Open thread on episode #823

Have at it.

It never ceases to amaze me how often we keep having to go back to “Atheism is a religion too!” and “Why don’t you just call yourselves agnostic?” Cripes. Doing this show for a decade and a half, and every week still manages to feel like you’re teaching a remedial course in Disbelief 101 to unwilling students with no desire to learn.


  1. says

    I imagine that’s how all educators feel as their task moves forward.

    I would’ve mentioned “abiogenesis” to John, that’s one of the big things that rested my uneasyness and my own subtle argument from ignorance that I harbored in my own head in the past.

  2. mudge991 says

    Just think of all the new minds you are helping to free….. Maybe appeal to a little R.A. Heinlein:

    A religion is sometime a source of happiness, and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong. The great trouble with religion – any religion – is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak certainty of reason- but one cannot have both.

  3. Mel says


    “One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak certainty of reason- but one cannot have both.”

    I would say:

    “One may live in the bleak ignorance and deception of religion, or bask in the warm fire of realization and truth”

  4. Lord Narf says

    Maybe appeal to a little R.A. Heinlein

    Only hopefully without the part about traveling back in time and having sex with your mother. Brilliant writer, but Christ, the man had some issues.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    His early stuff was definitely juvenile, and later his various hangups and inability to write female characters made him practically unreadable. But there was a sweet spot in the middle, around Moon is a Harsh Mistress that was just about unequalled.

  6. Lord Narf says

    The Cat Who Walked Through Walls was also pretty decent. I think that was right on the edge of when he started going a bit wacky. Job: A Comedy of Justice was written during his wacky period, but it was good anyway. The characters weren’t very complex … but the story wasn’t about the characters, so it worked out okay.

    And of course Starship Troopers is fantastic. I still can’t believe how they grabbed the story name and character names and completely bastardized it for that horrific movie.

    It would be so awesome if someone could redeem the name and do a true conversion of the story to screen. Those ape suits would be so freaking cool, and Chapter 1 would make for one of the most exciting movie openings ever.

  7. says

    It sounded as if John from Chicago was just reading or paraphrasing creationist talking points without listening. On that sticking point on words like “information” and “code,” it might help to point out that we use these words in situations in which there is no information sender or code writer.

    An example I’ve used is the experienced hunter who can read the signs in the woods to see which animals have passed that way, how long ago it rained, and so on. The information is there for someone who is trained to get it. No one writes what the hunter is reading, though. Scientists can do something similar with the configuration of proteins in the DNA molecule.

  8. Lord Narf says

    Oh, actually, I just pulled my copy off the book shelf. The Cat Who Walked Through Walls is from 1985, three years before he died. Obviously one of his later works. I thought it was much earlier. I guess he just had a bit of a less-weird period, right at the end.

  9. Lord Narf says

    We’ve had a hell of a lot of the “DNA is a code, and codes only come from a mind,” lately. It seems like this sort of thing goes around in some sort of wave pattern. You’ll have a few popular apologists mention the argument, and then all of the amateur wannabe apologists will start aping it all over the place.

  10. unfogged says

    The gumball analogy for illustrating the difference between “I don’t believe X” and “I believe not-X” is a good one. I think it’d help if the god question was presented more along the lines of “there is not enough evidence to accept the claim” rather than “I don’t believe”. People aren’t usually that exacting in their speech and belief is such a fuzzy topic anyway that it isn’t surprising that so many assume that all atheists are making the positive claim that god does not exist.

    The courtroom analogy is not as good in my opinion because it suffers from the same common mistake in confusing “not guilty” with “innocent”. It might work better if it was stressed that the verdict is actually “not proven guilty by the evidence presented”. If the defense can prove the defendant innocent then that’s a bonus but the important thing is that the prosecution can’t prove that the defendant is guilty. The hosts always get there but, from the Monday morning quarterback position, not directly.

    As far as agnostic goes, that’s a tough one. I grew up with the word being used as a middle ground between atheists and theists. It included anybody who was not absolutely sure one way or the other. It wasn’t until I found TAE that I ever heard the words used any other way and it was jarring at first. The TAE usage is more precise but it will take a long time to replace the common usage that is out there. It’s like trying to convince Brits that a vest is part of formal dress and not an undershirt; the word means what people commonly accept it to mean and change is never easy.

  11. gshelley says

    A lot of patience with that first caller.
    When people are making the claim that information needs a creator, they need to define information (which he sort of did) and how to measure it. Typically, if they actually say how we can tell if one set of DNA has more information than another set of DNA, we are either left with something that needs no supernatural intervention (though as was implied, we can’t prove that a god didn’t sneak in and make the apparently natural changes), or something that has no relevance to biology.

  12. says

    Even if we were to grant their loose definition of “information”, this argument must necessarily presuppose that information cannot be naturally occurring. That’s the only way the argument can coalesce into a coherent idea.

    It’s arrogant too.. because if DNA is code/information, the sum total of human code/information isn’t a blip on the radar, compared to what’s out there in nature, and existed for billions of years before we existed. Then, all of a sudden, we start scribbling on parchments, and we conclude that the rest of it must have been “scribbled on parchment” too?

    Flying creatures, like birds, existed long before humans invented airplanes. If we’re wondering whether birds are designed, would we say “Well the rest of this (points at our airplanes) is designed, so the birds must be designed too”? Probably some would, but it’s severely begging the question.

  13. Lord Narf says

    I think that’s what pretty much all creationists say, yes. I’ve heard, “We can’t even duplicate the technology used by God in all of his creations,” so many times that I’m beginning to worry about cosmetic damage to my forehead, from all of the impacts.

  14. says

    And even if we were to infer that DNA needs a programmer, that’s all we have – an inference. The next step is to empirically confirm that inference, so we can change it’s status from “conjecture” to “knowledge”.

    What we do observe in genetics are things like gene duplication, point insertions/deletions, etc. We see DNA changing/modifying/adding “information” all the time, without any indication of intelligence helping it along.

    We can ask ourselves – if it were true that DNA is designed, should we not observe this process manifest in reality? Shouldn’t we be able to observe some kind of “designing” happening? But we don’t – not in any way, shape or form.

    Instead, that idea is utterly crushed under the bulk of directly observed empirical evidence that shows gradual changes in DNA. We know that it happens, and we know how it happens.

    The idea that DNA is designed is quite simply steamrolled by the preponderance of evidence – the idea that when you vet an idea against the greater data about how the world works, it just doesn’t stack up, and is contradicted left and right by other things we know. Such ideas can only seem viable when considered in complete isolation from any other data.

  15. deesse23 says

    The guy from Chcago cant see information and its generation (if you want to label DNA *information*, which is still kinda inaccurate, but hey, they are making all the same mistake here) even if its happening right in front of him:

    If he makes his wife pregnant, and if his DNA and his wife DNA mix (and it DOES!), what result do we get?!
    A child with a new set of DNA, a UNIQUE new being based on NEW, NEVER BEFORE EXISTING INFORMATION, and no god is needed for that!!

    Even more, we (humans in labs) can CLONE his kid and copy this *information, once again, no god needed.
    Let me put some candy on top of that: every second of his life his human cells reproduce, and they reproduce the DNA with them, copy and paste, zero god.

  16. Lone Primate says

    Ugh! I was going nuts listening in. The whole thing was based on John insisting DNA into “information”. DNA is information (or a “code” or a “language”) by analogy. It’s just an example we use to make the light bulbs come on over the head of the layperson in explaining what it does in terms of heredity. DNA is, in actuality, a catalytic acid; the electrochemical properties of its shape in turn determining the shapes of proteins. It’s simply about how electrons line up. DNA is no more “information” than a hole in the ground is “information” for shaping water molecules into puddles. If someone had just made that clear to John at the outset, the whole go-nowhere argument could have been headed off. If he’d insisted DNA were information, one need only remind him of something he was hinting at: that information by definition informs. It’s a deliberate process by means of which one mind attempts to change the condition of another mind (or minds) such that they more closely correspond to the same experience of reality, or an assertion of reality (in the case of deliberate fallacies, like, say, religions). Then ask: what other mind is being informed by DNA?

  17. jacobfromlost says

    “DNA is no more “information” than a hole in the ground is “information” for shaping water molecules into puddles.”

    Or a river. What a coincidence that god made all of them run downstream and none of them upstream! Divine intervention, information, and a code!

  18. says

    While I don’t know that John would have understood your explanation any more than any other, it’s a strong one and I’ll be using it in future.

  19. jacobfromlost says

    “Then ask: what other mind is being informed by DNA?”

    I think it is safe to say that, even though this is a great approach, John simply would have answered:

    God’s mind.

    (P.S. I only caught the last 40 minutes of the show, Martin, but I heard the frustration reach a level in your voice that I have never heard before, lol. We in the chatroom were feeling your pain.)

  20. Russell Glasser says

    “What do you call one who believes in nothing at all?”

    “Nihilists, dude.”

  21. Charles Coffey says

    Apart from the logical fallacies, there was one other thing that the caller did not understand.

    DNA is a pattern. It is a chemical pattern, a sequence of base pairs that code proteins. In that, it is no different from a board with a long series of nails driven into it, or one of those little drums in a music box. It determines only the primary sequence, in the proteins structure. All else, being directed and influenced by other factors, physical, chemical, and environmental.

    Now it is the common shtick for theists to imbue common phenomenon with some unreasonable level of special meaning; but, to equate this pattern with the meaning of some Love letter from an admirer, is absurd. I believe it to be the sure result of someone getting specious arguments from creationists and theologians, without having sufficient knowledge on their own, to be able to evaluate. That’s commonly how a specious argument gets taken for a profound statement. regarding the nature of reality.

    If it were not so sad, you could almost see it playing behind another similar argument, proving through the rigorous application of scientific logic… that witches are made of wood.


  22. Buddylee103 says

    I’m just glad you guys stopped him at the assertion that DNA is information which requires a mind. Coincidentally, I had just finished an online argument with a creationist, also named John, who was using that same argument. Unfortunately, due to the open format, he was allowed to ramble on about how DNA can’t be created naturally and it violates the Laws of Thermodynamics. Normally I just ignore these types, because they never listen anyways, but I just couldn’t resist the snide know-it-all writing style.

  23. cag says

    The flower in bloom gives the bee information that here is food. The gopher’s movement gives information to the hawk that there is food on the ground. So much information. The scoring of rocks gives the geologist information on glacial erosion. The presence of kimberlite gives information about the potential of finding diamonds. And on and on.

  24. Raymond says

    We must be fair, here. We do not know if a god was responsible for those things or not. We see the naturalistic events happening, and a god is not necessary, as far as we know. But if a god is directing all those things, it may be that they would be impossible without the god. I liken it to a derivation of solipsism, and the answer is the same. We function in this “reality,” so it only helps us to understand the terms of this “reality.” But we must always be cautious when making blanket statements, and strive to be as precise as possible. There probably isn’t a god involved. There is no need for a god to be involved, as far as we know. But we do not know if there is a god involved. Of course we don’t know if maybe a kdjfa;jie8r;kjls;adf is involved either. I think the chances are about the same.

  25. Raymond says

    The problem really isn’t anyone’s fault. We have reached a point in our growth as a species where there is a true dichotomy between those with scientific knowledge and those without. But it is an inevitable consequence of how our civilization works. The cost of education is so high, that many cannot afford it. Many will go through their whole lives living day-to-day — content with their lot. We need these people. The things that those of us who are educated take for granted, are simply not applicable to the vast majority of mundane dealings; so the grinders of our society will never spend time learning them. This makes them susceptible to misinformation from people who have an agenda. That religion is prevalent is only a consequence of it being vital to our growth as a species.

    We will likely outgrow it, but I doubt rationalism will ever enjoy the overwhelming majority that religion has thusfar. If we can make education a priority, perhaps this can change, though. I have seen signs of this recently. Here in Oregon, there is a bill that eliminates the need to pay for higher education up front. Instead you pay for it as a 3% tax on your income over 25 years. I personally feel this is a step in the right direction, allowing more people to receive the type of education that will help reduce the ignorance of the population. It remains to be seen if this will equate to an increase in rational thinking, but all indications point to that conclusion. One can only hope.

  26. says

    I agree that I have never really liked the courtroom analogy. It makes perfect sense to me after having heard it dozens of times but I can see how it would just serve to confuse people. There is a lot of high level logic and rhetoric that the hosts use that is perfectly apt but that I feel only serves to confuse people.

    I know it is wayyyy to simplistic but I feel like the “she’s a witch” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail serves as a better way of introducing the burden of proof.

    The problem with the courtroom analogy is that you are finding God ‘not-guilty’ of existing, which is .. I dunno a double negative or something.. it is just not intuitive to wrap your mind around unless you understand the preceding arguments.. there has to be a better way of putting it….. OFC most of these creationists and whatnot are not going to TRY to understand anything we say…. Example: Eric Hovind… nuff said

  27. Lord Narf says

    That’s why we have so many different analogies. Even some of the willfully misunderstanding ones, like Eric Hovind, will eventually get it, when presented with enough different angles from which to look at the same situation.

    Not Hovind himself, mind you. His livelihood depends upon misrepresenting the atheist position and lying about us. Some of his followers might be reached, though. It just takes a hell of a lot of repetition.

  28. jacobfromlost says

    The whole thermodynamics thing always has me scratching my head.

    If you splice two of their very common assertions together, it seems they think that the universe was created because it is made of stuff that can’t be created nor destroyed. lol Since it CAN’T be created, it was created by god.

    At that point I start to bleed from my eyes and ears in frustration.

  29. Aaroninmelbourne says

    The biggest problem with most of these arguments is that most people don’t really understand the difference between what constitutes a story, what constitutes an explanation, and what constitutes evidence.

    John was a classic example of someone who presumes that evidence is anything you care to imagine that provides a ‘prop’ to their particular story. What may be presented to another believer as “God… and here’s something really spooky to back it up!” is changed into, “… and here’s something really science-y sounding to back it up!” It’s really no different to anyone else arguing, “Tornadoes… therefore Wizard of Oz!” Just like the prop in a film or on stage, the object only carries the story’s resonance so long as the storyteller is there to tell the story. Take a typical prop of a vase on a stage in a mystery: the vase could have been a gift to someone and thus represent affection; or it could have been a murder weapon and signify hatred. The vase itself is not evidence of anything. It is just a prop for the storyteller there to explain what it represents in the story.

    Actual evidence is much more akin to raw data that is used to lead to a conclusion than a ‘prop’ that is used to reach a presupposition. And yes, I’m going to use the word, “information”: If I want to conduct research on beach sand, this means that the sand will be used to look for information such as grain sizes, material type, perhaps even surface study of individual grains. I can code this too, using letters and numbers to classify beaches into various ‘types’ that would help my study. All of this would be “information” that has been turned into a “code”. None of this suggests that there was a team of magical undersea squirrels carefully crafting the grains of sand into special “information packets” just for me. Not even if I decide to tell a story of the sands of Squeaky Beach being the “evidence” that the squirrels ‘coded’ their own voices into the grains of sand.

    Stories themselves are never evidence, and this is where a lot of theists get confused. The Bible is not evidence, it’s a story which loosely uses actual information as nothing more than ‘props’ to inform its storyline. Conversely, the actual information (such as the names of places and people) cannot be used to lead to the Bible stories because this actual evidence does not lead to conclusions of walking dead, the world being on pillars, or days lasting longer than 24 hours such as is written in the Bible. When we use the actual archaeological evidence of the region we end up with some interesting history, but no deities. The only conclusion that can be reached is that the Bible itself is an anthology of ancient myths.

  30. franks says

    John’s call was almost identical to those made by Eric from Mesa, AZ a few years ago. As Tracie has said the argument from ignorance is a very difficult fallacy for some people. Great job presenting different viewpoints; I hope upon a second listen he will reevaluate his position.

  31. garnetstar says

    I just watched this episode. I wish that chemists had a place to post anti-creationism arguments, now that “information in DNA” has become popular.

    DNA arises naturally from *the laws of chemistry*. All molecules and atoms react spontaneously to form what the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics dictate is the best form to be in under those conditions. The base pairs A, G, C, T add to the DNA chain in the order of their thermodynamic and kinetic favorabilities. Finis.

    I wish I could write all this down, post it somewhere, and get it over with.

  32. garnetstar says

    It’s the same with proteins forming spontaneously from hot salt water. Amino acids add in the order of the thermodynamic and kinetic favorability of each reaction. So, just tossing a bunch of amino acids in salt water and heating results in protein with *specific sequences*, i.e., information.

  33. Corwyn says

    I think an example of information being created naturally might help (or not). Random processes can create information. The jellybean jar could be used again. The number of jelly beans is a piece of information, is it not?

    Information _is_ basically randomness. If you take a message and remove all the order, what you are left with at the end is just the information. This is how compression algorithms work. English has a great deal of redundancy (essentially, order) the redundancy is removed through various means, to make the message smaller. When the message can no longer be made smaller, all you have is the information. Randomness can not be shrunk in the same way, thus it is pure information.

  34. Charles Coffey says

    It’s strange Raymond, because although I agree with most of what you say, your basic statement is something I could not disagree with more. It’s our fault. the level of scientific knowledge we are talking about, that which most adults in this country fail regularly in polls, is the equivalent of knowing how long it takes the earth to move around the sun. This is seventeenth century stuff here, and anyone who graduates high school, or middle school, should know this. They don’t.

    Most people here understand that Evolution, even more important than being one of a handful of seminal theories in the biological sciences for the past hundred and fifty years, is quite simply how life on this planet works. Our students don’t have to graduate as genetic engineers, but at the very least, by the time they are freshmen in high school, they should have been exposed to two or three people who both understand the theory, and are willing to teach it.

    Were I in charge, all science teachers would have to pass a week long course in the subject, and sign a specific contract that they will teach the theory as educed by competent educational boards and scientific advisers – on pain of dismissal. (At least until there is a blood test that we can use to eliminate creationists from public teaching positions.) But! My daydreams merely point out what the problem truly is, or more properly with whom it lies, in that we not only have too many creationist, timid, or incompetent teachers, but we also have far to many politicians who suffer the exact same foibles. *Administrators at the school and board level are almost worse.) The insoluble part is, that the politicians may legitimately pursue a course to waste time and resources, undermine any productivity in their legislative bodies, and trowel out all the creationist nonsense that their constituency sent them there to trowel. They can ignore every real problem to lobby for their agenda, but they are limited in what they can do to the schools by the constitution.

    The thing is, that you need to understand is the magnitude of our failures. Not all Christians go to church, but if they do, it’s usually only a few hours a week. Schools have these children for thirty to thirty five hours a week. You can’t tell the little darlings that their parents suffer a pernicious form of indoctrination, but given the time and resources allocated to the process, you can teach them basic science. Evolution is basic science.

    So you see, It’s just not that the problem isn’t anyone’s fault; it’s everyone’s fault. Starting with politicians like Brown (Ga) on the House Science comedy on down. You can’t legislate a national science standard until he slips on a bit of primordial ooze at the top of the capitol steps, but you can win every lawsuit his constituents file, and you can make progress sufficient to move the pendulum toward truth, knowledge, and modernity.

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of lies, superstition, and medievalism.


  35. Raymond says

    I doubt it would help. When someone is convinced that something beyond our ability to test controls everything, pointing out natural processes can’t help. They will just contend that their invisible friend is directing the natural process. The only way to make a dent is to somehow make them see that there are no invisible friends.

  36. Lord Narf says

    Our students don’t have to graduate as genetic engineers, but at the very least, by the time they are freshmen in high school, they should have been exposed to two or three people who both understand the theory, and are willing to teach it.

    The problem is that religious fundamentalists have done a rather good job of coercing evolution out of high schools. The vast majority of biology teachers don’t teach evolution, and 13% of them actually advocate for creationism. Particularly for those in the rural areas, the ones least likely to go to college, there’s never anyone who advocates for the biological evolution. For the majority of students in this country, I think your statement is very inaccurate.

    You can’t even bring a lot of the creationism-teaching teachers to court, because anyone who brings a lawsuit against a school district that is allowing this sort of thing to go on will be driven out of the small town in which they live, assuming you can even find someone willing to file a lawsuit in the first place. Anyone from outside of the school district can’t bring a lawsuit, because of a lack of standing.

  37. sharkjack says

    I really don’t like your way of characterising information, allthough I can see where you’re coming from. I’d say information is recogizable patterns. We often represent patterns with a lot more than is neccecary (the same redundancy you speak of) and as such it can be compressed while conserving it to some extent. There are RNA strands that just through their chemical properties can replicate themselves and in some cases even other strands. It’s the non randomness of this replication process that leads to their evolution (and since RNA strands also have enzymatic properties, they are thought to be the key to getting from non-life to life in the RNA world hypothesis).

    I agree though that information content is basically the size of randomness it confers. And that’s the key. If you have a digital picture, that picture is made up of a set of random pixels (to a computer at least, especcially after it’s been compressed). If I send it to someone else however, I don’t want some other random set of pixels to show up, I want that same random pattern of pixels to appear. That’s what information is about, conserving specific random patterns that become meaningful when decoded. DNA and RNA are decoded by the nonrandom chemical binding of other DNA and RNA molecules. As such we have more than sufficient evidence of information coming about naturally.

  38. says

    >.< I'm not a fan of the gumball analogy. It gives the impression that both options are equally likely, or equally reasonable. The problem is that the words "theism" and "atheism" give the impression of two sides of the same coin, like "odd" and "even". But in reality, it's more like “believing in Bigfoot” and not believing in Bigfoot”. These aren’t two different sets of claims, but just a claim and the rejection of that claim.

    I think it would be clearer to compare non-belief in gods (atheism) with non-belief in Bigfoot, leprechauns, witches, etc. Most people don’t believe in Bigfoot, leprechauns, etc, and they don’t think that “not believing” in these things means you’re making the claim that they don’t exist. They understand that these are positive claims, and that the default position is to remain unconvinced of these claims. But as soon as we start talking about gods instead of Bigfoot or leprechauns, suddenly it feels like “belief” and “non-belief” are both claims. But my position in regards to gods is exactly the same as the average theist’s position in regards to leprechauns. We don’t observe any indications of them, so I don’t believe in them. End of story. That’s basic reasoning when it comes to any other claim that isn’t about gods.

  39. says

    I don’t think he knows what an argument from ignorance is, either. We once didn’t know what caused lightning, but the fact that no one could think of a natural mechanism was not evidence that lightning was caused by Zeus. If we don’t know, it means we don’t know. Saying that lightning is caused by Zeus because “you can’t think of a non-Zeus explanation” was the exact same flawed logic.

    Of course gods can explain DNA – gods can explain anything. But the fact that you can make up a god to explain anything (DNA, lightning, mountains, disease, etc) is not evidence of that god, and neither is the inability to immediately know the real answer. (Which has always only ever turned out to be non-magical)

  40. unfogged says

    You have a point but the problem I see is that comparing belief in god to belief in bigfoot is that it is often perceived as insulting and that shuts down communication. The theist doesn’t see that as the same argument. The advantage to the gumball analogy is that it is neutral and that way they can focus on the argument without the emotional baggage getting in the way.

  41. sharkjack says

    yes, and if you try to quantify information, randomness is what you’re talking about. However when discussing what information is on a more fundamental level, it just makes things confusing. When someone claims DNA contains information and that information must be communication, therefore design, then we have to look into what makes something information not in how to quantify it.

  42. sharkjack says

    the odd/even dichotomy is analogous to the dichotomy that there either is a god or that there isn’t. The theism/atheism dichotomy is analogous to the dichotomy that you either believe the number of gumballs is even, or you don’t believe it’s even (which doesn’t mean you need to believe it’s odd). Similarly you could believe the number of gumballs is odd or not believe that. Depending on your definitions of antitheist you could say that that is analogous to either being an antitheist and not being an antitheist, but it’s not neccecary for what the analogy is trying to demonstrate, which is that you can have more than 2 positions on the truth status of a claim, even when there are only 2 exlusive possibilities.

    If a theist has accepted the analogy but refuses to accept that not believing a statement=/= believing a statement is false, I’d suggest expanding the analogy by adding gumballs of different colours. If I’m a theist, I’m making a specific claim. This would be analogous to saying there’s an even number of red gumballs, but all the other gumballs have odd numbers. Let’s say there’s 3 different gumballs, would anyone believe that claim offhand? I doubt it. If you look at it statistically you’ll see it’s highly unlikely if the gumballs were added in anything approaching a random way. It also become much more clear that saying I don’t believe you isn’t itself a positive claim. If that’s not enough you can just go through all possible states. If the theist says they don’t believe any of the states to be true yet still believe one of the states to be true, you’ve effectively demonstrated that not believing a claim isn’t a positive claim at all.

  43. says

    It’s sort of a limitation of analogies. We’re lucky if we can get across one solid point at a time.

    The gumball analogy isn’t supposed to address the probability of either option… but I do think it’s very poignant towards the issue of belief versus two opposing claims… and then the conversation can go into whether the claim is likely due to significant evidence.

    I think there’s a high risk of derailing this important point if we bring probability into it, before we’ve finish clarifying this common false dichotomy.

  44. Abe Taylor says

    I wonder whether or not John, from Chicago, reads this particular blog. I suppose that if he could participate here, he might get a better understanding of what an argument from ignorance is. Perhaps one of the stumbling blocks is that John, from Chicago, is taking the term “argument from ignorance” as a a personal insult rather than a description of a formal logical fallacy. It seems to me that our friend John couldn’t pick up on the difference between the statements that A or not-A is much different from the supposition of True or False. I’m thinking that John, when arguing his point, is stuck on “god exists” (T) or “god doesn’t exist” (F). You guys understand that the proper logical assertion is “god” or “not god”. Here “not god” means that the assertion of “god” is negated or not supported and not in evidence. We might also ask “does the evidence point to god” or “does the evidence not point to god”? If the evidence does not point to god, some might be aggressive enough and say “god might as well not exist”. If the evidence points to “not god”, some might be bold enough to make the assertion that “god doesn’t exist” because the evidence just doesn’t support a positive assertion.

    I wonder whether John, from Chicago, reads this blog?

  45. says

    I think apologists can’t think about analogies in any other ways than Arguments from Analogy… and that’s why we keep getting these misunderstandings. An analogy is just a quick and dirty way to get someone’s understanding on a new topic 80% there, and then we can describe the nuance from there.

    If someone didn’t know what a river was, but they knew what a canal is… we could say that a river is like a canal… and that’d get the person started.

    … but if that person walks away from the conversation thinking that rivers are made by humans, then we’ve failed to correct an important nuanced difference between rivers and canals.

    The same thing happens whenever we compare DNA to “code”… if one didn’t know anything about DNA beforehand, it may get one 50% there, but that comparison would need a significant amount of followup correction… including the idea that DNA is observed (both in occurrence and in mechanism) to be naturally occurring.

    My question I was asking in my head every time he’d make the claim all the examples of code we know of are designed, was “What if DNA is the example of naturally occurring “code”?” The one thing that could disprove that claim that all information/code (if we grant DNA as qualifying) is designed, and he’s dismissed it out of hand, with nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

    … how convenient for this position.

  46. jacobfromlost says

    Absolutely agree. “Story logic” is far more flexible than reason and evidence. As long as the themes are served and the irrational parts are (generally) self-consistent, the story (generally) works.

    The loosest definition of “evidence” could include items that, by themselves, don’t indicate any specific thing. Together with other evidence, they might (or might not).

    The strictest definition of evidence would be something that indicates ONE thing, not anything. (My fingerprint on the murder weapon indicates the one thing that I am probably the murderer. Without the fingerprint, the fact that I have a trigger finger indicates I am one of 7 billion suspects.)

    What believers try to do is conflate the loosest definition with the strictest definition (sometimes without even knowing it), throw in some story logic, and call it a day. This actually makes for effective mythmaking–urban legends, religious myths, The Iliad/Odyssey, Star Wars (excluding the prequels), Game of Thrones!–but this totally misses the point in terms of demonstrating things real in reality.

    Another element that influences this conflation is that myths help us work out our very human problems in stories, and our very human problems are very real. We explore life, death, love, survival, etc, in our stories, and recognize those things are real in our own lives…and then leap to “the story is real”. Well, the story IS real in that love and death and survival are real phenomenon that we all experience in one way or another, but taking it literally misses the point entirely–it’s very much like trying to take a metaphor literally. You’re never really going to understand what makes the story useful (or meaningful, or great) if you don’t recognize that it is SYMBOLIC.

    Myths are also a shared experience that connect us to a particular group (sometimes with generations long dead), and often give us that warm, fuzzy feeling of being connected with that group. That FEELS very meaningful… and so the story logic seems to make sense, and it feels real, and it feels safe (because we share it with this group and use it to understand each other, life, and who we are personally), so it must be real. If it weren’t real, who would we be? We can’t imagine.

    I like to point out to those believers who ask, “What is evidence?”, that it is collected via means that are verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable, and predictive. If all those criteria aren’t met, it’s not evidence that indicates anything specific. I then usually have to explain how “reproducible” doesn’t mean, for instance, that you have to build an entirely new round earth to illustrate how a round earth is possible. All you have to do is allow anyone who wants to run the experiments that show THIS earth is round to do so–observe round shadows on the moon during an eclipse, measure the angles of shadows from distant locations at the same time and do a little trigonometry, watch the masts of ships disappear last over the ocean’s horizon, etc. Then I usually have to explain the other 3 terms, lol.

  47. Charles Coffey says

    I clearly agree with you on every point, My Lord. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it.
    You’ll never find where I said it would be easy. Secularism is really the first step, and
    the only hope. Progress will be slow, taking generations until enough of the people
    so badly damaged by indoctrination die out.


    The benefits are not only worth it, they are necessary; and, I think merely taking on
    the task will lead to immediate and tangible improvements. for that, we only have to wait
    for another ten years, until those students who actually have been educated, take their place
    within the Voterie. The lesson of history isn’t that of supremacy for ‘The Goat-herd’s handbook.”
    The lesson of history is that when the truth, and morality, and scientific knowledge are stacked
    against, it caves in little by little, and further and further.

    It is, never-the-less, daunting that the one place that the framers made it perfectly correct and
    allowable, for citizens to insert the viewpoints pertaining to their beliefs into out society, is in the
    legislature. We face real problems, societal and technological, and not only do these people
    decry the need for solutions, they actually spend all their efforts to undermine those who might
    actually have a chance of creating solutions. That just means that It’s a monumental task, which
    neither you nor I will see come to fruition, but there is good reason to hope, and the task itself is


  48. jacobfromlost says

    I think the problem with the bigfoot/leprechaun analogy is twofold.

    One, many people DO believe in bigfoot, aliens, and all kinds of things. So that the things they believe in, they see that as a mark in their favor since they consider those things to be real since they believe in them. The things they don’t believe in, they just dismiss as fanciful and absolutely false. The “null hypothesis” idea doesn’t ever enter their mind.

    And two, people like William Lane Craig see BELIEF as a palpable and viable reality, and they see THEIR belief as more real than anyone else’s. When you throw out the example of bigfoot or leprechauns, they KNOW that YOU don’t believe in those things, so they are automatically dismissed as a useless analogy. They see you as viewing those things as absolutely false, no matter how often you explain the null hypothesis or the limits to human knowledge. They therefore see it as a rhetorical trick, an argumentative insult, and not a substantive point. (Which is why when you use the courtroom analogy, everyone gets confused and thinks that “not guilty” means “innocent”, even when you explain it over and over again. Most people have a hard-headed notion of absolute certainty in their minds regarding knowledge, no matter how many times things they are absolutely certain about turn out to be wrong. They either ignore those instances as flukes, or rationalize them as not really wrong. What is worse, they just assume everyone else has the same philosophy of knowledge also–that everyone else MUST see things as absolutely true or absolutely false and that as long as we decide in our heads which is which, that makes it so.)

  49. Charles Coffey says

    When I read your first sentence, I actually began to feel a little sympathy for John from Chicago… for just a moment pr two.

    I’m sure that it would have been only polite to invite him, but for the most part, I find that theists commenting on atheists blogs are far more interested in agenda, than with the purposes of discourse. I know that paints with a broad brush, but If you’ll allow, that is the impression until someone actually collects the statistics. In fact, when some months ago, a creationist-blogger rose to that very challenge, I tried to engage him.

    He was a man who also did not understand the purposes of discourse, preferring the emotive release of pat dialogues. When he send me lists of creationist talking points, even if he did not anticipate that I would be even more more conversant with the lies and truths behind them than those from whom he stole his talking points. The result was the inevitable additional list of talking points to be countered, after which came a profound silence silence.

    If they will listen and reason honestly, it can be both enlightening and pleasurable. If not, it falls to somewhere between intellectual masturbation for us, and dogmatic graffiti for them. Not much point to it, really; but, I too would still make the invitation.


  50. says

    While belief pertains whether one accepts either claim about whether there’s an odd or even number of gumballs in the machine, the “agnosticism” application is different.

    Agnosticism would be either about whether… :

    * We have or have not gone through and counted the gumballs to find out whether the belief was true or not

    * It’s possible to count the number of gumballs

  51. sharkjack says

    It depends on the speaking context. In a one on one discussion or a place where people can contemplate what you’ve said (like a forum), adding the expansion can help clarify how not accepting a claim and accepting a claim is false are different things, but if you need to keep the attention of a live audience it probably goes too far.

    In the simple example the fact that the false dichotomy is false is obscured by the fact that there’s only two truth options. Either the number is even, or it’s odd and both of those options. By expanding the content of the claim the hesitance to belief becomes more apparant. By going throuhg all posibilities it becomes possible to show that a lack of belief in all possible claims doesn’t mean one beliefs all claims are false. I think it helps intuitively clarify the issue and as such is a nice addition in some circumstances. If the standard analogy makes your audience/discussion partners eyes go foggy though, expanding it is probably the last thing we should do.

  52. chris lowe says

    Atheist Exp caller: Yes, but…Yes, but…Yes, but….Yes,but….

    The passive aggressive stance of the argument from ignorance. Yes, you are a butt!

  53. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To the hosts: As always, I think you could do a much better job with these people like John. He probably left the conversation thinking that atheists are people who necessarily say “I accept the proposition that there is no god” despite your good intentions otherwise.

    You really need to emphasize it like this: For an existence question, a comprehensive set of options are: 1- I accept as true that it exists, e.g. I believe it exists. 2- I accept as true that it does not exist, e.g. I believe it does not exist. 3- I do not know.

    Unfortunately, in common discourse, “I do not believe it exists” is frequently used to mean “I believe it does not exist” and a union of “I do not know” and “I believe it does not exist”. Thus, you really need to be clear here. I’m pretty sure that John just had a different understanding of the vocab, like most people who have this problem. You need to choose clearer terminology, then say “this is what disbelief means to atheists”.

    Then emphasize as much as you can that atheism is an umbrella which includes the “I don’t know” position and “I believe that there are no gods” position. Really drive this home, because many people have been lied to by an almost systematic smear campaign by religion. Emphasize again that for over 300 years, the literature of self described atheists have clearly defined atheism in this way, and furthermore that it is exceedingly difficult to find a published atheist writing about atheism who says confidently that there are no gods. I haven’t found such a book yet.

    The closest is something like Richard Dawkins, who’s pretty sure there are no gods to the same extent that he’s sure that there are no faeries in his garden, e.g. there is no dragon in his garage.

    However, Dawkins is probably still open to a clockmaker god, and he’s probably strictly undecided about creatures outside of space time which don’t do anything observable.

    Finally, here is where I disagree with the hosts. The word agnostic was “invented” by Huxley a hundred years after the first modern atheist writers, in an attempt to be an atheist but to avoid the negative cultural connotations. It’s like the modern “bright” word by Dennett, and I think it’s a miserable idea. Because he tried to sell it as the “more moderate” position, that also helped hedge people’s understanding of the word “atheist” to the extreme position, whereas AFAIK most atheists are still atheists in the sense of there are no garage dragons, not in the sense that we are confident that there is no non-interfering creature outside of our space time.

  54. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    However, Dawkins is probably still open to a clockmaker god, and he’s probably strictly undecided about creatures outside of space time which don’t do anything observable.

    I have to correct myself. I must clarify. Dawkins is clearly on record as thinking that any clockmaker god itself is very complex, and thus complexity arguments do not favor a clockmaker god. I got a vibe from that which makes me think that Dawkins strongly discounts a clockmaker god, but he almost certainly considers a clockmaker god more likely and more plausible than any modern popular religious god hypothesis.

  55. Lord Narf says

    I like the idea of turning it into a multicolored proposition … say 8 different colors, Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam (it’ll just confuse them, if you try to explain that there are at least 3 major divisions, within Islam), Buddhism (there are some wacky sects who worship Buddha as a god, so I’ll include it), Wicca, and Sikhism. Just that size set of propositions might give them a bit more awareness of the numbers against them, even if it doesn’t come even vaguely close to representing the full scope of non-Christian religions.

  56. Lord Narf says

    Strangely, I’ve heard a few say that, yes, actually God does cause lightning, in a way.

  57. Lord Narf says

    I clearly agree with you on every point, My Lord. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it.

    Heh heh heh heh heh. If you’re going to shorten my name, it would be better to go with Narf. That feels so freaking weird, being called My Lord. 😀
    Besides, Narf is the name I use for my personal blog.

    I’m right there with you. My only hope is that the current crop of teenagers and 20-somethings can be a bit more engaged in the political process, early on. They have early experience with things like the war in Iraq and the current insanity, trying to outlaw birth-control and taking away the rights of gay people. I’m just worried about the intervening decade or two, before they’ll be felt at the polls.

  58. Lord Narf says

    One, many people DO believe in bigfoot, aliens, and all kinds of things.

    Yeah, but it’s such a tiny percentage, and the very religious sorts that we’re likely to have these sorts of discussions with tend to think that those people are insane, too. I think the point will be made in almost every instance. I’m not as worried about that 1% miss-rate.

    I’m not as interested in trying to convince William Lane Craig of the validity of our perspective. He’s a willfully dishonest asshole. I’m interested in working on some of his followers, who might still be salvageable with some remedial logic lessons. Anyone as far gone as you say, in your second paragraph, is likely a completely lost cause.

  59. Lord Narf says

    Sounds similar to my experiences, yeah. You can often have a real exchange with a liberal Christian, but most people so far gone as to firmly assert young-earth creationism aren’t going to ever be able to have a reasonable dialogue.

    Most theists who show up on an atheist blog, of their own volition, are going to go for a slash-and-burn Gish Gallop, yeah. We might have a slightly better chance with the ones we invite, but there will still be issues. Any theists who shows up looking for a real conversation is likely to be dog-piled on by all of the atheists who want to have a discussion with him/get a piece of him. Someone so overwhelmed is likely to drop off after a few posts.

  60. Charles Coffey says

    Narf: I figured that would get your attention.

    I too think that our children will be more engaged, but I’m sorry to say that it will
    be in a way that many people here do not like to talk about. I’ve been doing more reading
    on Islam than anything else lately… well, that and the bible… and I have to say that my
    surmise may be summed up with two points. The first is, that we are in a war, which we
    are losing badly, and I am convinced that we are on a cusp of the whole thing tipping one
    way or the other. On one side is my firm conviction that humans have vast capacities to
    recognize what is good; balanced by the fact they they will follow any authority figure in
    the exact opposite direction, if only that authority can make them feel the least bit
    superior. Religion is the acme of this principal.

    The second is, that I’ve run across several historians, who have quite a different view of
    the history of western civilization than that which we have been taught. Specifically, that
    the praises of Islam, from any humanitarian or secular view, are false and largely manufactured, i.e.,
    giving credit for saving ten percent of some ancient writings, when they were acquired through
    conquest, and when we would probably have much of the other 90% if it were not destroyed.
    “If it is in the Quran, then we already know it, and if it is not in the Quran, then it is a lie. Burn it.”
    and that’s what happened to the largest library in the ancient world, and to much of the ancient
    philosophy that had been saved.

    Our religious nuts are worse than useless in this. Their leaders lack the resolve to even stand and
    condemn… what certainly meed the criteria for genocides against Kafir, non-believers. As much as
    I detest their theology, it has always been their morality that I held to be the higher crime against

    These are hard for me, because I’m not the person who jumps easily toward pat answers. If you were to ask me what color a house is, I’d have to say that it’s green on This Side. However, I am fearful that
    the vast majority underestimate what may be the greatest danger humanity has ever faced. It makes
    me feel as if I’ve lived too long.

    Our twenty-somethings, and our children will be facing these issues, and the issue of religion vs, secularism in general. They need to be fully educated, as well as we can accomplish this, or our future
    may be very bleak.


  61. Charles Coffey says

    I have always thought that the term agnostic is nothing more than a marker for people who either lack the conviction to make such a decision, or the intellect to be able to examine all the evidence and see it as a whole conclusion. It makes no difference, to try to distinguish people by this standard, when by any reasonable measure, we are all agnostic as long as you can not disprove a negative.

    Also, I’m not quite sure how you use the term belief, but I tend to use it precisely by the anthropological standard. A belief is that which we hold to be true, regardless of the truth of the subject proposition. I belief may be true, or not, or false. It is the dynamic within the individual, and within the population, that interests.

    If I were to describe my atheism, I would say that it is very strong, because i perceive that empiricism is the only part of epistemology of which you may be reasonably sure. Evidence, and perceptions, only indicate a world of natural processes that lead to exactly what we see. TAG is an absurdity, because there are no transcendental truths like people try to claim. These are merely descriptions of the nature of existence that we experience, and are definitional; and, in physics we seem to be running into phenomenon that refute the nature of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. All logic is conjectural, because in only exists in minds that are extant, and that we can dissect. There are no persuasive and objective evidences, and until there are, it is absurd to accept such a fantastically unsupported premise. I can’t do that. And… That is as far as my atheism goes.

    But I am also human, and I to have beliefs. I do not believe that god exists. I believe that no such construct as a supreme being in and out of time and space could ever exist. I also believe that after ten thousand years of recorded history, without an shred of proof, it becomes reprehensible to waste the time to even consider the proposition as having any merit… let alone following it as the only meaningful guide.

    I think it would also be good to explain that to John, as I alluded. I don’t think he was ready to deal with the subtleties of being able to examine evidences and beliefs a separate entities. For me, it would have been enough if there had been a scientist on the show, who could explain that DNA is a simple sequence pattern. Nothing more. It is not, Information, like you would read, to experience some parts of the life of Shakespeare, or Millard Fillmore. It is a way that we can analyze if they they had the gene for hemophilia. WE, extant minds, provide information regarding that sequence. The sequence only makes specific proteins, and life, possible… Not magic.


  62. says

    Perhaps I’m wrong in understanding the definitions of these words (and I trust someone will correct me if I am LOL), but in order to be agnostic I would be claiming that it’s possible for something to be true or not true and not provable one way or the other. I don’t.

  63. jacobfromlost says

    “Yeah, but it’s such a tiny percentage,”

    I think you have redefined “tiny”.

    30% think that bigfoot is probably real.
    25% think aliens have visited earth.
    45% believe in ghosts.
    20% believe in witches or “witchcraft”.
    2 to 4% (depending on the poll) believe that VAMPIRES are real! lol Not even that one seems “tiny” to me.

  64. Lord Narf says

    Depends upon the version of agnosticism that you’re referring to. That would be pure Huxlian agnosticism which you’re alluding to, I think. The Wikipedia entry on Agnosticism has a breakdown of it, in one of the sections.

    Personally, I find hard agnosticism to be fairly worthless. For one thing, it only makes sense to apply it to the universal claim of a god of some sort existing. No one wanders around making that claim and trying to force their belief in the possible existence of some god down everyone’s throats; they always come with specific claims about a specific god, many of which can be outright refuted.

    The only real-world usage of the term is as a soft, squishy label that doesn’t frighten the theists as much, if you’re not completely out of the closet, as I am.

    You may want to tighten up your wording a bit.

    … it’s possible for something to be true or not true …

    It took me a couple passes to determine that you weren’t saying that the agnostic position violates the law of non-contradiction.

  65. Lord Narf says

    And hell, I believe in witches. I’ve dated a couple. Their witchcraft is real, too. It just doesn’t do anything, beyond a placebo effect that might positively affect a few situations … power of positive thinking and all that.

  66. Lord Narf says

    It makes no difference, to try to distinguish people by this standard, when by any reasonable measure, we are all agnostic as long as you can not disprove a negative.

    Only in respect to generic claims about a god of some sort, somewhere in the universe, that some civilization might worship. When we’re talking about specific claims about a specific god, things change significantly.

    About the god of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims, I’m a gnostic atheist. Someone has to water down their god-concept pretty much to the point of irrelevance, before I’ll fall back to an agnostic-atheistic position.

  67. Lord Narf says

    Sounds similar to a lot of my thoughts about Islam. In a global context, it’s definitely more dangerous than our religious nut-jobbery, here in the west. I think that’s largely because the strongholds of Islam are in theocracies, and they haven’t particularly gone through an enlightenment, recently. The current stronghold of Christian nut-jobbery is the US, and our constitution and other founding documents actually oppose their efforts. As long as we can prevent too many ultra-conservative presidents from stacking the Supreme Court, we’re safe.

    Do you have any books to suggest, by those historians you mentioned? Sounds like the sort of thing I would enjoy reading.

  68. spock says

    Oddly enough, I was reading through a few science posts and found this little nugget from science daily:

    This means that one of the most famous thought paradoxes in physics may have been realized. I don’t have logic symbols for my keyboard (Actually, I don’t want to take the time and effort to set the glyphs. It’s just easier to type a little missive like this one). Now that we know that the experiment is possible, we can say with great pride and self assuredness that ‘Schroedinger’s cat is both dead and not dead. Won’t this change formal logic? Can A now be both A and not A? Can we assert True and ~True (I think that’s the proper logic glyph for ‘not’) ?

  69. says

    I have to agree that I too thought that agnostics where people that couldn’t decide on being an atheist or a theist. Kind of like the difference between fantasy and fiction. One is impossible and one is improbable.
    Looking at the evidence the theist has however is so ridiculous, it’s laughable. A bible which is nothing more then a book, only proves ignorance which means that even they don’t know if it’s true. Yet they draw the conclusion that this god is real and that their answers to everything should not be questioned. At times I consider myself to be an atheist and at times more agnostic, however I shall never give consideration to someones superstitions as being true.

  70. Charles Coffey says

    I have one good one on order.

    When I was interested in biblical historicity, I had to start out by looking at video’s on youtube, to sort the serious scholars from the theist fiction writers. Turns out, their titles and summaries are remarkably similar, thought the theists are usually a little more grandiose. That’s how I found Bart Ehrman’s books. and things like The Secret Origins of the Bible by Tim Callahan.

    For islam, Sadly I can’t, because I have not read them yet.

    Robert Spencer is good for basic information. All of his facts seem to check out very well in authoritative histories, and in articles published in English on Islamic sites, like those by Al Azhar mosque in Cairo. (Although the tone and commentary are a bit different. as you might imagine.)

    . I recently ran across a YouTube video: “Why We Are Afraid, A 1400 Year Secret,” by Dr Bill Warner. I had first discounted him, for something I’d read, but it seemed from this video that he had a historically valid and accurate approach. I’ve downloaded his books on The Hadiths, (because it was cheap and I needed another to compare), Factual Persuasion, and The Political Traditions of Muhammad. As I said, I’ve not read them yet, but I’ll usually read a chapter or two, and then I go to look up things in military histories, etc.

    The sad truth is, that I have five Western Civ textbooks on my shelf here, and you have to search through them to find the one page/one paragraph mentions of Islam. as if the history of the world ended waters off Vienna. Those histories are the one side of a coin that no one thought to turn over, so I’d check out that video, keeping in mind the thought that the narrative Dr Warner builds from the history, is a new addition to the histories we’ve all been taught; but, if he is biased, at least he is considering the history of the whole region. When you do that, you do see a change, i.e., the Crusades are no longer religious wars for the glory of god from one side, nor the brutal and unwarranted incursion on peaceful and idyllic muslim lands by the most heinous bunch of barbarians in earths history… European Catholics… from the other side. They become, what they actually were, an extremely limited military response, a feint almost, to a 1400 year military campaign to spread Islam, which was extremely successful, and which shaped our world, east and west. And… the Crusades were unsuccessful really, having only a limited effect, for a limited time.

    Other than those, most of the scholarly histories, have a perspective that is wholly on one side of the coin or the other, and although they may compare well, it’s left to the reader of both volumes to piece the story together. Lastly, there is one German historian… who did this work in the early part of the 20th century, but I’m not even sure if they were translated. His view, however, that the history of Europe for the last thousand years, was largely the effect of Christians getting their asses kicked by Muslims, and having their outside trade restricted by Muslims, didn’t play very well as they moved into the 30’s and 40’s. He had a Jewish name, if I recall correctly, but I can’t remember at the moment.

    Please do, let me know if you find anything good as well. If you go on some of the internet sites, just stay away from the comments. As you might expect, they are a microcosm of all that is wrong with religion, humanity, and this planet, even where the information is actually good.


  71. Lord Narf says

    Christ, that’s pretty sad, what you say about the Western Civ textbooks. Islam had such a huge impact on the West … and is of the West, for that matter. Hell, a huge chunk of Spain was Muslim, as little as 600 or 700 years ago, and they made a bit of an incursion into southern France, even. The Arabian Peninsula is on the border, and I would consider anything spawning from the Abrahamic myths to be of the West. Why so little about Islam? Meh.

    I have 7 of Bart Ehrman’s books on my bookshelf. I’m familiar with him. 🙂
    I’ve been meaning to pick up some of Richard Carrier’s work and David Fitzgerald’s new book, as well.

    I’ll look up that stuff you mentioned by Bill Warner. That sounds like the sort of material I need, in order to extend my studies into Islam. Most of what I have at hand deals with Christianity.

    I’m familiar with at least some of the back and forth, about the Crusades. It’s all … complex and muddled. Sorting out who did what to whom, in retaliation for what initial atrocities is a bit of a … I think the scholarly term is “cluster-fuck”. There had been so many generations of abuses by both sides, by the time the Crusades started up in earnest.

    The Crusades as a whole seem to be a mass of errors, as so many things were, back then. I particularly enjoy the narrative of the Children’s Crusade, if that has much of a bearing on reality. It’s a shame that the details are so sketchy.

  72. Lord Narf says

    Then you’re always an atheist, if you never accept theistic claims as being true. You’re just oscillating between gnostic atheism and agnostic atheism. If you reject the claims, whether by them being unproven or by them being proven untrue, you’re still rejecting the claim, which is the definition of atheism.

  73. jacobfromlost says

    I read the article and I didn’t see anything earth-shattering.

    How would an experiment conclude with A SINGLE CAT that is both dead and alive?

    I’m not understanding how you complete a verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable, and predictive test in which the single results are self-contradictory. It’s like testing gravity by dropping a ball and the SINGLE BALL BOTH drops to the ground and shoots into space at the same time. How could you possibly know, observe, verify, reproduce, falsify, etc, that result? I’m not getting it.

    I have always read that the quantum effects apply at the micro scale, not the macro scale. I’m not seeing anything in the article that contradicts that.

  74. Corwyn says

    “yes, and if you try to quantify information, randomness is what you’re talking about. However when discussing what information is on a more fundamental level, it just makes things confusing.”

    Quantification is the MOST fundamental level on which to discuss something. In fact, if one can’t quantify something, I will claim one doesn’t understand it. If you want to convince me I am wrong about that, feel free to define ‘information’ in a way that isn’t confusing, without resorting to math. The reason Shannon, who created information theory, define it that way is precisely because it was the only way to REMOVE the confusion.

  75. sharkjack says

    Hmm, I thought about that too, but since we’re just talking about explaining the difference between not accepting claim ‘a’ and accepting claim ‘not a’, I think it’s better to keep oversight and be able to go through every single possibility rather than overcrowding the analogy witha parallel to religion.

    If on the other hand the context of the discussion is something like pascals wager, then bringing in the vast amount of competing religions with their own regulations for getting into paradise/avoiding agony is far more effective. But the Gumball analogy was meant to be a teaching tool to get a better grip on an unintuitive distinction in logic. I feel my expansion helps with that if it stays simple.

  76. Charles Coffey says

    Check out that video. I was not sure if I could post a link here

    As for the rest, I have to say that I no longer look at it as Who killed who.
    Hell, I think that the crusaders killed more Jews in southern Europe, than
    they did Muslims. AS for the brutality, that was a universal trait. The efficiency
    with which the Muslims accomplished those atrocities, is attested to by the
    fact that the indigenous cultures no longer exist. They were pretty much animals
    on both sides, making that issue largely irrelevant. The crusades were a military
    response, to break back through to the holy-land, when the stranglehold that the
    muslims had on trade had grown to the point that pilgrims and traders from Europe
    could no longer reach those parts EOF. They were costly, inefficient, and ultimately
    unsuccessful, and only matched the barbarism that was the order of the day, and which
    was carried out by every army of the time.

  77. Lord Narf says

    Yeah, depends upon the context, I guess. At the very least, you have to take it a step at a time.

  78. Lord Narf says

    Cool, thanks. I’ll watch that later tonight. Actually, if you just post the YouTube URL by itself, something in the blog’s code turns it into an embedded video, like so:

    You just have to make sure it’s an http URL, rather than an https URL. For some reason, the code doesn’t recognize the secure version of the URL. Just strip out the s after copying and pasting it, and you’re good.

    If you put multiple links in one comment, it’ll trip the moderation, but that isn’t a huge problem. One of the admins will push it through once they see it. With all of the admins we have on this blog, it rarely takes more than a couple hours, before one of them checks his/her e-mail and shoves it through.

  79. gshelley says

    Typically, they will claim that this isn’t an increase in “information”. You could probably also show them some of the many examples of an enzyme gaining specificity or activity through this, and they would still say it isn’t an increase in information, because.
    Which then leaves them with some magical type of information that cannot increase by natural processes, but has no demonstrable relevance to nature.

  80. Lord Narf says

    Heh, oh jeeze. I can see why you initially discounted him. One of the three websites he uses is the Drudge Report? Particularly given the constant conservative slandering of Islam, for doing the same thing that Christianity does, that’s a major red flag. He could still be doing good research, but it puts me on the alert for conservative spin.

  81. Raymond says

    Hmmm. Let’s see.

    1) Bigfoot – is it possible that another population of ape descendants exists/existed that did not become a sizable population? I don’t really see why it’s not possible.

    2)Have aliens visited earth – a lot of assumptions, but as we are talking about popular models of aliens, the most likely answer is no. But when considering the following, the answer is probably, yes. We have established in the premise that the aliens are a)intelligent, b)have spacecraft, and c)have vastly superior technology. Those are some pretty big assumptions, but when you say “aliens” that is what you are talking about. The fact is that all those assumptions are probably false. a)aliens do not have to abide by our definitions of anything; including form and intelligence. b)this is completely dictated by “a,” because of form, they may not need spacecraft. and because of the question of alternate intelligence paradigms, the spaceship may not look or act like anything we know. c)completely based on “a” as well.

    3)Ghosts – according to popular usage, no. In fact, can’t think of any way to manipulate the popular form to include something that might exist.

    4)Witches – definitely exist.

    5)Witchcraft – in the popular usage of something that can violate the laws of the universe on demand without the use of scientific instruments, no. People who wave sticks, dance naked, and perform rituals, yes. (the naked part is really cool with lots of witches around;)

    6)Vampires – again we must separate the popular usage vs the actuality. There are indeed people who subsist on blood. But the classic usage of beings with cool powers and fear of UV rays, no.

    So maybe a good chunk of those percentages are people who felt compelled to agree with a few points because the question was unclear. Indeed I would have felt obligated to answer yes to 1,2,4,and 6, and I would have flip-flopped on 5 until I settled on no. But as you can see, my reasons are not the reasons intended by the questions.

  82. spock says

    I’ve been thinking about this information thing you speak of. I’ve been thinking about it all day and now I have a headache. Before this headache came on, I had an idea about a good definition of information. Soon after, I had a good idea about ideas about information. In order, the ideas go like this 1) information is expressed as identity. If we can identify something, some effect or some action, we have information about the thing, the effect or action. If we can not identify the thing, the effect or the action, we can have no information and it’s likely that it does not exist. 2) People are comfortable with information and definitions of information that they have become familiar with. New slants on information are sometimes hard to accept. Consider Einstein’s reluctance to accept the implications of his own theories which lead us to a very spooky quantum universe.

  83. says

    You are right about me not knowing exactly what type of an atheist I am, but I did make the notation between fantasy and fiction. There are after all different types of atheists just like there are different types of theists. We all have a different point of view as to how we choose to believe. About it being proven or not depends on it being true or not. If someone makes an extraordinary claim then it requires extraordinary proof. In other words the truth must then be established. Not one single religion has ever proven how their gods being able to do the supernatural as being true which is something that must first be established. One small notation however it’s more reciprocating then oscillating.

  84. Lord Narf says

    There’s also the issue of context. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m an agnostic atheist to the general question of gods. I see no reason to believe in anything of the sort, but I don’t consider it impossible that there might be some being, somewhere, that someone might call a god. We’ll have to wait until we run into one.

    But I have yet to find a specific god-concept about which I don’t hold a gnostic atheist position, although most of my experience is with the Abrahamic, Wiccan, and Asatru religions. I don’t expect to find any more truth in Krishna’s claims than I did in those of Jesus, so I haven’t read them.

  85. says

    One of the laws of thermodynamics is the law of entropy. Which basically means that all things are affected by time. This is something that is self evident and needs no proof. Evidence like death for example. To the scientist death is the consequeses of life and yet according to the Christian/Jewish bible death is an angel.
    A supernatural being that represents death.

    So in your opinion jacobfromlost which definition would you choose to believe?

    Perhaps if you use your head more for thinking and less for scratching you might just make the right choice.

  86. Lord Narf says

    Of course one of the key things that creationists leave out is that the expanding universe means that there’s more room in which to have localized pockets of order. As the amount of space increases, the maximal amount of entropy also increases.

  87. Paul Cornelius says

    If you are implying that the order of bases is determined by thermdynamics, that can’t possibly be correct. The order is determined primarily by replication – DNA imust be able to replicate accirately, otherwise biology wouldn’t work at all. And if there were some particular base order that was the lowest energy state of the DNA molecule, all DNA molecules would tend toward that state. Other base orders would be chemically unstable. It’s crucial to biology that all sequences are chemically stable, so the most viable sequences can emerge by natural selection.

  88. Paul Cornelius says

    I think this is exactly backwards. Information is the “signal” and randomness is the “noise.” Only after we filter out all the noise can we see the information (signal). In the electronics world, noise is distinguished from signal precisely by its randomness: it lacks correlations, patterns and predictability.

  89. Paul Cornelius says

    You’re not using “random” in its mathematical sense. A random digital picture would be nothing but a senseless jumble of noise. Each pixel would be the result of a dice roll, so to speak, and therefor uncorrelated with anything else. For a digitial camera picture to mean anything, the pattern of reds, greens and blues in the image must be highly correlated with the light that came through the camera’s lens when the shutter was pressed.

  90. says

    I remember a guy who didn’t believe in evolution because it conflicted with creationism until I asked him, “What if God created evolution?”. Now he believes that God created evolution, and believes that evolution is a plausable answer to creationism. This demonstrates just how narrow minded and biased some people really are about their beliefs. Logic and reason would be a much better explanation then just a superstitious one. If you don’t know the answer to a question there is nothing wrong in saying that you do not know. It would be the most honest one.

  91. says

    The real problem with religion isn’t the believers themselves, but the institutions that promote and pander their lies. It’s a scam in which the believers are the victims caught up in this legerdemain. It’s a form of exploitation that’s legal and tax exempt. I’m not opposed to someone and their beliefs, I’m only opposed to the ones that use it to their own selfish gain.

  92. Charles Coffey says

    Just for clarity, it was RNA that probably formed first, an started the process toward life, Garnet; but that thing about coming out with specific sequences, is a bit much to let go. Of course, no two reactions are ever the same from an energy standpoint, so for any given set of conditions (temperature, activity, concentrations…), there may be a lower activation energy for one base with another. However, the reactions that do occur would first be determined by the proximity of an actual pair of reactants. Steric effects could still block a given bonding, but the kinetics are inevitable. If the energy is there, the reaction will proceed. Thus, unless there is some segregation of the reactants in a way that none of us have ever seen. You get a series of sequences, in a series of strands/ macro-molecules, and those are randomly determined by the homogeneity, or the heterogeneity of the solution’s conditions you’ve concocted. The result would be different every time.

    You would have to add limiting reactants in a specific order. Flush the excess reactant, and then go for the next step. We build these things all the time, and know how they work.

    to argue that a specific sequence would come out… and be reproducible… would not only be a creationist type argument, but it would be one that would actually, if true, go some good distance toward convincing me. If sequences of nucleic acids magically began to appear from random conditions, and mirrored specific gene sequences for proteins found in the biome … we’d all be looking for another hobby, or arguing that just because, a god obviously exists, does not mean that he controls every aspect of our lives, nor that a student who flunked out of law school to take a two year course in the seminary should be able to screw with our lives.

    Lastly, I think that the way to confront the whole information thing, is to suggest that the apologists rip that page out of the dictionary, and have it stapled to their forehead. This is yet another ignorant and uneducated misapplication of vocabulary, the language, our understanding of genetic replication, and brains. DNA, and RNA are patterns. That is why we talk about sequences, and that is all, even in such breathtaking complexity. The first step is to confront this as the non-sense that it is, as a theistic presupposition to make all things over in that view. No matter how many clips they have of scientists, or new wave atheists using the term in that way, it is still a misnomer, which is utterly trivial, and utterly irrelevant to everything we know emperically about how life and chemistry work.

    And the first person who starts in with that non-sense, about how beliefs, even when wrong, actually are a part of knowledge…. Yes they are a part of knowledge, under the subtitle, and subheading of bullshit, needed to classify epistemological data, cultural data, sociological data. anthropological data…. But not chemistry.

    It is a colloquialism that has no more validity than when a creationist says that evolution is just a theory. It’s just wrong. Don’t let them get away with it.

    Garnet, if you can point to a paper or a researcher, I’d love to see where you got that idea. Mathematically, I even suppose that there is a given sequence that would represent the lowest energy state, A is most likely to combine with C. AC combination slightly favors binding with T… and so on; however it’s an act of irrationality to presume that sequence would ever come out of a reaction vessel, unless the conditions are specifically controlled, and the result cooked up in some way.

  93. Lord Narf says

    That’s how most theistic evolution supporters handle it, I think. The creation story was just a metaphor for how God started up the evolutionary process to inevitably lead to man, in an almost deistic manner.

  94. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. If they would just drop their fixation and faith in their god and think for themselves they just might see realitiy for what it is. Theistic evolution is an oxymorone like goverment intelligence or intelligent design. lol.

  95. says

    I too would have to agree that allowing them an opportunity to voice their opinion(s) is being reasonable..
    If it’s an honest and objective opinion then they made their point quite clear, however if it’s unreasonably biased then they just incriminate themselves.

  96. Justin Me says

    Any chance Tracy is going to do a piece on Man of Steel like she did with Batman?
    I hear there’s a lot of christian stuff in there but have not much interest to go see it, at least in the theatre.

  97. Matthew B says

    Part of this problem arises from the fact that there are two different words for “belief in a god”, theism ( a belief in a personal god) and deism (a belief in a creator who is not a personal god). For those of you who have qualms about the definition of “theism” I am using here, you can consult either Merriam Webster ( or Wikipedia ( .

    I think most of the people who call themselves “atheists” just don’t believe in religion, ergo, the better term to use for them would be “antitheist”.

  98. Lord Narf says

    I think most of the people who call themselves “atheists” just don’t believe in religion, ergo, the better term to use for them would be “antitheist”.

    Not following you. Are you trying to say that most people who call themselves atheists believe in a god but don’t believe in religion? That’s what it sounds like you’re saying, but I figure you might have jumbled your words a little.

    The other interpretation I’m coming up with would mean that you’re just flat out wrong, if what I’m understanding is what you’re trying to say. An atheist does not believe in gods. An anti-theist actively believes that no gods exist.

    There’s an important difference there. Atheism is the rejection of the claim that gods exist. Anti-theism is a counter-assertion of the negative, that gods in fact do not exist.

    Look at it this way:
    moral / amoral / immoral
    theist / atheist / anti-theist

    The usage of the prefixes line up perfectly, in those two cases. Amoral and atheist are the middle ground. They’re not the positive, but they’re not an assertion of the negative. Immoral and anti-theist are the negatives.

    Does that help any? Try rephrasing your question, if that wasn’t what you meant.

  99. Matthew B says

    Theism is a belief in a personal god. Theism is a man made and manifests itself as religion.
    A deist is one who believes in a creator who does not involve himself in the personal affairs of man.

    My point is that most people in the “non-belief” camp are more against theism (religion), rather than the belief in the existence of a god. This really makes them “antitheists”

  100. Charles Coffey says

    Matthew: You are making distinctions that are trivial or incorrect. Deism fits well within the definition of Theism, and the Term Atheism easily refutes both. Remember a Deist is a Theist, just with more limited expectations of his idol. A member of the House Comity on Science, say, who worships three different colors of rocks – as separate entities, but who does not believe they either answer prayer or are much concerned with his comity’s schedule, is a Polytheist, which is a Theist, as well as being a Deist.

    An anti theist is one who is opposed to theism, which certainly includes Theology and Religions, but more importantly, the machinations of theists as they apply their theologically driven perspectives wherever you may find them. Although technically, you may be limited in that respect far more than you may be in Atheism or theism. An atheist does not accept that any gods exist – period. A theist believes in some god, in any form. An antitheist, or Anti-theist, may be opposed to theistic motives in our congress, or state legislature, our courtrooms, and most especially our classrooms – and yet not be opposed to a tax free status for certain recognized religions. Though none of these terms are divorced from the underlying philosophical ramifications, Anti-theism is a political and social, as well as a philosophical view. Atheism has no such burden.

    I am against those as well, mind you, but you get the point.


  101. Lord Narf says

    My point is that most people in the “non-belief” camp are more against theism (religion), rather than the belief in the existence of a god. This really makes them “antitheists”

    Not true. We think that deism is just as silly and unjustified as theism. You just don’t see the same venom against deists, because the venom gets applied in proportion to the damage they’re inflicting upon society. A deist can’t make any kind of argument for something his god wants, because his god doesn’t give a fuck, by definition.

    But if I get a deist trying to argue that his position is rational and justified, I’ll slap him down just as hard as I will a theist. The deistic version of the first-cause argument is just as much an Argument from Ignorance as the theistic version.

  102. Lord Narf says

    An antitheist, or Anti-theist, may be opposed to theistic motives in our congress, or state legislature, our courtrooms, and most especially our classrooms – and yet not be opposed to a tax free status for certain recognized religions.

    This is part of the problem with terminology. The application that Charles is using for anti-theist is also a valid usage of the term.

    And I fit both applications of the word. I’m an anti-theist, in that I think religion is one of the most corrupting tools available to those who wish to oppress people, and I fight its existence in the public sphere, where it can cause nothing but harm.

    I’m also an anti-theist/hard-atheist, in respect to my assertion of the negative of pretty much every specific god-claim that I’ve encountered, particularly those of the Abrahamic family. I’m actively convinced that that god-concept is nonexistent. Anything that calls back to the Bible for its authority is dead-in-the-water.

    And this crap is important. I’ve had people give a dismissive, “Now we’re just arguing about what words mean.” The definition of words is one of the most important, foundational aspects of an argument. If two people are using different definitions for a word, they’ll just talk past each other all night.

    I think that some of the people who whine about arguing over definitions are at least subconsciously aware that if we nail down solid definitions for words and use them consistently, they’ll be blocked out of ceaselessly making equivocation fallacies. Theistic language is loaded down with some of the most vague, useless words in the language. It allows preachers to throw out a blob of meaningless verbiage that sounds impressive and deep, because the listeners couldn’t understand a damned bit of it. The problem isn’t with the comprehension of the listeners, when the words are used in a way to specifically confound understanding.

  103. Lord Narf says

    You have to watch that kind of thing, though. Check out this bit, from the same dictionary.

    a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
    b : the doctrine that there is no deity

    one who believes that there is no deity

    The disbelief or lack-of-belief definition is conspicuously missing in the latter listing. For some reason, an atheist can’t hold one of the positions of atheism … the one used by actual atheists who embrace the label and comprise the movement.
    Lots of dictionaries have a lot of these kinds of inconsistencies. They’re good for general words that don’t have a lot of nuance, but when you’re getting into anything technical, you’re better off with something like Wikipedia, as you provided for your second link.

  104. Charles Coffey says

    I assume that this was directed at me, Matthew, although I don’t think I can find a lot of value in the direction.

    I’ve read them. I looked them up in I’ve also read of them in many places apart from Wikipedia, where they are being applied by the people who actually use the concepts, written by people much like you and I, who actually define what it is to be an antitheist . More importantly I understood both those specific treatments of anti-theism, and the basic premises of building a deeper understanding of such concepts, to know how words are used… and why. I also know, that in this online age, you have to check many more references, because sometime with old terms, and neologisms, the scholarship isn’t quite up the the standard of that which produced the OED… because it can’t be. Things move too fast, and you often see inclusions like people taking the word Theist, and including a definition that limits it to a personal god, akin to that which is described in such lovingly laboriously detail in the christian bible.

    I also know that the sources you cite are in no way inconstant with the way that I’ve used the terms.

    You should check out:

    As well as:

    …which shows this exact discussion dates all the way back to the 17th century.


  105. Matthew B says

    You are making my point for me… A deity connotes a religious connection.
    See Wikipedia
    “In religious belief, a deity is a supernatural being, and who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred. Religious believers believe that the deities created for their religions are true, and often that they can communicate with the deities, who can respond supernaturally to their entreaties.”

    It is important to understand that any discussion regarding belief is complicated by three things:
    1) All of our definitions are themselves conditioned on some notion of a “god” or “creator”, which is not well-defined itself.
    2) Because of the lack of a clear definition for god, many definitions appear which are different, yet may share some similarities
    3) A consequence of point 2 is that the terms used cannot be well-ordered in any sense. One of the examples I give my students in logic is to consider 3 sets, A,B, and C (to which you can ascribe any properties you wish to make the problem concrete) such that the intersection of any 2 of them is non-empty. Now think about all the different permutations of negations, intersections, and unions you can have and try to describe them. (This is why so people get hung up on all their different permutations, i.e. how they can be an agnostic atheist, etc.)

    However, this doesn’t mean this enterprise is of no worth or unimportant. The goal of whatever definition we do choose should be chosen to clearly indicate exactly where our divergence from the believers is, and without a doubt, this is religion. This is why antitheism is the best choice for those who do not believe in religion. This is the sense in which Christopher Hitchens used the term. He added his own opinion of what an antitheism is (which is one of the things that also confuses people), but this does not vitiate his definition.

  106. Matthew B says

    I know how difficult it is to argue with people who are firmly entrenched in their own points of view, so I’ll add the paragraph below the first one in Wikepedia on deity, which I think may help you make the connection.

    “C. Scott Littleton’s Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology defined a deity as “a being with powers greater than those of ordinary humans, but who interacts with humans, positively or negatively, in ways that carry humans to new levels of consciousness beyond the grounded preoccupations of ordinary life.”

    So here is the logic:
    1) Theism is belief in a personal god (see previous defns)
    2) A deity is a type of personal god (see this discussion)
    3) An atheist is a person who lack a belief in a diety, ergo, they lack a belief in a personal god

  107. Lord Narf says

    You’re using a bad definition of deity. Look it up in a dictionary, Wikipedia, or anywhere you like. Nowhere does it require that a deity be a personal god.

    You can play as many games as you like, but at the end of the day, an atheist doesn’t believe in a deistic god any more than he/she believes in a theistic god. Get over yourself.

  108. Matthew B says

    If you read my post, you’ll see that the definition I gave IS from Wikipedia.

    I agree a lot of definitions are “made up” or people add things to them that are their own opinions (see Charles Coffey’s posts), but every term I’ve used has come from an established source.

    If you can’t accept standard definitions, then there’s not really much more to say

    Good luck on your journey :>)

  109. Matthew B says

    The sources you cite are consistent with what I’ve said.

    “Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is active opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity, while in a theistic context, it sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods.”

    My definition of antitheism is clearly the former one.

    The meaning of words evolve: any language changes, and the meaning of the words in the language also vary over time. In this sense, I think the definition from 1833 is perhaps somewhat dated: in fact if you actually go to the definition in the current edition of the OED, you will see a warning that the word “has not yet been fully updated”. The up to date definitions in all the major dictionaries are at variance with the OED’s 180 year old defn.

    But all of this is to miss the main point here, which is the difference between theism, which is belief in a personal god (and yes a deity is a religious figure which has the connotation of being a personal god, as a check will verify) and deism, which is a belief basically in a creator.

    To make sure we have a clear understanding of the word “deism” here is the expanded Wiki version:
    “Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. … Deism does not ascribe any specific qualities to a deity beyond non-intervention”

    Theism is a belief in a god, but of a specific type, a belief in a personal god (see refs above)

    The distinction is important b/c I would venture that the majority in the non-belief camp are either against religion (anti-) or if they are conservative, do not have a belief in theism (a-).

    The non-belief camp, is fortunately waking up to this fact. They’ve realized that we’ve created 20 flavors of vanilla: people who call themselves by different names yet basically have the same core belief. I believe it was the American Atheist Society who changed their name last month to include Humanist (I believe) specifically with the goal of being more inclusive and eliminating these artificial barriers.

    The real underlying problem is that we need to come to terms with the fact that if you don’t believe in religion, you don’t believe in religion. The reason why a person doesn’t believe and even the “degree” of their disbelief, are irrelevant. I think some people are disingenuous in that they want to take the logical high ground and say they haven’t found sufficient evidence when in fact when asked what evidence they would require to believe in god, they come out and say that there is probably which would convince them. I can give you a number of clear examples of well known atheists who do this: coyly say their is insufficient evidence and then in another venue come right out and say, I’m against religion. Well, these two statements *are* inconsistent: if you don’t know for sure, you can’t make a claim that you’re against!

    What I am saying is that this should stop and we should just be honest about it.
    We don’t believe in religion. Period.

    That’s really about all I have to contribute on the matter: anything else would probably just be repetition at this point. I hope you and maybe others, get something useful from these observations

  110. Charles Coffey says

    Matthew B:

    You are really struggling here to establish a huarache that simply does not pertain in the past. Language a fluid concept, and they may indeed try to assign flavors to the nomenclature we use; but, logic is a little more sold a foundation

    “You are making my point for me… A deity connotes a religious connection.” Not really. you seem to be putting the cart in front of the horse here. Yes, that a religion seems to promote a deity in most cases (Budhism is considered a religion.), so religions are built up around them. That does not mean that a deity connotes a religion. Theists, especially polytheists may believe in a god, but not worship him. Yes, it’s not the best example, because most polytheistic religions tend to break down into worshiping our gods as better than those gods, but the point still is, that from a belief in a deity, it does not necessarily follow to construct a cannon, code of ethics, laws, rituals – a religion.

    As for “1” Nonsense. There are more definitions of gods than you can shake a stick at. Omniscient , Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Eternal – is a a pretty solidly defined entity. It’s just so broad as to be meaningless on most rational levels, but it is specific. And jumping into”2″, the reason for so many seemingly different definitions, is that this is a purely conceptual construct. A solid case may be made, even without to resort to weasely little tricks pertaining to physical reality such as neurochemistry and the quantum states of those Brains, every definition is different. Because… There Is no god in evidence, with which to anchor and compare these conjectures and fictions. You can’t really set a definition for something that does not exist, even though, non-existence is at least very specific classification.

    … You teach logic to students.

    Your exercise is a non squitur. It may not be necessary in all cases, or even possible, to conflate that Gnosticism and Theism have an intersection. This is where simple definition, and Da Narf tried to explain.
    Theism and Atheism, Gnosticism and Agnosticism are not always defined as simply as a simple concept. Atheism, I think, is the simplest of all, but the act of working these into our realities and perceptions, creates them as whole bodies of concepts.

    People are not having problem finding intersections because the don’t understand logic. They are confused by the way the terms are used. Claiming a profound gnosticism in proving the existence of an unproven god, is a misuse of the term. Doesn’t exist. Claiming agnosticism concurrent with a theistic positon, for that very same reason, is really a nonsensical tautology, because as Gnosticism on this issue seems to be non-existent, then everyone is an agnostic. Don’t get me wrong, it is still quite honest to use the term in one of is’t more colloquial uses, in that a person does not know or does not feel capable of making a decision; but, when it is applied to an actual proposed knowledge, it’s irrelevant.

    If that knowledge existed, we would have one more, much shorter book

    When an atheist describes how they use the concept of Gnosticism as apart from atheism, it is in that light of knowledge, which is why your example isn’t germane. When someone describes themselves as an agnostic atheist (as I have done myself), it’s redundant, but it at least tells you that they are making an effort to deal honestly with the concept. If they say that they are a Gnostic atheist, I’m most likely to assume that they mean that they consider themselves well read on the subject, but my “Bullshit alarm” starts to buzz When a theist claims Gnosticism, that does not even rise to the level of bullshit for me, and my horseshit sensor goes off at the howl. …Which is certainly unfair toward the efforts of honest and scholarly theologians, but their false conclusions abrogate much of the obligation or desire to respect the efforts they put in to reach them.

    As for the remark: ” If you can’t accept standard definitions, then there’s not really much more to say ”

    I think what we are all saying is that we as atheists and agnostics do have some right and need to define the terms we are using. However, you need to look carefully at my first example here. The definition you drew from that standard definition, has all the earmarks of a Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy to me, but it certainly is a fallacy of equivocation, as I tried to explain.


    “Part of this problem arises from the fact that there are two different words for “belief in a god”, theism ( a belief in a personal god) and deism (a belief in a creator who is not a personal god). ”

    If you look back to post 25, this whole thing stems back to your assertion that Theism is the belief in a personal god. It’s not, and I don’t care what references, original and those who parrot content so quickly on the internet, that got this wrong. It’s a general term that denotes the acceptance of at least one of the many god concepts, or theistic claims, of which there are certainly more than two. As I’ve alluded to, there are probably as many as there are theist, though most are so undeveloped as to be equivalent in any practical sense. That shit about personal gods, was written by a Christian. He or she (I suspect he), was doing what all Christians must – must – do as a matter of course, which is to conform ideas so that they fit his conclusions. He was wrong, and as such, there is no authority in citing that definition.

    You remind me so much of that guy at Pathos, George Yancey. His conclusions were: Atheist’s atheism feeds into their self image as scientifically minded rational people. Widely true, but it is a trivial conclusion that sinks to the point of tautology as a distinguishing characteristic, since ministers and long haul truckers feel exactly the same about their respective professions and “beliefs.” Also, to him, a “belief” is something that “hasn’t been proven either way,” thus kicking over, stomping on, and walking past the actual definitions that entomologists, anthropologists, and sociologists, to name but a few, have been using for quite some time. ( A belief is simply something held to be true by individuals or societies. It may be either true or untrue, but that it is held to be true is the defining characteristic of it’s effect within individuals and societies.)

    Unpalatable tendencies in teachers and serious scholars. I would not like to take this offline, because I’m sure that there are people here who can explain this clearly, or add significantly to either side of the discussion, but Coffey3C@gmail,com is my email.

  111. Lord Narf says

    I’m still trying to figure out what point Matthew is even trying to make. Atheists don’t believe in gods. Deism has a god. Therefore, we don’t believe in deism either.

    He seems to be stuck on this idea of what we’re “most against”. I don’t see how the distinction matters. We’re against any god concept, but we mobilize more against something the more harmful it is to society. So what? We ally with deists politically and culturally, but they still fail the skepticism test, for example.

  112. Charles Coffey says

    Sorry, that was supposed to be Epistemologists, before my word spell checker got to it. Typically, it comes out epidemiologist, endocrinologists, entomologists… No biggie. I’d expect any (n)ologist to know the definition.

    My apologies for being a sloppy typist when I get excited.

    Now, if anyone can, as I’ve asked before, explain how Google can bring up the sum total of any subset of human knowledge on two to three keystrokes, but Microsoft’s dictionary can’t find a twelve letter word for a poor babbling fumble-fingered dyslexic like myself, when the last character is out of place, I’ll eagerly listen. I’d even buy a faster computer. Something about that is as great an offense to my sense of rightness as is original sin.

  113. Lord Narf says

    And yes, Matthew, you pulled your definition of deity from the entry on theism, so you got the theistic application of the word. You really don’t see the problem with this?

  114. Lord Narf says

    And it freaking blows my mind that he misses the obvious etymological connection between deity and deism.

  115. Charles Coffey says


    ” But all of this is to miss the main point here, which is the difference between theism, which is belief in a personal god (and yes a deity is a religious figure which has the connotation of being a personal god, as a check will verify) and deism, which is a belief basically in a creator.” I’m sorry. No it isn’t. My example from the OED was, that you are looking at a wrong or out of date, or simply adulterated definition. Personal god, god worship, religion, may be considered to be subsets of theism. You are doing it again: Fallacy of parts.

    Eggs come from chickens. Chickens have wings. Wings allow organisms to fly. Eggs can fly? All plains have engines. Planes fly very fast. Therefore Engines fly very fast?

    ““Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature. ” Many Deists believe that this god, created this universe and it’s laws. The statement is an over simplification, in the face of the even more fuzzy deistic claims. There are deists who ascribe to an ephemeral and intangible “Some force out there,” to believing pretty much in a conscious entity,who also walked away. Deism is a subset of Theism. The belief is very different from Christianity, but it is a theistic belief.

    “The distinction is important b/c I would venture that the majority in the non-belief camp are either against religion (anti-) or if they are conservative, do not have a belief in theism (a-).” I am both. I reject the proof, conditions, and concepts of theism as nonsensical. I reject the suppositions of of deists as being agnostics who are unwilling to reject out of hand, or who were in times past, fearful or unwilling to make so great a leap away from a ubiquitous foundation of their culture. Many of them were atheists, when to declare the same was life threatening. I am also an anti-theist. I am opposed to the political and social ramifications of theism, Deism, and religion. Not universally opposed, but I do ascribe any benefit of these organizations to the humans who ascribe to them, and to the social nature of hominids.

    “The real underlying problem is that we need to come to terms with the fact that if you don’t believe in religion…” et. al… I think that this is the most screwed up thing you’ve written. This isn’t just getting a wrong definition, this is an inability to think. I believe in religions, just like I believe in stop lights. If you run into someone who does not believe in religions, get out. Was this just miss-worded? If it was, I certainly understand.

    As for disingenuous nature of atheists – excrement. Unadulterated excrement. An atheist does not have to dogmatically deny the possibility of theism, to be considered an atheist. Nor is he dishonest for admitting, quite honestly, that they are not merely closed off to evidence – much like the common Christian argument that they “Will believe no matter what you say.” If a god popped out of the ground, and handed me his card, and proceeded to violate the nature of the universe in ways that could be corroborated by testing and observation, by both my self and corroborating researchers, That would do it. That is an honest admission, not a disingenuous one, which is made even more absurd by the fact that due to the whole Gnosticism thing, no atheist can claim that no god can possibly exist, any more than he can prove a negative. These are internally inconsistent arguments in logic, and are dishonest restatements of apologist rhetoric.

    Likewise, there are no degrees to disbelief. You believe, You are not sure, you can’t make up your mind, your wife hasn’t told you what you are supposed to think yet… or you disbelieve. If you disbelieve, you do or you don’t. The only thing inconsistent here is your reasoning.

    I didn’t say this in the other post, but if you are teaching logic to students… I’m horrified. Not nearly speechless, but I am absolutely horrified.

    As for your last, I did get something out of looking at your resources for Deism. It was interesting to look that up again. I’m leaning toward that it’s only distinguishing characteristic is that the entity does not now intervene . What I don’t get, is how you can conclude that it is somehow not just a subset of theism, or your need to place these terms in some false gradient. It’s the same flaw that leads you to think that someone who calls himself an atheist one day, and an antitheist the next, is being dishonest. Well, they are not the same thing. Jefferson was an Ahti-theist, and a Deist. You can believe in god, but still think religions suck.
    You can also not believe in religions, but the term for that is psychosis.

    This logical fallacy you’ve constructed here also has a name. It’s the same one the Christy’s use when they say that atheists are just angry with god.

    Thank you for the Kent Hovenesque flashback, to add to my logical, theistic, and humanitarian ptsd.

  116. vgerdj says

    I tried to fix the definition, but couldn’t create an account. Then I tried to log in with facebook and that didn’t work.

  117. says

    Let me take a digital photo of a cloud, then send it as an email. The shape of the cloud is purely accidental. The algorithms used to create and transfer the image file are designed, but the actual content is accidental and the computers are machines performing the file transfer merely via the natural mechanics of their components. So apart from the designers of the technology (who had no idea that I might use it specifically to send a cloud picture, and certainly not a picture of a cloud of that particular shape), there is no intelligence behind the content or the medium of this message. This refutes John’s superstitious assertion that any conveyed message must be authored by an intelligence.

  118. says

    I don’t know about anyone else but as far as I’m concerned if it’s a supernatural being then I don’t believe that it exists. Gods, elves, angels, or even trolls. As an atheist if someone has to resort to some supernatural explanation as an answer then they are just resorting to superstitious, antiquated, arbitrary and capricious answers, which to me are just a bunch of excuses. That is why I would rather have knowledge then faith any day.

  119. Lord Narf says

    As far as I’m concerned, until someone properly defines a supernatural being, I can’t even determine whether or not I believe it exists. I have yet to have a theist even get that far.

  120. Johnny says

    I was a little shocked at how old and grey Martin and Matt looked in this episode compared to just a few years ago, while the women presenters look as fresh and lively as they have always done.

    OMG they must be some sort of life-sucking vampires. Guys, get out of there while you still can. Run. GET TO THE CHOPPA !!!

  121. Dan says

    You] What If I told you right now that I am god would you believe me?

    Them] No

    You] What would you need from me to believe that I am god?

    Them] Some sort of proof

    You] What if I showed you a very old book that was written many years before I was born in which many people who lived back then confirmed that I am god. Would you believe me then?

    Them] No

    You] At this point are you 100% sure I am not god or do you just need more proof before you believe I am?

    Them] errrrrrr I don’t know I think I have to go now…….

  122. MistressArte . says

    Hey… I think I’m a hippie, though on that flower thing maybe since natural organisms tend to reproduce. A flower is basically the sexual organs of a plant, that could represent sex in general, from a symbolic point of view, however it wouldn’t want to hug you. >.< Just saying… I'm pretty sure on other planets if life evolved (which is most likely given the number of stars and math) that they also have forms of sexual reproduction. So maybe instead of a big flower, the universe is a bunch of smaller ones all thrown together in like a garden, symbolically. Don't hate on the hippies, there are ones that make sense. Like in any group really, you have a mixed bag. ^__^

  123. MistressArte . says

    A being that can break the laws of nature, like turn into a cute little poodle and back to human again with their will alone. At least that’s what supernatural means to me. It’s only real in fiction. lol I can image a lot of supernatural being, none exist in reality though. XD

  124. foo says

    Hey Guys,

    You have spent way too much time in the discussion about God-creation versus naturalistic processes.

    Next time, try asking the following questions:

    “”You are saying that someone created life. Now tell me — which “god” created life?””

    This will remind the viewer that there are *many* creation myths, and he just picked one.

    And will help you to assess which kind of theist you are dealing with — do they believe in Adam and Eve? Why not in the Egyptian myths? And so on.

    I think this would put the discussion back on track.

  125. foo says

    Another point:

    You said at 40m50s that you feel that you never get beyond the ground floor… and that you feel that you’re not able to convince the caller.

    Don’t worry about that: you may not convince that person, but there are thousands of people who may be undecided, and your show will help them.

  126. Genisis says

    It is funny and curious to me that I came here and read your posts. Why? Well I have been thinking on the whole code thing this morning from a creationists pov and something occurred to me. Why isn’t code good enough to explore for proof of a encoder? If God/a designer created a code for life, then shouldn’t that code be proof of an encoder. I hope i’m asking it right. We see code everyday but never see the person who put the code together. Not seeing the person who made the code does not mean they don’t exist. and even if it was a computer that created the code, you still have a source for the code. Code came from nothing??? Oh, after listening to this babel for a moment I can say with certainty that atheist and theist are both making the mistake of not proving their position with proof. atheist have no proof that a God/gods do not exist only conjecture and the laws of debate, and theist are not using the correct physical proofs and laws of debate with the exception of a few.

  127. corwyn says

    If God/a designer created a code for life, then shouldn’t that code be proof of an encoder.

    Nope. The argument goes like this: 1) All codes require an encoder. 2) DNA is a code. 3) Therefore there needs to be an encoder for DNA. It fails in Premise one, In order to assert that, you would need to SHOW that all codes require an encoder, and my first counter-example would be DNA. If you can’t show the encoder for DNA, than the first premise fails. Alternatively, if I accept the first premise as definitional (i,e. a code is something with an encoder) then it fails at premise 2. In order to prove that DNA is a code, you would need to SHOW that there is an encoder.

    atheist have no proof that a God/gods do not exist only conjecture

    This is the Argument that EVERY theist makes. And the problems with it are 1) That isn’t what people mean by ‘atheist’. An atheist is someone who disbelieves claims of the existence of god, not one who believes in the non-existence of god. Proof is another complete red herring, no one can correctly claim proof of ANYTHING outside the realm of mathematics. That just isn’t how the world works.

    If you think that the ‘proof’ example you gave is valid, then I can ‘prove’ that a creator doesn’t exist. Everything we have ever seen comes into existence by natural means. We have seen the universe, Therefore the universe came into existence by natural means. So no creator. [This argument is flawed in exactly the same way as the encoder version.]

  128. Narf says

    The whole thing is one big equivocation fallacy, anyway. DNA is not a code. It’s chemistry. It just does what the molecules do. Just because we interpret the resultant sequence as a code doesn’t mean it was created the same way as codes that we made up.

    And yeah, what Corwyn said about your definition of atheism. Atheism is not the assertion that there are no gods. While I do positively assert that the Christian god does not exist as defined by the Bible, I don’t necessarily hold that strong of a view of all god concepts.

    Your language is very … squishy, Genisis. Proof is not a scientific concept, only a mathematical one. Science deals in evidence, not proof.

    Absolute certainty is also a useless concept. I don’t have to be absolutely certain that a god doesn’t exist in order to firmly hold the belief that a god doesn’t exist. If the evidence points towards the nonexistence of that god, then that’s the belief I should hold, if I’m going to be rational.