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Feuerstein’s new folly

Joshua Feuerstein, excitable youtube preacher, is now offering a $100,000 prize to anyone who can prove god doesn’t exist. I feel like asking him how he has proven that Thor doesn’t exist, so I can just swap in the name Jesus and walk away rich, except I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “proof” in science, so it would be something of a betrayal of my principles. Also, I doubt that he’s honest: does he actually have $100,000 to give away? Does he have funds in escrow? How is this affair managed and judged? It looks to me like he just took a sharpie and scribbled a claim on a piece of cardboard and held it up in front of a cell phone camera, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that this is a legitimate offer.

Look to James Randi’s million dollar challenge for a better example of how to do this: actually have the money set aside. Have criteria and rules, and independent judges. Ask for confirmable, repeatable evidence for a phenomenon, rather than asking to prove a nebulous negative. But Feuerstein can’t do that, because he’s the one making a positive claim in the absence of evidence, so if anyone ought to bear the onus of providing evidence, it’s him.

Seth Andrews does a fine job smacking him down.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ll give a billion dollars to anyone who can prove Thor doesn’t exist and I’ll even let them ride that dragon that use to live in Carl Sagan’s garage.

  2. says

    God can speak to me the same way you say he speaks to you. So why am I stuck listening to you?

    That’s something I’d really like to know, theists. On top of the obvious, I have serious issue with the credibility of people who claim to speak with gods. Whenever I look at these god arguments, the theists typically get caught red-handed telling lies in readily verifiable fashion. Even if we narrow the field down to the ones we think are sincere, their thinking is invariably sloppy, ignorant, and fallacious. Even if I had some kind of evidence for the mere existence of a god, these are good reasons not to trust priests and witch doctors to tell the truth about the subject.

  3. gussnarp says

    I agree with your reticence to even talk about this in terms of “proving” anything. But if one were to take this up, the trick is to get the terms clearly agreed and defined in advance. Beginning with a definition of “prove”. Can we use a colloquial one as opposed to scientific, mathematical, or philosophical? Maybe define proof as providing enough evidence that it would be absurd not to accept the conclusion. And then we have to figure out who decides whether it’s absurd. That is, as you say, what Randi’s challenge does: defines the criteria and how they will be judged.

    Then we have the age old problem of defining “god”. Since “god” can mean so many things to so many people, it’s essentially a meaningless term. But can we show that the Bible is not strictly true? Well that’s a piece of cake to any reasonable, unbiased judge, so we’re done here, right? Or can we at least get an annotated Bible telling us which bits he believes are strictly true as opposed to metaphor so we know what we have to demonstrate?

    Or can we just trot out the logical impossibility of a being that is all omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent given the condition of the world. Surely that’s good enough? Assuming he agrees that god should have those three characteristics.

    It’s all such a silly exercise. Of course we can’t “prove” god doesn’t exist. We can just show that any number of other explanations are far more likely.

  4. dick says

    Here’s a proof that “God” doesn’t exist:

    A proof that ‘God’ does not exist. (This is a practical proof: absolute proofs are only possible within a formal system of logic, such as mathematics.)

    First we must define the term ‘God’. It necessarily refers solely to a theistic god, (that is, one that interferes in human affairs). A deistic god doesn’t cut the mustard; it would be, with our present level of scientific understanding, indistinguishable from the unknown process that begat the laws of nature. The same goes for a pantheistic god. So, we are therefore concerned with the likes of Allah, Amun-Ra, Athena, Brahma, Gitche-Manitou, Jehovah, Quetzalcoatl, Wotan, Yahweh, Zeus, and many others.

    The first question to be addressed is whether or not these are all the same being. From what I have heard, many of the followers of these gods would have it that they are not the same. This notion is reinforced by the consideration that, if it were the same god, then it wouldn’t reveal itself in different guises, not when that leads to warfare between opposing followers, and the appallingly sadistic treatment of those well-meaning folk accused of heresy. And it surely wouldn’t not reveal itself to all those folks who are, or were, followers of animistic religions, or who are just plain atheists. That just wouldn’t be fair when rewards are held to be available to the true believers, and sometimes, punishment for the unbelievers, whose only ‘crimes’ are being rational, and truthful to themselves.

    The bottom line is that the various gods are deemed to have particular qualities, such as omniscience and omnipotence, if they are monotheistic. If they are, supposedly, members of a pantheon, then they have more human-like attributes, although to a superhuman degree. It is therefore safe to conclude that the list of names quoted above, and thousands more that are un-named, refer to different gods. Now, it is obvious that they can’t all be running human affairs, (although there was a time when it was commonly believed that the known gods were trying to do just that, and were competing against each other). Ba’al and Yahweh and Moloch were supposed to be heavily involved in the human politics of Mesopotamia and other regions of the Middle East. But our modern understanding of sciences such as geology and astronomy, and of history, geography, and psychology, now preclude that sort of scenario. The evidence, as now interpreted, clearly rules out the existence of a host of competing gods, so we are able to conclude that there is either only one god, (or one group of related gods, which is effectively the same thing), or else there are none at all.

    We are now in a position to determine whether or not there is a theistic god. The believer has either to point to its effects upon the World and the affairs of man, or define it as an ontological necessity. The former course is not tenable since Darwin clearly showed that the complexity and apparent design in living organisms is possible due to the actions of natural selection. Cosmology has shown us a Universe of incomprehensible size and complexity, dwarfing our solar system, and this universe may be part of a Multiverse. And simply claiming that there is a god, according to a believer’s definition, no matter how theologically convoluted that might be, is no proof that such a being exists. Historically, all such attempts have failed. The devotee’s feeling of the immanence of such a being is also no proof, because that is merely a psychological state of theirs. The fact of the universe’s existence, that there is something rather than nothing, does not require a god. After all, a god would be a something too. It is sufficient to say that we do not presently understand why there is something rather than nothing, but we will try to find out.

    Another consideration is that the existence of a god entails an additional type of substance in the universe, namely ‘spirit’, in addition to matter and energy. Otherwise, any gods would simply be part of the natural universe, and wouldn’t be supernatural at all. There is, of course, no evidence of such a substance. Occam’s razor is not an irrefutable principle of logic, but it does suggest that explanations of the universe that specify the existence of a god, when such an entity isn’t necessary to explain what we observe, should be abandoned in favour of a less complex explanation. The godless explanation is actually more reasonable, being more in accord with the Universe as we find it, that is to say, completely indifferent to the aspirations of man, or to anything else.

    It therefore follows that there is no evidence for the specific god that a particular theist might posit. A host of other gods have been proposed too, so clearly, gods, (or actually their images), are created by man, rather than vice versa. From this it follows that there are no theistic gods that accord to anyone’s definition. It’s no good claiming that the deity is a trickster god, because that’s not what the faithful believe in. Admittedly, the polytheists’ gods were capable of trickery: consider, also, the minor god Satan in the Christian religion. But the boss god was supposed to maintain order, by being the most powerful. We can, therefore, safely conclude that there is no “God”. This is just as strong a claim as that made for the non-existence of fairies at the bottom of the garden, which is about as robust a claim as anyone can possibly make.

  5. Kevin Kehres says

    Here’s the thing. Proofs are definitive, conclusive, and the end of the game. You don’t need to play anymore once you have proof.

    Mano Singham had a post the other day about some guy who has posted about 600 or 700 arguments in favor of the existence of god(s). And rightly pointed out that they all suck. However, he erred in his post by calling such arguments “proofs”. Not. Not close.

    As to the current question, the shoe is really on the other foot. An argument is not proof because (logically and definitionally), it can be argued. Therefore, none of the arguments offered by theists are proof that god exists.

    The one who is claiming the existence of something has the burden of proving it; not merely arguing in favor of it. You can argue all you want about the existence of Bigfoot or Nessie; if you had proof, the argument would be over. End of game. Finished. No more arguments.

    It’s the same in the case of god. If you have proof of god(s) existence, then you need no more arguments. And you only need a single proof. Just one. One proof trumps 700 (or 7000 or 7 million) arguments.

    If there is a proof in favor of the existence of god(s), Feurstein and his fellow travelers wouldn’t exist. Everyone would know it. It would be as common knowledge as the fact that water is wet. There would be no atheists. We would not be in theological arguments over the status of the bacon cheeseburger or the wearing of hats. It would be the end of the game. Proof. Known fact.

    This really poor attempt at deflection only demonstrates (I won’t say “proves”) how weak their tea really is.

    Shorter me: I don’t have to prove a non-existent thing does not exist. Do your own homework.

  6. Holms says

    I would trust the offer more, if dear old Feuerstein knew how to hold a cell phone to shoot video.

    Why must there always be someone chiming in with this tedious complaint… What if the thing you’re recording is longer in the vertical axis than the horizontal?

  7. gussnarp says

    @Holms: If that’s the case, and it’s absolutely the only way to fit the relevant information, then go ahead. But you’re video will look better if it’s at all possible for you to step back a bit so you can fit it into a horizontal frame. Sure, it’s tedious. It’s also really good advice for anyone wishing to make videos for public consumption.

    And it’s obviously not the case with Feuerstein’s head.

  8. says

    I’d be willing to bet that Feurstein couldn’t even prove that he received “hundreds, if not thousands” of emails from atheists who became Christians after watch his first viral video, as claimed in the challenge video.

  9. moarscienceplz says

    It looks to me like he just took a sharpie and scribbled a claim on a piece of cardboard and held it up in front of a cell phone camera,

    Well, that’s pretty much how the Bible came into existence, so he’s acting like a good Christian.

  10. David Chapman says

    tacitus
    I’d be willing to bet that Feurstein couldn’t even prove that he received “hundreds, if not thousands” of emails from atheists who became Christians after watch his first viral video, as claimed in the challenge video.

    Gadzooks, if that’s the guys level of numeracy, if he can’t tell the difference between hundreds of emails and thousands of emails, I wonder what the alleged $10,000 bucks would turn out to be? 50c, maybe? Or would you possibly wind up owing him?
    My favourite evidence that Jesus is not God, which I reckon should be worth a few bucks even if it’s not what he’s looking for, are the bits in the gospels where the stupid bollocks tries to persuade everyone not to wash their hands and their plates and cups before eating. ( Matthew 15, Mark 7, Luke 11.)
    This leaves but two logical possibilities…..
    Either he wasn’t God, but in fact an arrogant and foolish human being with too high an opinion of his personal wisdom.
    Or He was God, and God has a very sick sense of humour….

    Cash is quite acceptable, Mr. Feuerstein :)

  11. reddiaperbaby1942 says

    There have been some interesting empirical findings recently in cognitive science, suggesting why beliefs in a supernatural being are so common worldwide, despite being so obviously false — not to say idiotic — at least to most of us here on this blog. I’m not sure I find these arguments so convincing myself, not being much into cognitive science, but there they are. I know about this work because I do a lot of professional copy-editing for scientists and scholars, including cognitive researchers in the field of Religious Studies (what used to be called Comparative Religion).
    So it’s not a matter of whether or not a deity exists (I for one couldn’t care less), but why people so commonly believe in it, find it so natural and comforting, and can’t be shaken from their belief.
    Here are a couple of references:
    Whitehouse, Harvey & Robert N. McCauley (eds) (2005). Mind and Religion: Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity. Walnut Greek, CA: AltaMira
    McCauley, Robert N. (2011), Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not. New York: Oxford University Press.

  12. David Chapman says

    Blast, $100,000 bucks I meant, I would like it to be known that that was a slip of the keyboard, my money contemplating skills are second to none.

  13. anteprepro says

    He doesn’t want to do it right, like James Randi. He wants to do it “right”, like Kent Hovind.

    Also: is this guy just getting popular? I had never seen or heard of him until a month or two ago, and now I am seeing Christianists posting his red cap and bombastic blather all over the place.

  14. nomadiq says

    How about Feuerstein forfeits $100,000 to Amnesty International if he fails to prove the existence of God by, lets say, next Tuesday. I’d pay attention to that.

  15. says

    Also: is this guy just getting popular?

    Popular? Looking at his YouTube channel, most of his recent videos have three, four hundred views. Seth Andrews’ video (above) already has way more views and anything Feurstein has posted except for one he posted four years ago.

    His Facebook page is more popular, but most of the stuff he posts there is blatant click-bait (“You’ll never believe what happened next!!!”) or promoting his latest “cool” in-your-face Christian tee shirt designs.

    He’s certainly working hard when it comes to self-promotion, I’ll give him that, and he’ll probably cash-in nicely from all the invites he gets from churches who are looking for the next cool/edgy counter-counter-cultural young firebrand preacher to save their kids, but given his total lack of traction on YouTube so far, the kids are decidedly unimpressed.

  16. anteprepro says

    tacitus: I suppose not too popular then! Just maybe trending. Through the power of social media and relentless self-promotion.

    And I guess the BBC gave him a tiny bit of attention a few months ago, strangely enough: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27679947

    (Warning: video on that page that automatically plays)

  17. rustiguzzi says

    &Kevin Kehres, No.6
    Those “hundreds of proofs of God’s existence” is a *joke* list.
    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm
    Example:
    ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION, a.k.a. TOMAS DE TORQUEMADA’S ARGUMENT
    (1) See this bonfire?
    (2) Therefore, God exists.
    Another 666 or ‘em in there, and none of them to be taken seriously.

  18. says

    With his silky-smooth talk radio talents and his background in production, Seth Andrews is certainly becoming a powerful voice in the atheist community.

  19. says

    I can’t listen to Mr. Feuerstein for more than 10 seconds. It’s not just what he says but how he says it.

  20. hexidecima says

    steps to collect money if TrueChristian isn’t lying:

    Have term “God” defined by believer
    As if evidence means “proof”
    Proceed to disprove existence of this character as defined.

    For instance, if God responses to invocation by altar, it should still, if it is an eternal never changing being. If no altar is lit on fire by appeal to this god, then, it is evidence that no god as defined exists.

    Doesn’t seem that hard. However, one must get the TrueChristian to define their god. It’d be just worth it to see the squirming for that.

  21. loopyj says

    @24-hexidecima,

    That’s precisely my feeling about any debate over the existence of ‘god’–it’s a pointless exercise in the absence of the affirmative side clearly stating what they’re talking about and what they’re referring to when they say ‘god’ (because I’ve never had any idea what the hell they’re talking about, and I argue that neither do they). Without a description of some kind–some content, contour, characteristics, capabilities–there’s no way to even talk about whether a thing or a phenomenon exists. But even if they were willing, they would insist on having it both ways, asserting that the god-thing they’re talking about transcends existence and the natural world (and thus defies and evades description) and yet operates within reality. Their god-thing ultimately is an appeal to magic: An omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being, supernatural but also natural. It’s complete nonsense.

  22. sugarfrosted says

    I don’t know if I agree that inconsistency would disprove a concept of god. Why does such a being even need to be consistent? The world we see is consistent, but assuming that a god would have to be consistent seems similar to the assumption in the Kalaam Cosmological argument. Granted theists tend to claim their concept of god is consistent, though the contradiction in omnipotence is fairly obvious and Gödel in a way gives us reason to assume omniscience is inconsistent.

  23. sugarfrosted says

    You can’t prove a negative.

    Damn I hate this meme. Yes you can prove a negative. “Not all swans are white” is a negative that I can prove; all I would need would be a black swan. “I am not an aardvark” is another example. Trivially all positive statements can be written as negative statements to boot. That above statement is in fact the same as “There is a swan that is not white.”

    “There is no god” is not provable, since I would have to consider every possible conception of god in order to do so. It has nothing to do with it being a negative. “All life needs water” is an unprovable positive statement, which is equivalent to the negative statement “There does not exist life that doesn’t need water.”

    PS. The preview doesn’t show blockquotes.

    PPS. I’m a young curmudgeonly grad student studying mathematical logic.

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