you accurately understand what is recorded there, hence the need for The Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, scriptures I study from together with the Bible.

    The argument from personal experience is weak when it is purely subjective. But, if there are objective indicia of reliability, then the personal experience is not a weak argument from an intellectual’s perspective. So, if a person witnesses another walking on non-frozen, deep water without sinking, then we begin realizing there are distinctive marks of trustworthiness because normally, without supernatural aid, physical things sink. If we then try ourselves and begin sinking in the same water, we again see something supernatural is occurring and we can trust that a Higher Power is involved.

    If we haven’t taken any drugs and don’t have any abnormal physiology and are attending a religious lecture and are then pierced into a seemingly eternal distance within our chest cavity with joy, and, simultaneously, thoughts not of our own enter our mind confirming the correctness of what the speaker mentioned, then we can begin to know from personal experience that this “feeling” in our heart and concomitant “thoughts” in our mind were not of our own making.

    This is evidence of a Supreme Being. Is it conclusive evidence? Only you can know that. It won’t convince another person, necessarily, because they can always, always doubt that it really happened since it did not happen to them—even the bystander on the shore who sees Jesus and Peter on the water could doubt it really happened since there may have been an island or something just under the water out there, or something like that. It didn’t happen to the bystander, so, he can always doubt.

    The lack of personal experience is one of your strongest tools for doubting something. It seems to defy logic to also say that the presence of personal experience is a weak tool for determining truth. It’s either one or the other, not both. You decide which one’s accurate and hope that your decision is not based merely on subjectivity—that you simply want to believe one over the other.

    I’m personally offended by this comparison: “It’s like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, and thus tries to get the case thrown out on a technicality.” Just kidding. But the argument that religion should not have to defend its claims is distasteful to me. I don’t use that argument. I think it should. Defending is different than proving. Reason or logic can never prove anything. Reason and logic are always a form of guessing—educated guessing—but ultimately less than 100% certainty, always. But, they can help in defending.

    So, religion should use logic and reason with a grain of salt. It helps, but doesn’t fully satisfy. The lack of it as a defense is detrimental, though. That’s why I engage in these discussions. I hope to influence one of you to understand that the truth about God is not as weak a proposition as the others may make you think. Then, when a person is more open minded and not closing his or her mind to the evidence that is there and the evidence that will come to them, then they can eventually come to know as I have that these things are true. I don’t mean to say this in any condescending way, but in an expression of excitement about what the future holds for you.

    The argument of redefining God as an abstract principle I don’t agree with either. It muddies up the concept of God’s nature, which, in turn causes more and more radically different perceptions of God. God is not simply love. That may be His greatest attribute, but it’s a quality, a trait, a characteristic, not His person and not an entire description of who He is.

    The article downplayed the design argument, which believers us to point to the complexity of life and insist it must be designed. First of all, the design argument is a statement of reason. It’s reasonable to believe that the world “must” have been designed. Notice the word, “Must.” I hate using reason as the only standard of truth because it’s also reasonable to say what the article here said: the “sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what looks, at first glance, like design.”

    That being said, it’s not unreasonable to point to the existence of order in life and infer that chaos could not have evolved by itself into order. Order is difficult to achieve without a conscious will making it so. That’s physically demonstrable (that order does not come from chaos by itself). It’s replicable (to show that chaos is highly incompetent at creating order). There’s a large degree of evidence to this point (over and over, chaos does not become order). So, believers point to this kind of scientific evidence as evidence of God. Okay. I can see it, but, I don’t think it’s a convincing argument that believers use. And I don’t think it provides a very high degree of certainty about God’s reality. In the end, though, you have to admit that it’s at least not unreasonable to use order as evidence of God’s reality.

    4: The increasing diminishment of God.

    The article spoke of the “God of the gaps.” It said, “Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is responsible for.” Let’s say all the gaps get filled. Is there still room for God? Could God have initiated whatever we find out initiated the next thing that started the next thing that instigated the beginning of the Big Bang? Sure, there will always be room for God because there will never not be a gap. We assert that God exists. Some atheists claim they “know” God does not exist. They then go about trying to prove He does not exist. Good luck. It’s a logical fallacy to prove a negative. To prove that God does not exist, you would have to be everywhere present and all knowing in order to conclusively say God does not exist. But, then you’d be wrong because that means you were God.

    Instead, what you need to do is decide what kind of evidence you’d accept as evidence and what degree of certainty you’ll use in order to comfortably say, “I believe.”

    I propose the following, based on legal principles for determining truth:

    Degree / Legal Degree of Certainty / Spiritual Degree of Certainty

    100% / Absolute Knowledge / Perfect Knowledge
    95% / Beyond a Reasonable Doubt / Knowledge
    70% / Clear and Convincing Evidence / Strong Faith
    51% / Preponderance of the Evidence / Faith
    40% / Probable Cause / Belief
    25% / Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion / Cause to Believe
    0% / Hunch / Desire to Believe

    Some people refuse to believe something is from God because they require 100% certainty before they believe it. But, that’s a requirement for perfect or absolute knowledge. You only need 40% certainty in order to believe something, or have probable cause to believe it. You can be 60% in doubt and still believe it, by this standard. I don’t think a person should be satisfied with merely believing. They should demand that certain of their “beliefs” be in the area of clear and convincing evidence, at least, or better.

    But, even still, atheists need to acknowledge that evidence for God exists (i.e. prophets claiming to have seen and spoke with Him, etc.), but it may not give them as high a degree of certainty as they would like, so, they say it’s not evidence. They are wrong to classify that as non-evidence. They need to say, “It’s not conclusive evidence for me.” Notice the subjectivity that even atheists have to use in refusing to accept some evidence as evidence. Take this as food for thought, not an accusation. I don’t mean to be insulting here.

    5: The fact that religion runs in families.

    The article says, “The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of anything real. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure — and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.”

    This is a good argument on its face, but it assumes that all people in those differing religions care deeply about their religion. But, if they don’t care about religion so much, then they won’t care enough to leave it. Leaving it is a hassle. It’s hard. It’s inconvenient. It brings a lot of discord. Why subject yourself and others to that unpleasantness if you don’t really care about the religion you’re in? It’s more pleasant just to stay in it.

    So, after considering these facts and human tendencies, this argument has no real strength to it.

    6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

    The article reasons, “So given that this is true, doesn’t it seem far more likely that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are some sort of product of the physical brain and body?”

    From a scientific perspective, I agree. When you balance what we actually know through science with what we think we don’t know, the result is that we know far more than we don’t know on this particular subject. So, as the article points out here, isn’t it “far more likely….”

    The question that needs answering is just how much don’t we know? I think it’s not uncommon for people of science to have an exaggerated belief on how much they do know (same thing goes for deists, too). And with what they have labeled as overwhelming knowledge and evidence for something, they then reason a bit further and say “doesn’t it seem far more likely that X is true, too?”

    As the article points out, this is an exercise in pure reason, not knowledge—“it must be this way,” or “it’s far more likely this way,” and so forth. It’s an argument based in part on intuition—a gut feeling that this article derides as not indicative of truth. You may call it a mental, educated guess, but if it didn’t “feel” right, you likely wouldn’t be as open to accepting it as logically correct. So, if we throw away intuition as a tool to aid us in finding truth, then we can’t even ask the rhetorical question, “Isn’t it far more likely that….”

    Personally, however, I think intuition can be used successfully as a tool to find truth when used properly and understood properly. It’s a mere guide, not a formula for perfect results.

    So, from an intellectual perspective, is it far more likely that the soul is simply a biological result? Perhaps. But how much certainty does this wondering give us? 95% certainty that the soul is biological? Or more like 65% certainty?

    Or do we amplify this percentage of certainty through the confirmation bias and confer on it much more fact-finding value than it actually has? Atheists and theists alike are vulnerable to the confirmation bias.

    Assuming there’s no evidence to the contrary, atheists can feel very comfortable in assigning a “far more likelihood” value to this piece of musing. Non-believers can create a self-fulfilling prophecy here by simply labeling things as “non-evidence” rather than assigning a percentage of certainty to particular pieces of evidence of how convincing that evidence is. If there is no evidence to the contrary, then of course it’s far more likely that the soul is a biological byproduct.

    The trouble we run into, though, is if we do put a percentage of certainty about the soul’s reality on a piece of evidence, we have to ask ourselves, “Why did we say it’s only 20% certainty that this gives us and not 32% or some other value?” The reason is that ultimately we don’t know exactly how certain something makes us and we each are convinced in differing amounts by the exact same piece of evidence.

    This inherent bit of subjectivity, I think, is why people give up and simply label things in binary code ways: it’s either evidence or it’s not. That capitulation isn’t admirable in the search for truth. No matter how difficult it is to determine how convincing a piece of evidence is, we must try our best to conceptually assign a percentage of certainty to evidence or arguments in order to achieve the best accuracy we can. Then the math works better.

    Simply labeling things as “non-evidence” when it has some evidentiary value will prevent us from getting anywhere. Then we get into the struggle that’s mentioned later in this article about why there isn’t some ideal argument that will convince all atheists—it’s in part because things get labeled as non-evidence when they are in fact evidence to some degree. But, from the atheist’s perspective, when all the evidence adds up to zero because nothing qualifies as evidence, then it’s easy to say there’s no good argument or no evidence at all for God’s existence.

    7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.

    The article states, “Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. But some of them do. And in the face of actual testing, every one of those claims falls apart like Kleenex in a hurricane….You’ll see a pattern so consistent it boggles the mind: Claimants insist that Supernatural Claim X is real. Supernatural Claim X is subjected to careful testing, applying the standard scientific methods commonly used to screen out both bias and fraud. Supernatural Claim X is found to hold about as much water as a sieve.”

    This is a good argument if it’s in fact true that those supernatural claims are testable. Is the claim really an assembly line product of spirituality that the Lord of the Universe is going to crank out for us? Our Father created a life for us that is meant to help us do good because of our own volition and not because we actually have “Big Brother” watching over us, so to speak.

    If we prove God’s existence through the scientific method to the satisfaction of the majority of the world and we also prove that He cares about what we do in this life, then this life gets thwarted to a large measure because some people can justifiably accuse God of compulsion at Judgment Day.

    The argument is that because He proved His reality and wishes without each individual consenting to it, not everyone could reasonably choose a course different than what He intended for them without His undue influence manipulating them. It’s not reasonable to choose a different course than what the Supreme Being has mandated. He doesn’t want to actually be guilty of that. So, He created a Plan that circumvents it.

    But, for those who deliberately try to find out if God is real and whether He cares about what life we live, and then gain that revelation, and then choose to live His ways, they have been able to make an unfettered choice.

    The article says, “Plus, here’s a point that defenders of the supernatural never effectively address when they accuse scientists of anti-religion bias:…after decades upon decades of these experiments failing to turn up anything at all that the scientific community began — gradually, and painfully — to give up on the idea.”

    This point is interesting because it mirrors the “argument for authority” that deists make. Deists rely on the authority of prophets in the scriptures to speak what is true. In the atheists case here, they rely on scientists to do the same. Scientists and prophets, therefore, mirror each other. For atheists, because the “scientific community” is now giving up on the idea of God, God must not be true since scientists are an authority we can rely on.

    Personally, I think the atheist argument of authority is a good one. There’s no inherent flaw in relying on authority to help you discover what is true, even though this article chided it earlier. It’s an aid for discovering truth, just like intuition is an aid. If the authority is established as trustworthy, then it’s reasonable to believe what the authority says.

    Because scientists are established as trustworthy in their sphere of expertise, it’s reasonable for us to rely on them. If a person is established to be a true prophet, then it is also reasonable to rely on what they say as true. I believe it is always still good to try to discover the truth of what they say for yourself, instead of simply trusting a fallible human, but it is not unreasonable to simply believe them once their status as a true prophet has been established.

    The other point to consider is that just because a professional or professional community believes one way over the other, that doesn’t make the thing true. It’s evidence, perhaps strong evidence, but even strong evidence can ultimately be proven false.

    The article says, “Supernatural claims only hold up under careless, casual examination. They are supported by confirmation bias (i.e., our tendency to overemphasize evidence that supports what we believe and discard evidence that contradicts it), and wishful thinking, and our poor understanding and instincts when it comes to probability, and our tendency to see pattern and intention even when none exists, and a dozen other forms of weird human brain wiring. When studied carefully under conditions specifically designed to screen these things out, they vanish like the insubstantial imaginings that they are.”

    I believe this is true to a degree because there are a lot of false supernatural claims out there. Either they attribute to God what came from the devil or what came from their own imagination. So, in this argument that supernatural claims don’t hold up, we have to be careful not to make the straw man argument (which to “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet nonequivalent proposition, the “straw man,” and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position).

    We can’t disprove an actually false supernatural claim and then conclude that supernatural claims don’t hold up. If you’re a scientist, then you continue testing all supernatural claims. Until you’ve proven all the testable ones false, then you can safely say, “Supernatural claims don’t hold up.” You may be right in that conclusion, but you could still be wrong if you take it a step further and say, “Supernatural claims don’t hold up BECAUSE they aren’t true.” There could be other reasons why they don’t hold up—a Higher Power could have willed it so for the purpose of strengthening our innate spiritual capacity to do good of our own volition rather than do it because a God of goodness requires it. I’m sure this possibility has made some of you roll your eyes, but, I do recognize that, under these circumstances, you’d be safe to say to yourself, “I believe with a high degree of certainty that supernatural claims don’t hold up because they aren’t real.”

    8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.

    The article notes, “Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more ‘saved if we do, saved if we don’t’ quality. If things go the believer’s way, it’s a sign of God’s grace and intervention; if they don’t, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don’t understand, and it’s not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right.”

    I respect this argument because I believe it is overused by believers and misapplied in circumstances where God is not the actor. Questioning God’s will is important for our own progress, so, arguments that we shouldn’t are wrong.

    It goes on, “But if your theory of God’s existence holds up no matter what happens — whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns — then it is an utterly useless theory, with no power to either predict or explain anything.”

    I respect this complaint because too often people attribute certain natural events to being caused directly by God. I don’t believe it. It goes back to the fallacious statement that “everything happens for a [good] reason.” But, what I do believe is that no matter what happens, God can make good come from it for us with our sincere reliance on Him and His ways.

    A criticism I have of the atheist complaint here is that if God willed it (the cancer or the natural disaster), then He must have had the same purpose each time. This complaint seems to imply that no god of any sort could have one purpose for destroying a big sinful city by earthquake and a different purpose for destroying a small God-fearing town by another earthquake. The reality is that God has more than one purpose for doing the same thing to different people.

    In a parenthetical statement, the article rhetorically asked, “If the book needs interpreting, then how perfect can it be?” This was referring to the idea that the Bible is perfect, yet believers still say it needs to be interpreted correctly. I see no problem in the concept of an object being perfect and the people who use the object doing so fallibly. It’s not the book’s fault if people read into it a meaning that’s not there and, therefore, misinterpret it. This is the same argument that religion is bad because the believers are bad, or the Constitution is flawed because a Supreme Court in the 1800’s gave a different meaning to a clause than one in the 1900’s did.

    So, on a purely conceptual level, this argument that “if a book needs interpreting,” then it’s not perfect is mistaken. It also assumes that for scriptural writ, God does not want us to do our best to interpret it because if we had to, then it wouldn’t be perfect by His standards. I don’t believe that for a second. I know that God wants us to hone our abilities to rely on His Spirit to understand the scripture in the way He meant us to understand it in the changing circumstances that may be facing us. Scriptures are supposed to have more than one application so that they can cover more situations and guide us properly. Otherwise, God would have to give us a library of books that give detail by detail instruction on every minutia of life, much like we as humans do with our law books. God does not want to micromanage our lives—that would defeat the purpose of helping us grow more and more by our own power.

    Anciently, to help a very uncivilized civilization, God would give more explicit instructions and manifestations, but today, as I understand it, He has helped people grow collectively enough that His direct intervention and strong manifestations are not as necessary for our collective development. We need to fine tune our spiritual sensitivities now.

    Stated another way, society through time is like a child, who, at first, needs the explicit instructions. As the child grows, it gains more independence and is able to act on its own based on the good principles it knows. Civilizations through time are no different. Our tutoring today from God is different because we as a people have matured.

    The article added here, “Once again, that’s a sure sign of a bad, bad argument. If you can’t just make your case and then stick by it, or genuinely modify it, or let it go… then you don’t have a very good case.”

    I agree.

    The article went on to say, “And if you’re making any version of the ‘Shut up, that’s why’ argument—arguing that it’s rude and intolerant to question religious beliefs, or that letting go of doubts and questions about faith makes you a better person, or that doubting faith will get you tortured in Hell forever, or any of the other classic arguments intended to silence the debate rather than address it—then that’s a sure sign that your argument is totally in the toilet.”

    I completely agree with this sentiment.

    9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.

    The article said, “Over the years and decades and centuries, our understanding of the physical world has grown and clarified by a ridiculous amount….We came up with the scientific method: a self-correcting method for understanding the physical world.” It went on to say, “But our understanding of the metaphysical world? Not so much.”

    This is a great observation. Discovering the truth about the mechanics of our world and universe require application of our senses and brains. With the “ridiculous amount” of learning we’ve gained, we can safely conclude that we must be applying our senses and brains rightly. The fact we haven’t learned more about the metaphysical world is a troubling, yet accurate observation.

    Is the truth about the supernatural learned by the natural or the supernatural in us? I think it goes without saying that the supernatural in us would have to be the major way we gain that truth. I’d also add that the supernatural in us includes the moral self. Morality is not scientific, if so science would be discovering a better and better morality and would be establishing the more and more political proper stance.

    So, the fact that we’re not gaining a considerable amount more of information about the metaphysical leads me to believe it’s at least in part because we haven’t applied the moral or supernatural parts of ourselves like we have our natural senses and brains to the natural world. God is a moral God. As we become more moral, He’ll reveal more.

    But, have we as a civilization made the leaps and bounds in morality like we have in science? No, not at all. The fact of such abuses in life is often a source of “evidence” to the atheist for the non-existence of God, assuming, of course, that God wouldn’t have any reason to allow that.

    Sure it’s evidence, but not that convincing because a number of good, sensible reasons can be proposed why a moral God would allow it. Perhaps the fact such horrors exist in life gives us 25% certainty that God is not real because it gives us a reasonable, articulable suspicion that perhaps there is no God since it makes little sense to us why a moral God would permit such atrocities.

    As the article points out, “Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it’s always been,” and I say it’s because our morality is exactly in the place it’s always been, for the most part.

    In fact, the article gives a great example of how our morality hasn’t changed much: “hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one.” Squabbling is a form of immorality. Unity and cohesion are moral when they are toward a moral goal, and working toward those ends in a peaceful manner is the correct method. But squabbling toward a moral goal is a means that shouldn’t be used toward that end. Once we, as humans, can overcome squabbling, then we’ll have morally progressed by leaps and bounds.

    So, I fundamentally disagree with “If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined” when it assumes that such progress would be made absent our exceptional use of correct morals and ideals. But, as we become more moral, I fully agree that “We would have improved prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies,” and so on.

    It’s also worth noting that false religions bring a bad name to the true one. You can bash false religion and false doctrine, and rightfully so, but that says nothing about the validity of the true one or its teachings. The challenge is to find true doctrines, wherever they may be found (which, I submit, will be found in almost every religion) and the true religion that incorporates them, and then see if the criticisms still hold up.

    10: The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God’s existence.

    One of my favorite statements of this article is this: “This is probably the best argument I have against God’s existence: There’s just no evidence for it.” Excellent. Exactly. The best evidence non-believers have is no evidence.

    Further, as I mentioned before, many non-believers’ definition of what constitutions “evidence” is a slippery one because it’s inherently subjective. You decide that because a piece of evidence does not fully convince you, it must not be evidence. It’s like saying when you look at a puzzle piece that it’s not a puzzle. Yes, it’s not a puzzle—it’s not conclusive, it’s not the whole thing. But it’s a piece. If you throw away all the pieces because they’re not the puzzle, then how will you actually know what the picture is on a completed puzzle?

    The article says, “As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.”

    I fully agree. It’s our job to prove a positive—the existence of God. I tell you there’s a way. Moral scientists have been preaching it for millennia. These moral scientists, whose writings are recorded substantially well enough in the various scriptures approved of by God, encourage a person to attempt communication with this alleged God.

    The attempt needs to be a sincere effort to find out if God is real because God wants us to be sincere seekers of goodness. Then, when we’ve adequately done so, the promise is sure—God will manifest Himself to you to some degree. You will have evidence. But some evidence is not the whole picture. You need to continue. Continue gathering more and more and rejecting that which you discover is probably inaccurate, with the hope that God will assist you.

    Try studying what people claim is truth from God. As you do so, your spiritual sensitivities will increase and you’ll be able to determine with God’s help whether it’s true. Ask Him. As you do so, you won’t have to rely on the “moral scientists” (prophets in the scriptures) alone—you won’t have to base your knowledge only on what “authority” has to say. Instead, you’ll be able to say that you know because you’ve done your own experiments and they have yielded results.

    You also have to be committed to conforming to whatever morals this God wants you to live by. Otherwise, He will be less willing to answer such a rebellious student. Your learning will stagnate—just like civilizations learning about the afterlife has stagnated for so long. And, it’s wise for a moral God to do such a thing. He is just. The more of His life you know about and refuse to live, the more just is your punishment for not doing so.

    The article talked about theists saying, “‘But you haven’t considered Argument #876,363! How can you be so close-minded?’ And here’s what arensb said: ‘If, in fact, it turns out that argument #876,364 is the one that will convince you, WTF didn’t the apologists put it in the top 10?’” The wrong assumption here is that reasons have no cumulative effect. It’s like 876,363 straws on a camel’s back—does the 876,364 straw break it? If so, why didn’t you just put that single straw on its back if you wanted to break the back?

    So, that’s why argument 876,364 doesn’t “spread like wildfire?” It’s the combination that creates in the mind of a thoughtful person the weight of belief.

    The article asks, “If the arguments for religion are so wonderful, why are they so unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe?” Ignoring the fact that this statement is a gross overgeneralization, there are a lot of reasons why a non-believer may not want to believe: (1) doctrinally, it doesn’t add up to him [this reason is less frequent than the others]; (2) morally, the practices are repugnant to him even if the doctrines do add up [a lot of people don’t like living by high moral standards]; and (3) naturally, even if the doctrines do add up and the practices are not repugnant, sometimes he’s just too lazy or inconvenienced by it [they don’t want to convert because it’s a hassle].

    I’d like to make an exhaustive list, but it’d take longer. The first reason is the one that this article is dealing with, so, I’ve tried to show that doctrinally the concept of God is not lacking evidence as is claimed. What is lacking to you is conclusive proof. I believe you can get it, as I’ve outlined earlier.

    I hope these answers are helpful. I realize this took a lot of writing, but the issues presented here by the article’s author are worth thoughtful consideration.

    Take care,
    Taylor

  93. 93
    Maurice Smith

    This is WHY I BELIEVE…

  94. 94
    Maurice Smith

    FORGET THE ACCuSATIONS AND THE ALLEGATIONS, GOD IS REAL!!!

  95. 95
    Maurice Smith

    It’s been scientifically proven.

  96. 96
    Maurice Smith

    Not only that it’s true.

  97. 97
    Maurice Smith

    Stop being hard-hearted and accept HIM!!! DO IT!!!

  98. 98
    Maurice Smith

    PEOPLE AREN’T ANGELS, AND SATAN’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED!!! THE DAY OF THE LORD IS APPROACHING, AND HE WANTS YOU TO BE READY!!!

  99. 99
    Greta Christina

    Maurice Smith has been banned. My comment policy prohibits both comment hogging and religious proselytizing, and he has been doing both, in several different posts on this blog.

  100. 100
    averagegenius

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…You banned Maurice!? Why!? She was all the proof the wold even needs to prove how dum christians, or belivers, can be.

    Anyway thank you very much for you work on trying to make sense of this world. I tell you, being born into a place where the majority of creatures are mindless zombies indocrinated by a set off instructions, like they were programmed robots, can really mess around with ones mind. But, all is good now. We know the truth. All we can do I make sure our children dont grown up disillusioned.

    Lol, Maurice was just so funny. There are so many like her. Dont they give you a sense of superior intellectual ability? I mean just look at how ignorant they are, and so many too! Professors, Presidents, Leaders…all…in a false reality. It’s kind of sad, though, especially when you consider that religion and war go hand in hand.

    Well, all the best to you, Greta.

  101. 101
    Taylor Hartley

    Greta, any thoughts on post 92?

  102. 102
    Voxann

    Great points! I am interested in your thoughts about the universe if you havent blogged about it yet. I am an atheist and I believe in facts and science. I watched a documentary about meteorites and that there were some rocks from space that contains living organisms. It made me think about the possibilities of how we all livings things got here on earth when earth was newly formed. This is one of the other reasons besides evolution why I think religion is nonsense and that there is one truth to how we got here. I think science is amazing to learn about facts that has proof and we have a better understanding about how everything works in life all around us and out there in the universe.

    Cheers, Mindy.

  103. 103
    Al Dente

    Taylor Hartley @102

    any thoughts on post 92?

    Teal deer.

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