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Show Me the Money: Religion, Evidence, and the Parade of Excuses

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Evidence What evidence do religious believers have for their beliefs?

And when they’re asked what evidence they have, how do believers respond?

In my conversations with religious believers, I’ll often ask, “Why do you think God or the supernatural exists? What makes you think this is true? What evidence do you have for this belief?” Partly I’m just curious; I want to know why people believe what they do. Plus I think it’s a valid question: it’s certainly one I’d ask about any other claim or opinion. And if I’m wrong about my atheism — if there’s good evidence for religion that I haven’t seen yet — I want to know. I’m game. Show me the money.

But when I ask these questions, I almost never get a straight answer.

What I typically get is a startling assortment of conversational gambits deflecting the question.

I get excuses for why believers shouldn’t have to provide evidence. Vague references to other people who supposedly have evidence, without actually pointing to said evidence. Irrelevant tirades about mean atheists. Venomous anger at how disrespectful and intolerant I am to even ask the question.

Today, I want to chronicle some of these conversational gambits. I want to point out their logical flaws. I want to point out the fiendishly clever ways that they armor religion against the expectation — a completely reasonable expectation, an expectation we have about every other kind of claim — that it back itself up with evidence.

And I want to talk about why believers resort to them.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Show Me The Money

We begin the parade of deflective gambits with this:

Doré,_Gustave_-_Paradiso_Canto_31 The spiritual realm is beyond this physical one — we shouldn’t expect to see evidence of it.

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that.

The problem is that religion makes claims about this world. The physical one, the one we live in. It claims that God sets events into motion; that guardian angels protect us; that our consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul; etc.

So if there really were a non-physical world affecting this physical one, we should be able to observe those effects. Even if we can’t observe the causes directly.

Prinicipia-title My favorite analogy for this is gravity. When Isaac Newton developed his laws of motion, he had no clue what gravity was. For all he knew, gravity was caused by demons inside every physical object, all pulling at each other by magic. He tried for years to figure it out, and eventually gave up.

But even though he had no idea what gravity was, he was able to observe its effects. He was able to describe the laws of motion that govern those effects: laws that to this day make startlingly accurate predictions about the behavior of objects. He wasn’t able to see or even understand the cause — but he was able to observe and describe the effects.

I could give a zillion other examples. We can’t see subatomic particles directly, either. Magnetic fields. Black holes. But we can observe their effects. We can make accurate predictions about them. We know they’re there.

If there really is a non-physical, spiritual world affecting the physical one… why can’t we come to an understanding about the nature of that world, and how it affects this one? Why, after thousands of years of religious belief, are we still no closer to an understanding of the spiritual realm than we ever were? Why do religious beliefs still all boil down to a difference of opinion?

The obvious answer: Because the spiritual realm doesn’t exist. Because the spiritual realm is a human construct: invented by human minds that are strongly biased to see intention and pattern even where none exist, and to believe what they already believe or want to believe.

And believers only fall back on this “The spiritual is beyond the physical, so we shouldn’t expect evidence of it” trope because there isn’t good evidence. This argument isn’t really an argument. It doesn’t support the claims of religion. It merely serves to armor religion against the expectation that it support its claims.

Love beyond reason Religious experiences are inherently irrational — beyond questions of reason or evidence.

Why should that be?

I’ve heard this argument a thousand times. And nobody making it has ever been able to explain to me: Why should that be?

Religion is a hypothesis about the world. It’s not a subjective personal experience, like, “I passionately love this woman and want to marry her.” It’s not a personal instinct or judgment call, like, “I think my life will be better if I quit my job and move to San Francisco.” It’s not a personal aesthetic opinion, like, “Radiohead is the greatest band of this decade.” It’s a hypothesis about the world — the real, external, non-subjective world. It’s an attempt to explain how the world works, and why it is the way it is.

So why should it be beyond reason or evidence?

Unreason and emotion, personal instinct and flashes of insight… all are important. Our lives would be flat without them. And they can tell us important truths. But they tell us important truths about ourselves. When it comes to finding out what is and is not true about the real, external, non-subjective world, these methods are far too flawed, far too biased, to blindly trust as the sole foundation of our understanding. Instinct and intuition can give us ideas about the world — but we have to then rigorously test those ideas and make sure they’re consistent with the evidence. History is full of scientists getting brilliant ideas in flashes of intuition — but it’s also full of scientists getting flashes of intuition that turned out to be balderdash.

ScientificMethod The careful gathering of evidence, and the rigorously rational analysis of that evidence, has shown itself time and again to be the best method we have of understanding the world. It’s biased and flawed too, of course, as are all human endeavors. But compared to casual observation, personal intuition, and each individual’s biased analysis of what seems to make sense to them… it’s much, much better.

And every time religious claims have been carefully evaluated by a rigorous scientific method, they’ve collapsed like a house of cards.

The only reason believers fall back on this “religious experience is inherently irrational, beyond reason or evidence” trope is that reason and evidence don’t back up their beliefs. This trope isn’t an argument. It doesn’t support the claims of religion. It merely serves to armor religion against the expectation that it support its claims.

100_percent Religion can’t be proven or disproven with 100% certainty. Therefore, it’s a question of personal faith, not subject to reason or evidence.

Here we have a classic case of special pleading.

Almost nothing can be proven or disproven with 100% certainty. And proving with 100% certainty that something doesn’t exist is virtually impossible.

Which is why we don’t apply that standard to any other kind of claim.

Teach the controversy geocentric We don’t say, “Well, you can’t prove with 100% certainty that the Earth orbits the Sun — it could be a mass hallucination caused by a mischievous imp — so we should give up on deciding whether it’s probably true, and call it a matter of personal belief.”

With every other kind of claim, we accept a standard of reasonable plausibility. With every other kind of hypothesis, we accept that if there’s no good evidence supporting it, and there’s a fair amount of evidence contradicting it, and it’s shot through with logical flaws and internal inconsistencies, and similar claims have never turned out to be right…. then unless that situation changes, those are good enough reasons to reject it.

Only religion gets the “If you can’t disprove it with 100% certainty, it’s reasonable to believe it” standard.

Why?

When asked, “What evidence do you have that this is true?”, how is it reasonable for believers to reply, “You can’t absolutely prove that it isn’t”? How is that even an argument? How does it support the claims of religion? How does it do anything but armor religion against the expectation that it support its claims?

Intolerance poster It’s disrespectful and intolerant to tell people their religious beliefs are wrong.

And we have more special pleading.

In a reasonably free, reasonably democratic society, we don’t call it intolerant to criticize ideas. We criticize ideas all the time. Political ideas. Artistic ideas. Scientific ideas. Ideas about relationships, money, music, food, philosophy, sports, cute cats. If we think other people have a mistaken idea about the world, we think it’s reasonable and fair, admirable even, to try to persuade them out it. We might think it’s bad manners at the dinner table — but in public forums, in the marketplace of ideas, we think it’s just ducky.

Only religion gets a free ride.

In the marketplace of ideas, only religion gets a free ride in an armored tank. Only religion gets to sell its wares behind a curtain. Only religion gets to make promises about its wares that it never, ever has to keep. And when people hand out flyers in the marketplace saying “These guys are selling hot air, the Emperor has no clothes, here’s all the reasons why our wares are better,” only with religion do people scowl disapprovingly at the disrespectful, bigoted intolerance.

Religion is a hypothesis about the world. It is entirely reasonable to treat it like any other hypothesis… and to point out the ways that it’s logically flawed, inconsistent with itself, and entirely unsupported by any good evidence.

“You have no right to make your case” is an argument people make when they don’t have a case themselves. It’s not even an argument. It’s the deflection of an argument. It doesn’t support the claims of religion. It merely armors religion against the expectation that it support its claims.

Modern theologians There are wonderful advanced modern theological arguments for God. I just can’t tell you what they are.

Many believers accuse atheists of arguing against the most simplistic, most outdated forms of belief; of ignoring the wonderful world of modern theology and its advanced understanding of God.

And yet, they do this without ever actually explaining what that advanced understanding is, or what the arguments and apologetics and evidence for it are. The promise of a truly good modern argument for God is dangled in front of us like a carrot in front of a donkey’s nose.

It’s hooey.

I’ve actually read a fair amount of modern theology. I’m not a theology scholar, but I got a B.A. in religion, and I’ve read a fair amount since then.

And I am repeatedly struck by how weak and sloppy modern theology is. It either redefines God out of existence, defining him so abstractly he might as well not exist… or it amounts to one of the many excuses listed here, excuses for why this powerful being with a pervasive effect on the world somehow has no solid evidence of his existence. (Or else it’s the same old bad arguments we’ve seen for hundreds of years — First Cause, the Argument from Design, Pascal’s Freaking Wager — dressed up in po-mo academia-speak.)

But more to the point:

You can’t just point to the existence of modern theology and say, “Look! Modern theology! It’s new and improved! With 30% more reason than medieval theology! It says so right on the box!” You have to actually, you know, tell us what that theology says. And then you have to tell us why you think it’s right.

If you can’t… then that’s not an argument. It doesn’t support the claims of religion. It merely armors religion against the expectation that it support its claims.

Sorry we're closed Atheists are close-minded, closing themselves off to realms of experience beyond this mere mortal coil.

This one kind of ticks me off.

As a rule, atheists are the ones saying, “I don’t see any good evidence for God… but show me some good evidence, and I’ll change my mind.” And believers are the ones saying, “Nothing you say could possibly convince me God is not real — that’s what it means to have faith.” Believers are the ones with all these defense mechanisms I’m writing about; all these elaborate excuses for hanging onto a worldview that’s not supported by one piece of good, solid evidence.

So how is it, exactly, that atheists are the close-minded ones?

Having an open mind doesn’t mean thinking all possibilities are equally likely. It means being willing to consider new ideas if the evidence supports them. And it means being willing to give up old ideas if the evidence is against them.

So to any believer who thinks atheists are close-minded, I want to ask you this:

What would convince you that you were mistaken?

Yes we're open Most atheists can answer that question. We can tell you what we’d accept as evidence for God. Atheists are open to the possibility that there might be a supernatural world. In fact, most atheists once believed in that world. We just don’t believe it anymore. We are provisionally rejecting it for lack of evidence. If we see better evidence, we’ll change our minds.

What about you?

Are you open to the possibility that you might be mistaken? Are you open to the possibility that there is no God, and that the physical world is all there is? Is your God hypothesis falsifiable? Is there any possible evidence that would change your mind?

And if not — then on what basis are you accusing atheists of being close-minded?

This “atheists are closed off to the spiritual world” trope is clearly not an argument. It merely reiterates the very claim being discussed — the claim that there’s a supernatural world to be open to — without offering any evidence for it. It doesn’t support the claims of religion. It merely armors religion against the expectation that it support its claims.

If They Had The Money, They’d Show It

Finally.

I would like to point out this:

If religious believers had good evidence for their beliefs, they’d be giving it.

Marytoast When something even vaguely resembling solid evidence for religion appears, believers are all over it. The Shroud of Turin. The Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich. That ridiculous prayer “study” supposedly showing that sick people who were prayed for did better… until the study was blasted into shrapnel, and the researchers were shown to be dishonest at best and frauds at worst, and subsequent studies that were actually done right showed absolutely no such thing.

More commonly, believers frequently trot out the old standby forms of religious “evidence”: personal intuition (translated: our biased and flawed tendency to believe what we already believe or what we want to believe), and religious authorities and texts (translated: someone else’s biased and flawed intuition, passed off as fact). Even in the era of evolution, even when we know in great detail how the complexity of life came into being, many believers — including moderate, non-creationist believers — often point to the apparent “design” of life as evidence of God. And any number of coincidences, twists of fate, supposedly miraculous medical cures, and other happy and unhappy accidents — the kind we’d have every reason to expect in a physical- cause- and- effect world — will be readily chalked up to spiritual forces or the hand of God.

Believers — many believers, anyway — are hungry for solid, non-subjective, real-world evidence for their beliefs. But in the absence of that evidence, and in the presence of positive evidence and arguments countering their beliefs, they’ll resort to slippery, contorted, elaborately constructed excuses for why the expectation of evidence for religion isn’t fair.

And as I look at these excuses, I think I see why.

St_Mawes_Castle Religion is like a castle that’s formidably protected — with moats and walls, trap doors and vats of boiling oil, attack dogs and armed guards patrolling around the clock — but where the castle itself is made out of paper.

The armor has to be first-rate.

Because the structure itself can’t stand on its own.

Comments

  1. David D.G. says

    Brilliant! (*applause*)
    As always, Greta, your writing is a pleasure to read — not just for its content, but for the stark clarity of your style.
    I especially liked this bit:

    History is full of scientists getting brilliant ideas in flashes of intuition — but it’s also full of scientists getting flashes of intuition that turned out to be balderdash.

    This is an excellent point. For example, Einstein got the inspiration for one of his theories of relativity by using a “thought experiment”: imagining the consequences of riding on a beam of light.
    It was a brilliant insight, but he still had to back it up with the proper mathematics to show its plausibility to physicists (“Space itself is curved? Are you joking?”), and then that had to be backed up with the evidence of observable and observed physical effects (e.g., astronomers seeing indications of gravity causing light to bend).
    For every genuinely inspired Einstein with a theory that helps to explain the universe, there are millions of deluded crackpots with scientific “theories” that don’t hold up to scrutiny when the math is analyzed and/or when the results are compared with reality. (Just ask the physics journal editors who keep receiving submissions of their papers!) Without evidence to back them up, the prophecies, epiphanies, revelations, and other claims of religion (any religion, no matter how ancient or how modern its origins) simply have no validity. Personal enthusiasm and subjective certainty are no substitutes for verifiable objective evidence.
    ~David D.G.

  2. says

    Great overview :).
    One addition though. In the section “The spiritual realm is beyond this physical one — we shouldn’t expect to see evidence of it”, you point out nicely why there definitely should be evidence if the supernatural world is affecting the natural world. But you could also attack the claim from the other side: if they are right that the supernatural world is beyond the physical realm, then they’d have no way to describe it and no way of knowing about it. Therefore, their beliefs about it are completely arbitrary, and therefore likely wrong.
    If they claim that they somehow have received information from the supernatural, then they clearly don’t believe that the supernatural is separated from the natural world, and your original argument applies.
    On a personal note, what bugs me the most is that many believers will effortlessly slide from one defense to the next, despite the fact that they often contradict each other. For example, either there are good arguments for God, or you can’t know anything about him, you can’t have it both ways.
    It seems it’s all about fending off every single criticism separately, without ever looking at the inconsistencies in their world view as a whole.
    So the castle you speak of has burning oil that occasionally burns the doors down, trap doors that the guards tend to fall into, and the dogs can only watch one entrance at the time. Sure, they may be able to fence off the occasional attack, and believe their defenses are still sound, but everybody else knows you could walk right in if you wanted to.

  3. says

    Thanks again for an interesting read.
    I’d like to share an exchange I recently had with a high school acquaintance as an example of how this kind of discussion usually degenerate for me. I had states that we’d have to agree to disagree on the existence of a god, but when I asked if Biblical laws should take precedence over civil/secular law I got:
    “I will say that I think you need some serious help… It’s so sad and pathetic that anyone could be so desperate to get his point across… It’s Satan working overtime…. i tried to accept you for
    you but you just could not let things be… I’m thinking it’s best you and your ‘partner’ go to Canada so you will no longer be spewing your Atheist poison here in the US. You so need to get a life… I hope God saves your soul… I will pray for it… And your new cat too since she is living in an Atheist home. God is good!”

  4. says

    ???
    They prayed for your cat?
    What do they think is going to happen to your cat as a result of being cared for by atheists? Do they think that because you’re an atheist and therefore have no moral compass, you’re going to mistreat your cat? Or do they think your atheist cat is going to hell if it doesn’t repent?
    I realize that’s a small, tangential thing to fixate on. But it just jumped out at me as the greatest absurdity in the bunch.

  5. says

    There are wonderful advanced modern theological arguments for God. I just can’t tell you what they are.
    I see this one all the time, and find it especially annoying.

  6. yogurtbacteria says

    You know, there’s something related that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately that I don’t actually think I’ve seen you write about yet: woo in fiction. Because in popular fiction, woo and its relatives are almost never wrong. Not only are they never wrong, but the skeptics are almost always portrayed as fools, or at the very least incorrect.
    Cornelius and five-thousand year-old texts in The Fifth Element? Spot on. The Force? Totally real (and primarily used and detected through intuition). Neo being ‘The One’? Hellz yeah (and the more I watch that movie, wonderful though it is, the more it annoys me that almost everything Morpheus says is in woospeak). Gypsies/fortune tellers and the like in…every movie ever made: spot on. “I sense a disturbance in the Force” moments: always accurate. Prophecies: always right. Skeptics: almost always wrong, jaded, and cynical.
    When I watch the scene in Dexter where he tries to kill the “priest” who sells “curses”, it’s really striking, because it’s one of the only scenes with woo involved that I can think of where the woo is invoked, the invokee scoffs at it, and nothing happens to them.
    Of course, it makes a certain amount of sense that this is true–fictional woo can make for awesome storytelling. And if the prophecy just turns out to be false, then, well, why write a story about it? But I suspect it also reinforces peoples’ willingness to accept the above arguments. Even if you intellectually know something’s just a story, it inevitably affects the way you think about things.

  7. Nurse Ingrid says

    yogurtbacteria:
    The skeptic-as-insufferable-douche trope has always bugged me too. It’s the X files syndrome. The worst example for me is the EPA character in “Ghostbusters.” As in, “yes, it’s true. This man has no dick.”
    Of course, if there really WERE ghosts (or aliens, or whatever), then skeptics really WOULD BE idiots. So it’s acceptable within the confines of the story, but for those of us who identify with the skeptics, it does get annoying to be portrayed so negatively.
    I want a bumper sticker that says “Scully was right!”

  8. says

    When it comes to stories about the supernatural, what I like best is ones where the skeptics are mistaken — obviously, it wouldn’t be a story about the supernatural if they weren’t — but they aren’t depicted as stupid or close-minded, their skepticism is seen as valid, and they change their minds when presented with good evidence. I think that’s a way to tell supernatural stories without being hostile to science and skepticism.
    There aren’t many of these, alas. Buffy to some extent. And the Harry Potter books have some great, funny stuff about people who are skeptical about forms of magic that, within the Potterverse, aren’t real — and about the credulous idiots who believe in the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.

  9. yogurtbacteria says

    “Of course, if there really WERE ghosts (or aliens, or whatever), then skeptics really WOULD BE idiots.”
    Yeah, there is the consolation of fictional woo generally having scientifically verifiable effects. Calling belief in the force “sad devotion to that ancient religion” rings somewhat hollow when the ancient religion can choke you to death from across the room.

  10. says

    The only TV show I can think of where the skeptics are always right is the old Scooby-Doo cartoons. It’s a pretty sad comment on our media that that’s the best we have to go by.

  11. atrophia says

    If there really is a non-physical, spiritual world affecting the physical one… why can’t we come to an understanding about the nature of that world, and how it affects this one? Why, after thousands of years of religious belief, are we still no closer to an understanding of the spiritual realm than we ever were?
    Wow. You know, this is the first idea that really made me think about this, but you’re absolutely right. Brilliant. I still personally consider myself an agnostic, but, that’s–that’s a really, really good point. With all the advances we’ve made in science, you’d think we’d have found some evidence of the spiritual world, if it existed, by now. With all the technology we have. And yet, we haven’t.

  12. Detox says

    I have to say I didn’t read the entire post. However, I did read the introduction. I think maybe you’re asking the wrong people these questions. And you’re looking for physical evidence to a situation where there is none. There is a historical context and even historical evidence to the Bible yes but as far as the Bible being the “word of God” no. The Bible is man-made. But there are good and bad lessons in it. It just depends on the readers interpretation. I am a Christian, I believe in God or a higher power. There has to be something bigger then us. There is no solid, physical proof of this. But that is where faith comes in. To think that there is nothing else, we live, we breed, we die and there is nothing else is a pretty sad way of living life in my opinion. I’m not a fanatical Christian. I go to church occasionally but it’s not a habbit because frankly I don’t like the people there and I don’t have to go to church to talk to God. But to think that there is nothing, no higher power than us in my view is not sensible. I have been shown that if it’s not your time then he will not take you. God is not a God of calamity and he does not do things for us rather he opens up doors and provides us with opportunites whether we follow through is completely up to us. And this has been proven to me through my own life experience. I was a drug addict, I was a horrible person, I was beaten, stabbed, thrown in a river and left for dead. I never learned how to swim and I was found floating with my shirt caught on a log in 9 feet of water. It was the middle of February, the water was 32 degrees and I was in it for over 4 hours. If there wasn’t something or someone higher up looking out for me that night then it was just an extremly lucky set of circumstances that I lived. I prefer to believe that it just wasn’t my time and God has something else planned for me. No I didn’t see a light, no there wasn’t Angels there was none of that stuff. Rather it was like falling asleep and then hearing “wake up.” And when I opened my eyes I was in the hospital. The doctors told my family I would be mentally retarded and wouldn’t be able to function in society for the rest of my life due to a brain injury I suffered from the assault. I worked my ass off to prove them wrong. I had faith and a strong desire to show them that anything is possible. Now here I am 3 years later I am almost a Psychology and Criminal Justice double major with 96 of 124 hours completed, and a 3.26gpa in the Bachelors program at North Carolina Weseleyan College. And I think my faith in God played a major part in my turn around. Even if there isn’t a God it’s nice to think that there is something more then just life, breeding, and death. And having faith in something that you can’t see, or have physical evidence for is not necessarily such a bad thing. It depends on the person I guess. But we’re all entitled to our opinions so, I respect yours.

  13. fastthumbs says

    Yeah, I agree with the comments that Sci-Fi/Fantasy way too often portrays the skeptic/rationalist as cynical, stupid and/or mean spirited while the Woo pseudoscience as ‘The Truth’ (it doesn’t help my suspension of disbelief that I have an engineering degree and am a materialistic atheist…)
    So as an antidote, I recommend the science fiction novel “Contact” written by Carl Sagan and published in 1985 (A film adaptation starring Jodie Foster was released in 1997).

  14. says

    Detox:
    (a) Your comment is Exhibit A of everything I wrote this post about. It’s not an argument for why God is probably real: it’s a set of excuses for why religion — alone among every other hypothesis about how the world works — shouldn’t need to provide evidence for why it’s probably true.
    (b) And what about the people that terrible things happen to who God doesn’t save? What about the people that terrible things happen to, who do die painful or premature deaths, or get horribly damaged for the rest of their lives? What’s your explanation for that? Are you going to dismiss them by pretending they don’t exist? If you think God intervened to save your life, you have to think that he chose not to intervene to save millions of others. Why would that be?
    (c) Atheism is not, in fact, a sad way to live. I suggest you talk with some atheists about how they view life before saying things like that. (Even if it were, wishful thinking isn’t an argument for why anything else is true, and it shouldn’t be used as an argument for religion.) But the fact is that most atheists find great happiness, joy, and meaning in our lives.
    Finally:
    (d) It is not, in fact, “respectful of my opinions” to comment at length about a post that you admit you didn’t bother to read. Next time you comment on a blog post, please do the blogger the respect of actually reading it. Or at least, don’t openly insult them by telling them that you didn’t read what they wrote but are going to comment on it anyway. Thanks.

  15. Detox says

    A) I posed no argument only my personal opinion. I do not argue this stuff because it is futile. You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe and we’ll leave it at that. Don’t twist what I was saying.
    B)I’m not arguing this with you, I will point out an example though. He didn’t even save his own son from a horrible painful death. Like I said he is not a God of calamity. But you think what you want to you’re entitled to it.
    C) I said “in my opinion.” I didn’t say it was a fact or anything so get it straight. I am entitled to think what I think as are you. I suggest you quit being so hostile towards people with views different from your own. I never tried to push my beliefs off on you so don’t patronize me.
    D) I didn’t read the full post because I already know what the argument is. That is what the introduction is. You have a clear thesis statement. I needn’t read anymore than that. Just because I stated my opinion, you are hostile towards me. Which makes me think you’ve had bad experiences with religous people. I am not a fanatic. And I don’t care if you’re religious or not. So you can cease with the hostility towards me thanks. Like I said I’ll think what I think and you think what you think. Arguing over it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind either way so there’s no point really. I was just stating my opinion that’s all. If you can’t handle it then I suggest you don’t post blogs like this.

  16. says

    Detox: Once again, if all you’re going to do is express your opinion without any evidence to back it up, then you’re making yourself Exhibit A of what this piece was about — the phenomenon of believers being asked what evidence they have for their beliefs, and typically responding with an assortment of excuses for why asking for evidence of their beliefs is mean and unfair.
    I simply don’t agree with the statement that it’s all just a matter of opinion. I can give you my reasons and evidence for why I don’t believe in God. That’s actually my whole point: religion is a hypothesis about the world, and as such, it should adhere to basic rules of logic and consistency, and should be expected to support itself with evidence. And I definitely don’t agree that there’s never any point in arguing about it — after all, I myself was convinced to stop believing in religion largely by arguments I read.
    Finally: I do not have a problem with visitors to my blog disagreeing with me or expressing opinions different from my own. People do that all the time, and it’s more than fine — I welcome it. But if visitors to my blog are going to comment on my writing, I expect them at the very least to read it. Your assumption that you understood my piece based entirely on the introduction is clearly incorrect, since got many points about the piece completely wrong. Arguing with ideas you haven’t read is really not a defensible practice — it’s common, but it’s not defensible — and I find it very surprising to see anyone defending it.

  17. RebeccaF says

    So Detox, if someone says we lead a “pretty sad life” we are supposed to just stand back and say “well, it’s his opinion”? How wonderful of you to live in a world where you don’t get your opinion challenged because it’s “OMG MY OPINION and I am entitled to that”.
    Why are you even commenting on blog posts then? Are you not trying to change other people’s opinions? And if not, why bother?

  18. Bruce Gorton says

    A)You posted your opinion about the article without even bothering to read it. You then proceded to do exactly what the blog post was talking about.
    B) You posted about how God saved you. This is an evidential point – you are positing a factual occurance and chalking it up to God.
    Again, if this demonstrates God, then what of all of those in similar circumstances who weren’t saved? Further, my own addition to this:
    In a typical lottery the chances of you winning are about one in 14 million – yet people enter these lotteries and win. Sometimes, more than once? Is this proof of God?
    No, it is proof that unlikely things happen.
    There are an estimated 6.804 billion people on Earth who live on average to be between 66 and 67, that sample size means statistically unlikely things are going to happen every now and then.
    C)If you were a racist you would be entitled to your opinion, but not my respect. The same thing applies here. Your opinion is, quite frankly an insult, and thus not worthy of respect.
    D) No, you don’t. You know precisely what your straw man of the argument is, and then proceed to demonstrate how well you beat up on straw men.
    Nobody reading your post is hostile to you simply because of your belief in God, what we are hostile to is your blatant intellectual dishonesty, and the fact that you insulted us.

  19. says

    And having faith in something that you can’t see, or have physical evidence for is not necessarily such a bad thing.

    Yes it is, it’s called “wishful thinking”. Everywhere else in society we frown upon it. The only places that don’t are religion and pseudoscience – they have to, because wishful thinking is what they rely on.

  20. says

    Detox: Let’s say one of your professors assigned a book in class, and then asked you to write a paper on it. Would they accept something you wrote based only on the introduction? Or would they give you a bad grade for failing to actually read the assignment? Once you got the bad grade, could you get it changed to a good one because you have your opinion, the professor has theirs and that’s the way it is? No, you have to back your statements up with evidence if you want to be taken seriously.
    It’s the same here. If you want to be taken seriously you have to show that you read the material and are willing to defend your statements with reason and evidence.

  21. vel says

    wow, detox is a classic example of Greta’s post. I enjoy this bit by detox best “I am a Christian, I believe in God or a higher power. There has to be something bigger then us. There is no solid, physical proof of this. But that is where faith comes in.”
    No there doesn’t have to be any thing bigger than us. And your bible, you know, the way you know about your God?, insists that God/jesus was constantly giving evidence that they were who they claimed. So much for “faith”. It is only Christians, who understand the problems of an impotent and likely imaginary god, who have made up this “faith” excuse. Of course, right after their claims of “faith” are shown to be nonsense, we get “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe and we’ll leave it at that.” and if detox comes back, I am sure that we will see a more full-blown solipsism, to excuse their nonsensical belief.

  22. says

    Brilliant blog! I wish I had your gift for words when it comes to debating religion with people. Maybe I’ll just point them to your blog in the future.
    I also love how you handled “Detox” and their comments. I have to admit, I didn’t bother to read past the first couple of sentences of their reply, because … well, why should I waste my time reading when I already know what they’re going to say. I will give them as much respect as they gave to you. ;-)

  23. DSimon says

    I am entitled to think what I think as are you.

    Detox, people disagreeing with you is not the same as people saying you aren’t entitled to your opinion. I doubt there’s a single commenter here who thinks you don’t have the right to say what you will. It’s just that we all have that right too, and we’re using it to tell you what we think.

    I suggest you quit being so hostile towards people with views different from your own.

    If you claim that disagreement is hostility, then weren’t you the one being hostile first?

  24. Detox says

    Ok I read the whole post. And I’m still not persuaded. And yes I did have the points right simply from reading the introduction. Since you guys seem so interested in making me read the whole thing I figured I’d oblige you. My mind isn’t changed though. And I have a point or two to make myself, but don’t get it twisted I am not arguing for or against religion. Which seems to be what you guys think I’m doing. What I am saying is what’s it to you if someone wants to believe in a God or not? Why do you care? If it helps the person or persons in their lives then why not let them think it? Why try to debunk it and make them miserable? That’s like taking a kids cotton candy after he’s had it for 10 minutes. It doesn’t make any sense. Now on to my points.
    Greta: “And I definitely don’t agree that there’s never any point in arguing about it — after all, I myself was convinced to stop believing in religion largely by arguments I read.”
    That is your view. And I have no argument with that. However, my mind is not so easily changed. So maybe I should rephrase what I said, it is pointless to argue with me about it because you’re not going to persuade me one way or another. There that is more what I meant.
    “if all you’re going to do is express your opinion without any evidence to back it up, then you’re making yourself Exhibit A of what this piece was about”
    I owe you no evidence or explanation or any variation of the sort. Nor do any other believers owe you that either. Finding evidence and drawing conclusions is your responsibility since you will be the one believing or not believing.
    “Religion is a hypothesis about the world.”
    Wrong. Religion is a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=religion)Not a hypothesis.
    “What evidence do you have that this is true?”
    You’re right I have none. Yet my mind isn’t changed.
    “If we think other people have a mistaken idea about the world, we think it’s reasonable and fair, admirable even, to try to persuade them out it.”
    Not when you’re trying to undermine everything that someone has believed in their whole lives. People tend to get a bit ticked off about that one. Just like you get a bit pissed when people say “Atheists are close-minded, closing themselves off to realms of experience beyond this mere mortal coil.” You’re questioning why someone believes what they believe and nit picking. Why not live and let live? I have taken myself out of the equasion and stepped back and looked at why people are religious. Some people truly believe in heaven and all that stuff. Some people don’t put that much emphasis on heaven. Some people think they need religion to get through everyday life. Some people use it as an excuse to do the things they do. Some people use it as a social networking device. And some don’t care about the other people there because they’re there to talk to God. Some people use it as a crutch to help them with their problems in life. There is a whole array of things it may be used for. A type of therapy if you will. But they shouldn’t be criticized for it if that’s what they want to believe then let them. What’s it to you?
    And furthermore there is no expectation that religion support it’s claims. By the time someone figures out if there is a God they’re usually dead. So how can you expect religion to support it’s claims? If someone is dead religion becomes a little hard to practice yanno. And unnecessary right?
    “You have to actually, you know, tell us what that theology says. And then you have to tell us why you think it’s right.”
    No I don’t. Like I stated previously I owe you no explanation or evidence. Finding that stuff is your responsibility, not mine.
    ————————
    RebeccaF: “Why are you even commenting on blog posts then? Are you not trying to change other people’s opinions? And if not, why bother?”
    I comment to throw my two cents in. Just as you have here. No, I don’t care to change anyones mind or opinion. And I bother cause if I don’t say what I think then what’s the point of saying anything at all?
    Bruce Gorton: “Your opinion is, quite frankly an insult, and thus not worthy of respect.
    Nobody reading your post is hostile to you simply because of your belief in God, what we are hostile to is your blatant intellectual dishonesty, and the fact that you insulted us.”

    Your just a regular ray of sunshine aren’t you? I owe you or anybody else on here the courtesy of respect so f***k off. I did not intentionally insult you or your kind. I stated what I think about it and if you can’t handle that then I’m sorry that’s not my problem.
    Vel: “And your bible, you know, the way you know about your God?, insists that God/jesus was constantly giving evidence that they were who they claimed.”
    Uhh evidently you didn’t read my post. I don’t believe in the Bible. It’s been translated by countless persons over how many thousands of years. It’s like the rumor game you played in highschool where you whisper something in one person’s ear and it goes through lets say 20 people before it gets back to you it’s something completely different. That’s what I think about the Bible. Also I was never dragged to church or forced to believe what I believe. My parents afforded me the chance to make my mind up when I got old enough. And I actually never started believing until I got hurt.
    DSimon: “Detox, people disagreeing with you is not the same as people saying you aren’t entitled to your opinion. I doubt there’s a single commenter here who thinks you don’t have the right to say what you will. If you claim that disagreement is hostility, then weren’t you the one being hostile first?”
    I was not the one being hostile. I even stated that “I respect your opinion.” And I still do. But with that said I expect the same. I do not expect to get blasted cause I’m not one of y’all. I am not entering a popularity contest here. I could care less who likes me and who doesn’t. And I could care less if you think I’m wrong or not. You can disagree and be civil about it. And I do not need a “posse” of people demeaning me in the process. My comments were to Gretta not the rest of the peanut gallery.

  25. yogurtbacteria says

    If I might be completely irrelevant for a moment, does it make anyone else twitch that the evidence stamp aligned with the stamped word “evidence” in the first picture couldn’t have made that stamp directly from the position it’s in without being flipped over? By being aligned with the word, it’s actually not aligned how it would’ve been used…*twitch*

  26. SuperSanta says

    Greta, you are asking for too much.
    Religion is, by essence, the absence of scientific “reason”. Beliefs are “religious” when they are not backed up by fact and go beyond the realm of reasonable logical hypotheses. Religious statements that would somehow suddenly be backed up by evidence (yeah right…) would leave the realm of religion and enter the realm of fact.
    So, in short, no believer will ever be able to rationalize their belief[s].
    Whether this inability to rationalize is good or bad is a separate question. With serious repercussions in the philosophical, political, and sociological domains (feel free to complete the list).
    This “organized irrationality” nature of religion is what is making it so dangerous. When causality cannot be expected, when explanations cannot be expected, well, responsibility cannot be expected either.

  27. Broggly says

    “It’s disrespectful and intolerant to tell people their religious beliefs are wrong.”
    That always reminds me of the “Drive-By arguement” joke in Family Guy.

  28. Maxx says

    Good evening;
    “Show me the money?” A betting woman? Very well.
    Here’s a bet:
    If a theist and an atheist die, and God does not exist, then neither the theist nor the atheist lose anything.
    But, if the theist and an atheist die, and God does exist, then the theist gains everything – the atheist loses everything.
    I do not like the atheist’s odds.
    Interesting position.
    Thank you

  29. DSimon says

    Maxx: You may not have realized it as you posted, but that’s a really old and massively flawed argument called Pascal’s Wager. It fails pretty hard on a number of levels, the biggest one being the assumption that the probability of God existing is high enough to make forced belief worth the opportunity cost.

  30. freak says

    Greta: Re post 10:

    Have you read _Dracula_? While I don’t think the characters were portrayed as skeptics, I do recall van Helsing presenting evidence (they go into Lucy’s tomb shortly before sunset; her corpse looks somewhat decayed; they leave; shortly after sunset, a figure is seen leaving the tomb; they go in again and her corpse is gone; a figure is seen returning just before sunrise; her body is back and looks rejuvenated), then once he’s presented all that, he explains about vampires.

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