Viewer Asks for Your Help with Some Questions


Hi All:

We have an e-mail from a viewer who has a LOT of questions. I began to answer it, and got about halfway down before I thought “this is taking A LOT of time.” I asked him if he was OK with me sharing his questions at the blog for reader/viewer response, and he was. So, please feel free to offer your responses. I am sending him this blog article link so he can read your feedback and clarify any questions you may have if he wants to join in. Thank you all for helping this viewer!

Hello Atheist Experience,

Hi, my name is “M” and I would first like to let you all know that your show is really fun to watch, it helps with debates with those who don’t have a full understanding of the truth. I have a bunch of questions I would like you guys to answer so I can get a better understanding and improve my points in these debates. I apologize if this list of questions is really long and boring. Here we go…

1. Someone I know told me that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us, not only because there is a new covenant, but also because God made those laws for a specific purpose, for example, selling off your daughter to her Rapist only applied to the people at the time. What should I say to that?

2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive. I replied with the mutation that allows some people to drink milk is positive because it helped people back when food was scarce and also how most mutations don’t do anything, they’re neutral. Was that a good reply and how is his argument true or false?

3. People claim the bible is scientific but the story of Noah’s ark is in there? What other stories show that the bible is as scientific as Harry Potter.

4. How do I explain to those who don’t understand about how “information” cannot exceed the speed of light and how DNA isn’t a written set of instruction that the way most would think of it?

5. Why is Theistic Evolution wrong or unreasonable? I may have gotten the name wrong but a friend of mine says theistic evolution is evolution but with divine intervention behind it all.

6. My friend crashed in a plane recently and he was unscathed. Now all the uber christian kids at my school keep saying Jesus saved him, but for me I ask why he didn’t prevent the crash in the first place. Then they say Jesus doesn’t check planes before they take off. I know this is a subject that hits the emotions, but how do I convince the crash wasn’t divine but instead was a lucky crash?

7. Would finding how life forms can arise from inanimate organisms not just disprove but destroy any religious claims to creation? Also what would you think the response to new extraterrestrial life being discovered? Hement Mehta believes this would be a huge blow to organized religion.

8. Many creationists claim that the odds of humanity coming to be is so improbable. I was thinking before I slept the other day about a new idea(which probably was thought of already because it’s simple). I call it the argument from hindsight. Is this a thing(argument from hindsight)? Is easy to say it must be hard to get to where we are now, but that because we’re looking back. How many Martians are saying this? None because there isn’t anyone to look back at what needs to occur for life.

Anyways this is a really long list of random question, some probably easy to find an answer for on the Internet, but I’d rather have experience people and other opinions and also facts on my questions. Thanks for everything!

Comments

  1. k_machine says

    1. I guess the question this raises is if this is true for the entire OT. Why reject some parts and then turn around and cite others as scripture? Why is the OT still in the Christian Bible and considered scripture?

    5. It’s hard to prove the theistic evolution is false, because it posits that the creator works in ways that are indistinguishable from natural processes. One can only say that there is no evidence for it.

    6. This is probably hard to dispel, but if Jesus isn’t an aircraft mechanic is god really all-knowing and all-powerful like it says in the Bible?

    7. Life arising from inanimate material would be a problem for some theists. Believers in theistic evolution would just say that that’s the way god set things up so that life could arise. Old Earth creationists would probably just deny the evidence, like they do with evolution now. Finding extraterrestrial life would again be a problem for some, those that believe humanity is god special chosen ones, the pinnacle of creation. But belief has proved resilient in the past, for instance, some believed that the moon landing would fail because it couldn’t get past god in heaven above earth. As we know, the moon landing didn’t wipe out religion even though it proved those people wrong.

    8. Regarding the odds of life arising. The way I see it, we’re talking about extreme amounts of time and space were life could arise. Given the infinite vastness of space the odds were that life would arise somewhere. If you try something a million times, you have a good chance to succeed with something that has a one in a million chance of happening.

  2. ironchops says

    These answers are just in my most humble opinion! Rule number 1, Don’t listen to or believe or place any faith in anyone or anything completely without researching it yourself. Rule 2, take peoples credentials with a grain of salt, half the time they are just full of shit.
    1. “Someone” must be a Christian, The Jews would not completely agree to this I’m sure. They do not recognize any new covenant or Jesus as the promised messiah however this is central to Christian doctrine. If you are Christian (protestant) then the Old Testament (law) has been fulfilled.
    2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive. I replied with the mutation that allows some people to drink milk is positive because it helped people back when food was scarce and also how most mutations don’t do anything, they’re neutral. Was that a good reply and how is his argument true or false?
    2. I can only speculate that mutations that are good if they promote life and that bad if detrimental to life. Natural selection will help determine that within the context in which that mutation appeared.
    3. People who make a positive claims must show evidence to support those claims. They have the burden of proof. Make him show you specific places in the bible that is scientific. Harry potter is pure fiction and so is the bible.
    4. Huh?
    5. Your friend may be mistaken. “Theistic evolution is the teaching that God used natural evolutionary processes to bring life to its current level of speciation. Theistic evolution would deny the specific creative act of God in bringing the person of Adam, who would be the first human and the representative of mankind, into existence.”
    6. Your friend is one lucky MF!! Awesome!! He should invest in the lottery or go to Vegas with that kind of luck.
    7. The religious would just say god created them too!
    8. None…because there are most likely no Martians. Never heard of the argument from hindsight. You may have started a new label. There are Historian’s fallacies and hindsight bias. Not exactly sure the definitions.

    I am sure you will get plenty of other answers and opinions. Good questions. I question stuff all the time.

  3. says

    “1. Someone I know told me that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us, not only because there is a new covenant, but also because God made those laws for a specific purpose, for example, selling off your daughter to her Rapist only applied to the people at the time. What should I say to that?”

    This directly contradicts Jesus’ statements multiple times, such as:

    New International Version
    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5-18

    New International Version
    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

    The claim that Old Testament law was negated by Jesus is explainable in two ways. The first requires that we accept the New Testament documents in the chronological order they are given in the Bible, the second requires that we accept the actual, accepted chronological in which they were written, which would be Paul’s Epistles come first, and then the Gospels are written several decades later. Either way, you end up with either Paul contradicting what Jesus is claimed to have said, or people who historicized the Christ figure as Yeshua ben Yosef contradicting Paul’s claims. The inconsistency here is pretty telling.

    If we look at the first option, Paul was attempting to expand the appeal of the Christian cult by telling Gentiles “Don’t worry about all those old loopy Jewish laws, those laws are for those guys, but not for us”. If we look at the second option, the writers of the Gospels were telling their primarily Jewish audiences “Hey, look, this guy Jesus was FULFILLING all those prophecies in Daniel and the like. This isn’t a new religion, this is the intended consequences of those old Covenants Abraham, Noah, and Moses adhered to in founding our religion”

    2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive. I replied with the mutation that allows some people to drink milk is positive because it helped people back when food was scarce and also how most mutations don’t do anything, they’re neutral. Was that a good reply and how is his argument true or false?

    This is just blather and nonsense founded in Noachian flood mythology doctrine that has no basis in genetics or biology. The first thing to note is that mutations are not, by necessity, negative or positive. The environmental filter upon which they are applied is what determines their negativity or positivity. A good example of this is the sickle cell anemia mutation. In contexts where malaria is not an issue, such as in cold, northern climes where few mosquitos are able to survive, this mutation has a net negative impact on the population, as it impacts survival rates by causing cells to sickle, causing blood clots, congestive heart failure, all sorts of negative impacts. But in regions where the weather is often warm, and mosquitos flourish, the trait actually contributes a net benefit to survival by conferring some degree of immunity to malaria in those carriers of it. This is also why sickle cell anemia is a common disorder in people of African descent, but not so much in people of European descent.

    My suggestion if you are seriously interested in genetics and biology is to sign up for a few classes at a local community college, where the classes are cheap, and the class times flexible, and actually learn from educated people who have specialized in these areas, rather than listening to people with degrees from seminaries and their flunkies repeating grossly disprovable base assertions founded in modern interpretations of bronze age goatherder fairy tales, frankly. Try google, at least, to rebut some of these claims. They are fabrications based on people reading the Bible, engaging in confirmation bias driven thinking, and finding what they want to find to confirm their views, rather than seeking a proper education in the subject matter before they start running off at the mouth.

    The proper path to seeking truth is to disbelieve claims without evidence. There is no evidence that “There are more negative genetic mutations than there are positive” in the first place.

    3. People claim the bible is scientific but the story of Noah’s ark is in there? What other stories show that the bible is as scientific as Harry Potter.

    The Creation myth, Jonah and the Whale, the Tower of Babel, The Exodus and Moses parting the waters of the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water in the Sea of Galilea (which is not large enough to be tossed about by harsh weather conditions the way the Bible describes) the claim that Jesus was from Nazareth, when no such city existed in the 1st century CE because the site was a graveyard, Jesus healing people with a touch, Jesus casting out demons into pigs, the entire Job narrative, every miracle claimed in the Bible, including Jesus’ resurrection. Everything from biology, to genetics, to archaeology, to physics. Just open the Bible to page 1, line 1, and read the first 15 or 20 chapters, where the Bible describes the Universe as a vast ocean of water, with the Earth created in a hollow in that ocean carved out by the hand of Yahweh, with the sky as a dome or firmament holding the ocean of water above back from the ocean of water below, with the stars embedded in that dome, with descriptions of the Earth resting on pillars in the ocean (from Job and later actually, but you get the picture). The entire book is lying from page 1 line 1 about the nature of our reality, frankly.

    4. How do I explain to those who don’t understand about how “information” cannot exceed the speed of light and how DNA isn’t a written set of instruction that the way most would think of it?

    You can’t, really, convince a true believer of these things. Their mind is closed and evidence is meaningless to them. To an honest truth seeker, you can explain to them (in regards to the second claim, the first claim is so absurd I don’t really know how to address it) that we refer to DNA as a “code” as a way of explaining the topic to each other, that there is no “code” explicit to DNA. DNA is a complex organic chemical. Everything it does, from protein synthesis to division and recombination during cellular reproduction, is the result of natural processes that are explained by valence electron shell repulsion theory. A background in basic college level chemistry and organic chemistry is helpful to truly grasping why these processes occur as a result of natural physical properties related to entropy and energetic exchange of electrons. Fundamentally, lower order elements desire to reach a position of lowest energy in order to achieve stability. They do this by stabilizing their outer most valence electron shell. This follows what is called the Octet Rule, or the rule of 8. Lower order elements (besides Helium and Hydrogen which only require 2 valence shell electrons due to their extremely small size) desire to achieve eight electrons in their outer most valence shell. Carbon, having 4 valence shell electrons, can bond up to 4 other elements to share electrons and reach this level of energetic stability. This is why we find Carbon as the core element in all molecules we classify as living. The entire field of Organic Chemistry literally means “The chemistry of the carbon atom”.

    5. Why is Theistic Evolution wrong or unreasonable? I may have gotten the name wrong but a friend of mine says theistic evolution is evolution but with divine intervention behind it all.

    Because it presumes two fundamentally incorrect things about evolution

    1. That evolution is all about human beings
    2. That evolution is all about progressive improvement

    The first is simply the result of human egocentrism and narcissism and hubris. We think, we perceive, ourselves as the dominant species on this planet, and therefore we believe evolution is all about us. Douglas Adams had an interesting analogy about this phenomena of thinking that goes like this:

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

    The second is both contradictory to the theistic claim that negative mutations outweigh positive (consistency from our theistic friends would be nice, yes? too bad, don’t expect it, they are incapable of it at this point in time) and it is also contradictory to evolutionary theory, which as I pointed out earlier in regards to the sickle cell trait, simply does not make judgement calls about which traits are positive or negative. The environmental pressures applied to mutations in genes is what determines whether one adaptation is positive or negative. In evolutionary studies we have an equation, called the Hardy Weinberg Equilibrium Equation, that helps elucidate how a gene can move to what we call fixation (100% penetration in the population ie everyone has this gene) or extinction (the opposite, the gene is removed from the possible genes an individual can have). I suggest googling and reading about this equation and its use on wikipedia or elsewhere may help you understand why it is that certain genes are selected for, while others are moved to the trash bin of evolution.

    6. My friend crashed in a plane recently and he was unscathed. Now all the uber christian kids at my school keep saying Jesus saved him, but for me I ask why he didn’t prevent the crash in the first place. Then they say Jesus doesn’t check planes before they take off. I know this is a subject that hits the emotions, but how do I convince the crash wasn’t divine but instead was a lucky crash?

    This goes back to you really can’t convince the true believer of anything. The reality of reality is that good things happen and bad things happen at about the rate of statistical chance, regardless who we are discussing. Jesus didn’t help someone win the lottery, he didn’t make someone lose the lottery, he didn’t help the Patriots win the Superbowl, he didn’t prevent the Seahawks from winning, and he didn’t make the plane take off safely, or crash without killing a certain individual. If others did die in the plane crash, as harsh as this may be, it might be useful to point out that Jesus didn’t save them, and it is human arrogance to think he chose one individual over another, and insulting to those who did die or were injured in the crash. Just as Jesus didn’t help the Mormon kid find the keys to his car, while letting the African child starve to death in Zimbabwe from lack of nutrition. If he did, then he’s a monster, and unworthy of worship. Its hard to make that sound less cruel, though, and these sorts of issues require you to tread somewhat lightly and diplomatically in the way you address them, so as to not undermine your cause. My suggestion is to save addressing this one for after you’ve successfully broken through in other, less personal, areas.

    7. Would finding how life forms can arise from inanimate organisms not just disprove but destroy any religious claims to creation? Also what would you think the response to new extraterrestrial life being discovered? Hement Mehta believes this would be a huge blow to organized religion.

    Yes, it should, and to reasonable, rational people, it will (and already has, we KNOW pretty conclusively the general methods behind which non living matter became living matter, we just don’t know the EXACT PATHWAY by which it happened, mostly because there are so MANY WAYS it could happen), but again, irrational people who don’t care about evidence, and believe entirely on faith because they want to, people who are more concerned with making reality fit their comforting beliefs, rather than being concerned that their beliefs conform to reality as it actually exists, are impenetrable to logic and reason, and will continue to reject the scientific evidence, regardless the proof for it.

    Little green men will probably cause 1 of 2 reactions: Some religious believers will simply abandon their faith. Others will call them demons and push for war, among other nonsensicalities. These people should and will be ignored because they will threaten the survival of our species, frankly. If an extra terrestrial species can cross the vast voids of space to reach our planet, and desired to do so, they would be so far beyond our capabilities we would be to them as ants are to us. Imagine getting in your car and driving across the country to look at an ant hill for an hour. That’s what it would be like for the alien species. Its not something I’d worry about at this time, though, frankly, for a variety of reasons not worth going into here.

    8. Many creationists claim that the odds of humanity coming to be is so improbable. I was thinking before I slept the other day about a new idea(which probably was thought of already because it’s simple). I call it the argument from hindsight. Is this a thing(argument from hindsight)? Is easy to say it must be hard to get to where we are now, but that because we’re looking back. How many Martians are saying this? None because there isn’t anyone to look back at what needs to occur for life.

    It is a thing, if not a defined fallacy of thinking, it should be. But more importantly, it is an abuse and misuse of statistical reasoning that demonstrates the person making the claim has NONE.

    Allow me to create an analogy to help you understand. Imagine you have a lottery in which you can have an infinite number of chances, every second, for 13 plus BILLION years. Now imagine to win that lottery you don’t even need to come up with one combination of numbers, but rather have a near infinite set of number combinations that could potentially be drawn to win you that lottery. That’s the probability you have of life forming, frankly. For intelligent life to be a result of that is merely a slightly smaller number of nearly infinite chances. Infinity minus infinity is still infinity. Life is inevitable in conditions conducive to its formation, frankly. Carbon is that hungry for energetic stability. I return to my earlier point that a foundation in chemistry and organic chemistry, with the addition of a basic statistics course, can help you to better grasp why this is. But think about it this way: The chance for a particular person to win the lottery twice in their lifetime is relatively low. But the chance for ANY person to win a lottery twice in their lifetime is orders of magnitude higher. Statistics is often about perception. When we look at specific examples, the chances for an event to occur are quite low. But when we look at GENERAL examples, the chances for an event to occur are quite high. The chance for you specifically to develop cancer in your lifetime may be quite low, but the chances that ANYONE will develop cancer in their lifetime are quite high. As the advertisers like to say “Somebodies’ got to win, might as well be you!” (not that I’m hoping you win the lottery on cancer, of course)

    Great questions, hopefully I’ve helped chip away at the flaws in reasoning behind them for you. I hope you have a great day and I hope you stay rational, skeptical, and always willing to question.

  4. davex says

    1) If the bible has these cultural relativism morals in it, how is one supposed to choose between them? Filter the laws of the bible through whatever the culture says is right?

    5) If theistic evolution is true, then god is responsible for cruel things like the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampulex_dementor (and of course, for All Things Dull And Ugly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEU-rkbodsc )

    6) This Jesus doesn’t sound particularly all-knowing. Was he surprised by the plane crash? On the other hand, if they are saying Jesus plays such an active hand in the world saving folks from physical disasters, do they mean that everyone who didn’t survive, or suffers from some horrible torturing disease deserves their fate?

    8) This is the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle

  5. says

    I can take a stab at #1, 3 and 8…

    1: “The Old Testament doesn’t apply to us”

    In general, Christians believe Jesus ushered in a New Covenant that supercedes the old. If you study covenant theology they break it down into several covenants from pre-Israel, Noahic covenant, Davidic etc. The Mosaic covenant is the 10 commandments and the rest of the Jewish Law. Basically in each covenant God gets to change the way he relates to and what he expects from people. This gets the apologist around the clear discrepancies throughout the Bible. “That was a *different* covenant…”

    Dispensationalists/millenniallists believe we are in the covenant of Grace, and will return under a covenant of Law during the tribulation and following thousand year reign of Jesus, as it will be a time to restore the Jewish temple etc. So while in the time of Grace, God finally doesn’t want to kill all non-Jewish tribes in battle, rather he’s chilled out and loves everyone and doesn’t need anyone to follow any laws just love and serve Jesus and believe. They really believe they’re under a new covenant and the Old covenant doesn’t apply to them in God’s eyes.

    This is hard to dispute with them, as they first of all believe this, and second of all must CLING to this in order to mentally handle the clear discrepancies that they will encounter if they actually read the Bible. It’s a blanket deflection any time something twinges their “yikes, God sounds harsh” spidey sense. Most likely if you try to bring up specific examples of the Old Testament not making sense, being downright cruel/immoral, etc. it will bounce off this forcefield of “that’s just the Old Covenant” plus another juicy one “God’s perfect and even if what he does looks immoral it must be moral because he did it and we don’t have to understand it because his ways are above our ways” and then there’s no further thinking towards any matter. I will say both having been of this mindset and now also having discussions with Christians and a now Ex-Christian, this is a very hard psychological defense to penetrate with arguments. (Think religion virus innoculates one to outside ideas)

    Honestly, I wouldn’t argue this point with a believer, rather ask why a loving God who “NEVER CHANGES” (emphasize this!) would keep his chosen people in the dark for so long, keeping them under the yokes and blindness of the various covenants, without Bibles, without personal relationships to God, etc. It seems cruel that for how much he loved them and how important they were to him he would allow them to live their entire lives on Earth not understanding his plan, being able to communicate only through a corrupt priesthood, etc. It’s like a father deliberately sending his kids to boarding school and only ever communicating through the headmistress when he easily could have visited personally or even just kept the children at home. Something like that. It won’t change their mind, but you want to answer in a way that shows you are rejecting their beliefs for a good, honest, rational and even emotional reason.

    #3 – Many Christians (not all, but definitely Bible literalists and young Earthers) believe evolution theory is created as a way for sinners who hate God to numb their conscience that their is no God, so that they can feel better about their sin. Not understanding what a scientific theory actually is, they often will respond “it’s *just* a theory!” and doesn’t require actual further investigation.

    I believed this way as well until about a year ago. The Bill Nye/Ken Hamm debate was part of my awakening, so you may be able to pull out some great nuggets from the video of this debate on Youtube.

    The second influence on me was that I had followed a high profile trial on TV a year earlier and had learned a lot about evidence, hearsay and cross-examination. That evidence that can be disputed and proven to be false by other evidence or through cross-examination is thrown out of court. It was then I began to treat the Bible as a piece of evidence that must be likewise subject to cross-examination. You might use that analogy that even by human standards of court (assuming God must be so much smarter than us), if a human court wouldn’t consider any of this testimony valid because we have observable evidence that contradicts it, that it wouldn’t be considered reliable evidence and would be thrown out of consideration. And then provide 2-3 strong points that prove the Bible got it wrong.

    Then you have Christians who accept that there are myths and non-literal teachings in the Bible. They will point to anything that is debunked by science as “well then you can’t take that part literally” and even accept and believe evolution, assuming God did it. Again this is a very difficult forcefield to penetrate. It serves as a defense to the core belief which provides hope, meaning, identity, security, community, etc. It’s easier to gloss over and say “OK well that doesn’t matter, I still believe despite what you’ve pointed out” than to actually face the possibility that this means loss of everything one’s clinging to in life.

    8. Some apologists use the argument that for evolution to be true is a probability of “less than one chance out of a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion” https://www.icr.org/article/493/ This is likely calculated based on false reasoning, and likely misses the point. I am not a math or science expert by any means, but that’s one area you might investigate – what is science’s answer to this trillion-trillion-trillion?

    Another idea is to flip this around on the probability that a God who is all powerful would have no beginning and no end, and nothing created Him, and he’s infinitely more complex and powerful than all this physical stuff we’re observing. SURELY the probability of THIS phenomenon just appearing and existing and now controlling the universe for ever and ever and ever is to the gazillion, gazillion, gazillionth probability.

  6. Raptor025 says

    1. Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18). Also, the sin that Jesus died for, ten commandments, and the prophecies that made Jesus the chosen one are all in the Old Testament. Tossing that out negates the New Testament.

    2. That doesn’t disprove evolution. And if he is positing that genetic mutations happens and are both positive and negative, regardless of frequency, that speaks to evidence in evolution’s favor. Plus I would call him on him sources. As armchair geneticists and evolutionary biologists, it is easy to become misinformed or interpret information poorly.

    3. All animals were originally herbivores. (Genesis 1:30)
    Bats are birds. (Leviticus 11:13-19)
    Jonah was swallowed by a fish or whale. (Jonah 1:17, Matthew 12:40)
    Mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. (Matthew 13:31-32) (Epiphytic orchids have the smallest seeds)
    Talking donkey. (Numbers 22:28-30)
    Woman who had a bleeding issue for 12 years instantly healed by faith. (Mark 5:25)
    People living to absurd ages, people rising from the dead, more faith healing, talking pigs, cursing tree for bearning fruit out of season and so on. Nothing in the bible shows that it had any scientific knowledge that was greater than what the people of that time knew.

    4. You can’t. You can show what we know with experimentation but ultimately they believe in the supernatural. That is things without evidence that don’t fit to the the testable rules that we use for everything else. You have to show that they are using special pleading to fit their faith into a different category than what we use for evidence on medicines, or food, or psychology.

    5. No evidence for it. Evolution isn’t clean and orderly. Nature isn’t in a balance (even if we were not here, species die out and not every natural resource is exploited to its potential). And we were not perfectly designed (back problems from the switch from all 4 legs to bipedal position, blind spot in the eye where the optic nerve is attached, our system for removing waste also works with sexual reproduction, etc.). Evidence all point to it being natural processes and not the work of a creator.

    6. Confirmation bias. Jesus gets credit for the good things that happen to us and not the bad or the mundane. People survive from plane crashes all the time. This is a regular occurrence and usually speaks more to the pilot, aircraft, or other surrounding circumstances. Is it more likely that the pilot and a seat-belt saved him or Jesus? How do they know it was Jesus and not Krishna or Zeus? Ultimately there is no evidence that Jesus was involved and that a non-supernatural explanation is more likely the reason he survived. If we always attributed Jesus to saving us from accidents, safety equipment would never be perfected.

    7. No, sadly, it would not destroy the claims. It goes back to the “God of the Gaps” argument and moving the goalposts. Every time we find a solution to something in science that used to be attributed to a god, where ever we are still lacking in knowledge gets filled. We solve the mystery to how life is created, people will just retreat to the big bang as the last hope for divine intervention. And without any evidence, you cannot completely destroy the claim. The claim just becomes exceedingly unlikely to be true the more we discover.

    8. But we don’t know the actual probability. How many planets with life do we know of? How many of those planets with life have human-like life? We don’t know. It could be very probable or it could not. We are just now determining better models for the likelihood of planets to stars or within solar systems but no idea on the likelihood of life or of human-like life. Even if it is exceedingly improbable for life to arise or humans to evolve, you still have a long way to establish that there is an even more improbable god that created it all. How many gods have there been during humanities existence? How many of those gods are 100% real? Even if you believe in only one god, you have now established that the probability of a god is exceedingly rare and it speaks nothing on the proof of his existence.

  7. says

    Wow…you all are awesome! I’m inspired by the early feedback and now believe that handing this over to the thread was a great way to go. The writer will get great feedback and a variety of angles to consider on every question. Not committing to it, but I think I may start doing this regularly as we get letters similar to this sometimes, and I think they get skipped due to our inability to respond at length. For the record, I did give him the part of my response that I had worked on, and also some other future reference sources, but this thread is a great contribution!

  8. ChaosS says

    Some shorter answers:

    #1 The ten commandments are in the OT and Jesus often told people to obey them.

    #2 Negative mutations go extinct while positive ones thrive, it’s called natural selection.

    #3 In Genesis, the god creates trees before the sun, does that sound scientific to you?

    #4 DNA is just chemicals reacting to other chemicals, it’s happens to be a self-replicating chemical which is what makes it different.

    #5 How did the god evolve before he guided earthly evolution?

    #6 Did anyone get a photograph of Jesus saving the plane?

    #7 There is in fact no conceivable piece of evidence that can persuade someone who is determined to use magical thinking.

    #8 They are thinking of it backwards, the same claim could be made if we evolved as intelligent avians, reptiles, or marsupials, it just so happened that primates were the ones to get big brains.

  9. L.Long says

    #1…Xtians make of the buyBull what they will based on their normal bigotry. So they can claim anything they wish and there is nothing to say NO! But the buyBull has been shown to be mostly BS and mostly just plain wrong. So their beliefs are based on BS and the support of those beliefs is held up by BS.

    #2…He has no understanding of evolution or genetics. And what is source of proof that most mutations are bad???

    #3…Pick any story you want, the science in it is wrong.

    #4…You can explain it. The only way is to STUDY science and THINK about it and do experiments.

    #5…Well for me it aint ‘wrong’ or ‘unreasonable’ it is just not worth the effect as it explains nothing, it clarifies nothing, and it is not helpful in understanding anything. OK! Gawd did this! Great now how is operating NOW!!! And you are back to plain old evolution.

    #6…Again you can’t make people think. They claim it is divine, OK , now where does that get you?? Saying gawd did it make you stop thinking!!!!
    But he crashed? Why? Let’s look for a cause, Find cause, Improve cause, No more crashes.
    Gawd did it. Stop thinking, More planes continue to crash!

    #7…NONSENSE!!! NEVER underestimate the power, breath, or depth of human stupidity.
    I’ve already heard two religious responses to those points, they will continue as long as there are stupid people.

    #8…They claim it is improbable, but they are wrong on two counts. One ask to see their math on its probability…don’t worry it aint valid They have nothing to compare to, to get a probability. And second the probability is 100%….cuz here you are!

  10. says

    Ehhh. Maybe not the hindsight bias you meant given further reading…

    The probability figures given by creationists are suspect as you need good inputs to provide a reliable output. All their numbers are designed to elicit an emotional response. “10 to the power of how many against ? Damn evolutionists are stupid and we’re so smart…”

    Ask how they came to that number. Garbage in garbage out…

  11. says

    Sorry for the comment bomb…

    As for the plane crash – ask the people who believe that your friend’s survival was divinely inspired whether they think that god made the plane crash, or if there were other’s who weren’t so lucky, why he maimed or killed them?

    It’s really not humble to say that god saved me because he has a plan for me, but those other guys…. yeah, god’s plan’s better served by them dying. Aren’t I the lucky one? Aren’t I special in god’s eyes? … I’m so humbled by god’s plan for me…

  12. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    1. Someone I know told me that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us, not only because there is a new covenant, but also because God made those laws for a specific purpose, for example, selling off your daughter to her Rapist only applied to the people at the time. What should I say to that?

    I’m in Richard Carrier’s camp. I believe that Jesus probably never existed, and the gospels and acts of the bible are entirely fictious and pulled out of someone’s ass entirely for theological and political reasons. A consequence of this position is that the several authors of the several books in the bible all had incompatible descriptions of Jesus. Some had Jesus say the old law is still in effect. Others had Jesus ditch the old law. It depended on the author. However, that’s almost certainly not a good position to take in the argument because my position is fringe even amongst academics. (Hopefully that will chance, and my position will be vindicated.)

    In practice, I would try to avoid esoteric theological questions like this.

    However, I might ask them to defend the notion that it was ever moral to own another human being as property. Matt Dillahunty does well in arguments like this. I admire it. Let me borrow from him: If this god can command people to not steal and not worship other gods, why can he not command people to treat women like equals and to not own another human being as property? We see plenty of examples of the people seemingly not ready to follow the command “do not worship other gods” where the Jews fucked up and got punished for it – repeatedly. Why not just another commandment “women shall be treated equally to men in society in all ways as far as is possible and reasonable” and “no person shall own another person – Jewish or not – as property”. Instead of all of those useless pages on how to not cure leprosy, why not spend that material on better legal codes for handling debt bondage, apprenticeship, etc.?

    2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive. I replied with the mutation that allows some people to drink milk is positive because it helped people back when food was scarce and also how most mutations don’t do anything, they’re neutral. Was that a good reply and how is his argument true or false?

    For everything evolution related, I suggest talkorigins.

    This is hard. Debating people like this may require becoming a self-taught expert yourself. To that end, I strongly suggest the books “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry Coyne and “The Greatest Show On Earth” by Richard Dawkins. I also suggest every Skepticon talk by PZ Myers, and a few other public lectures by PZ Myers on youtube.

    Also required is this lecture by Aronra. I did not fully appreciate and understand evolution, even after all of the above, until I saw this video.
    > Darwin Day Broward 2012 AronRa Part 1
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLu3-wYIxI0&list=PLCBA3960C39CD3D50

    I know that’s not an answer, but if you cannot answer this yourself confidently or look it up yourself, then that’s where IMHO you should start your own education.

    3. People claim the bible is scientific but the story of Noah’s ark is in there? What other stories show that the bible is as scientific as Harry Potter.

    Lots? My personal favorites are: The zombie invasion of Jerusalem, Matthew 27: 51-53. Pretty sure someone would have written down that this happen, and beyond just the bible. The 3 hours of darkness with Jesus. No other astronomer wrote it down, and if it did happen someone would have wrote it down, and thus it didn’t happen. These are my favorites because they relate to Jesus and the resurrection in particular, which is the most important factual event in their beliefs. If the resurrection goes, then Christianity goes with it.

    4. How do I explain to those who don’t understand about how “information” cannot exceed the speed of light and how DNA isn’t a written set of instruction that the way most would think of it?

    The first part seems unrelated to creationism, and it seems out of place. Anywho, it’s technical, but it really comes down to the fact that if you could send a signal faster than light, then general relativity says that you can make a go-back-in-time-machine device. Given that go-back-in-time-machines are probably impossible, and given that general relativity is probably correct, it follows that you cannot send a signal – you cannot send information – faster than light traveling in a “straight line” path.

    How would you explain DNA? That sounds like a hard problem. In the short space I have, I could give metaphors. DNA is not like a building blueprint. It’s more like a cooking recipe. The cooking recipe in no place contains a clear specification of the end result and how you would take disparate pieces together to simply put them together like lego blocks. Instead, a cooking recipe combines disparate things, mixes them together, cooks them to change the chemical composition, etc. A cooking recipe is not a blueprint, and DNA is closer to a cooking recipe than a building blueprint.

    5. Why is Theistic Evolution wrong or unreasonable? I may have gotten the name wrong but a friend of mine says theistic evolution is evolution but with divine intervention behind it all.

    Because it’s entirely unsupported by any facts. Because we have tolerably strong evidence which indicates that there are no gods who poke around in human affairs (nor Earthly affairs).

    On a more intellectual and philosophical level, the problem with theistic evolution is that it may be concordant with a lot of the predictions of evolution, but theistic evolution is still a flat-out denial of evolution. Modern evolutionary theory is not just the facts, but an explanation of those facts. Theistic evolution flatly denies that explanation. Modern evolutionary theory gives the explanation that random mutations, natural selection, (and other selection forces and processes) have created the modern diversity of life, and this process is blind and dumb with no foresight. If someone says that it was guided by a designer, then it completely misses the point.

    6. My friend crashed in a plane recently and he was unscathed. Now all the uber christian kids at my school keep saying Jesus saved him, but for me I ask why he didn’t prevent the crash in the first place. Then they say Jesus doesn’t check planes before they take off. I know this is a subject that hits the emotions, but how do I convince the crash wasn’t divine but instead was a lucky crash?

    Good luck? Not sure what to do beyond the obvious. Ex:

    Ok, a freak accident happened, and you lived. What does that have to do with Jesus? Did you even see Jesus?

    What does that have to do with Jesus? Did you even see Jesus? Did Jesus fly up like Superman and slow down the plane? Why didn’t flying Jesus just stop the crash like Superman would? Superman would have grabbed the plane, and safely landed it on the ground with no damage to you or the plane. By Superman’s standards, Jesus was sloppy. Superman would say that Jesus was sloppy because Jesus let the plane crash and risk hurting you, and needlessly damaging the plane. At the very least, Superman would say that Jesus needlessly inconvenienced you by letting the plane crash instead of preventing the crash.

    Why doesn’t flying Jesus save other believing Christians who die in freak accidents? This sounds an awful lot like confirmation bias. Are you even thinking rationally, critically, and skeptically? If not, don’t expect your experience to be at all convincing to me.

    7. Would finding how life forms can arise from inanimate organisms not just disprove but destroy any religious claims to creation? Also what would you think the response to new extraterrestrial life being discovered? Hement Mehta believes this would be a huge blow to organized religion.

    Technically, “disproof” is a strong term. For example, it can be logically argued that while it may have happened that way, it is also true that may have done it.

    If we could convincingly show how the first cell arose on Earth – somehow – and it was from another mindless process, that would be great, and it would be more evidence against many religions. However, I don’t think it would be Earth-shattering to those religions. We already have mounds of evidence against those religions, and this would just be another fact in the pile IMHO.

    8. Many creationists claim that the odds of humanity coming to be is so improbable. I was thinking before I slept the other day about a new idea(which probably was thought of already because it’s simple). I call it the argument from hindsight. Is this a thing(argument from hindsight)? Is easy to say it must be hard to get to where we are now, but that because we’re looking back. How many Martians are saying this? None because there isn’t anyone to look back at what needs to occur for life.

    This is just bad statistics. My favorite example is this: Hypothetically, I want you to go to Vegas, play poker for 8 hours a day for a week, and record every single hand that is dealt to you, and the order that the hands were dealt. I want you to naively calculate the odds that you were dealt those exact hands in that exact order. It’s astronomically low. Yet, it would be a very bad argument against the proposition that you were dealt those exact hands in that exact order.

    Frankly, this is a hard area of philosophy where I’m not quite sure of the answer myself.

  13. Bugmaster says

    I think most of these questions cannot be answered to the theist’s satisfaction, because they are questions of faith, not fact. At the most basic level, the differences between theists and atheists are not merely about what we believe, but why.

    As far as I can tell (and, being an atheist myself, I could be wrong), when theists say, “X is true”, what they mean is, “I feel, deep in my heart, that my world would have no meaning without X being true”; this is known as faith. In addition, theists sometimes interpret “X is true” to mean, “X leads to proper moral behavior”, or “Every good person I’ve ever known believes that X is true”, or “My pastor says that, according to scripture, X is true”.

    Most atheists, on the other hand, interpret “X is true” as simply, “we have enough empirical evidence to conclude that X being false is a very unlikely”. It doesn’t matter whether belief in X makes one moral or immoral, happy or sad, traditional or radical; all that matters is how much evidence you’ve collected. So, for example, even if a person feels deep in their heart that the first bright star in the evening sky is actually a giant ball of rock; and even if that person is a wonderful person whose belief gives his life meaning; and even if that person’s family held such beliefs for generations… then an atheist’s response to that would still be the same: “let’s see your evidence — where’s the telescope ?” If there’s not enough data to make an informed conclusions, atheists simply reserve judgement, until more data can be collected.

    For this reason, I would say that questions 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7 cannot be answered, as they are statements that are explicitly rooted in faith, which we atheists lack. The remaining questions concern basic scientific concepts, and fortunately, other people have done a very good job explaining them:

    2. Most mutations are neutral, for many reasons, one of which being that massive portions of plant and animal genomes actually don’t do anything. However, when a non-neutral mutation does arise, natural selection plays a strong role in determining whether the mutation will persist in the population.

    4. This is really pretty hard to explain to someone who hadn’t taken a basic high school physics / biology course — there’s just too much background knowledge that they’re missing. It’s not as basic as magnetism, but still, there’s more material there than you can explain in one sentence.

    8. This question is similar to #4, but also has to deal with probability theory, which, again, is not something that can be explained in one sentence. But you can start by asking the following: “Go out into a field, and pick out a random black-and-white spotted cow. Chances are that no other cow in the world has quite the same pattern of spots. Does this mean that this particular cow is special, and somehow categorically different from all the other cows ? If so, what makes it special, other than the fact that you happened to pick it out at this particular moment ?”

  14. Kudlak says

    The thing about question 1 is that many Christians don’t follow what’s in the New Testament either. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:6

    “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”

    Paul also forbids women teaching or even speaking in church, and is basically your typical male chauvinist pig, but most churches aren’t as strict.

    There’s also divorce, which is something that Jesus expressly forbids in several places, and how many Christians actually sell their possessions, and give the money to the needy?

    Then there’s Matthew 6:5, which instructs true believers not to pray publicly as the hypocrites do. This is obviously lost on a lot of Christians, especially those who advocate for prayer in public schools, eh?

  15. Kudlak says

    Number 6 has to do with perceived miracles, and something that may be effective is asking them if they’ve ever watched the show “1000 Ways to Die”? If you’re unfamiliar with the show it’s basically reenactments of some of the stupidest ways people have managed to get themselves killed. Stuff like falling onto your acupuncture needles, a mime being ignored while chocking, a teen dying from a wooden splinter coming from the bat he was using to smash mailboxes, and such, but you don’t even have to go that far. For every story about somebody being resuscitated after being “dead” for a long time there’s a story about some poor soul who died on the table having a mole removed, or something equally routine.

    Same goes for accidents. I personally know a kid who died falling backwards from where he sat in the back of a parked pickup, and another one who tripped off his skateboard and died hitting the sidewalk. Thing is, people die all the time doing things that few people consider risky.

    So, if there are “miracles” where people who oughtn’t to have survived do, are these “anti-miracles” when people who ought to survive don’t? Plot them all and you’d get a big bell curve, right? Some on either end, with the majority of outcomes being in the expected middle. People just like talking about the unexpectedly good outcomes more, that’s all.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Bugmaster

    8. This question is similar to #4, but also has to deal with probability theory, which, again, is not something that can be explained in one sentence. But you can start by asking the following: “Go out into a field, and pick out a random black-and-white spotted cow. Chances are that no other cow in the world has quite the same pattern of spots. Does this mean that this particular cow is special, and somehow categorically different from all the other cows ? If so, what makes it special, other than the fact that you happened to pick it out at this particular moment ?”

    ~fist-pump~
    That’s basically the same explanation I gave above. Nicely done.

  17. says

    @Kudlak – I’d be happy to answer your questions, if you would like one Christian’s answer:

    For your Matthew 6:5 question, it would help to have the entire verse for context.
    Matthew 6:5 – 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

    This verse is admonishing people to not pray with the purpose of being seen by others. The Pharisees (religious leaders of Jesus time) made a bunch of external rules to earn their righteousness. They were not interested in following God from the heart, but with just some external rules that displayed to others how “righteous they were.” Jesus was telling these hypocrites that they have their reward (from the praise of other men) rather than from God.

  18. Eric Sergent says

    2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive.

    Never heard off negative or positive mutations, anyway, but I’m not a expert in genetics. Mutations are the result of evolution, the need for adaptation to evolve to be able to prosper and survive. Through this diversification occurs, e.g. biodiversity. If you have some time there are some very good papers on the net how life recovers after global mass extinctions. This life, flora and fauna, recovers through evolution and not because of some devine intervention.

    8. Many creationists claim that the odds of humanity coming to be is so improbable.

    We didn’t come, but evolved to become who we’re Today. As for the odds, let’s keep an eye on the Argentine Ant coming million Years. The odds are still great those mega colonies are just a natural aberation that will correct itself, or not. Only time will tell us.

    The problem with religion and the reason I don’t see people stop believing, whatever proof we bring to the table, is that afterlife stuff.

  19. JD and Co. says

    Re: #6: In the AE archives, I watched a segment where either Tracie or Jen questioned a theist on what, exactly, constituted a miracle. Is it the unlikeliness of it? Unlikely things happen all the time: cancers go into remission, people survive multi-story falls.So when does an unlikely event cross over into a miracle? Is it because someone prayed for it? Unlikely things happen equally to people who prayed or didn’t. The more they attempted to pin down the definition, the more the concept of “miracle” fell apart. Also, as Kudlak says in #16, unlikely bad things happen too.

    But basically i agree with all the people who say “You can’t really argue successfully with a devoted theist.” The quicker you accept that, the less frustrating the entire experience will be. You can point out the flaws in their thinking (which I recommend, as long as it’s done more or less politely, and you can accept the same for the flaws in your own thinking), but it’s up to them to put it together. The best thing you can do is be true to yourself and not have so much invested in “convincing” anyone of anything.

  20. ironchops says

    I have a couple of questions for “M” and his knowledgeable friends (or anyone else who wants to pile on).
    What did Adam look like? Homo Ergaster, Homo Erectus, Homo Heicartablegensis, Homo Habilis, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis, Homo Sapien or none of the above?
    Was he Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, White or some other color?
    What ever the answer is, is that what God looks like?

  21. corwyn says

    2. No, any negative mutations discredit *theistic evolution*. Some negative and some fewer positive mutations are what we should naively expect. (The neutral ones are only expected once we realized how little of the genome does anything at all). Why would a sane benevolent god *ever* create a negative mutation?

  22. corwyn says

    8. Ask to see their math. Not the numbers, the actual equations. If they don’t have the actual math the can be ridiculed.

  23. philhoenig says

    6. How do you convince people of something? There is never any guarantee that you can. However, note the position often taken by presenters of The Atheist Experience. They don’t say that there is no god and that they can prove it (although, depending on the callers’ definition of “god”, maybe they can), they reject the claim that there is a god and will not accept it until proof is provided.
    Let the kids at school know that you aren’t convinced by their explanation that Jesus saved your friend. So their claim that the crash was divine was based on the premise that Jesus doesn’t check planes before they take off? Great! Now all they have to do is prove Jesus’ lack of plane checks and you’re one step closer to accepting their original claim.

    8. What is the probability that complex organisms would have evolved given the starting conditions posited by the scientific community? We just don’t know and the questions’s far too complicated to get any accurate answer at all. However, if we take the number supplied from the Institute for Creation Research paper linked to by Linda Bustos @5 we get an estimate of about 1 in 1 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. (I’d run the author’s reasoning by an actual biologist first before I’d accept that the maths has been applied to a valid model, but I digress.)

    If the kids in your school are happy to accept that figure (and if they aren’t, as per corwyn@23 ask what are their calculations, and why should they be accepted over those of Henry Morris, Ph.D. of the Institute of Creation Research?), you can show them in less than a minute a random occurrence over 50 million times as unlikely to happen, and then another one, and another one, and another one for as long as you like. Just pull out a pack of cards and copy Stephen Fry from this clip.

  24. mysteriousqfever says

     
    M, I truly commend you on your willingness to learn, as well as your willingness to engage with others who undoubtedly outnumber you, and who have the support of your community, school, government, mass media, etc. It’s not an easy path you’ve chosen, but I would suggest it’s far more exciting than having beliefs foisted on you which you obey unquestioningly for the rest of your life. When you realize you only have this one life, you also realize that you can jettison a lot of baggage with it. Unless you make time for accepting those you cause you pain, bully you, or other such dangerous people in your life now or yet to come, you don’t have to be around them anymore. I’m not asking you to give up people you love; I’m asking you to realize that there’s no time to waste feeling guilty about not being able to satisfy other people’s needs.  

     
    You’ve received so much good advice on this thread that I feel a bit presumptuous trying to add more. I’ll just try to re-word some of it. I can’t urge you strongly enough to consider the resources that have already been pointed out. There’s also a book I find I rely on for the science part of things, in addition to talkorigins.com. It’s on Amazon, titled The Counter Creationism Handbook. You can buy it used, plus postage, for around ten or eleven bucks, at http://tinyurl.com/qde7w9p.    
     

    Also give this site a thorough look-through: http://www.wiki.ironchariots.org

     
     The geology and paleontology in CCH were hard slogging for me. There are a shitload of geologists in my family, but I’m not one of them. 🙂 However, when it gets to the softer sciences such a biology and biochemistry, I found it to be easy-peasy. It’s set up in chapters, with each claim being given a specific number. First the Creationist claim is given, along with any corresponding Bible text, then the arguments against those claims/texts. There are footnotes or references to which Creationist(s) makes the claim so that you can read them further.  
     
    I’ve listened to enough debates on YouTube by William Lane Craig to last a lifetime, and don’t intend to listen to any more of his. (Here’s Richard Dawkins’ piece on why he refuses to debate him: http://tinyurl.com/nyxwejj.) But you must start watching these things – and The Atheist Experience – regularly. Really listen to the arguments from both the rationalists and the fundamentalists. Unless you know the Creationist beliefs and claims as well as you know your own, you won’t be able to effectively counter them. I recommend any pro-God side which has Rabbi David Wolpe in it. He’s brilliant, funny, and a terrific spokesman for God. However, there are very few Jewish fundamentalists, so you’re not going to find any debating Creationism with you.  
     

     That brings up another thing: switching topics. You’ll find that very soon into your discussion that as you refute Creationist beliefs, they’ll switch to “How can life come from nothing?”, or more commonly, because they think it’s better wording, “How can something come from nothing?” They’ve switched from evolution, which is geology, biology and genetics, to math, cosmology, and astrophysics. Tell them that you’re not discussing physics with them right now. You’re just talking about evolution. They’ll try everything they can to get off the subject, and that should make you very happy, because it means they can’t answer your arguments. Gently return them to the topic. Some will walk away at that point, but there’s always tomorrow, or next week, or the relief that they won’t ever bother you again in life. All of them can be comforting. 
     

    One of the many excellent AX programs to start with is https://youtu.be/lDDmZ6sK–Q. I was brought up an atheist in a family that was atheist for at least four generations back, and probably more. I was taught that anyone who believed in God was either a moron or a maniac, because my family which nearly worshiped education and a sound mind. That was odd, since nearly all of them had/have some “oddities,” and several were formally uneducated. But neither is true, and you have to know from the beginning that there are just as many smart, funny, and highly-educated believers out there as there are stupid ones. Most of them, like the rest of humanity, are just plain, regular, people. Don’t be a jackass and start calling them idiots. Save that for the privacy of your home, where you can believe whatever you want.   
     

     Additionally, watch Matt’s series on how to talk with believers. It’s called “Atheist Debates.” Just search on: Matt Dillahunty Atheist Debates, and preferably start at the beginning. 

     
    Finally, I think this book is helpful: A Manual for Creating Atheists, by Peter Boghossian. The link is: http://tinyurl.com/pb52hbn. Boghossian calls people like us who are willing to enter the fray “street epistemologists.” He’s of the “not insulting people” ilk. I think that’s the best road to take when you’re involved with people you know, whom you know mean you no harm. Leave the fireworks to Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris; hell, even Richard Dawkins can get pretty fiery. That’s their profession, and they had/have the training and skills to do it. They’re trying to reach a world. You’re just talking to a friend or acquaintance.  
     

     I hope some of this helps. Good luck! 

  25. says

    1. Others have done a much better job discussing the theology behind this assertion. Rather than rehash what they said, I’ll go with my favorite argument.

    Accepting the theists’ position as true, you would have to believe the following about God

    * God was powerful enough to create the world and everything in it
    * He was mighty enough to kill almost everything in it with a global when he was pissed off
    * He was wise enough to order people not murder, covet, steal, or consume shrimp.
    * His perfect justice demanded gays, adulterers, and unruly children be stoned to death.
    * Yet a commandment of “thou shalt not force another to have sex with you against their will” would have just been to radical for the people of that time to handle, so he opted to loosely regulate rape instead.

    Put it that way, it sounds ridiculous.

    2. Whether a mutation is negative or positive is really subjective. For example, sickle-anemia is the result of mutation that increases resistance to malaria. Is that a positive or negative? Well, if you live in a mosquito-infested part of the world with no modern medicine, it may well be that the benefits of malaria resistance outweigh the negative effects of sickle-cell anemia.

    Here’s a link that does a better job of explaining this than I can. http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/evolution-is-still-happening-beneficial-mutations-in-humans

    3. Perhaps the most asinine is this one explaining stripes and markings on various species:

    Genesis 30:37-39 English Standard Version (ESV)
    37 Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. 38 He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39 the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.

    4. I’m a science dummy myself, but I understand that DNA is a chemical compound. Try these links for explanations geared toward lay people.

    http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-structure-of-dna.html
    http://www.businessweek.com/1997/10/b35174.htm

    5. If they assert that that a divine being had a hand in evolution, the burden of proof is on them to show it. Ask them for evidence. Nothing in the Bible suggests evolution that I am aware of (not that the Bible is good evidence anyway).

    The reason theists say this is that they know their creation myth is inconsistent with the science, and they are desperately redefining their dogma to be consistent with it.

    6. Anyone who believes this is, IMHO, too delusional to debate. But, if you must:

    Ask them for evidence of Jesus’s. They have the burden of proof.
    Ask them to acknowledge that Christians have died in plane crashes (or car crashes). Why didn’t Jesus act to save them? Likewise, atheists, Muslims, and Hindus have survived such tragedies. What was Jesus’s reason for intervening on their behalf?

    7. In theory it should, and it may in some cases. However, I think most theists will simply reinterpret their scripture in a manner consistent with the new evidence. (See the theistic evolution discussion above).

    8. Disclaimer: I’m no mathematician. I am, however, a gamer, and as a result I have tried to educate myself on probability. (Mathematicians out there, fell free to critique my analysis).

    In order to calculate probability, we need to compare the number of times an outcome occurs vs the number of all possible outcomes. Given that this is the only universe we know of where human life originated, we simply do not have enough information to make this calculation. So anyone who claims “the odds of human life occurring are 1 in 7 billion” (or whatever the number) is really just pulling numbers out of his ass.

    However, even if you accept their number as true consider this: just because something is highly improbable doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

    Do you play Bridge? Or Spades? Or any card game? If so, you can demonstrate this for them by making a standard bridge deal. In other words, deal 13 cards from a standard playing card deck to four different hypothetical players.

    What ever you deal to them, the odds of making that deal is 1 in 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 (5.36 x 10 E 28). Pretty astronomical, yet it just happened.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_probabilities

    Now, they will make a counter argument “That’s not a valid analogy. There is nothing unusual about this deal. For this to be valid, it would have to be extraordinary, like dealing a hand where someone got all the spades. Because human life is special.”

    Actually, the odds of one player getting all the spades (ignoring what the other players get) is higher. That’s 1 in 635,013,559,600. (six hundred thirty-five billion)

    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/thirteen-spades

    Second, “special” is subjective. Or sure, our planet is special to us because we live here. The value of a 13 spade hand is subjective because the rules of Bridge/Spades assign a value to that hand. If you are just considering the odds of a particular event occurring, one hand should be no more or less important than another.

  26. says

    I’m going to revise my response to #6 slightly.

    Show him this list of sole survivors of plane crashes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sole_survivors_of_airline_accidents_or_incidents

    Then ask the following questions:

    1. In which of these incidents did Jesus intervene? For those which he did, how do you know? And why didn’t Jesus intervene in such a way to save more people?
    2. For those which the answer is “No”, ask him what distinguishing features between those crashes and his crash led him to believe Jesus was involved in his but theirs.
    3. For those which he does not no, ask him what evidence he would need to make the determination.

  27. tarski says

    1. A commander who issues evil commands is evil, even if the commands have an expiration date. “Sure, my boss hired a lot of people to be assassins. But he hired me to give sandwiches to the homeless!” That doesn’t excuse your boss for the assassinations…

    2. Evolution doesn’t proceed because organisms luck into the right mutations. It proceeds because organisms get all kinds of different mutations, but the ones that promote survival in a given ecosystem at a given time are the ones that survive—or at least, survive the most. What matters is the non-random selection of the random mutations, good AND bad.

    3. The Bible features talking snakes (to Eve) and donkeys (to Balaam) and a man (Jonah) living for days in the stomach of a sea creature.

    4. I’m not a biology teacher, but maybe you could explain how DNA isn’t a written set of instructions by explaining how DNA is actually read. Of course, DNA isn’t really read. It just participates in chemical reactions.

    5. Theistic evolution is unreasonable because we already have a natural account of evolution, and theistic evolution takes that account and adds an extra, unneeded hypothesis. Occam’s razor says that’s right out.

    6. You may not be able to convince your friends that no miracles occurred during the plane crash. It might not be important to do so. But if you want to try, you probably have tackle the question: “how do you know it was a miracle?” The truest answer is that they don’t know. Probably they came up with the thought that it was a miracle because that’s consistent with other stories they’ve been told, and believe that thought because, again, it’s consistent with how they view the world. But surely not all crash survivors are the beneficiaries of miracles? How do we tell the difference?

    7. A fully worked out explanation for how life began would be a great addition to our tentative understanding of the world, but a dyed-in-the-wool believer would counter that just because you found that life CAN arise without a god’s interference, that doesn’t mean that it DID arise that way in Earth’s history. However, people who take the “miracle” of life to be a big reason to think there’s a god would probably have second thoughts.

    8. Your “argument from hindsight” is indeed a thing, and it’s great that you thought it through on your own. It’s often talked about under the heading of “the anthropic principle.” You’re exactly right: from the perspective of living people, OF COURSE the things necessary to life happened. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be hear talking about it. However unlikely the advent of life may have been, it clearly did happen. Besides these considerations, think about this: the number of planets in just the observable universe is so staggeringly vast that even if the probability that a given set of chemicals will produce life is very low, when you account for all the chemical environments in all the locations on all the planets…it’s just like how if you roll a 20-sided die a hundred times, it’s not surprising if you roll more than one 20.

  28. says

    8. We must learn to leave lazy conclusions to only the very simple statistics problems. If I take a typical 52 card deck and thoroughly randomize the order of the cards, the deck you get will have a 1 in 8 times 10 to the 67th power to be repeated exactly. That means that if every human being on Earth shuffles a pack of cards 100 times every day for 13 billion years (the known life of this universe) there would be just one chance in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion of getting the same ordering of cards again.
    Also, if you look at the chance that you are born the day you were born, from the parents you have, seen from a century ago, the chance of you being born was one in untold trillions of trillions. Of course, if you are reading this, the chance of you being born just jumped from that to one (100%) some decades ago, when you were born.
    We must stop getting scared with “the chance of this or that are one in trillions of trillions”. We have to stop getting scared of “if I make a ruler that extends the known universe and change this or that just one millimeter everything goes to hell”. Many things happen even though the chance before the fact was one in untold trillions of trillions.

  29. Kudlak says

    @Dean S. #18
    Yes, but isn’t there some external rule in many churches that seems to require such flamboyant displays of people’s faith such as speaking in tongues, answering altar calls, and praying in public like Tim Tebow? I’ve read through the whole New Testament and I can’t find anywhere in it where Christians are encouraged to be so open and in your face with their belief.

    Everywhere you look these days there seems to be loads of people who go out of their way to show the world that they’re Christians, and they certainly do appear to be prideful and even defiant about it. Maybe this isn’t everyone’s intent, but often these are the very same people who are caught doing very un-Christian things, giving the world the general impression that Christians are hypocritical. So, explain to me how Jesus’ words do not apply to people who act this way?

  30. Kudlak says

    @J. Rutger Madison #29
    RE: Perfect Bridge deals not being a good analogy.

    You can point out that a perfect deal would be analogous to a universe made for life to exist everywhere in it, not just on certain parts of one planet. You don’t have to have a perfect deal in order to get a “win” like we happen to have in our case, and there’s nothing to indicate that life of a different kind wouldn’t have occurred if the universe had been dealt a different hand.

  31. dantalion says

    1.
    It doesn’t apply to us. It applies to god. The pressing question with the old testament isn’t ‘why don’t christians still stone adulterers?’ but rather ‘why was the source of christian morality so grossly immoral as to command this sh*t in the first place?’.

    Is the god who issued these commandments then the same god who issues your friend his commandments now?

    If he doesn’t follow yhvh, then why does he bother keeping any part of the bible?

    And if he does follow yhvh, then these commandments reflect on the character of his god. Perhaps not as current rules, but still as the stated positions of his current god

    Does he see that it would be wrong to commit genocide? Not just wrong as in against god’s current rules, but does he see why it would be wrong? Then how was god right to command it?

    This is the same god, and for all that they deny it when it is inconvenient, the worldview of the old testament still informs christianity today. And it’s not like the new testament or its god are any different. He just offers a new way to bow to him.

    I mean ignoring the part of the law that says this law is for all time, and ignoring that Jesus is quoted in two gospels as saying the law still applies to christians forever, you still have the new testament going far out of its way to establish that this is a sequel to the old testament and that Jesus represents the same god who spoke with Moses and Abraham.

    The only thing in the new testament that suggests the old testament doesn’t apply anymore comes from Paul, and he never says god was wrong about anything. Instead he says the law was so righteous and perfect that we could never have hoped to live up to it without Jesus stepping in to lower the bar.

    Some parts of the new testament can be interpreted to mean you don’t have to follow all of the law of Moses, but the bible is pretty consistent in saying you should follow all of the law of Moses.

    Besides, pretending to not care about the old testament is a completely disingenuous dodge. There are still christians turning to Leviticus to justify discrimination today. Churches still preach stories from the old testament and tell impressionable children that mass murdering savages like Moses and David are righteous role models. When it’s too much of an embarrassment they pretend it isn’t part of their book, but they will still quote the old testament as the ultimate authority.

    So hold them to account for what their god is on record as saying.

    Whenever some christian claims that a thing is definitively right or wrong because god says so, or we must all go along with something because it is god’s will, the first thing we should say, before we even get to separation of church and state, or autonomy or the philosophical weaknesses of divine command theory, is “hey, wait a second, isn’t yhvh the same asshole that told us to burn witches?”.

    2.
    The framing of “positive” and “negative” mutations suggests a goal to evolution. As though there is a specific form we are supposed to be moving toward and everything is either more evolved or less evolved based on how close it is to that thing.

    The reality is that niches shift when the environment shifts. What is detrimental to survival in one time and place may be the thing that keeps you alive in another.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that mutation is gradual and constant. Every person is a slight mutation on their parents genetics. Gradual drift in all possible directions is happening all the time.

    You don’t need a greater likelihood of “positive” mutations. You just need the “positive” mutations to be more likely to spread. This is where selection comes in.

    3.
    Genesis 1 states that the Earth experienced three alternating periods of light and darkness called “evening” and “morning”, and then on the fourth day, god created the Sun.

    4.
    That’s actually a really difficult question and depends a lot on your audience. But as a sort of broad general answer, I would say the best analogy is the alphabet.

    What information is conveyed by a single letter? Essentially none. Yet infinite information can be acheived by combining and reorganizing these letters.

    5.
    You got the name right. Theistic evolution, which acknowledges common ancestry, but says god must have started the process (or intervened at some point in the process) is a bit too vague to properly be called right or wrong.

    For why it is unreasonable, one could point out that nothing in the evolutionary record suggests the necessity or occurrance of any kind of divine intervention whatsoever.

    Has anyone ever arrived at theistic evolution because they honestly looked at the fossil record and decided it couldn’t make sense without god?

    Every example of theistic evolution I’ve ever seen was theists starting with a dogmatic attachment to their creation stories, looking foolish because the evidence of nature conflicts with their book, trying to preserve serious belief in their other tenets, and making up a way (one which mangles both scripture and science) to say they accept evolution while still claiming their god made everything (and more to their point, still owns everything).

    The core of theistic evolution is nothing more than a transparent attempt to hold the bible not accountable for the things it says.

    6.
    One common trend among those who claim divine intervention when improbable events occur is a complete lack of effort in finding alternate explanations. The desire to see it as a miracle rules out the possibility of any natural explanation before any natural explanation is considered.

    So when you say the plane crashed, do you mean it had some sort of engine failure in the air and had to make an emergency landing, maybe hit the ground a little hard, maybe even broke off a wing or part of the fusiliage when it hit the ground?

    It is incredibly common for that to happen with zero fatalities. Thanks to the mundane intervention of human engineers who designed equipment and procedures to deal with things that can go wrong on a plane, most emergency landings occur with zero fatalities.

    Now if we’re talking about a plane crashing, like free falling for several thousand feet and exploding on impact, and your friend walks out of that unscathed, I’d at least acknowledge something weird is going on.

    7.
    No. Finding how organic can arise from inorganic (we’ve already found some ways it can, just not necessarily how it did) would not destroy any religious claims to creation. It would make them less credible, but they are not very credible right now and people still manage to believe them. Theistic evolution can claim this is how god created animate life and creationists can claim this is just the devil animating sand to test our faith. Dogma generally comes before rationalization.

    Extraterrestrial life being discovered would be a blow to organized religion. Not because there is something inherent to the general concept of religion that makes it incompatible with life on other planets, but because the specific claims of this planet’s two largest religions are incompatible with life on other planets.

    If life existed on other planets would it be descended from Adam? Would it need to be saved by Jesus? Would it have the option of accepting Jesus? How would they ever hear about Jesus? Does Jesus have to keep going to different planets and being crucified over and over? The presence of aliens would probably raise some troubling questions.

    8.
    You’re on to something with that argument from hindsight. A similar point was made by Douglas Adams’ puddle analogy (how the ground fits the shape of the puddle so perfectly it must have been made to hold this exact puddle).

    This can also be illustrated with a deck of playing cards.

    Take a standard deck of playing cards. Shuffle them well, then deal 13 cards.

    The probability of getting that exact combination of cards was 0.000000000006.

    The probability of getting some combination was 1.

    For human-like life to arise, you’d probably need a planet very much like Earth. That is, you would need a planet with a certain combination of the most common elements in the Universe.

  32. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @dantalion

    The framing of “positive” and “negative” mutations suggests a goal to evolution.

    Meh. IMHO it’s sensible enough for the laymen for the implicit assumption that “positive” and “negative” are in the context of Darwinian fitness, which avoids your critique.

    The rest of what you say is good.

  33. frankgturner says

    Pardon my just getting interested in this string.
    @ k machine # 1

    I guess the question this raises is if this is true for the entire OT. Why reject some parts and then turn around and cite others as scripture? Why is the OT still in the Christian Bible and considered scripture?

    I would guess that this likely has to do with two things. First of all, when scripture was written, many (most) people did not read and write. Having large portions of society reading and writing and having access to wide ranges of information (as we basically do now) is probably religion’s biggest enemy. The Free Market of Ideas allows for a type of “fitness of ideas” as well.
    .
    However, allowing for a wide range of scripture written, even with contradictory ideas, allows for a wide range of ideas (a large number of them sour). As many say the Bible is like “a big book of multiple choice.” Some say that religion survives due to its ability to flex and change to fit the situation. To some degree language itself flexes to fit the situation. The principle of “context” meanings comes from that very principle. Sooner or later though the capacity for scriptural language to fit the situation may break down.
    .
    @’M’ assuming that he is still reading.
    If the Bible authors had thought ahead of time they might have put something within the pages (the reverse of a disclaimer whatever that is called, a “claimer”?) that makes them more explicit regarding their intent. I.e.: (if you are intended to take something as factually correct) “All statements made within this chapter are to be considered true and based on actual facts” (Sounds almost like a cop show doesn’t it?).
    .
    That may not help your statements directly but it is something to think about.
    .
    @ M #5
    Theistic evolution is not really “wrong” but it is not really “right” either. I have heard this often called, “not even wrong.” As stated on this board, we cannot (yet) test for the presence of a superior mind engaging in evolutionary manipulation, any more than we can test for the supernatural powers of said being if they are not demonstrated to us. When we are capable of testing this we will consider it. Until then there is no evidence to support the hypothesis of there being a god directing evolution. The default hypothesis (you may have heard this called a “null” hypothesis) tends to be the negative position, i.e.: if you say “there IS a god directing evolution” the null position is that there is not. This is a general rule that the person making the positive claim has the burden of proof (though this does not apply in all cases). If they cannot provide evidence for the positive position then we adapt the negative position. So, “I don’t know, but in the absence of proof I say, no there is not theistic evolution,” is what we adapt.
    .
    #7
    I have proposed an idea that organized religion is a side effect of our primate evolution. We project a need for an alpha male like character to protect us based on the way organized primate groups used to live and this is reflected in our image of god. It is not really proof but a hypothesis that fits some of the facts. Given the ridiculous things that religion has proposed from a time before we knew what the universe off of our planet (or that we even WERE on a planet) was like, extraterrestrial societies certainly do demonstrate the factual incorrectness of parts of scripture if we were to assume literal interpretation of scripture. If the religion finds a way to adapt then it may survive despite the blow, but that does not mean there would not be a blow. (The people on top of the building praying to the aliens in “Independence Day” comes to mind).

  34. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @frankgturner in 37,
    With all due respect, wrong on every point regarding theistic evolution. The hypothesis that a god is intervening is testable, and has been largely tested, and been demonstrated false. For a peer reviewed paper on this very topic, please see:

    How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism
    Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

    I also suggest Scott Clifton’s Skepticon 7 talk:
    God, Science and the Problem with Nature – Scott Clifton (Theoretical Bullshit) – Skepticon 7
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQMLFpQEOI8

    Finally, as PZ Myers himself has said numerous times, the problem with the idea of theistic evolution is that it accepts the facts, but denies the explanation of those facts. Evolution is more than just a collection of disparate facts. What makes evolution so powerful is that it’s an explanation of these facts. The explanation is in terms of simple mindless forces acting in a Darwinian way. Theistic evolution as a thing is a partial or complete denial of that explanation, and thus it’s a denial of actual evolutionary theory.

    A comparison is to theistic falling. People who subscribe to theistic falling agree that hammers fall from a height when released in normal household conditions, but they partially or completely deny the explanation of simple mindless forces that make it happen.

  35. Monocle Smile says

    Yeah, I’m with EL on this. Sorry, frank. If there’s no difference in observable data between something tinkering and something not tinkering, then clearly something isn’t tinkering.

  36. frankgturner says

    @ MS
    I am not in disagreement with this.
    I fail to see how it is testable if you can’t test if there is a mind to do the tinkering. We have evidence that there isn’t, which is good but not necessarily hard proof. It gives us confidence in the null hypothesis, which is better than just accepting it by default. Given that it is what we have I would not deny that it makes even more sense to adapt the null.
    .
    I took a look at the paper and it does give some good points about how to test to see if a God is intervening and demonstrates that one is not, presuming that those are the ways in which a “God” intervenes and if there even is one which there are definitely some good arguments for why there is not.
    .
    It was said earlier though that a God may basically be the naturalistic forces and be essentially indistinguishable from said forces. I don’t deny (or really accept) this. It is essentially the deistic position which I am ok with because it essentially results in the idea that for all intents and purposes there isn’t a tinkerer aside from some as of yet unprovable “first cause” (which may also be indistinguishable from natural causes). So in that scenario I don’t think it unreasonable to conclude that in the absence of a distinction between someone tinkering and not tinkering then someone is not tinkering.
    .
    I would not suggest making said argument to creationists though. It is just something that one might keep in the back of their mind.

  37. frankgturner says

    P.S.
    What that paper effectively does is provide a context that defines “God” in a way that is testable. I tend to think of God in a broader sense that does not necessarily agree with a majority consensus. If the way that the paper defines its terms is in agreement with whom ‘M’ is talking to then I would agree that it provides some good arguments, very good ones as a matter of fact. It even provides some good arguments against the assumption of there being a God in other contexts that don’t fit a majority consensus.

  38. corwyn says

    @ Frank 40:

    which is good but not necessarily hard proof.

    There is quite simply *no such thing* as hard proof in any positive claim in science. (Maths are a separate discipline where there are proofs.) There is *only* degrees of confidence in a given proposition. Please banish from your brain any concept of hard proof, and then make your argument again.

  39. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn
    Good point. I stand corrected.
    In context, I would say that the evidence does not give me strong confidence that there is no God. (There is some confidence and if it is the only thing to go on I am ok with the “not” conclusion).
    .
    What I was getting at is that I tend to think about God in a deistic sense. In that context I said there was no evidence for or against. Accepting the null hypothesis means that God is “not guilty” of existing. A non interventionist God is indistinguishable from nothing, but I have not proof that God doesn’t exist In that sense either.
    .
    In the sense that God is spoken about in the paper (actually a non interventionist God is mentioned) in which “God” is testable (through prayer among other things) then there is evidence against. There may not be other evidence (we can keep looking though), so in that case we conclude that there isn’t one.
    .
    Either way it comes to the same conclusion. There is no evidence so we conclude that God does not exist or the only available evidence points to there not being one, so we conclude that God does not exist. (in the first case I would be more comfortable saying that God is “not guilty” of existence).
    .
    I am opened to evidence of one actually existing in the second scenario, maybe even in the first. (I am also opened to the possibility that I am addressing ‘M’ in the wrong context).

  40. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Frank
    Sorry I didn’t get to this earlier. Based on offline conversations, I meant to post a partial retraction / clarification. Theistic evolution in terms of a deistic clockmaker god is not testable, and in that context what you said originally is right.

  41. corwyn says

    @frank 43:

    It is easy to start with a null conception of a god and have the same confidence as a null hypothesis, but once one starts adding characteristics to that conception, evidence begins accumulating. Some would phrase this as changing the prior probability, but let’s just take the simple way.

    So if you start with the p(X) exists, with no definition even of what X is, you can be said to be starting with zero information, or a confidence of 0 (I will use decibans here, which is basically log-odds, i.e. 1:1 = 0 decibans, 10:1 = 10 decibans, 100:1 = 20 decibans and so on). With that settled, a god about which ones knows exactly nothing can be said to exist with 0 decibans of confidence. If one gives a single characteristic to that god, that can be used to adjust the confidence (since a more specified thing is less likely _a priori_, e.g. a pink unicorn is less likely than a unicorn of any color). Let’s take immortality as our first characteristic. How much less likely is an immortal thing than a mortal one? Depending on your judgement of jellyfish, immortality is either extremely rare, or completely unobserved, if we compromise and say that immortality is 1,000,000,000:1 against (if you have a better number please explain), that lets us adjust our confidence in an immortal god. 1,000,000,000:1 against = -90 decibans of evidence, giving an adjusted confidence of -90 decibans[1]. We can than choose another characteristic we want our god to have, how about omniscience? Or the ability to create universes? For each such characteristic we update our confidence in the god’s existence. If you have some coincidence that you claim is evidence *for* the existence of that god (and not some other), you can add that (1,000,000:1 for = +60 decibans). Note though, that if you do, your opponent can add the 1,000,000 times that the coincidence did NOT happen (-60 decibans).

    From this it is easy to see that an extremely defined god, with no evidence is extremely unlikely. A god ‘made in our image’ without the mountains of evidence we have for our existence is too unlikely to consider. Most theists are happy to keep adding more and more characteristics to their pet god conception, making it more unbelievable with each claim. In fact, that seems rather to be the point. No god worth its salt is less than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000:1 against.

    [1] When using log-odds, all you need to do to update your confidence is add the current evidence to the prior value of the confidence.

  42. frankgturner says

    @ corwyn #45
    Pet God concept? Here God here! Good boy, roll over, play dead, rise from the dead. Good boy you get a treat. (Ironic that God is “dog” backwards?).
    .
    Ok seriously, what I thought ‘M’ might be interested in that piece you and I came up with about how aplogists want their God to be testable, so it has value and evidence for it, but not falsifiable, so it can’t be debunked. It is basically trying to have your cake and eat it too.
    .
    When I get into theistic evolution the deistic God concept comes to mind a lot (along with the Kalam bovine feces, fits nicely together).
    .
    I had not thought of applying Decibans to God confidence but as long as you are mentioning immortality, 1e42 :1 (number of organisms that ever lived approx, from http://www.quora.com/How-many-living-things-have-ever-existed).
    .
    So the end result is either no evidence, or evidence against. It works, but my pet God needs to look like Charlton Heston and have James Earl Jones’s voice.

  43. Narf says

    I’ve been avoiding this thread, since I wanted to write my own responses, before reading what everyone else had to say, so “M” can get the widest variety of perspectives.  I was waiting to sit down and write a thorough response to this, before getting involved in this comment section, and then I sort of got lost.  I’m finally sitting down and doing this, in case “M” is still reading this thread.

    Hi, my name is “M” and I would first like to let you all know that your show is really fun to watch, it helps with debates with those who don’t have a full understanding of the truth. I have a bunch of questions I would like you guys to answer so I can get a better understanding and improve my points in these debates. I apologize if this list of questions is really long and boring. Here we go…

    Why do I feel like you have a mission for me, M?

    I have one comment based upon what you said in this opening paragraph.

    You have to watch the word usage a bit.  This is one of the big problems you’ll run into, when talking to theists.  They almost all use poor, often deliberately confusing wording when they describe things, from the usage of vague words like ‘spiritual’ and ‘supernatural’ to the usage of blatant, obvious equivocations.

    “God is love.  Don’t you believe in love?”  That sort of bullshit.  It’s difficult for me to think of an apologetic argument that doesn’t include at least one equivocation fallacy at an important point.  Even the Kalam Cosmological Argument begins with a crippling equivocation fallacy in its first premise.

    The way you’re using the word ‘truth’ worries me.  I don’t think we can ever know or be completely certain of the truth.  The best we can do is have an epistemological framework that filters out things that are likely nonsense and enable our discovery of new details about reality.

    You’re likely to have theists coming at you with claims about their revealed (capital-T) Truth, which is absolute and revealed by their god.  This is bullshit, of course, but you have to be ready to deal with a lot of sorting out epistemology.  Trying to address Truth plays right into their hands and lets them turn the conversation into a muddled mess.

    1. Someone I know told me that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us, not only because there is a new covenant, but also because God made those laws for a specific purpose, for example, selling off your daughter to her Rapist only applied to the people at the time. What should I say to that?

    This is a major dodge, on their part.  You pretty much have to just completely bypass all of the crap about the old and new covenants.  Who cares?

    Was it the same god in both the Old and New Testaments?  Were his actions in the Old Testament moral?  We don’t care about whether or not any of it applies to people in modern times.  By making this sort of argument, they’re essentially admitting that their omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, unchanging god made immoral commandments of his people.  If it isn’t moral for us now, why was it moral for Yahweh to command his people to do it back then?

    There are Bible verses you can pull out which quote Jesus as saying that all of the Jewish law is unchanged, but you’re better off not getting into that sort of argument.  The Bible is a self-contradictory mess, and you can find a Bible verse to support almost any position.  One of the few positions that is impossible to support is the anti-abortion position, ironically.  Pretty much anything is better than getting into a Bible-verse slinging match with a Christian, because you’re giving way too much credit to a book of mythology.  I don’t give a damn what’s in the Bible.  I give a damn about the philosophical implications of what the Christian says about the Bible.

    2. He says evolution is discredited by the amount of genetic mutations that are negative instead of positive. I replied with the mutation that allows some people to drink milk is positive because it helped people back when food was scarce and also how most mutations don’t do anything, they’re neutral. Was that a good reply and how is his argument true or false?

    Creationists always overstate how many negative mutations there are, relative to the positive ones.  What’s more important is the more foundational problem.

    Creationists never understand evolution, on a fundamental level.  It doesn’t matter if the incidence of negative mutations is ten times greater than the incidence of positive mutations.  The whole point of natural selection is that it’s a sifting mechanism.  If a mutation is that negative, the animal won’t survive.  Even if it’s only slightly negative, within a given environment, it will most likely be limited to a small portion of the population, since it decreases the animal’s fitness for survival.

    If a mutation is sufficiently negative, the animal probably won’t even survive gestation.

    3. People claim the bible is scientific but the story of Noah’s ark is in there? What other stories show that the bible is as scientific as Harry Potter.

    I’m not sure what this specific friend of yours was referencing, but what Christians usually mean when they say this sort of thing is an instance of what is called the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.  They’ll find a vague, squishy Bible verse that could mean anything, and they’ll try to say that the verse was referring to something in modern science.

    One example that I’ve heard a lot lately is 2Corinthians 4:18:  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    And this verse clearly indicates that Yahweh was telling us about quantum mechanics … obviously.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, the verse, in context, contains instructions to set your eyes on … quantum mechanics?  What the hell would that even mean?  The verse clearly has nothing to do with anything of the sort, but Christians are so desperate to validate the Bible that they’ll grasp at nothing and swear they’re holding absolute proof.

    As you can see, it’s utter bullshit, and those who engage in this sort of thing are dishonest in the extreme.  The Bible is a scientifically ignorant text, written by scientifically ignorant people.  Trying to shove our modern, scientific knowledge into poetic language that only vaguely sounds like what they claim their god was trying to tell us is just stupid.

    4. How do I explain to those who don’t understand about how “information” cannot exceed the speed of light and how DNA isn’t a written set of instruction that the way most would think of it?

    All you can really do is explain to them that DNA is not ‘information’, as they commonly mean the word.  DNA is biochemistry, doing what organic molecules do.  We only get information about what the chemicals are doing when we examine and quantify them.

    Then repeat it again.  And again.  And again.

    Try explaining to the person what a metaphor is, maybe.  Christians like metaphors, because anything in the Bible that conflicts with their modern non-slaveholding, non-animal-sacrificing morals was just a metaphor, usually.

    5. Why is Theistic Evolution wrong or unreasonable? I may have gotten the name wrong but a friend of mine says theistic evolution is evolution but with divine intervention behind it all.

    Sure, his second sentence is correct.  Theistic evolution would be evolution that is guided by the willful intention of a god.

    Sadly, for your friend, that’s not what modern evolutionary theory indicates.  Natural selection is, by definition, an unguided process.  He’s just wrong, and he doesn’t understand the state of modern evolutionary theory.  There might not be a lot you can do here.  I’ve told many creationists, myself, that they don’t need a discussion of the subject; they need an education.  When the first 10 arguments against evolution, out of someone’s mouth, indicate that they don’t have even a high-school level grasp of the subject, you need to go about giving them a remedial education.  At a certain point, you just have to tell someone, “Look, you’re so ignorant of the subject that your only role in our discussion is as a pupil, and I can either answer your questions myself or go look up the information for you.  You don’t know enough to have any valid input, although if you accidentally get something right, I’ll be sure to point it out.”

    I’m assuming that you’re far from an evolutionary biology expert, yourself, if you’re asking questions about it here, so you’re better off giving them some reading material.  Give them a few Dawkins books … not his anti-religious ones, but his older ones that deal with evolutionary biology.  Maybe start them on The Greatest Show on Earth or something similarly basic.  I dunno.  You’re dealing with a profound level of ignorance here.

    6. My friend crashed in a plane recently and he was unscathed. Now all the uber christian kids at my school keep saying Jesus saved him, but for me I ask why he didn’t prevent the crash in the first place. Then they say Jesus doesn’t check planes before they take off. I know this is a subject that hits the emotions, but how do I convince the crash wasn’t divine but instead was a lucky crash?

    You can’t.  This sort of thing is the most profoundly irrational sort of thing that Christians will do.

    The best I can think of is a gut punch.  Ask them why Jesus didn’t save the people in the planes that crashed and killed everyone aboard.  You aren’t going to get anything useful, of course … probably something along the lines of “God works in mysterious ways,” or something similarly banal.

    7. Would finding how life forms can arise from inanimate organisms not just disprove but destroy any religious claims to creation? Also what would you think the response to new extraterrestrial life being discovered? Hement Mehta believes this would be a huge blow to organized religion.

    It might help sway some people away from divine creationism, but honestly, I can’t see it having much of an effect.  Fundamentalists have no problems lying about and distorting evolutionary theory, which is one of our most solidly supported and useful scientific theories.  The puppet masters behind the creationism movement will just lie about any new advances in abiogenesis, as they’re doing right now with what we’ve already figured out.

    Part of the problem is that we already know plenty of ways that life forms could have arisen from the pre-biotic, organic soup.  We just don’t know how it actually happened, in our particular case.  The evidence for what the Earth was like three billion years ago is sketchy, at best.

    I think Hemant Mehta is being a little bit overoptimistic, if that’s what he actually said. Fundamentalists will mostly just scream about scientific conspiracies, and liberal Christians will just incorporate it into their theology.  I can’t foresee it having much of an impact.

    8. Many creationists claim that the odds of humanity coming to be is so improbable. I was thinking before I slept the other day about a new idea(which probably was thought of already because it’s simple). I call it the argument from hindsight. Is this a thing(argument from hindsight)? Is easy to say it must be hard to get to where we are now, but that because we’re looking back. How many Martians are saying this? None because there isn’t anyone to look back at what needs to occur for life.

    Probability arguments are so freaking vapid.  Deal yourself a hand of 7-card stud.  Look at the cards that were dealt, in the order that they were dealt.

    The odds of you getting those cards, in that order, were 1 in 674,274,182,400.  Are you impressed?  The odds of you getting exactly that set of cards, in that order, are astronomical, right?

    Deal out a game of solitaire, now.

    The game you just dealt out had a probability of 1 in 8 x 10^67 of occurring the way it did.  And yet, many of the games you deal out — I’d go so far as to say a fairly high percentage of them — are winnable.  What are the odds?  Are you impressed with the astronomically improbable odds of you ever winning a game of solitaire?  You shouldn’t be.

  44. Narf says

    @7 – Tracie

    I’m inspired by the early feedback and now believe that handing this over to the thread was a great way to go. The writer will get great feedback and a variety of angles to consider on every question. Not committing to it, but I think I may start doing this regularly as we get letters similar to this sometimes, and I think they get skipped due to our inability to respond at length.

    Definitely a good idea. I’ll usually jump in a bit earlier, myself. The last couple of weeks have just been a little heavy for me, and I kept putting it off one more day.