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Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

Atheists and Christians should be open minded about new evidence“Well, Mr. Atheist Smarty Pants, you think you’re so open minded. Prove it. Show me what would convince you to change your mind.” I recently challenged Christians to consider what it would take to convince them that their religious beliefs are wrong, and now it’s the atheists’ turn.

A good article on this question is The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, written by fellow Patheos blogger Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism. I’ve used it here as a starting point for my own exploration on this question.

Convincing Traits

Here’s a tentative list of what would convince me of a religion’s claims (more on the tentative nature of the list below).

  • Many occurrences that are widely accepted by the scientific establishment as miracles. And “Science can’t explain it” isn’t necessarily a miracle—it’s just something science can’t yet explain.
  • Alternatively, a single crowdsourced miracle. On one day, everyone in the world sees “Yahweh exists” spelled out in stars or pebbles or lines in the sand. Or, one night, everyone has the same dream in which a god explains his plan. If either happened just to me, the obvious explanation would be that my mind (or someone) was playing tricks on me.
  • Prophecies, but not the ones that Christians often point to. I mean real ones. I’ve discussed before the properties of a reasonable prophecy—it must be startling, precise, accurate, and so on.
  • Scientific knowledge in holy books that wasn’t available at the time. The scientific knowledge in the Bible is no more advanced than would be expected from any non-divinely inspired book of that time. There’s no e = mc2, no f = ma, no Big Bang, and no geocentric solar system. What’s really surprising is nothing to do with health: no “boil your drinking water,” no “dig latrines far from the water source,” and no recipe for soap.
  • The believers would be changed in a way unexplainable by natural causes—good things would tend to happen to them more often than for nonbelievers, problems would be resolved quicker, prayers are answered, or in some other way we would see the deity assisting his people.

Necessary Traits of a Divinely Inspired Religion

These traits aren’t evidence for a religion, but they respond to arguments against. They are traits of a religion with a real deity behind.

  • The holy book would be perfect—no errors, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies. Not much to ask from a perfect deity, right?
  • As a corollary, there would be nothing in the holy book to which believers say, “I must admit that I can’t explain that. I guess I’ll just have to ask God when I get to heaven.” I’m thinking of puzzles like why God commanded genocide or allows famines. But how can a holy book contain this kind of problem? The holy book has no purpose except to explain to people here on earth what reality is and what the rules are.
  • The religion would have no internal divisions or doctrinal conflicts. To take a Christian example, Docetism (the idea that Jesus only seemed to be a human) was put to rest only at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Other heresies took centuries more to resolve. One could pretend that the various twists and turns taken by Christianity were divinely guided, but where is the evidence for that?
  • It would not only celebrate reason, it would provide necessary evidence and wouldn’t require faith.

I wouldn’t add to this list that the god must be praiseworthy, judged by modern moral standards. The god might encourage genocide and allow slavery, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be good (the Gnostics imagined such a creator god).

Of course, you can cobble together rationalizations for religion without these properties—a religion where faith is required, where the holy book is ambiguous, where religion is split by doctrinal controversies, and so on, but don’t expect that to be a compelling argument.

Nonstarter Traits

Here’s a short list of general religious arguments that won’t get you out of the starting gate.

  • Curious things with natural explanations like speaking in tongues or other ecstatic experiences
  • Personal conversion stories or anything else that only you experienced
  • Things that can be explained as coincidences
  • And it should go without saying that anyone should be written off if they make a prophecy that fails (for starters, I’m thinking of Harold Camping).

Revisiting the List of Convincing Arguments

Let me return to the first list. I said that it was a tentative list because of Shermer’s Last Law: “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” How could I distinguish alien technology a million years more advanced than our own from the supernatural actions of a god? And if the aliens identified themselves, they might portray themselves as gods to get us to react in a certain way. Who knows—they might even be intergalactic practical jokers who just want to mess with us.

Given the choice of God or aliens as explanations, the aliens are more plausible because they’re intelligent life forms with technology. We already have an example: we are intelligent life forms with technology. By contrast, we have no commonly accepted examples of a supernatural anything.

So let me admit that, to the Christian’s challenge “What would it take to get you to believe in God?” it might be that no evidence would. But anything that would provoke Shermer’s Last Law would be a heckuva lot more evidence than we’ve had to date, where Christianity fades into the general background of thousands of manmade religions.

Hypocrisy?

Let’s pull back and consider two situations: (1) the atheist given substantial evidence of God’s existence (the present slate of arguments by Christian apologists doesn’t come close to being “substantial”) and (2) the Christian given substantial evidence that their faith is incorrect (discussed in a post a few days ago). I’m saying that the atheist would be reasonable in not changing to accept the supernatural, but reason compels the Christian to change and reject the supernatural.

Is this a double standard?

I don’t think so. In each case, the natural argument wins. The atheist goes with the natural explanation (it’s aliens, it’s a trick, I’m mistaken, I’m crazy, etc.), and the Christian also goes with the natural explanation by following the evidence. Science has shown us myriad examples where a natural explanation trumps a prior supernatural explanation, so it’s reasonable to bet on the natural explanation where it exists.

Perhaps the reason that Christianity isn’t compelling to many atheists is that they have no particular motivation (besides wanting to believe true things) to see it as correct. Is wanting it to be true a requirement for Christian belief?

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Photo credit: monarxy

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    Science tells us if there’s one thing we are all bad at, it’s objectively evaluating evidence that contradicts our present beliefs. None of us are the rationalists that philosophers think we are. When you throw in beliefs that form the sacred core of our identities (which we all have), we become even worse at evaluating contradictory evidence. This post essentially ignores decades of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that suggests humans are terrible at impartially evaluating evidence. Most research suggests even when our minds do change, we’ll try to convince researchers that we never actually believed differently. So this practice of dreaming up scenarios in which our minds would be changed is largely non-scientific humanistic pipe dream: real science knows our minds don’t function like that.

    So I’m curious: do you dismiss the research about human rationality and mind-changing, OR are atheists simply exempt from evolutionary-evolved limitations to human reasoning and somehow able to evaluate evidence more fairly than the rest of the human race?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      drewl:

      All interesting points; all irrelevant to the post.

      • DrewL

        Choosing the humanistic pipe dream option I see. Well don’t let science get in the way of your faith beliefs about how the mind works.

        • WerdisBomb

          Are you making the argument that you can’t think of a scenario that would change your mind? I can think of plenty. “I think person A is a good person. Person A steals my wallet. I don’t think person A is a good person.”. Considering that an atheist argument is largely based on empirical evidence, I can think of many forms of evidence that would convert an atheist. “I don’t believe that god exists. God says, “Hey everyone, here I am!” I believe in god.”

          I think you’re giving your own belief that humans can’t surmise a moment in which their minds can be changed too much credit. I do agree that often evidence or arguments that go against the norm can be suppressed, (ask Copernicus), but those are usually by agents motivated to uphold their own paradigm on what is fact. Individually it is a simple exercise to examine what it takes for our minds to change.

    • smrnda

      The thing is that the scientific method takes into account the fact that we’re not good observers. This is why in certain experiments, the people carrying out the experiment should not even know the hypothesis so that they won’t be susceptible to confirmation bias. The research that shows people aren’t good at being objective shapes how we conduct inquiries, which means we can get better at finding ways around it.

    • Richard S. Russell

      It took real science to discover that our minds work like that.

      Surely you’re not contending that, now that we know how our brains work, we’re helpless in the face of our hard wiring? If that were true, there would never have been any progress whatsoever.

      • DrewL

        We have sufficient scientific evidence to know the inadequacies and limitations of our minds working the way that Bob’s implying they work. There are a multitude of options on how to proceed from that recognition, none of which I would label helplessness.

        Yet Bob continues down this path as if science tells us nothing on this subject. It’s like the geocentric-minded astronomer who can’t bring themselves to abandon all his equations and theories to adopt a new scientifically-grounded paradigm.

        But I know I’m raining on the parade of people who pride themselves in objectivity. I don’t expect science to deter you from your own sacred beliefs on this matter.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          It’s like the geocentric-minded astronomer who can’t bring themselves to abandon all his equations and theories to adopt a new scientifically-grounded paradigm.

          I think it’s more like the astronomer who’s harangued with information about botany. Good stuff, but kind of off topic.

    • Pattrsn

      Probably more knowledgeable about those limitations, and more aware of methods to circumvent them. Hence the high percentage of atheists in science. In fact it would be difficult for anyone who’s read up on atheism to not be aware of human tendency to cognitive dissonance, hyperactive agency detection or pattern seeking. As far as rationally evaluating the evidence for the existence of god, wouldn’t there first have to be evidence?

      • Blessed Jim

        One painful lesson that all scientists have to learn: if your belief does not match your data, then it is your belief that has to be changed, not the data. The most unforgiveable sin in science is to fake the data to support your theory, nothing will end your career faster.
        So when a scientist is presented with religious reasoning, where faith matters more than facts, the cognitive dissonance is just too great to bear. An honest scientist who applies that honesty to religion almost has to abandon religion.

        • Tony

          I couldn’t agree more. That’s my main problem with the vast majority of Christian apologetics, it’s unashamedly dishonest in its desire to make the facts fit the belief, not the other way round.

  • Richard S. Russell

    Re: Shermer’s Last Law: “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.”

    This observation is a major plot point of the film Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier.

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

      That movie had a plot?

      • Richard S. Russell

        It was an odd one. 8^D

  • Woody Tanaka

    I cannot fathom what the thing might be, because for everything I can come up with (scientific knowledge in holy books not known at the time; everyone seeing “yahweh exists”; unexplainable miracle), I can probably come up with an answer which, even if highly unlikely, is more likely than god (time travel; mass hallucination; alien technology.)

    But, I will say this: if there is an all-knowing and all-powerful god, he will, be definition, be able to figure out the thing that is convincing to me; the thing for which I can’t come up with a better answer for, and will be able to do that for every person in the world. So the only thing that would make me change my mind is if one day god presented, to every single person on earth, the evidence which that person needed to definitively say that god existed and for which they could not come up with a more likely answer than the god hypothesis. If that happened, that would change my mind.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Woody:

      if there is an all-knowing and all-powerful god, he will, be definition, be able to figure out the thing that is convincing to me

      And going down this path, that God knows what it would take to convince you but not giving you that (and letting you condemn yourself to hell) makes God not look so good.

      But I’m not sure this avoids Shermer’s Last Law. This “god” has convinced you that he’s a god, but he could just be an insanely smart telepathic alien. How would you know?

      • Woody Tanaka

        “This ‘god’ has convinced you that he’s a god, but he could just be an insanely smart telepathic alien. How would you know?”

        That’s kind of the point. I don’t know how I would know; it’s axiomatic. In other words, if I could conceive of a “proof,” I can also conceive of a counter-explanation. But if God exists, HE can, by definition, come up with a proof that is not subject to counter explanation, but not only for me, but for everyone in existence.

        But I don’t know what the substance of the proof would be I only know some of its parameters.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Woody:

          But if God exists, HE can, by definition, come up with a proof that is not subject to counter explanation, but not only for me, but for everyone in existence.

          What if he has a proof, but it’s too complicated for our species to understand? Then the proof might as well not exist.

          And you say that he can come up with this proof “by definition,” but is that the case? Many theologians say that God is bound by logic. They appeal to this to get out of puzzles like, “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” Maybe Shermer’s Last Law is like this–God providing a proof that he’s a god and not an alien isn’t possible.

        • Woody Tanaka

          Now, there is a difference between proof existing and proof simply being too complicated to understand. In that case, then it may be that until such time that the human race is capable of understanding the proof, but there is insufficient proof for me. That is always a possibility.

          As for what theologians say, I think that this point merely demonstrates the ridiculousness of considering anything to be omnipotent. If something is omnipotent, but something as basic as logical consistency should be no barrier. Something that is “all-powerful except for certain circumstances” simply is not omnipotent.

      • Woody Tanaka

        (This assumes a god that is all knowing and all powerful.)

    • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

      So, Woody, you are saying that even if God came up with the one thing that would convince you to believe in him, you would still refuse to believe in him, unless the same thing happened to everybody in the world at the same time? This makes humans sound like factory products, and makes God a really great engineer. That doesn’t sound very God-like to me. Isn’t God more like a God if he is not afraid to let people choose what they will believe and whom they will serve? Is your god a real god if he is only a god when everybody on earth agrees? Does that mean that you are not real, because so many people don’t know anything about you?

      • Richard S. Russell

        I think Woody’s saying that, if it’s only him who “sees the light” (whatever the light might possibly be in his case), it could just be a delusion, but if everybody in the world had it happen to them at once, each in her or his own way, that’s sufficiently god-like to qualify for “close enuf for government work”. The reason it has to be so widespread (global) is because we’re aware of instances of mass hallucination, particularly where charismatic (“holy roller”) churches get their whole congregations revved up, and they all “see” something at once. Besides, if God is going to make a big public display of his powers (hence his existence), why should he limit the demo to only a small, select group? Why not everybody? After all, what’s the point of the demo in the 1st place, if not to show that he’s real and means business?

  • ZenDruid

    Seeing prayers answered positively and unambiguously, such as amputees’ lost limbs growing back. None of that ‘not faithful enough’ noise, either.
    A cessation of all human strife and suffering.
    Yes, a fully realized utopian fantasy is exactly what I would need.

  • Niemand

    I disagree with Clarke. On the contrary, I’d say that after a sufficiently advanced level of science, magic disappears entirely. If, for example, Harry Potter showed up at my doorstep tomorrow with his wand and invisibility cloak my first response would be “Neat! Let’s study how that works”, not “Oooh, magic!” And that’s pretty much the response of a person in a highly technical society to something that appears to be “magic”: assume it’s natural and start looking for how its done. So far, that response has been successful. If it ceases to be successful at some point, we can deal with that when it happens. For right now, there appears to be no magic, only natural phenomena that we don’t understand yet. (And the sufficiently advanced aliens are likely to have only technology we don’t understand yet, not magic or miracles.)

  • Niemand

    What would make me believe in God is if after I die I find myself in Heaven and God asks me, “So, how did you like my new role playing game, ‘Life on Earth’? Fun or too much time on meaningless quests?”

  • Eric D Red

    If you can’t conceive of any evidence that would convince you that your own position is incorrect, then you are being dogmatic and not rational. I’ve heard many theists take such a dogmatic position, and atheists should not do the same.

    Bob, I usually agree with you, but I see a flaw in your argument. I still mostly agree, actually. When you assume that both the theist and non-theist need to default to the naturalistic argument, you’re presupposing your position is the correct default, and the god question must fall back to that. However, the theist argument itself presupposes a non-naturalistic world. Any evidence for or against god (as usually defined) is equally evidence for or against a non-naturalistic world.

    You are certainly right that the present slate of evidence put forward for any of the proposed gods is entirely unconvincing, and I don’t need to explain why in this crowd (well, not for most of this crowd). However, if anything potential proof we come up with we preemptively dismiss as the work of aliens, then we’re being just as dogmatic. If we were to see some of the examples given, and others I could think of, highly advanced aliens with a sense of humour would come to mind, but I couldn’t honestly say that I shouldn’t consider some form of a god. Of course, without having a clear definition of God or gods, anybody can slip around that. Maybe it turns out that God really is a hyper-advanced alien?

    Some examples that might convince me, or at least make me seriously reconsider:
    -if every child-raping priest were suddenly hit by a bolt of lightening, I’d have to reconsider God’s ambivalence/non-existence.
    -if the prayers of one religion were to show evidence that it is unambiguously effective and not otherwise explainable (placebo effect for example). None that I’ve seen comes close.

    Of course, it’s still a big step from accepeting a supernatural or hyper-advanced entity to a particular religious definitive of a god.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Eric:

      then you are being dogmatic and not rational.

      How do you avoid Shermer’s Last Law?

      you’re presupposing your position is the correct default, and the god question must fall back to that.

      I’m presupposing that natural explanations are a fruitful source of new explanations and that science has delivered big time on its promise to show us reality. That doesn’t mean that science can’t be shown to be inadequate somehow or perhaps definitionally unable to answer a particular category of question.

      if anything potential proof we come up with we preemptively dismiss as the work of aliens, then we’re being just as dogmatic.

      I’d be happy to find a way around Shermer’s Last Law, but I can’t see it. It sounds ironclad to me. How do you get around it?

      highly advanced aliens with a sense of humour would come to mind, but I couldn’t honestly say that I shouldn’t consider some form of a god.

      As you point out, we need a clear definition. The key part of such a definition of god IMO is that she/he/it/they be supernatural. I think we assume that aliens would not be.

      Maybe it turns out that God really is a hyper-advanced alien?

      Sure, could be. But you’re acknowledging that Shermer is correct.

  • Greg G

    The inadequacies and limitations of our minds are why people resort to religion. Religion exploits those inadequacies and limitations.

    I don’t know what would make me believe again but an omniscient being would know. An omnipotent being could persuade me even if he had to make me senile so a cdesign proponentist could take advantage, as with Anthony Flew.

  • trj

    I’ve always thought it would be very persuasive if the Bible (or Quran or whatever holy scripture you prefer) contained scientific facts which would only later be confirmed by a civilization with sufficiently advanced science. The fulfillment of precise, detailed predictions makes a convincing argument that is hard to ignore.

    Of course, the Bible is not even close to actual science, not even when taken metaphorically. It could’ve told us about quantum physics, tidbits about our cosmos, given us mathematical proofs, or what have you. In stead, it tells us the Earth rests on a foundation, rain is kept in a barn, the universe was created from water, the stars are a host of angels, etc. At best useless metaphors for, well, something maybe (who knows what); at worst patently false and disproved by science.

    God had an excellent opportunity to convince us with the Bible, but clearly he didn’t go for that strategy. It’s one thing that he didn’t put any scientific revelations into the Bible, but you might’ve thought he’d at least get rid of some of the more ridiculous stuff in there.

  • http://southernhumanist.wordpress.com/ Southern Humanist

    Evidence…

  • Michael

    What would convince me that god exists?

    Spectacular miracles would be a waste of time – I’d just assume I was hallucinating.

    What about solutions to the Clay Institute’s Millennium Prize Problems?
    http://www.claymath.org/millennium/

    We can immediately check those solutions and if they are error free well then we’d have something to talk – a starting point at least.

  • Michael

    re previous comment:

    “…something to talk about.”

    We can immediately check those solutions and if they are error free well then we’d have something to talk – a starting point at least.

  • Rover Serton

    I would believe with proof or maybe with a brain tumor. Hitch said he might believe during his illness, not from reason but from losing the ability to reason. Happily, he passed without apparently losing his brilliance. Miss you Hitch.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

    This is a good question. We often ask theists what it would take to convince them that the evidence for their worldview doesn’t stack up and we often complain that they cling to their beliefs no matter how much they contradict reality, so it’s only fair we should say what would convince us that we’re wrong.

    What would it take for me to believe in religion? Well…

    The holy text would have to be inerrant – so no contradicting what science tells us about our universe – and it would have to contain no self-contradiction whatsoever. It would also have to align with modern conceptions about morality – so no slavery or genocide. Ideally, it would contain things that people couldn’t have known at the time it was written. Something about antibiotics maybe, or vaccination. All believers in the religion would have to agree on the interpretation of their holy text, because this text would have to be free of ambiguity. The deity/deities in the text would have to be consistent with believers’ interpretation of said deity.

    It would also be a big help if the holy text gave useful advice, and by that I don’t mean generic platitudes about not being dicks to each other. I mean specific advice to enhance our standard of living, like how to make renewable, pollution-free energy.

    I would have to see evidence that believers’ lives were measurably enhanced as a result of their belief, in ways that non-believers’ lives weren’t enhanced. This enhancement could take any form, as long as it was clearly attributable to the belief and consistent with the type of enhancement the religion claimed believers would experience. No, a subjective sense of happiness/wellbeing as a result of believing doesn’t count, because people from all religions report that and they can’t all be true when they make contradictory claims, can they? Whatever form the enhancement took, it would need to be objectively measurable.

    For a religion that promises answers to prayer, there would need to be clear evidence that prayers did get answered. I’m talking about amputees’ limbs growing back after prayer, while without prayer the limbs stayed amputated. People with incurable diseases would be miraculously cured as a result of prayer, transgender people could literally wake up in their preferred body after praying for a sex change, things like that. Prayers would have to be answered in ways that couldn’t be attributed to chance, medical intervention, etc.

    Basically, any statements the religion made would have to be backed up with unambiguous evidence. I would also reserve the right to critically assess the evidence, so I could be confident there wasn’t some non-supernatural explanation. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    This seems like a grand exercise in self-justification. “Which scenario could I never imagine happening which would force me to abandon atheism? ”

    Surely it would make more sense to examine what things really do cause people to convert, and work out which of them is most likely to change you.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      “Which scenario could I never imagine happening which would force me to abandon atheism?”

      Yes, the items in the first two lists don’t happen. What do we conclude from that?

      Are you saying that my lists are unfair?

      Surely it would make more sense to examine what things really do cause people to convert, and work out which of them is most likely to change you.

      In my current state, none. I’ve examined them all, I think.

      Hence the post–the things that would convince me.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        Are you saying that my lists are unfair?

        No, I’m saying that it’s intellectual masturbation.

        • Kodie

          “It” refers to the tortured logic religious people use to make sure they’re always right, no matter what. Bob doesn’t need to make any lists, since it all boils down to rationalizing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          Doesn’t it say something about your religion that the obvious things you might expect to see from god(s) are label-able as “intellectual masturbation”? That you’re forced to dismiss the obvious traits of all-powerful beings and say instead that we must listen for that still, small voice?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          No. I don’t see anything in your list that I would class as something I would class as “the obvious traits of all-powerful beings.” I see a bunch of “Get out of Jail Free” cards to allow you to avoid dealing with the issue seriously.

          Take your first point for example. You want many examples of “miracles”, but they can’t be things science can’t explain. Even if a real miracle were presented you will either say “it’s not a miracle” or “it’s something science can’t explain … yet.” You have your bases covered on that one, so that it is impossible for even a real miracle to satisfy your criteria.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          I don’t see anything in your list that I would class as something I would class as “the obvious traits of all-powerful beings.” I see a bunch of “Get out of Jail Free” cards to allow you to avoid dealing with the issue seriously.

          This sounds like your simply making the best of a bad situation. You’d like to have a god that was obvious, but, given that you don’t have that, you’ll make do.

          You have your bases covered on that one, so that it is impossible for even a real miracle to satisfy your criteria.

          Wasn’t the post clear? I’m looking for a “miracle” that science agrees, “Yes, that’s a miracle.” Sounds like a plausible request.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Wasn’t the post clear? I’m looking for a “miracle” that science agrees, “Yes, that’s a miracle.” Sounds like a plausible request.

          How do we distinguish between a miracle and something that science currently can’t understand?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          How do we distinguish between a miracle and something that science currently can’t understand?

          When Aunt Mary’s cancer just goes away with no treatment and no explanation, science knows that this just happens sometime. Could’ve been a miracle, but we just can’t say, since it looks natural.

          Contrast that with an amputated limb growing back. Science has never seen that. Our understanding of nature has no examples of this happening in adult humans (though lizards and fetuses, yes). Suppose that it started happening all of a sudden. Or even in one case with excellent before-and-after documentation. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          When Aunt Mary’s cancer just goes away with no treatment and no explanation, science knows that this just happens sometime. Could’ve been a miracle, but we just can’t say, since it looks natural.

          Contrast that with an amputated limb growing back. Science has never seen that. Our understanding of nature has no examples of this happening in adult humans (though lizards and fetuses, yes). Suppose that it started happening all of a sudden. Or even in one case with excellent before-and-after documentation. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about

          OK. So you’re talking about things that science can’t explain that have been documented, and things that science can’t explain that haven’t been documented?

          What reason is there that those that you are saying would now be in the second category would not be in the first category if they were observed happening? After all, all science can do is report what is observed, and if such things happen, then science would be obliged to conclude, “We don’t know why, but these things just happen sometimes.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          So you’re talking about things that science can’t explain that have been documented, and things that science can’t explain that haven’t been documented?

          In some areas of science, we have a grand new frontier, and science is just getting its bearings–quantum physics, Big Bang theory, and so on. Science can’t explain everything, but that’s not surprising. Give it another century, and it’ll be on much firmer ground.

          In other areas, however, science is pretty confident. That amputated limbs don’t regrow (to take one example–you could probably think up better ones) is one example. We understand that they don’t and we understand why they don’t (given only natural causes). If we had excellent evidence of limbs growing back, that would change things. That might be science documenting a miracle.

        • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

          Bob: We do have excellent evidence that limbs don’t grow back. But what if one did, miraculously? Or better yet, a few hundred did?

          But what if these events happened in the past, and one out of every thousand limbs just grew back? Then I would think most scientists would say that limbs do grow back, but we’re not sure why.

          I guess whether it looked like a miracle would depend on the mechanism by which the limbs grew back. If God commanded cells to replicate so that a human arm regrew just the way a lizard’s arm does, we would go, “aha! Humans sometimes regrow arms in the same way that lizards do!” And it wouldn’t look like a miracle. If the cells of an arm just appeared there instantaneously, then that would look like something science won’t ever be able to explain, and it would then be fair to call it a miracle.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Liz:

          But what if one did, miraculously? Or better yet, a few hundred did?

          Then we’d have intriguing evidence of a possible miracle.

          The excuse “miracles happened in the past but not now” isn’t compelling. Much better is that these claims of miracles are mistaken.

        • Bob Jase
        • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

          I don’t think I was clear. I was speaking to the difficulty of distinguishing an apparent miracle from something that is merely mysterious but naturally caused.

          What if human arms regrew themselves once in a while, throughout history *and* in the present? Let’s say these arms appeared to regrow in the same way lizards regrow their legs. Scientists examine someone while their arm is regrowing and determine that this person’s arm has regrown just as a lizard’s has.

          Should the scientists conclude:
          A) Humans can regrow their arms like lizards can. It doesn’t work often. We need to learn more to figure out how this works.
          or
          B) God did it!

          I’d vote for A. Now, if the arm regrew in a way that seemed to be a clear violation of the laws of physics — say, it just appeared there — then I’d vote for B.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Thank you Liz.
          You have illustrated my point perfectly. The demand for miracles as evidence of God can always be explained away as something natural that we don’t understand. Now you can be quite consistent in preferring natural explanations, but to do so would mean that to ask for miracles to prove God’s existence is at the least not thought through clearly, or at the worst hypocritical.

          Although to be fair to Bob, he does seem to think that limbs regrowing would be miraculous. My question would then be why not tumours disappearing (for an example that is documented in modern Western medical records) or the blind receiving sight, or people rising from the dead (for examples that are not documented in modern Western medical records)?

        • Kodie

          What would be the natural explanation for $20 to show up in a conspicuous and not hidden place in my apartment where I had not laid money? I know someone would say someone snuck into my apartment – how desperate are you to find out where I live and prove god to me by lying.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Moving on to another of your points that would convince you:

          Scientific knowledge in holy books that wasn’t available at the time.

          This rests upon the misunderstanding that any holy book was written as a science book, which would make as much sense as criticizing Shakespeare for the same failing. Neither the Bible nor Shakespeare were written to teach science, so to fault either for not including science teaching is a non sequitor.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          The demand for miracles as evidence of God can always be explained away as something natural that we don’t understand.

          Bob has an accident and loses a leg. Then Bob gets religion and prays, and his leg grows back overnight. There is thorough and indisputable evidence that he had no leg, and then he obviously has one. There are tissue samples from the amputated limb that allow DNA testing so that there was no twin switching or similar game. James Randi is called in, and he can detect no hanky panky.

          Explain that away as natural.

          Now you can be quite consistent in preferring natural explanations

          Someone who’s determined to hold on to his religious preconceptions might not do this, but who else wouldn’t??

          but to do so would mean that to ask for miracles to prove God’s existence is at the least not thought through clearly, or at the worst hypocritical.

          I prefer natural explanations, and I ask God, if he exists, to use miracles to give us some flippin’ evidence.

          Where’s the problem?

          Although to be fair to Bob, he does seem to think that limbs regrowing would be miraculous.

          An extremely well-documented case would be a very good start to showing a miracle.

          My question would then be why not tumours disappearing (for an example that is documented in modern Western medical records) …

          Why not rocks rolling downhill? Because that’s what nature does.

          As far as I can tell, tumors sometimes disappear naturally.

          or people rising from the dead (for examples that are not documented in modern Western medical records)?

          Are you saying that there are well-documented cases of this?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          This rests upon the misunderstanding that any holy book was written as a science book

          Once you get the rest of Christianity to agree with you, get back to me. I’m happy to see the Bible as not a science book.

          However, when the Bible talks about the real world, it sometimes gets things wrong. It’s a reflection of the science of its day (Genesis 1, for example). This is strong evidence that it had no divine guidance.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Once you get the rest of Christianity to agree with you, get back to me. I’m happy to see the Bible as not a science book.

          We’re in agreement here. As smart as someone like Hugh Ross is I believe his basic understanding of the nature of Genesis is flawed.

          Although if you are happy to see the Bible as not a science book, why do you ask for it to provide science as evidence for God?

          However, when the Bible talks about the real world, it sometimes gets things wrong. It’s a reflection of the science of its day (Genesis 1, for example). This is strong evidence that it had no divine guidance.

          Genesis 1 is not the reflection of science of any day. The most primitive tribe would find the creation of light before the sun and moon questionable as a chronological account. The best explanation is that the passage was written to tell some thing other than a chronological account of the origin of the universe. The framework hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framework_interpretation_(Genesis)) is probably currently the most popular interpretation among non-YEC theologians.

          One thing that is important to remember is that the first (and intended) audience of these writings was not a modern-day audience, but an Ancient Near East audience, and so we must expect the writings to use the language and assumptions about the world that that audience had. In fact, if an ancient text used language or assumptions that were not available to that audience it would be strong evidence that the text was a forgery.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          As far as I can tell, tumors sometimes disappear naturally.

          Without any scientific explanation? And if so, why would this not be a miracle? And if such would not be a miracle, why would limbs regrowing be a miracle?

          Are you saying that there are well-documented cases of this?

          You have to rely on testimony evidence. Which is why I said “not documented in Western medical records”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          As smart as someone like Hugh Ross is I believe his basic understanding of the nature of Genesis is flawed.

          Where are you on the Creationism question?

          Although if you are happy to see the Bible as not a science book, why do you ask for it to provide science as evidence for God?

          That’s optional. I’m simply saying that that would be a powerful bit of evidence.

          Genesis 1 is not the reflection of science of any day.

          … except that of the Sumerians.

          the first (and intended) audience of these writings was not a modern-day audience, but an Ancient Near East audience

          You’re apologizing for it. “Well, it couldn’t have anything particularly insightful for these reasons: …”

          Give God some credit, willya?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          Without any scientific explanation?

          I hope you’re sitting down: science can’t explain everything.

          Yet.

          And if so, why would this not be a miracle?

          “Science can’t explain it; therefore a miracle happened” is beneath you, I think.

          And if such would not be a miracle, why would limbs regrowing be a miracle?

          I’m repeating myself. If you can’t see my point after all this, then I have no more ideas on how to explain it.

          You have to rely on testimony evidence.

          If testimony evidence is crap, then no, I don’t have to rely on it.

          I have moderately high standards for a claim “My leg grew back!” They’re the same as pretty much everyone’s (except perhaps someone in the same religion/cult?): clear evidence that someone had a leg (they weren’t born with a limb missing), then it was amputated or lost, and then it grew back. Testimony alone is laughably inadequate.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Where are you on the Creationism question?

          I have no problems with an evolution or a universe billions of years old. As I do not see Genesis 1′s purpose as giving scientific data or a simple chronology I also see no conflict with whatever science teaches on this and what I read in the Bible.

          … except that of the Sumerians.

          Oh, you’re calling that science now? Something of a change in tune from you. In any case, whether the particular word that was used in the language for sky intimated the sky was solid or not is hardly here or there. Unless you want to suggest that people today believe the world-wide web is made of spider-silk?

          You’re apologizing for it. “Well, it couldn’t have anything particularly insightful for these reasons: …”

          I’m not apologizing for it. Why would someone treat a text as holy if it appeared nonsense to them? They’re hardly going to take the view of, “perhaps centuries from now, we will have advanced enough in knowledge to understand this writing”. There is insight, but it’s not going to take the form of scientific formulae.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Testimony alone is laughably inadequate.

          I beg to differ. The quality of testimony evidence does vary, I agree. But if you can establish the credibility of the person giving the testimony evidence, then I believe it deserves consideration.

        • Kodie

          You don’t think credible people can make a mistake about what they saw? Let me ask you, do you think you’re a credible person? Have you ever exaggerated or made a mistake?

          Where Bob posts in his new thread about the principle of analogy, I could see not really questioning a credible person about a credible claim – that’s basically how people call in sick to work when they’re not really sick, right? It becomes less credible if they call in sick a lot of Mondays, even if they seem otherwise credible, but there is no problem believing a person can be too sick to come in to work. When the claim a credible makes is incredible, we are still looking at the claim they make for its credibility. It may have more value than a claim made by a person known to lie, but not very much.

        • Richard S. Russell

          When we say that an incredible claim made by a credible person deserves serious consideration, all we’re really doing is pushing the issue back a notch and adding an unnecessary layer of complexity. Now we have to examine not merely the incredible claim itself but the credibility of the claimant.

          I prefer to stick with just the real issue: the claim itself. And in this regard I’m guided by the precept that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence”. For instance, if you were to tell me you had a goat in your backyard, I’d think it a little odd for an urban environment, but I know that things like goats and backyards exist, so I’d probably take you at your word. After all, no big deal if you were pulling my leg, right? But if you were to say “I’ve got a unicorn in my backyard”, it wouldn’t matter how credible you are in all other matters, or how trustworthy you’d proved to be over the years, you are now peddling straight bullshit, and I don’t need to go into an in-depth examination of what your motives could possibly be for spreading it to be able to say that the claim itself is bullshit. Show me the unicorn, don’t just brag about it, then we’ll talk.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          The quality of testimony evidence does vary, I agree. But if you can establish the credibility of the person giving the testimony evidence, then I believe it deserves consideration.

          Yes, give it consideration. And when you have compelling testimony, you’ve just begun the long, long road to establishing a strong scientific case for a miracle.

          Surely you see what I’m saying. You’ve doubtless heard many nutty claims, and you doubtless have tough standards that you’d want them to meet for you to accept them. I’m simply asking for the same consideration for Christian miracle claims.

    • Kodie

      So far none of them has convinced us. You know why? They are all rationalizations. What scenario would convince me should be no problem for god to accomplish. If you think it doesn’t work that way and you still found some shred of something to cling to and you think that’s what we should do, then you’ve settled on a rationalization that the world just works like it does for bizarre reasons instead of natural ones.

    • DrewL

      Surely it would make more sense to examine what things really do cause people to convert, and work out which of them is most likely to change you.

      Karl, you make a fatal flaw in your thinking here: TRULY educated atheists actually NEVER convert away from atheism. At least not for reasons Bob defines as “intellectual,” which roughly interprets to mean “reasons that I personally like.” (Yes, this logic really is that circular.)

      See Bob at the pinnacle of his No-True-Atheist glory here:
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2012/10/how-could-an-atheist-convert-to-christianity/

      His method of dismissing possible counter-examples is just beautiful, grab a bucket of popcorn and enjoy.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Drewl:

        Just felt like sharing some hate today? I guess we all feel that way sometimes.

        Yes, this logic really is that circular.

        That is circular. And it’s not my argument.

        Given your poor record for being able to read a post and provide on-target commentary, you might want to take a deep breath and reread a post to see if your comment is relevant.

        • Richard S. Russell

          I’ve occasionally wondered how tone deaf one must be to use a screen name pronounced “drool”.

  • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

    What would it take for me to believe in a *deist* god? One of those metaphysical arguments might do it. It would have to be an argument that is generally accepted by rational people who’ve examined it, though; if people split on whether an argument makes sense or not, I can only surmise that it’s confusing, that 50% of people who study it are wrong, and I have even odds of being in the wrong 50%.

    What would it take for me to believe in a personal God who takes some part in human affairs? Or to decide that a specific religion is true? I like Bob’s criteria. A miracle observed by many people, mainly, or a holy text having predictive power.

    But in order to change my behavior according to what some religion demands, I would need much *less* evidence. Say religion X says that God will damn those who eat oranges, and I think religion X probably isn’t true, but might be. I would stop eating oranges. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis. I wouldn’t risk damnation for the small pleasure of eating an orange.

    So right now, I’m trying to work through how likely different religions are to be true, what rules they lay down, and what the punishments are.

  • Kodie

    I’ve already said this a couple months ago – $20.

    But not just any $20. It can’t come in the mail or be given to me, nor can it be found in a pocket of an old coat or laying on the ground that someone dropped. I am not praying to god to be my atm, but a few months ago someone promised me that I would get $20 if I prayed to Jesus. I guess if you excuse getting money in ordinary ways that people pass money, and the usual ways that people expect money to come from praying for some. I’m not asking for $1,000,000 or $100. I live alone. Maybe one of you can figure out exactly where I live, break into my apartment, and put $20 on the kitchen counter, but that seems unlikely. If I found $20 in a conspicuous place, if for example, the 48 cents on the table in my entry turned into a pile of coins amounting to exactly $20, then I know a miracle occurred. I don’t see any way to convince anyone else, but I don’t care.

    Who is the god who can show me something real? Who is the god who can intervene with my life in a non-ambiguous way? Anyone who says that he doesn’t do that is really settling for some weak ordinary feelings I have also felt but never attributed to god because that leap is way too wide. If you can jump over that width and tell me that’s what a person has to do to find something you still can’t describe adequately as any relevant or revelatory experience, that’s not good enough. Do not say that that’s not how god works, because there is no reason other than he doesn’t exist that he can’t do it. I just imagine that you tried this and it didn’t work but you really wanted to believe so you made up this complicated excuse where you know why god won’t do whatever I want him to prove himself to me. No matter what, that’s me thinking you pray to a really impotent god and you praise what little you get and you think that’s somehow any grander and more spiritual than I feel on a regular basis without god.

  • Thin-ice

    This would work: Christians would pray that ALL the atheist billboards across the country would be destroyed by lightning at 12 noon on Thursday (PST), and it happened. And it would have to be just the billboards, no buildings or supporting structures.

  • Makoto

    Well, if we’re just talking about personally changing my mind, let’s see… if a god exists, it could talk to me, personally. It could make me into a prophet, giving me detailed, unexpected information about the day ahead. “Hi, Makoto, god of XYZ religion here. At exactly 12:34pm (I’ll make sure you check your clock), 5 police cars will surround the gas station down the street, sirens blaring. However, at 12:36pm, they will all turn around and go across the street to the hair salon.” – that’s a rare sequence of events (though potentially possible), and something that tells me a) which god is out there and b) information I shouldn’t have about the future. This chat seems well within the capabilities of most deities described in religious works.

    The “which god” part is important to me, even if “which god” is from an unknown religion. Way too many “miracles” quoted by the religious don’t point to which god has caused them to happen (always implied to be the god of someone nearby), and are extremely poor evidence anyway.

    Of course, this conversation is also within the realm of sufficiently advanced aliens, but it would make me wonder what was going on, so it’s a starting point.

  • avalon

    Bob,
    I’ve had enough discussions with you to know that when you say “God” you usually mean the fundamentalist-literal-reading -of-the bible type god. Given the contradictions and superstitions of the bible, I don’t see how such a god could provide evidence that a literal reading of the bible was an accurate portrayal of him.
    That being said, could there be some other god distinct from the bible, a re-defined meaning for “God”? Sure, that’s possible. But what proof would be necessary would depend on what attributes that ‘god’ was said to have. If someone claims “God” exists but defines God as some sort of energy beyond the universe, I’m on board. But that’s a different god than what’s described in the bible.
    Strangely enough, if your wish-list of proofs for God’s existence came true, you’d believe in that god while the fundamentalist-literal-reading-of-the bible group wouldn’t, because it didn’t conform to the bible! They’d probably claim it was Satan or a demon. Fundamentalists don’t just believe a god exists; they believe in the bible and their unique interpretation of it. Any god that didn’t match their interpretation of the bible would be a false one to them.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      if your wish-list of proofs for God’s existence came true, you’d believe in that god while the fundamentalist-literal-reading-of-the bible group wouldn’t, because it didn’t conform to the bible!

      Interesting thought. Perhaps they’d say that the real guy was a demon intent on deception. “Where does faith fit in?” they’d wonder, if he’s right there in front of you.

  • Darren

    Bob; my list has similarities to yours:

    What might convince me that God exists, and not a vague Deist God but the big G God, and that he has more or less the characteristics ascribed to him (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc.) by Theists?

    Primarily, I would have to say “Informed Consent”.

    So, we are to believe that some all powerful being created the whole of existence, that he created humanity, that we are obligated through no fault of our own to obey his laws, that our very nature as created by God and again through no fault of our own (thank you, Adam) means we are absolutely incapable of obeying God’s laws, and aha, there you have it, caught dead to rights and into the lake of fire we go for all eternity… Unless we sign up for the Get Out of Hell Free card, free for the asking, but you do get to spend the rest of your life groveling and shouting “We’re not worthy”, and of course 10% of the gross wouldn’t hurt, you know, for God’s work and all.

    But, it gets worse. There are multiple competing examples of this story, each one exclusive, and at most only one of them can be right… Pascal’s wager my rear end… Two by two matrix? More like a 32 by 32 matrix… Russian roulette with a gun containing 1,023 bullets in the cylinder and one empty?

    So, where exactly did I sign up for this?

    You could not legally sell someone a washing machine in this country under those terms, or enlist them in the Army, or sign them up for clinical trials, or accept a blood donation. But it is OK for the most Just being in the entire universe? I think not.

    So, if tomorrow morning, I were to wake and find Jesus Christ himself was standing there, with a stack of forms, and the Owner’s manual for Darren’s Life in hand, and he spent the next week following me around, and answering all of my questions about Life, The Universe, and Everything, and how all of creation is actually Just, despite appearances, and then gave me a choice, sign on the dotted line or evaporate from existence…

    Well, the most reasonable conclusion would be that I had gone completely insane.

    Now, if the same exact thing were happening to all 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth, all at the same time, all visible to everyone else?

    Well, again, I would assume that I was insane, or that some cosmic trickster was having a go with me and all of humanity.

    But, after a little while, when Jesus did not evaporate, I would have to conclude that, insane or not, a clever hoax or not, this was really the way the world worked, or at least appeared to work which might as well be the same thing, then I would happily sign on the dotted line.

    Now, for an infinite being, this task would be trivial. This would also not violate free will, as I would have the free choice, should I find the idea of Christianity and eternity in Heaven so repugnant, to simply evaporate into a cloud of insensate neutrinos or whatever a soul evaporates into. Something like this would also, I think, be about the minimum to qualify as Fair. God says, “Welcome to my universe. These are the rules. Play nice or you are free to leave.”

    I think that would just about do it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Darren:

      Unless we sign up for the Get Out of Hell Free card, free for the asking

      It is free, but it’s not like everyone can just take it. I can’t just believe in leprechauns or unicorns or Jesus. I need evidence. God wired me that way.

      So, where exactly did I sign up for this?

      I guess we’re supposed to blame Adam and thank God.

      More like “Thank you, God, may I have another?”

      Well, again, I would assume that I was insane, or that some cosmic trickster was having a go with me and all of humanity.

      A valid option, but that’s a lot more than we’re getting so far.

      This would also not violate free will

      The Christians’ free will gambit usually annoys me. Yes, I understand that having humans as robots wouldn’t be good, but God clearly doesn’t care about our free will since he stands by and lets victims’ free will get violated all the time.

      Helpful comments, thanks.

      • Darren

        Actually, I have a Get Out of Hell Free card, from the Church of the Subgenius. The “free” part is a bit of a misnomer, it did cost me $15, but it does come with a triple money back guarantee.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Darren:

          The “free” part is a bit of a misnomer, it did cost me $15

          That just adds to the mystery. It cost you $15 and yet it was still free.

          Wow–you can’t make this stuff up. Gotta be true.

          Credo quod absurdum

        • Darren

          BTW, it is a play on the Monopoly card, thus the “Free” part…

  • Bob Jase

    I don’t know what would convince me that there is a god but I can tell you this – if I’ve read a comic in which Superman, Green Lantern or the Spectre (especially the Spectre) has done the same thing then it ain’t going to do it. If a human being can imagine it then how can I know its not just my imagination?

  • John Kesler

    To rebut the free-will defense, ask if believers will have free will in heaven. Then ask if believers will be capable of sinning in heaven. If the answers are yes and no respectively, then this proves that sinlessness and free will are compatible. Ergo, Yahweh could have made humans with these compatible traits from the beginning.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      It’s like God gave us free will but didn’t give us the instruction manual (or capability) to use it wisely.

      Is he just a cosmic joker? Or like the kid who says, “Let’s tear the wings off this fly and then see how well he does!”?

      • Selah

        Bob ,
        God has surely given us the instructiion manual : the Bible.Since you are not a believer in the God of Abraham , Isaac & Jacob , you as a natural , non-spiritual man will not accept or welcome the revelations of the Holy God of Israel > 1 Corinthians 2 : 14-16 . Solution to your ability to understand the His magnificent Word ? Begin to put your trust in His Son , Jesus Christ. Yahweh leads to Eternal life , and rebellion , disbelief , sadly will lead to eternal death.
        Revelation 22 : 17 gives a nice invitation for the Life , Bob , you are really desiring. Bob , lets be honest , you are thirsty and you need to drink from the fountain of life and not drink what you are drinking because you are just going to be be constantly thirsty !!

        • Richard S. Russell

          If somebody gave you what purported to be an instruction manual for your car or your computer, and you followed its advice, and your car or computer ended up working worse than before, wouldn’t you conclude that whoever wrote the manual was full of shit and just trying to scam you by pretending to know stuff that they were only making up?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Imagine if electricity worked like prayer “works.” Or cars or the internet or the telephone.

          I think believers need to find another word than “works” for what prayer does.

        • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

          I’m tired of the claim that atheists are unhappy, or feel the lack of God (“are thirsty”), or believe in God deep inside but can’t admit it.

          This atheist was much less happy as a Christian. I spent a long time as a Christian, and a year as a Christian “wrestling with doubts” but desperately wanting to believe. I was much happier when I dropped my religious beliefs. The world made much more sense, and there were fewer things to trouble and confuse me.

          (The world is still a terrible place, but at least I don’t spend all my time worrying about my non-Christian friends going to hell, or intercessory prayer not making sense, or the dubious ethics of a God demanding faith from those unable to give it.)

        • Kodie

          Let’s be honest, you’re headed toward eternal death as well. That’s what dying means. That’s what happens when you die. You don’t come back, you’ll be dead. We’ll all be dead. Eventually, and from then on, eternally dead. Nothing better and nothing worse is going to happen to you after that.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Selah:

          Yeah, I know there’s probably no point in arguing with you. Just habit, I guess.

          God has surely given us the instructiion manual : the Bible.

          How do you know it’s the Bible? Maybe God gave us the Gilgamesh epic. Or the Iliad. Or the Gitas.

          There are lots of ancient holy books. And lots of recent ones, too. I suggest you be objective and admit that your own stand won’t convince someone else without good evidence.

          disbelief , sadly will lead to eternal death.

          So what? That obviously doesn’t give you pause. Have you ever considered that you might wind up in Buddhist hell because you weren’t a good Buddhist? And so on, through many other religions …

        • Richard S. Russell

          “disbelief , sadly will lead to eternal death.”

          As it happens, so will belief … in anything!

          “The fact of having been born is a bad augury for immortality.”
          —George Santayana (1863–1953), American philosopher

        • Selah

          @ R S.R

          ” Then they will go away into eternal punishment ( hell ), BUT , those who are just and upright and in right standing with God into eternal life .”
          —– Jesus ( ????- ???? ) , Son of God

        • Richard S. Russell

          You say that — OK, OK, you’re quoting someone else who said that, but clearly you’re quoting it because you approve of it — but you haven’t been there (nor has anyone else), so why should I take your word for it? Bring back one of these people who’s blissfully experiencing eternal life (let’s say Saint Augustine) and have him testify to the accuracy of your statement, then I’ll sit up and take notice. Until then, you have the exact same evidence for the existence of an afterlife, Heaven, and Hell that you have for the existence of God, namely none whatsoever. It’s all just bullshit, endlessly repeated until the fearful and gullible think it’s true and start repeating it themselves. But the fact remains that not one single person has ever come back from Heaven to tell us diddly-squat about what it’s like. And nobody ever will, because it’s just a bullshit story invented to give people a sense that there’s some sort of poetic justice after you die, since poetic justice is so conspicuously absent from real life.

        • Eric D Red

          Let me just pre-empt a bad response. Or poison the well, depending on your point of view. Somebody having a near-death experience and seeing lights, or imagining they met relatives is not evidence. With the brain starving of oxygen, lots of weird visions are to be expected.

    • Darren

      I worked out a “proof” on another blog walking through how an Ominipotent / Omniscient God, in the tradition of Catholicism could have logically created all free beings who yet still always chose to be Good. It is long, but I would be happy to cross-post if there is any interest.

      The Theists I was engaging with thought it still violated Libertarian Free Will, but from my very limited understanding of LFW, I believed them to be wrong in the objection…

      • John Kesler

        I’d like to see it, Darren. Something that’s at least peripherally related is why an allegedly omniscient God, after destroying the world because of wickedness, allowed Ham on the ark, since Ham became the progenitor of the Canaanites (Genesis 10:6-20), a people for whom Yahweh sat around waiting for wickedness to become great enough so that he could destroy them (Genesis 15:16) and replace them with a people who were just as wicked (2 Kings 17, 21).

        • Darren

          John;

          This was a comment I wrote in Leah Libresco’s Unequally Yoked blog on the occasion of debating the Problem of Evil and the necessary existence of evil given God’s desire for humanity to have Free Will. It was a thought experiment on how an Omniscient / Omnipotent / Omnibenevolent God might create an actual “Best of All Possible Worlds” while still maintaining free will.

          I should note that I do not think this proves or supports the existence of such a God, nor that such a world could _actually_ be created, but in the spirit of the Thomist’s that I established such a creation as _logically_possible_. I would enjoy your thoughts.

          I had made the claim that an Omnipotent and Omniscient God could have created a best of all possible worlds, a world in which each inhabitant’s every thought, word, and deed was virtuous, and yet where each of those thoughts, words, and deeds would have been freely chosen, thus satisfying God’s supergoal of Free Will. I had claimed that God’s infinite foreknowledge would allow this, but it was objected that God does not have foreknowledge, that God exists extra-temporally, ‘outside’ of time, with all temporal moments occurring simultaneously (to the extent that it is logically coherent to use the words “occurring” and “simultaneous” when one is outside of time). Thus, it was claimed, my reasoning that God could have created a best of all possible worlds was invalid.

          It would not be the first of my claims found to be invalid, but if there is error, I do not think it lies in failure to understand God’s extra-temporal nature. Perhaps if I explain in greater detail, we can at least find the actual source of error, if error is to be found.

          Thus, a though experiment! I shall call upon one of my favorite conceptual spaces, the Library of Babel, and shall endeavor to do it justice.

          Imagine, an infinite library. Well, not infinite, not by a long shot, really, but still quite large. Enormously, stupendously large, in fact; a library extending a far as one can see, or ever could see in one’s lifetime. Spend a day walking in a straight line, still one would be within the library. Spend a week, and still one would be surrounded by nothing but shelves upon shelves of bound volumes.

          And what might be in this near infinity of books? Every story ever told, or which ever could be told. Not just that, but every possible variation of those stories.

          Let us restrict our wanderings to one very small, though still almost infinitely vast, section of the Library of Babel wherein we find one, and only one, story: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (I pick this one as most are familiar, and I know it intimately).

          In our small little corner of the library, we have HPtPS and every variation, slight or massive. Let’s ignore the versions with typographical errors, the versions in German or binary, the versions which are actually completely different stories altogether, the versions which are incoherent. It would still be a vast collection: every possible version of Harry Potter, where every possible thought, word, and deed of every character, extending backwards into the characters timelines, and forwards into their futures.

          Now, these characters exist within the confines of their universe, the book. From their perspective, events proceed from past to present to future, moment following moment, page following page. Yet, we readers exist outside of this time, and are free to disregard it at our pleasure. We can skip to the end, we can read through and then begin again at the beginning, though we know already the fate of each character.

          From the perspectives of the characters, each of them exercises free will in choosing their own thoughts, their own words, and their own deeds. Yet, from the perspective of the reader, we know that each is fated to play his part, to speak his lines, to enter and depart, love, hate, rejoice, and suffer as the author has decreed.

          Recall, though, that for every action, every decision, there is a sister volume where that choice was different. Prior to the decision, whatever that decision might be, grave or trivial, the two volumes were identical, in effect the same story, but after the choice, they diverge, each becoming distinct.

          Every choice, every possible decision from that choice, and every choice proceeding from that decision, and every possible variation on those choices and decisions for every character are to be found.

          The math escapes me.

          Now then, the reader might well ask, “Of all these endless varieties of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is the real one?”

          I think we would have to say that all of them are real, or at least that any one volume is just as real as any other volume. It would depend upon what the reader preferred. Somewhere, in this library, is the version of Harry Potter where: every thought, word, and deed of every character is Evil; all suffer in the most horrifying manner describable; all live in abject misery; a version that is an almost perfect Hell, the worst of all possible Harry Potters. I should not like to read it.

          There is also, though, a version where every thought, word, and deed of every character is Good, none suffer, all are happy and fulfilled. There are, in fact, many versions where all is virtue and happiness, but would they not be ‘boring’? What possible artistic merit might such a story possess? What reader would wish to read them? I might answer that a reader who wishes for his characters to be happy, to be virtuous and fulfilled, a reader who distained from inflicting torments for the sake of art might like to read it. But I do not have to give such an answer, I have one better.

          Somewhere in the library, is a version of Harry Potter where all is virtue and goodness, where none suffer, and all are fulfilled. Yes, we have already said so. But let us continue searching, for within the many versions just described, also resides one version possessing artistic merit, and not just some merit, but which is a most meaningful book, a book to draw forth tears from stone – the best of all possible Harry Potters.

          The objection that is forming is that these are only characters. They do not possess free will, they are fated to speak their lines as they are written. Whatever their apparent happiness or the profundity of their story, they are not free beings, they are mindless automatons; slaves to the author’s pen.

          Firstly, were one to be such a character, one might well disagree. From one’s own perspective, one feels free, one chooses freely this or that; it would seem nonsensical to be told otherwise. But, how would a character know? What test could one perform?

          You reply that the characters may not know, but we readers would.

          Fair enough, but I can do better.

          Let us now imagine the same library, the same section of Harry Potter, but now let us imagine that there is no author. No J.K Rowling to pen version after version, each slightly different than the last. Let us imagine instead that the books write themselves. The characters do, in fact, have legitimate and real free will. They choose this or that and chart their own fates.

          How, then, does this library look?

          It looks exactly the same.

          Free agents or not, every possible permutation is still present, the worst of all possible Harry Potters is still there, but so too is the best possible Harry Potter, not a word changed from before, but this time with all of the choices made freely by the characters themselves.

        • John Kesler

          Yes, if God can see into the future, he knows all possible outcomes and can rewrite the “story” before it ever becomes a reality.

        • Darren

          That runs afoul of Libertarian Free Will, though. This is better as God never writes the story at all, it writes itself. Nor does God need to “pick” one out of a bazillion uncountable permutations, the rules of the system just result in the best of all possible outcomes coalescing out of all possible outcomes, much like quantum superposition though I am not claiming this as an actual quantum phenomenon, just an example of how this is the sort of thing that actually does happen once we move past an Aristotelian model of causality.

          Free Will advocates then might take exception to God “rigging” the rules to ensure his preferred outcome results, but this is no more a violation of free will than gravity or the speed of light…

        • Richard S. Russell

          What a masterpiece of navel-gazing, all designed to get around the utter lack of any evidence whatsoever for the existence of God, so you’re reduced to these increasingly esoteric flights of fancy to attempt to obfuscate that plain, simple fact.

          The far-too-modestly named many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics treats your Library-of-Babel thot experiment (itself an offspring of the infinite library of Jorge Luis Borges) as literally true, and there’s not a deity anywhere in sight.

        • Darren

          Um, Richard, I think we are a bit confused here.

          I _did_ plainly state that I was using this argument to contest _against_ the Free Will theodicy…

          Also, I included a link to Borges in the post…

        • Richard S. Russell

          It is kind of you to say “we” are confused, when clearly it was only *I* who was confused.

        • Darren

          Well, my writing is sometimes (often) unclear… :)

    • JohnH

      what if the answer is yes and yes? Yes, they could sin in heaven but they won’t because to do so would remove them from heaven?

      • John Kesler

        Then I would tell them to read James 1:15 and compare this to Revelation 21:1-4:

      • John Kesler

        Then I would tell them to read James 1:15 and compare this to Revelation 21:1-4.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        What makes the most sense to me is that the beings in heaven have no interest in “sinning” because they’re enlightened. It’s like: I could stick my hand into the garbage disposer and turn it on, but why? That’d just be stupid, and I simply have no desire to do so.

        But this raises the question: if free will exists in heaven but no one sins because they’re enlightened, then why give humans free will but not give them the instruction manual to use it properly??

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I once ran a semi-controlled experiment to this effect.

    First, I typed out a string of random numbers on my computer (without looking at the screen) and saved the file, then closed it. Then, I marked down the time I woke up every morning for the next 32 days- if the “minutes” hand was odd, it was a 1, if the “minutes” hand was even, it was a 0. At the end of 32 days, I had a 32 bit string. Then I went to the middle number of the random numbers I typed out, treated the next 8 digits as hex values, and converted to a 32 bit binary string. Then I compared the values to see if they matched (I wrote down the proceedure beforehand, so God knew I what experiment I was running).

    There’s a 1 in 4 billion chance that I would get the entire string correct by chance, assuming my waking times were random and independant. I resolved that I was willing to take that level of risk as a false positive, and that I would accept an exact match as proof of God (I didn’t really consider Shermer’s last law)

    Turns out they didn’t match.

    My conclusion is that either a) God exists and is incapable/unwilling to directly interact with the natural world, b) God exists but did not want me to believe in him at that particular time, or c) God does not exist. C seems substantially more likely.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The answer that I’ve heard the most is a) because God doesn’t want to be your genie. This ignores, of course, where the NT says that God is pretty much your genie.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        This ignores, of course, where the NT says that God is pretty much your genie.

        The absurdity of statement can be ascertained by a cursory glance at the NT to see who calls who “Master.”

        • Kodie

          A technical rationalization. What really happened is that god is obviously not a genie, so religious people rationalize this by pretending to know why he refuses to be a genie – because he wants people to work for it. While it’s certainly within his powers, we know he has an aversion to granting wishes only by the fact that he doesn’t. We don’t know why. One suspicion is that he’s not really there.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          The absurdity of statement can be ascertained by a cursory glance at the NT to see who calls who “Master.”

          And the absurdity of that statement is shown by actually considering what I just said.

          As I’ve noted before, Jesus said that if you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. Jesus said that prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Jesus said that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Jesus said that all things are possible to him who believes. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.’ No limitations or delays are mentioned.

          If you want to get out of this by saying that the Bible is contradictory, that works.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          As I’ve noted before, Jesus said that if you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. Jesus said that prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Jesus said that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Jesus said that all things are possible to him who believes. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.’ No limitations or delays are mentioned.

          If you read the Bible as a sort of instruction manual on how to control God, I can understand how you could come to such conclusions. But if you change your view on what the Bible is then thee particular verses you raise aren’t nearly so problematic.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          Seems to me like a plain and fair reading of the Bible.

          “Problematic”? I don’t see any problems. The Bible is an ancient book of legends and myths, just like all the others.

          So what is the Bible view that gives one a different reading?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Seems to me like a plain and fair reading of the Bible.

          It is devoid of context

          “Problematic”? I don’t see any problems. The Bible is an ancient book of legends and myths, just like all the others.

          If that’s all you expect to find, I expect that you will not notice anything else.

          So what is the Bible view that gives one a different reading?

          Almost any other view would be more helpful. You could try viewing it as history (even if you view it as not necessarily accurate history as the Jesus Seminar does, it would be an improvement.) You could try viewing it as a narrative of God’s interaction with the world, focussing especially on Israel and culminating in Christ. You could view it as the binding documents for the community of God. But to view it as simply myths and legends seems to avoid dealing with the Bible fairly. You are bringing in assumptions that do not allow you to come to any conclusions other than that it is myths and legends.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          It is devoid of context

          The context was that they the gospels were fresh information. This thinking about the value of prayer was new (unlike today, when the idea that God acts like a genie is silly).

          If I’m missing the context, show it to me.

          If that’s all you expect to find, I expect that you will not notice anything else.

          Given all the prior examples, yes, that’s all I expect to find. However, I’m open minded enough to accept claims that there’s more.

          Almost any other view would be more helpful.

          I have no use for “helpful”; I only care about accurate. I want to know what the original hearers would’ve made of it.

          You could try viewing it as history

          Why? Were the gospels intended to be read that way? All the hair splitting on both sides about how the gospels are inconsistent vanishes away if we don’t see them as a poor attempt at journalism but as a story, with precise historical accuracy as not at all the goal.

          Yes, you could critique them as history, but the gospels do a poor job as such. I think other interpretations might be fairer.

          You are bringing in assumptions that do not allow you to come to any conclusions other than that it is myths and legends.

          As you should know, I’m happy to consider claims that it’s history or that it’s at least accurate in a grand way (the overall story is true, for example). However, the evidence doesn’t support this interpretation.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          The context was that they the gospels were fresh information. This thinking about the value of prayer was new (unlike today, when the idea that God acts like a genie is silly).

          How did first-century Jews view prayer?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          How did first-century Jews view prayer?

          If you’re getting to something, it’d be quicker if you’d just get to it.

          If I’m misinterpreting the (many) NT passages claiming the efficacy of prayer–which I’ll admit is possible–then fill me in.

          I take them at face value.

          I have these passages as promising great things from prayer:
          Matthew 6:25–34 + 7:7 + 17:20 + 21:22+ 18:19
          Mark 9:23 + 11:24
          Luke 1:37
          John 14:12–14
          James 5:15–16

          Let me know how I should be interpreting them.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Bob,
          You say:

          The context was that they the gospels were fresh information. This thinking about the value of prayer was new (unlike today, when the idea that God acts like a genie is silly).

          So I say:

          How did first-century Jews view prayer?

          If you want to bring a theory that Jesus’ teaching on prayer was new, I would like to know in which way you think it was new to those he taught it to.

          If you don’t think Jesus’ teaching on prayer was new, then surely he was referring to a shared understanding of the nature of God, wich should surely provide context for his remarks.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          The context that seems relevant to me is the context of the individual prayer claims (cited above). Am I misconstruing them? Do I lack some background to correctly interpret them?

          If you really need to change the subject to Jesus’s teachings on prayer vs. OT teachings, explain why this is relevant. Reading the NT claims for prayer honestly sounds like the best approach to me.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          and none of those promises come with specifics,and are therefore open to interpretation, just as in most myths.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I like the term “Cosmic Bellhop.” I believe it came from Mircea Eliade, or at least, one of his followers.

    • Darren

      Nice. Very HPMoR of you.

  • smrnda

    On studying why some atheists convert to Christianity. I don’t know of any systematic studies of this, so I consider it a gap that needs to be filled. At present I can come up with a few possibilities:

    1. Atheists convert once they encounter an argument for a religion that was better than the ones they’d heard before.

    2. Atheists convert because of something other than just finding a better argument. 2a. This could be some experience they cannot explain that they believe comes from a god, 2g. or it could be some kind of personal or social influence like getting into a romantic relationship with a believer.

    I myself don’t know which is going to turn out to be more prevalent, but obviously 2b would present problems. Anybody know of any such research?

    • Dain Q. Gore

      A best friend of mine has experienced 2a.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

    Money. A whole pile of money. At least, this seems to be the point of the Templeton prize.

    • Richard S. Russell

      “I wish that God would give me a clear, unmistakable sign, like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.”
      —Woody Allen, American filmmaker

      • Darren

        Nice.

        Ranks up there with, “Remove my brain!? But, that’s my second favorite organ!”

  • Nox

    Change my mind on which part?

    The general notion of a creator? The divinity of Jesus? Heaven and hell? The inerrancy of the bible? The inerrancy of the pope?

    Religions claim a lot of things. Including a lot of things that don’t really suggest each other, and are only seen as related because they are proposed as part of the same belief system. If someone wanted to convince me an entire belief system were true, they would need to convince me each part was true (or convince me that one part which demanded all the other parts was definitely true).

    You want to convince me there’s probably a god? That’s the easiest part of this whole thing. Show me evidence of a god, or any real thing that would be better explained by invoking god. For the general concept of “a god” (which I’m not definitely opposed to) I could be convinced by a good enough inductive argument (meaning the premises have to be demonstrably true, and the conclusions have to follow from the premises), with or without proper evidence.

    I only gave up deism because it is so unnecessary. A universe created by natural processes with no overseer would look suspiciously similar to a universe created by natural processes and a non-intervening god. If someone could show me how that’s wrong, I would have to grant the deist god.

    Theism? Any version of an omnipotent, intervening god? Show me evidence, and then he’s got a lot of not intervening to answer for. And then maybe we’ll talk about whether I could call him the good guy.

    Any version of the christian god?

    No f*cking chance.

    It will sound closed minded to some, but there is nothing that could convince me to convert to christianity. I was a christian, and then I studied what the christian church believes and where those beliefs come from. And that is why I’m not a christian anymore. Once you realize how much of a hand man had in shaping the word of god, it becomes impossible to ever consider it the word of god.

    I know for a fact yhvh doesn’t exist, but the existence of their god isn’t the only thing christianity claims, and it’s nowhere near the only thing they’d have to establish to convince me that the belief system is right.

    If I somehow did encounter good evidence that the god of the bible is real, I would openly acknowledge his existence, and then I would refuse to ever serve such a vile prick.

    The idea that the christian god is worthy of our devotion? Incompatible with what christianity claims about their god. The idea that the church is the ultimate source of morality? Incompatible with even a cursory reading of the church’s history.

    The miracles of Jesus? I’m gonna need a much more credible source than the gospels for that. The idea that some of Jesus’ teachings have value and should be kept regardless of their source? I already believe that right now. The idea that Jesus is the son of god or that Jesus’ teachings (assuming we know what they are) represent the pinnacle of wisdom? This belief can only be maintained by not knowing about all the better philosophers who said better things than Jesus.

    Heaven and hell? Misunderstood readings of concepts the church plagiarized from earlier religions. Promising an unverifiable reward/punishment to gullible people is evidence of nothing more than willingness to lie. The proponents of a belief system being willing to lie is not a piece of positive evidence for the truth of that belief system. So for this one I’d need to literally witness heaven or hell (either one will do, I could take the other on faith).

    The reliability/infallibility of the bible? Unlike most people who believe that, I’ve actually read the bible. It averages two errors a page. So inerrancy is right out. The only way I could ever believe the bible was a reliable source of truth would be to not know what it says (which is how most believers achieve this belief).

    But those things which count against christianity or the christian god do not necessarily count against the general concept of god.

    So, yeah, change my mind on which part?

    • Selah

      Nox ,
      Let’s call a spade a spade. Me thinks you were never a Christian in the first place ! Please don’t include the Catholic religion in your rants because that system does not jive with infallible , inerrant Word the God of Abraham , Isaac & Jacob . Where do you see Popes mentioned in God’s true word? . Nox , for your sake I hope you relent because if you stay in your present condition and attitude it’s going to be lights out and extreme darkness and eternal suffering with the Great Deciever who began his mission with Adam & Eve in the garden. Start a journey back to trust the One who has your life in His hands.

      • Kodie

        Let’s call a spade a spade? You think you have all the answers that you are impervious to reality. Like, tightly wound inside a thick shell and nothing gets in – nothing gets out either because you sound like a crazy person talking. No more considering you in my responses. Life in the fantasy world sounds like you panic about everything, and you’re so arrogant you condescend to people. You don’t believe Nox was a real Christian? That is another big fat hunk of baloney you people believe without thinking. You’re really locked in there, don’t expect company.

        • Selah

          Kodie ,
          I am a ” fool ” for Christ .Whose ” fool ” are you ? . ” Claiming to be wise they became fools ”
          Romans 1 : 21 , 22 .

        • Kodie

          Christ is not real. So you are just a fool. I’m a human being animal citizen of earth. I don’t believe any magical things or whatever fantastical horrors you think I’m headed for after I die. Wishful thinking is not a thing I bother doing. You’re not safe from eternal death any more than I am, and you’re also spending a lot of the only life you have until you are dead forever worrying about things that aren’t true and insulting people on the internet. You imply things because you’re brainwashed and fearful what happens to people without Jesus. Nothing bad. Your imagination about what happens is really off the mark.

          YOU DO NOT GET IT.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Selah:

          Isn’t it pretty crazy to be quoting scripture to atheists?

        • Reginald Selkirk

          ” but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
          Matt 5:22

          I’ll save a seat for you in Hell, Selah.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.” (KJV).

          I Corinthians 4:10

      • Richard S. Russell

        You don’t think Catholics are Christians, eh? Well, my guess is that they probably don’t think you’re a true Christian, either. So how do we break the tie? I know! If Jesus or God would just show up in person, point to 1 or the other of you and say “This one’s right, that one’s wrong”, it would all be soooooo easy, wouldn’t it? I got me a hundred bux right here says it ain’t gonna happen! Let’s find out how big a fool for Christ you are. If you’re really, truly convinced that Jesus is real, you should be willing to give me 10-to-1 odds that he’ll show up before next Xmas and tell us all who the true Christians are, but I’ll settle for even money, $100 straight up. Deal?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Elijah had the cojones. In 1 Kings 18, he has a duel to the death with the 450 prophets of Baal. Not $100 but lives on the line. And God came when he was called.

          Surely God cares about providing evidence now as much as then, eh?

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Please don’t include the Catholic religion in your rants because that system does not jive with infallible , inerrant Word the God of Abraham , Isaac & Jacob .

        When I have heard this in the past, it was from Southern Baptists.

      • Nox

        Selah,

        “Me thinks you were never a Christian in the first place”

        Why do you think that? And which definition of “christian” are you using to say I wasn’t one?

        You are not really in a position to accurately judge whether I ever was a christian. You don’t really know anything of my history or beliefs beyond what I’ve stated in one online comment.

        I could tell you I was raised christian and had no other option. I could tell you I confessed the lord Jesus with my mouth and believed with my heart that god had raised him from the dead. I could tell you that I have spent thousands of hours in prayer trying to find god’s will for my life. I could tell you I once believed I had a relationship with Jesus. I could tell you that you could never f*cking imagine the sacrifices I have willingly made for god. And those things would be true, but you’d have no particular reason to believe them.

        We’re all anonymous here. I don’t actually know if you are really a christian. Maybe you are an atheist or a muslim trying to discredit christianity by making sh*tty arguments on behalf of Jesus. I don’t know. Either you are who you say you are or you are not. But the only way I can engage with your online persona at all is by acting as though you are accurately representing yourself unless there is some good reason to think otherwise.

        It is not out of the ordinary for a christian to be defending christianity on the internet. And neither for that matter is it an extraordinary claim for a former christian to have lost their faith. It happens all the time. And the reasons which drove me away from my faith (the errors and atrocities in the bible and the unchecked dishonesty of the church) are things you can observe for yourself. Even if you don’t consider those good enough reasons for you to deconvert, I’m sure you realize many people do deconvert for exactly those reasons.

        So on what reason are you basing your declaration that I was never a christian?

        If you are defining “christian” as “someone who does not later deconvert”, then subsequent events do kind of disqualify me. But that is a silly definition, and one no one uses.

        “Please don’t include the Catholic religion in your rants”

        Why not? The catholic church invented the form of christianity that all protestant sects are derived from. It is your version of god that is a knockoff of theirs. Not the other way around.

        For the record, I was never catholic. I was using the pope as an example of beliefs built upon belief in a deity that are not necessarily demanded by belief in a deity. If a god exists, that does not in itself mean it is the christian god. If the christian god exists, that does not in itself mean the pope is his authorized spokesman.

        My point in mentioning the pope assumes the reader already knows there is no biblical support for the papacy.

        “because that system does not jive with infallible , inerrant Word the God”

        As I said upthread, the bible being the infallible, inerrant word of god doesn’t jive with all the failures and errors within the bible. You can’t get 19 verses into the first chapter of Genesis before you read something so obviously untrue that no modern christian believes it (and it doesn’t get any better from there). If the bible is god’s instruction manual, why does god not seem to know anything about his creation.

        “Claiming to be wise they became fools ”

        You’re not convincing us of the truth of scripture by quoting verses without making any attempt to show that they are actually true. We already don’t accept “the bible says so” as a standard of truth. By bringing up Romans 1, you are only reminding us that christians will blindly repeat anything they are told regardless of how flagrantly stupid it is.

        If you believe anything in the “word of god” is by definition infallible because it is in the bible, if you read it without considering any possibility that it could be wrong, I can see how you’d have trouble realizing how f*cking ridiculous Paul’s statements there are. But they are ridiculous.

        What Paul says in the section of Romans you quoted there amounts to “people don’t have an excuse for not believing in invisible things”. That is just plain stupid. And it is in the bible. And you called attention to this stupid thing in the bible while attempting to defend the bible.

        “with the Great Deciever who began his mission with Adam & Eve in the garden.”

        One more data point for my theory that people who claim to believe in the infallibility of the bible have never actually read it.

        Who was the deceiver in the garden?

        We’re not even talking about some obscure string of begats. This is one of the most well known parts of the bible, and people still have no idea what it says.

        According to the book you’re trying to defend here, god tells Adam he will die if he eats the fruit (Genesis 2:17). The serpent tells Eve they will not die, but their eyes will be opened and they will gain knowledge of good and evil, and god is afraid of the threat that would pose to him (Genesis 3:4-5).

        Clearly, one of these characters is lying.

        We find out which one when they eat the fruit. Their eyes are opened (Genesis 2:7), they gain knowledge of good and evil, and god is afraid of the threat that poses to him (Genesis 3:22).

        So according to Genesis, god was lying to them, and the serpent was telling them the truth.

        “I hope you relent because if you stay in your present condition and attitude it’s going to be lights out and extreme darkness and eternal suffering”

        When I said earlier that the christian god was a vile prick, I was talking about the god who inspired you to think threats are the same thing as arguments.

        Is this your reason for believing, or are you just suggesting I should be such a lying coward as to falsely profess belief because of impotent threats? Do you only follow your god because he threatens you? Do you think that says anything positive about your god?

        I’m not afraid of your empty threats. I see them as only another sign that your religion has nothing but empty threats to offer. I already believed in hell. I already was afraid of hell. And I’ve already gotten over it.

        If I somehow do find myself facing your imaginary god on his judgment day, I will judge him to be an unelected tyrant who has ruled the Universe incompetently and unfairly, and I will proudly walk into the lake of fire.

        • Nox
        • Bob Seidensticker

          Nox: I fixed a couple of blockquote errors above …

        • Nox

          Thanks.

        • billwald

          Atheist fanatics are as goofy as religious fanatics. Both kinds of fanatic post on line to preach their cause and neither is here to learn anything. Both kinds MUST have the last word and will keep a thread going for weeks, repeating the same stuff over and over and over . . . .

          Me, I mostly ask questions which neither kind of fanatic seems to understand or prefers to erect a straw man. If someone has an objective test or procedure for differentiating between “god” and “always was,” I would very much like to read it. Either god “always was” or the multiverse “always was. If their is a third possibility, I would like to read it. Religion is about “first cause.” Everything else is details that don’t matter until first cause is resolved.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Religion is about “first cause.” Everything else is details that don’t matter until first cause is resolved.

          And that would be the cause that you’re preaching. Does that make you as goofy as you think the rest of us are?

          A (not necessarily the) 3rd possibility, which has already been mentioned several times in this discussion, but which you evidently chose to ignore, is that the Universe sprang into being spontaneously, without cause.

          You also chose to ignore my earlier question about how, if you truly believe that nothing came from nothing, you can explain where God came from. Surely you aren’t willing to allow “always was” as a possibility, since you assert that that’s an either/or situation that can’t co-exist with the idea of God. So where, then? Who made God? (Bonus points if you can see where this is headed.)

        • billwald

          I’m goofy as a three dollar bill.

          >You also chose to ignore my earlier question about how, if you truly believe that nothing came from nothing, you can explain where God came from.

          I have stated several time that I don’t have a clue where god came from or where an “always was” universe came from.

          >Surely you aren’t willing to allow “always was” as a possibility, since you assert that that’s an either/or situation that can’t co-exist with the idea of God. So where, then? Who made God? (Bonus points if you can see where this is headed.)

          It isn’t going anywhere. Not until you learn how to read.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I’m surprised you didn’t just cite “No True Scotsman” and leave it at that :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Nox:

      I could be convinced by a good enough inductive argument (meaning the premises have to be demonstrably true, and the conclusions have to follow from the premises), with or without proper evidence.

      But how do you avoid mistaking aliens (especially lying aliens) for a god?

      The only way I could ever believe the bible was a reliable source of truth would be to not know what it says (which is how most believers achieve this belief).

      :)

      • Nox

        Bob,

        “But how do you avoid mistaking aliens (especially lying aliens) for a god?”

        Depends how good they are at lying. If it’s me they have to convince, their story needs to at least be consistent with my own observations. If there appeared to be a reasonable chance of aliens, I would avoid that mistake by noticing the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

        That is not to say I couldn’t be fooled. But I could only be fooled by something that at least looked believable.

        Sufficiently powerful aliens could create a scenario where it made sense to invoke god. They could even potentially rig the game so god would be a far more sensible explanation than aliens. But the person within this scenario would still have to work with the information they have and come up with the best available explanation.

        If I found myself facing such a scenario (and by “scenario”, I’m talking about a syllogism as much as a visitation) where god was the most reasonable explanation (even being conscious of the possibility of error) the most reasonable course of action would be to guess god.

        So that’s what it would take for me to acknowledge the existence of a god. But as I hinted at with my statement about yhvh, worship is not the same as acknowledging existence. And I would not immediately fall down and worship any being that met my standard for being called a god.

        If I directly encountered a being with the ability to alter matter at will, I would not take that as sufficent proof that they created the Universe. That would prove only that they had powers beyond mine.

        Think of something like Q from Star Trek, a being that exists within the Universe, but can manipulate anything in that universe at will. Imagine an entity like that just materializes right in front of you and starts altering matter and creating sh*t ex nihilo. You would obviously have to concede something out of the ordinary is happening. You would have to concede that this entity exists and is able to do things you can’t explain. At that point the question of whether to call it “a god” would be mostly semantic.

        If life on Earth is a result of the same natural processes which apply everywhere else, there probably is life on other planets. Some of it would probably be less “powerful” than us. Some would probably be more “powerful” than us. It is not at all unlikely that somewhere is a being with natural or technological capabilities so far beyond what we could comprehend that to our perspective it would be omnipotent for all intents and purposes. Again, whether you want to call it “a god” is semantic.

        But if that being then claimed to be the original creator of the Universe, they would be claiming more than is demonstrated by their demonstration of seemingly unlimited power. One guy having a better raygun doesn’t have any bearing on how the Universe was formed, and neither do miracles. They need to show how they fit in with the formation of the Universe and why they offer a more sensible explanation than what we would have without them.

        And if they claimed to be the all powerful governing agent of creation they would still face the Epicurean Dilemma. If they are intervening, why have they not stepped in to intervene when they should have?

        Of course the god just showing up and simply telling you they were real would kind of nullify the most interesting part of the “what would convince you?” question.

        In the world we live in now, where god is a concept some people believe in, where no god is apparent, and no aliens are writing “Jesus saves” on the sky, and none can be expected to in the foreseeable future, what would it take to change your mind?

        Since god is not expected to be an observed entity (for any version which is expected to be observed, not showing up in the real world is a major point against), the more pressing question in the current world is “what inductive reason to believe would convince you there is a god, in the continued lack of direct observable evidence for one’s existence”.

        This is where my answer is not representative of most atheists. Most would say they don’t believe in god because of a lack of evidence and it would take evidence to convince them. I stopped believing in god because god is not a sensible explanation, not because god is unobserved. I always took for granted that god is invisible.

        So what I’m looking for isn’t a miracle or a divine visitation. What I’m looking for a good argument. Something like what the Summas of Aquinas pretend to be. A set of observable truths (they need to be actually true), which taken together point to god.

        Aquinas’ version would be a bit much to get into here, but we’re all familiar with William Lane Craig’s version of the Moral Argument. It states (1) Objective moral values couldn’t exist if god didn’t exist, (2) Objective moral values do exist, (3) Therefore god exists.

        This argument doesn’t establish its conclusion since (1)divine command would make morality less objective, (2) Craig completely fails to demonstrate that objective moral values do exist, and (3) the existence of objective moral values does not require a deity. But something in the basic shape of Craig’s arguments that wasn’t so flimsy, would be the closest we could get to evidence for an completely unobservable god even if one did exist.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Nox:

          Depends how good they are at lying.

          My assumption: very, very good (if they wanted to be). If we think of how magical our technology would appear to someone just 200 years ago, aliens a million years more advanced would be indistinguishable from the supernatural. Of course, they could clarify, “No, this is technology and science, not supernatural or magic.”

          At that point the question of whether to call it “a god” would be mostly semantic.

          Interesting point. And in with regard to what this being (either alien or god) could do to you, it doesn’t matter. But still, it would be nice to know what we’re talking about.

          But if that being then claimed to be the original creator of the Universe, they would be claiming more than is demonstrated by their demonstration of seemingly unlimited power.

          Agreed. If they claimed to have created the universe, you could say, “Prove it. Make one for me.” If we assume that that’s impractical, you’re back to the indistinguishability problem.

  • Darren

    This idea is not my own, it comes from a blog comment over on one of the other Patheos: Athiest channels, perhaps Uncredible HallQ. My apologies for the failure to attribute correctly, but I do not recall the precise source.

    ”I would simply ask God to convince me. An all-powerful, all-knowing, being that wanted to be known by me would be able to devise a perfectly convincing demonstration, far beyond anything my limited mind could ever conceive.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Darren:

      I’ve heard that one myself. Good insight. And the fact that God hasn’t provided atheists with that convincing evidence makes you think that he’s either an SOB who enjoys seeing people broast in hell or (dare I say it?) he doesn’t exist.

  • Darren

    He could always start by making it rain inside my car…

  • Bobby G

    “As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. Indigenous humans have always been sane because they have always been mystic. They permit the twilight.”
    -GKC

  • Michael J

    I don’t think that I would require an inerrant Holy Book because the writers of the Holy Book could be more like tuning forks resonating with God rather than receiving direct revelations. Also I think that any of the miracles above could be done by sufficiently advanced Aliens.
    Rather I think that the answer would come out of Cosmology. Physicists have found that given the laws of physics our Universe would be bound to appear. This raises the next question of how did these particular laws appear?
    God might very well appear as part of that solution. Not as an alternative to “I don’t know” but as part of the answer.

    Another one would be for God to have encoded a message in pi. Which I read in a science fiction book somewhere.

    • Richard S. Russell

      The book was quite possibly Carl Sagan’s Contact, made into a pretty good movie starring Jodie Foster. But I can rock-solid guarantee you that any code you care to name will appear somewhere in π, because it’s an infinite non-repeating irrational number, and that’s the sort of thing that happens with infinities. So there you go: a proof for God, approved by you, guaranteed by me.

      • Freak

        Well, sum(n = 1 to inf: 10^-n!) is also irrational and transcendental, but it never contains any digits but 0 and 1.

        (I do agree that pi probably contains every code eventually.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Michael:

      This raises the next question of how did these particular laws appear?

      An interesting question, though perhaps unanswerable with any certainty.

      But note that the Christian jumping in with, “Oh, you can’t answer it? Well, I can!” is meaningless. The Flying Spaghetti Monster grounds the laws of physics as well as Yahweh.

    • Dain Q. Gore

      The idea of resonation especially “rang true” with me, as I was just reading that the Jewish interpretation of Torah is that it is intended to be vague (they used the phrase “Innate Ambiguity” on the site).

  • T. J.

    Does anyone else have a secret password? I have a phrase that I have memorized but not written down and not told anybody. If God wants to get in touch with me and assuming he is omniscient enough to read my mind he can send someone to recite the password, or somehow recite it Himself and I promise I will be all ears. It has not happened yet though, and to tell the truth, I am not holding my breath

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I recently saw a commercial where a psychic takes various people off the street into a tent and then tells them all kinds of personal stuff, including bank account numbers. After the person is sufficiently amazed/freaked out, they pull down a curtain, and there’s a bunch of hackers who were, in real time, finding this stuff and sending it (earpiece, I’m guessing?) to the “psychic.”

      I forget the origin of the commercial (public service announcement maybe?), but stage magicians like this can do some amazing stuff. As James Randi says, it takes a magician to uncover a magician, and a lay person like me could easily be fooled.

      I think I’d need a big demonstration from God to arouse my interest.

    • Kodie

      I have a word that I dreamed once that nobody knows what it is. It might be a word in another language but it was in the dream a name for something abstract and a code between me and the person with me in the dream that I interpreted as meaning something else that it sounded like he was saying. It’s the kind of thing you might hear if you were listening to two people who sound like they’re speaking English but can’t make out what they’re saying. I would not really say it’s impossible for someone else to stumble upon this word. I had at some other point written a short story with a mysterious phrase that means something else if you hear it out loud rather than read it, but I forget what it is specifically. I like word games like that, I think there is a party game based on this concept.

      But I think you mean like Spy Speak. I like this example from Lost:

      Desmond: Are you him?
      Locke: Yes. Yes I am.

      Desmond: What did one snowman say to the other snowman?
      Locke: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
      Desmond: Get rid of the knife. You’re not him!

  • Bob Seidensticker

    Karl:

    I have no problems with an evolution or a universe billions of years old.

    I’m surprised then at your praise of anything Hugh Ross said or is involved with, but whatever.

    As I do not see Genesis 1′s purpose as giving scientific data

    When it says, “Things went down like this …” and it’s wrong, that’s is damning evidence against the book.

    It doesn’t have to claim to be a science textbook for this to be a problem. Yes, I see workarounds from your side (God was pleased to work within the false cosmology of the day), but this is a blindingly glaring opportunity for God to show his godliness that he turned up. That can’t be ignored.

    the particular word that was used in the language for sky intimated the sky was solid or not is hardly here or there.

    The Bible describes how the earth is put together. The Bible is wrong. Yes, this is relevant.

    Why would someone treat a text as holy if it appeared nonsense to them?

    A trick question, perhaps? Because God told them to treat it as holy. Easy, right?

    God could say, “Let’s get a few things straight. There is no canopy of water overhead; the earth is a spinning ball; the earth goes around the sun …” Sure, I agree that you don’t want a science textbook. But don’t pretend that the Bible can be completely totally wrong (and a mirror of the wrong thinking of the time) without consequences.

  • http://nw-politics.blogspot.com/?spref=fb Virginia Fitzpatrick

    I do hope that a supernatural being does not come around to convince me that there is a God with a mission for me. When the angel Gabriel spoke to the illiterate Mohammed and made him read and write, Mohammed became suicidally insane. M. feared he was hallucinating. To avoid that mental chaos he did finally convert.

    I find Secular Buddhism as described by Stephen Batchelor more comforting. Since I have not been struck by lightening or suffered more than my share of misfortunes, I assume that agnostic Buddhism is safe enough. I do realize that I am being more pragmatic than apologetic, but you asked a personal question and I am giving a personal answer.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks.

      If you like Buddhism, you might like the Tao Te Ching as well. Quite short and quite enigmatic.

  • Dan

    Isn’t the existence of the universe evidence of God since nothing can come from nothing? To me, a beginningless line of effects seems more unbelievable than a creator, so I choose to believe in God. He makes more sense.

    • Richard S. Russell

      Nope. First off, you simply assume that nothing can come from nothing, yet it happens constantly, all around you, down at the quantum level. The fact that you are using a computer shows that you’re able to take advantage of quantum effects, even if you don’t understand them. (Incidentally, our understanding is due to science, not religion, which has never discovered anything worth a damn.)

      Secondly, all you’re doing is pushing the problem back a notch. If it were really true that nothing can come from nothing, then where did God come from?

      Thirdly, even if we ignore the above 2 points, why do you assume that the universe was created by a god (let alone a particular god) and not, say, the Vogon Constructor Fleet or a bunch of brownies and elves who got bored with shoes and sandals and decided to try something more ambitious?

      No, God makes less sense than any of the many possible alternatives.

      Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. [Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.] (Occam’s Razor)”
      —William of Ockham, “Quodlibeta Septem”, 1320

      • Bob Seidensticker

        (Dang–your comment beat mine again.)

        • Richard S. Russell

          I think it’s because the blog owner likes me better. 8^D

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Dan:

      Isn’t the existence of the universe evidence of God since nothing can come from nothing?

      Who says that nothing can come from nothing?

      Perhaps the universe is nothing because the positive energy is balanced out by the negative energy (gravity).

      As to the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” why imagine that nothing is more likely?

      To me, a beginningless line of effects seems more unbelievable than a creator, so I choose to believe in God. He makes more sense.

      We have zero widely accepted evidence of anything supernatural, which is why a Creator is an incredibly bold hypothesis in my mind.

      On the other hand, we have lots of puzzles that science hasn’t answered yet. “What caused the Big Bang?” is yet one more. “Science has unanswered questions” is an impossibly weak argument in favor of a god.

  • Dan

    I’m a layman with no background in science beyond high school and a book by Stephen Hawking, but the idea that the universe can come literally from nothing seems absurd. Isn’t cause and effect a fact? Are you saying there is evidence that something can come from literally nothing?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Dan:

      We live in a Middle World. The very small (quantum stuff) and the very large (universe, black holes, etc.) are, not surprisingly, odd and counterintuitive to brains adapted to the Middle World.

      Y’know when an alpha particle is created when it comes out of a decaying nucleus? There may not be a cause for that. When two virtual particles appear in the vacuum, there may not be a cause for that, either. The universe started as a quantum particle–why demand that there be a cause for that?

      And thanks for your open and honest questions. Many believers have no interest in asking questions that might rock their belief boat.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Are you saying there is evidence that something can come from literally nothing?

      I’m saying that our small bit of knowledge about reality makes it arrogant to conclude that this is impossible.

    • Richard S. Russell

      You are absolutely 100% correct that it seems absurd, because it’s so far outside our daily experience. But, yes, something can come from literally nothing, way down at the teeniest, tiniest level where it’s hard to detect. Here’s an explanation of it:
         http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pair_production

      Don’t feel at all bad about being skeptical. You’re in excellent company: “I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘But how can it be like that?’ because you will go ‘down the drain’ into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.” —Richard Feynman (1918-1988), American physicist

      But Feynman, like good scientists everywhere, followed the evidence where it led, whether it seemed to make sense or not. And the evidence is unmistakable that spontaneous creation does indeed happen all the time all around us (and even inside us).

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Richard:

        Pair production is a good example of things that, from our perspective, seem absurd, but I would say that pair production is a good example of a causeless event/thing rather than something from nothing. The pair comes from vacuum energy, I believe, which is not nothing.

    • John Kesler

      Scientists know from observation that mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore, the universe has always existed. Mass-energy existed in a different form 13.7 billion years ago, but it existed nonetheless. The question “How could the universe come from nothing?” starts with the faulty premise that “nothing” existing must be the default condition, and because something exists, at some point someone or something must have brought about the universe. Think about your car. You may think that it began to exist in 2008 or whenever it was made, but in fact, it was created *in its present form* in that year; its components always existed. Positing a God who predates the universe solves nothing, and if one believes in the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh as creator, are we to believe that he made the universe millions of years ago, then sat around waiting for Abraham to be born so he could really get down to business?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        John K:

        are we to believe that [God] made the universe millions of years ago, then sat around waiting for Abraham to be born so he could really get down to business?

        Or, that he sat around for trillions of years just watching TV until he decided that it’d be fun to have a universe?

    • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

      “Isn’t cause and effect a fact?”

      Sort of. The universe is probabilistic at it’s core. This is what quantum mechanics explains. For example, if you know where a particle is now and you want to know where it will be in one second, you may only be able to know that it has a 50% chance of being in one place and a 50% chance of being in another place. If one particle acts on another particle, you can only know what will happen in terms of probabilities. If you know a cause, you can only find out what the effect is by looking at it, not just by knowing the cause.

      At this point most people want to say that this is a function of our own ignorance. If we knew everything about the situation, we would know exactly what effect will be produced by a cause and how systems evolve in time. Bell’s Theorem shows that this is not true and that the universe is, bizarrely enough, inherently probabilistic.

      So why don’t you see random things happen all of the time? Medium-sized systems (like you and everything you see) contain millions of particles, all acting randomly. When you add up the randomness, it averages out to something predictable. Imagine that you have a 10,000 x 10,000 grid of little squares. You flip a coin. Whenever it comes up heads you color a square white, and whenever it comes up tails you color a square black. From close up, this looks pretty random. But overall, you will get about 50% heads coin tosses, and the whole thing will look grey from a distance.

      So at the smallest scales physics is probabilistic. But larger objects — all of the ones that you observe — change in time in a way that appears deterministic.

  • Dan

    I was thinking of God as not a material thing but a supernatural being unique

  • duane

    First principles are everything. If you want to find God you must believe He exists and rewards those who seek him.

    • Kodie

      Rewards them with what?

    • Richard S. Russell

      But I don’t want to find God. Everything that his very biggest fans say about him makes it clear that he’s the biggest asshole in the Universe by a gargantuan margin. Even if he did exist, he’d be the last guy I’d ever want to have a damn thing to do with. Ick. Ugh. Stay far away from me, God, you unmitigated jerk.

      • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

        You call God an unmitigated jerk, but you don’t explain what’s wrong with him. You say he would be the last person you would anything to do with. Why? Hypothesize that he exists and is exactly what people say he is. Why is that a bad thing?

        • Richard S. Russell

          Have you ever actually read the Bible? According to the most devoted accounts of his most devoted believers, Yahweh is the most barbaric, cruel, heartless, sadistic, torturing, butchering, murderous, pettily vindictive, unforgiving archfiend in all of fiction. There are countless example of his assholery, including the giant grand-daddy of them all, the omnicide of the Great Flood. Good thing it’s only fiction and he’s not real.

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          I have read the Bible, multiple times, multiple translations, some texts even in the original. I don’t dispute the record of the events you describe, but I do dispute your interpretation of the entire book. The events are elements of a story that is not complete till you get to the end. The story is why God’s love matters. I think the fact that God creates people free to choose whether to serve him matters, and that freedom of choice explains a lot of the disasters you choke on. The overarching story is that God loves people so much he is willing to sacrifice himself for them, even though some will always prefer to be crushed in a rockslide rather than love him back.
          You may not believe it, but God loves you anyway. All these people who are talking with you are God’s messengers of his love, sharing him the best way words in black and white can do. You may prefer a rockslide, and if so, God won’t stop it from falling on you, but don’t think he wants that to happen. He wants you to be free, and freely to choose to love him, as he loves you. Christ died an unthinkably cruel death because he preferred to be the one hit by the rockslide. From beginning to end of the Bible, from beginning to end of time, God stretches out his arms in loving invitation to every person to be part of his family. It could include you, but it is your choice. You have the choice to reach out to God any time you are ready, because he will be reaching out to you till your dying breath. That is the story of the Bible.

        • Richard S. Russell

          “Christ died an unthinkably cruel death …”

          I am staggered that you can empathize with the “unthinkably cruel death” of Jesus but be totally oblivious to the unthinkable cruelty (allegedly) committed, commanded, or condoned by the Biblical God on literally billions of people and countless trillions of living creatures. Have you ever seen a depiction of waterboarding? That’s fake, simulated drowning, and it’s over within a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, it’s rightly considered to be torture, and is described as such by anyone who’s ever undergone it. How much worse, then, is actual drowning! That’s the “loving invitation” that the “outstretched arms” of God offered to the entire planet, if one is to believe the Noah myth. (Not that I do, but that’s the claim made for him.)

          Frankly, I wouldn’t wish that kind of terrifying, excruciating death on my worst enemy, let alone somebody I supposedly love. But your God would — and is even proud of it — and if you can’t see him for the fiendish, sick, sadistic bastard that the Bible so clearly indicates that he is, you are off your rocker.

          If God had done 1% of the harm to your family that he (supposedly) visited on, say, the Amalekites, you’d be cursing his name, not praising it, yet you are completely indifferent to the suffering of others as long as it’s in the name of your imaginary sky daddy. It’s possible that your insensitivity may be limited to just the (claimed) actions of God, but for anyone who’s that unfeeling in general, psychologists have a particular label for them: sociopath.

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          God is pleased by your commitment to truth. God loves truth. It is so important that he put a commitment to truth in his “top ten” list. Despite the fact that you are so angry with him, he loves you.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Take a look at this picture, and read the accompanying story, about a modern-day witch burning in Papua New Guinea. Not by illiterate, half-naked savages in the inland jungles, either, but by people living in towns and wielding cell phones.

          My guess is that you’ll just shrug and say “so what?”, because apparently the only person whose suffering you ever cared about was Jesus, but I find this horrifying.

          Of course, if we’re to believe the BS in the Bible, your “loving” God does this a million times a day and doesn’t give any of his victims the release of death but instead just keeps doing it to them over and over and over, forever, no matter how much they shriek in agony. He doesn’t give a damn. (Or rather, if you take the term literally, he gives altogether too much of a damn.)

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          Are you trying to say that God burned that woman? God didn’t do that. You must not believe that there is evil in the world if you could put that responsibility on God. God creates people free to choose whom they will serve. The people who engaged in that witch-burning did not choose to serve and love God. They chose evil. This is not God’s doing. God doesn’t prevent people by force from doing evil things. It is their choice to do those things. They were not compelled to do those things. They chose.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Are you trying to say that God burned that woman?

          No, geez, I didn’t say any such thing. I was asking if you could find enuf compassion in your heart to empathize with what she was going thru — and which, in your view of the world, God was perfectly content to let her go thru — because I thot that maybe, just maybe, a gruesome picture and accompanying horrifying story would evoke some tiny shred of human decency in you. But no, all we get from you is that people are evil and deserve pretty much every horror God can rain down on their heads, not even a nod in the direction of the million victims a day I mentioned that he consigns to roast forever in Hell.

          You are clearly hopeless. You speak of love but don’t have the remotest clue what it’s about. It’s as if words have their own separate meaning, just for you, which makes effective conversation impossible. Over and out.

          PS: Please stay away from guns and explosives.

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          Fear not. I don’t own a gun or anything except the odd spray can that might explode. You are safe.
          I deeply grieve what those savagaes did to the woman accused of witchcraft, but I don’t blame God for it. God does leave people free to do wrong if that is their choice. For those who live in relationship with him, he is there to take them through the evil other people do. He doesn’t promise us to make life easy. He only promises to give us what we need when we need it. You want him to work magic and make the world perfect, and if he did that, you might acknowledge him, if his idea of perfection were the same as your idea of perfection. However, just as you are not required to believe I exist, you are not required to believe he exists, either.
          Still, God loves you anyway. Since you don’t seem to want any help, I hope you are strong enough to repel the demons that appear to inhabit your world.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          He wants you to be free, and freely to choose to love him, as he loves you.

          What if the same thing was said about Xenu or Quetzalcoatl or Shiva–would you find that a compelling argument?

          I can’t believe in something without evidence. An exercise for you: try to believe in leprechauns.

          Christ died an unthinkably cruel death because he preferred to be the one hit by the rockslide.

          He died as thousands died before him, except that he popped back into existence in a day and a half. Not that big a deal, it seems to me.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Have you ever seen a depiction of waterboarding? That’s fake, simulated drowning, and it’s over within a couple of minutes.

          Or, for the real thing, here’s Christopher Hitchens participating. He didn’t last very long, and it ended when he wanted it to. Still, it gives an idea of how God’s love supposedly played out with millions of people.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          God loves truth. It is so important that he put a commitment to truth in his “top ten” list.

          Yes, but consider what he omitted. He includes “don’t covet,” but he omits “don’t enslave,” “don’t rape,” and “don’t commit genocide.”

          Maybe he just forgot.

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          Do you believe that rape, enslavement and genocide are part of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself?”

        • billwald

          >OK, but why have you convinced yourself?

          I have not convinced myself. I can’t remember NOT believing the Christian story. It hasn’t harmed me. It is my null position.

          >Wouldn’t you want to find experts who actually understand this domain, unlike you and me?

          I’ve read tens of thousands of pages written by “experts” and I think I prefer my own way of looking at things.

        • billwald

          >>God loves truth. It is so important that he put a commitment to truth in his “top ten” list.

          >Yes, but consider what he omitted. He includes “don’t covet,” but he omits “don’t enslave,” “don’t rape,” and “don’t commit genocide.”

          >Maybe he just forgot.

          I think this interpretation is a Christian error. The Jews include the Ten as part of the 613 positive and negative statements. Ray Vanderlaan teaches that the Ten commandments are like chapter headings.

          Further, Torah only applies to the people who came out of Egypt with Moses. Gentiles living outside the Land are not obligated by Torah. As St Paul noted, if one follows one part of the Law, one is obligated by all 613 Laws. Google 613 laws

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          Are you trying to say that God burned that woman? God didn’t do that.

          No, but he will do that to me when he gets me in hell. Over and over and over and over again. For a trillion years (and that’s just him getting warmed up).

          That’s part of God’s beautiful plan, right?

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          You do have a choice about it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          God does leave people free to do wrong if that is their choice.

          I don’t care much for the argument that God allowing evil in the world is because he has such high respect for our free will. If that were the case, he would step in to prevent victims’ free will from being violated.

        • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

          If you believe that, then do you think your free will should be suppressed? It’s all or nothing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          Do you believe that rape, enslavement and genocide are part of the command to “love your neighbor as yourself?”

          No.

          Why do you ask? Because this was included in the 10 Commandments?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          You do have a choice about it.

          I’m not sure I understand the context of your comment, but if I understand it, no I don’t have a choice. I can’t choose to believe in Jesus just like you can’t choose to believe in leprechauns, unicorns, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

          Belief isn’t like a plate of sandwiches passed around, where you can just take whatever you fancy. Show me the evidence, and belief just happens. It’s automatic. I don’t will belief; it just happens.

        • billwald

          Agree 100%. One can’t control one’s beliefs. Null beliefs begin in infancy – good ones and bad ones. It takes extra-ordinary experience or information to change one’s bottom line beliefs.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Katherine:

          If you believe that, then do you think your free will should be suppressed? It’s all or nothing.

          No, in my last comment I made quite clear that it’s not.

          Imagine God suppressing the free will of murderers and rapists. This would protect the free will of potential victims which apparently you think God cares very much about.

          Yes, my free will would be suppressed … the next time I was about to murder or rape someone. And not until.

          Sounds like a better world to me. Or at least it makes a better story to support God belief. The one you have right now doesn’t hold up so well.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          I have not convinced myself.

          Maintained your Christian beliefs then.

          It hasn’t harmed me.

          Is the truth value of the Christian claims important? If not then I agree with you: no, it hasn’t hurt you. If however truth is important and the Christian claims don’t stand up to scrutiny, then it has.

          I’ve read tens of thousands of pages written by “experts” and I think I prefer my own way of looking at things.

          What domains do you do this in? Do you haggle with the pilot about how he’s flying the airplane? Do you insist on staying awake during an operation so you can critique how the surgeon is doing? Or do you only have certain domains in which you only listen to your own conclusions?

        • billwald

          Yes. I trust my knowledge and gut feelings in the domain of Christian Theology and very other few topics. I know what I know and I know what I don’t know

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          Gentiles living outside the Land are not obligated by Torah. As St Paul noted, if one follows one part of the Law, one is obligated by all 613 Laws.

          So the Ten Commandments doesn’t apply to Christians? No Christian is allowed to go back into Old Testament law to pull out anti-gay passages, for example?

          Sounds like you propose that the entire Old Testament be discarded. Aside from quaint history of a people that you like, what good is it? This is the route the Marcionites took. (And I see the logic.)

        • billwald

          >So the Ten Commandments doesn’t apply to Christians? No Christian is allowed to go back into Old Testament law to pull out anti-gay passages, for example?

          The first traffic control signal was installed in the US. This DOES NOT imply that someone who stops for a red light in London is “keeping” US traffic laws.

          All humans are obligated to observe the Noahic Covenant because we are all “sons/daughters” of Noah. There is an unorganized Christian sect called “Noahides” who sort of tries to mix this with their Christianity. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noahide_laws http://www.en.noahideworldcenter.org/

          There isn’t one statement in Torah which obligates gentiles in the US. Acts 15 is instructive. The Jerusalem Council is giving orders to St Paul about what he is to teach hid gentile converts. “Observe the Ten Commandments” would be a very simple instruction but they are never mentions. Paul is given the local interpretation of the Noahide Laws for his gentiles.

          But in Acts 21 James brags to Paul that the Jewish converts to Christianity in Jerusalem all obey Torah Law and continue their Temple worship.

          Christians are obligated to observe the “Christian” law as detailed in the NT. Nine of the Ten Commandments are given as Christian Law but the Sabbath Law IS NOT thus it is permissible for Christians to worship on Sunday, The Lord’s Day.

          It is interesting that the NT forbids (male) homosexual activities but not Lesbian activities.

        • Kodie

          It takes a certain level of ignorance to wonder what’s so bad about god as he’s described by many. Jealous, petty, wrathful, capricious, narrow-minded, and rather incompetent. Apparently, if you can stay on his good side, you don’t go to hell eternally. It’s sort of like how people describe the most abusive parents and the worst bosses of all time – you’re put in a role of begging for favor, telling on your brother, and kissing a lot of ass. It’s not healthy or mature to live in fear of your authorities, and vicariously rule others to kneel before him or perish. If that is not the god you describe, at the very least, the minor blessings in your own life come at the cost of clean water for millions.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      duane:

      You have to first believe God exists? Doesn’t the evidence come first?

      Because with your approach, you could say that about any god.

  • Dan

    I also read a funny book by Feynman called Adventures of a Curious Character. Here’s something I read in the wikipedia link: “This is allowed, provided there is enough energy available to create the pair – at least the total rest mass energy of the two particles –” but energy isn’t nothing. Spontaneous creation wouldn’t be strictly the same thing as something coming from literally nothing.
    “I’m saying that our small bit of knowledge about reality makes it arrogant to conclude that this is impossible.”
    To me it seems to be one of my safest assumptions. Then it would also be arrogant to conclude God is impossible, right?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Dan:

      it would also be arrogant to conclude God is impossible, right?

      Very few atheists take this position. Rather, they say that the evidence points to there being no god.

  • Dan

    “You may think that it began to exist in 2008 or whenever it was made, but in fact, it was created *in its present form* in that year; its components always existed.”

    I don’t think there is any more evidence for that idea than for the existence of God. And the God concept doesn’t suffer from the idea of a beginningless line of effects.

    • Richard S. Russell

      With all due respect, what are you, nuts? We are surrounded by evidence that matter and energy exist and persist. You are awash in it, drenched in it, saturated with it, immersed in it, inextricably entwined with it, composed of it, for goodness’ sake. And you don’t see that this constitutes more evidence than has ever been drummed up for God? Because, frankly, any evidence is greater than zero.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I’m not sure calling–or even implying–someone nuts has any modicum of respect in it.

        Evidence. Yet we cannot actually, physically experience everything you described with all five senses, in such minute detail that we can see, touch, etc, every molecule, and everything that makes up what makes up those molecules…and so on.

        It eventually becomes a matter of trust that the evidence–indeed, of what we are all made of– is verifiable up until the point we can actually, physically experience it. Until then, to our minds it may be as clear as day (and those who do not assume exaclty the same are “nuts”), but it’s as much an abstraction, an idea to our physical bodies as any other clever idea, just with more people saying it’s so because of Science rather than because it’s Just So.

        • RichardSRussell

          “I’m not sure calling … someone nuts has any modicum of respect in it.”

          As noted in the original, it has all the respect that’s due for the nihilistic notion that matter and energy don’t really exist … or last for very long if they do.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Nice save!

  • Dan

    “But I don’t want to find God. Everything that his very biggest fans say about him makes it clear that he’s the biggest asshole in the Universe by a gargantuan margin. Even if he did exist, he’d be the last guy I’d ever want to have a damn thing to do with. Ick. Ugh. Stay far away from me, God, you unmitigated jerk.”

    This really makes me question any claims to just following the evidence wherever it leads.

    • Richard S. Russell

      Well, think of it this way. Let’s say that you have 2 hucksters who are trying to persuade you to part with your money. One of them says “Give me your cash, and I’ll treat you to chocolates, fine music, lovely companions appropriate for your sexual orientation, and a nice backrub every day.” The other one says “Give me all your money and kneel before Zod, or I’ll fry you forever in a lake of fire.”

      And remember, this is their actual sales pitch! I’m not making it up, this is what they actually say! If you’re looking for evidence to follow, these are the testimonials of the most ardent supporters and proponents of the respective scams. Of course, you’d find out soon enuf if the first guy was in fact scamming you, but the other one makes you grovel for your entire life on the off chance that maybe you’ll see some results when you’re dead.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        OT: That huckster story you posited.

        NT: Forget about that huckster story you posited. It’s an impossible standard. Forgive everyone and love one another.(at least until Paul shows up…)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Forgive everyone and love one another”? That’s the message of the NT? I always thought there was more to it than that.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Not really, unless you want there to be, especially if you add Paul to the mix.

          I would say the same of Richard’s (Edit) huckster scenario (not even counting Midrash hermeneutics of course), but I guess we’ll only fixate on one bouillon cube at a time.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I posited no such story–I imagine you’re thinking of Richard.
          As for forgive+love as the message, I can imagine Rob Bell distilling the NT down to this, but other stuff–how to get to heaven, how to roast in hell forever, that sort of thing–are relevant to many theologians.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Sorry Bob! I assumed, and I know that’s definitely bad when debating things :) I did mean Richard, simply because I distilled his story right above his post!

          Not familiar with Rob Bell, I will look into him. Indeed, I could see those other issues relevant to many other theologians especially if they are infatuated with the afterlife such as the pre- millennial /post-millenial, apocalyptic-prophetic crowd.

          As far as I’m concerned I’d be fine at this point just making a Red-Letter Bible and just use Jesus’ words as my “Gospel.” I’m just about at the point of thinking this afterlife thing will work out (however it does ) despite what little old me is up to.

          I have issues with John of Patmos anyway–he was uppity about Intellectual Property, although he makes for great inspiration for paintings! As for Paul, yeah that’s a whole other can of worms…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Dan:

      This really makes me question any claims to just following the evidence wherever it leads.

      You have read the “evidence,” right? The Old Testament makes clear that God has no problem drowning everyone, demanding genocide, and supporting slavery for life.

      Richard is right–this dude is a nasty piece of work. I might do whatever it takes to avoid going to hell (if I thought he existed), but it wouldn’t be a labor of love.

  • Dan

    Everything is made of it, so it’s eternal?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Sorry, Dan–you’ll need to provide more context for your question than this. It’s unclear what you’re responding to.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        “my God….it’s full of stars…!”

  • Cheri

    Fascinating–I dialogued with an atheist friend for a long time who required some of the same conditions as the author of this article. I thus understand the powerful need of an atheist to have conclusive evidence that needs no faith, as well as the atheist’s admission that there may really not be any that would be convincing enough outside of God’s divine intervention in the person’s heart and mind (I’m not assuming this last statement but am passing on my friend’s basic words). So I also understand that there is no point in seeking to argue an atheist into “faith” (assuming that was even possible), any more than it is possible to argue a person of true faith out of their belief. All that comes to my mind at this point is this Bible passage. It is the last section of a story found in Luke 16:20-31:
    27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    About 2000 years ago many witnesses claimed this about Jesus. Over the centuries many more witnesses have testified to apparitions of Jesus, saints, and other dead from both hell and purgatory. I understand why atheists don’t accept this–but I do feel that this non-acceptance even in the face of multiple witnesses supports the Christian teaching that spiritual faith is a gift from God and cannot be taken for oneself. I realize the atheist doesn’t see it that way at all, but that’s how I see it.

    • Kodie

      But why?

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I think that speaks to the Trilemma…

    • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

      I think the point about faith vs. “evidence” is an important one. I once had a long conversation with a Christian that ended when I said something like “The hypothesis that God exists doesn’t have enough evidence to support it”, and he said something like “the problem with your statement is the word ‘hypothesis’. Faith, not reason, is the right way to truth.” After that point we had to (amicably) give up the discussion, since he wasn’t interested in the sort of evidence that would convince someone who wanted to fairly evaluate competing claims.

      As for “non-acceptance even in the face of multiple witnesses”:

      Marian apparitions seem to be at least as common as apparitions of Jesus, so I hope you’re a Catholic. Visions are extremely common in Hinduism: http://www.hinduism.co.za/miracles.htm So if visions are good evidence, Hinduism is looking pretty good too. Other religions have their own extraordinary and hard-to-explain phenomena. Some young children seem to remember past lives (very few researchers have looked into this). Many people have believed they were Jesus or a reincarnation of the Buddha. Muslims see Allah’s name written in lots of everyday objects.

      If you think the sort of visions and miracles that have been present historically are good evidence, you need to accept that all of these religions are true. Now (at least in some cases) I don’t want to dismiss the evidence for miracles lightly. There are some really weird stories that no one has convincingly explained away. But I think it’s much more likely that the human mind is able to create visions, and that these visions are influenced by cultural surroundings.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Cheri:

      Welcome!

      the powerful need of an atheist to have conclusive evidence that needs no faith

      The kind of faith we’re talking about is useless in other areas of your life–getting medical care, crossing a busy street, learning French, and so on. I suspect that you experience the same powerful need.

      as well as the atheist’s admission that there may really not be any that would be convincing enough

      The alien thing is an obstacle. But if I was wrestling with “Hmm–God or aliens?” that would be a heckuva lot more evidence for God than I have now!

      I also understand that there is no point in seeking to argue an atheist into “faith” (assuming that was even possible), any more than it is possible to argue a person of true faith out of their belief.

      What good is faith? As far as I can tell, most atheists have no need for this kind of faith in their lives, and they get along just fine.

      ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’

      … but it would be a heckuva lot more evidence than they have now!

      Do you have any good reason for me to adopt your faith?

      About 2000 years ago many witnesses claimed this about Jesus.

      Uh … no. We have a story about witnesses and their conversion experience. Not much, I’m afraid.

      I understand why atheists don’t accept this–but I do feel that this non-acceptance even in the face of multiple witnesses supports the Christian teaching that spiritual faith is a gift from God and cannot be taken for oneself.

      Lots of religions can point to believers with powerful personal stories like this. Why are any of them convincing?

      I realize the atheist doesn’t see it that way at all, but that’s how I see it.

      Thanks for your frank comments.

  • billwald

    Rejecting religions on the basis of details is trivializing the problem. If you wish to call yourself an atheist you need a test to determine “first cause.” As far as I can tell, the only possible answers to first cause are “god” and “always was.” I can’t think of any logical way to decide. “Always was” is not personally satisfactory so I must go with “god.”

    • Kodie

      If you can’t decide between two, magic is not a logical choice.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        Is the universe inherently logical, or is that a construct? After all, we as a species hate randomness.

    • Richard S. Russell

      If you wish to call yourself an atheist you need a test to determine “first cause.”

      No, I don’t. An atheist is simply a person without any god belief. For example, any newborn infant is without belief. We are all born atheists. Lots of people who are never exposed to the concept of gods (for example, about a billion Chinese) are without god belief. People with limited cognitive ability may not be able to grasp such an abstract concept and thus are without god belief. People who hate the church because they were taken advantage of by the clergy reject god for completely irrational reasons but are nonetheless without god belief. All of these people are atheists, and not a one of them is obliged, morally or otherwise, to satisfy your entrance requirements to qualify for membership in the club.

      But, since I personally have gone thru a thot process to arrive at my atheism, I choose to respond to the specifics of your statement by pointing out what should have been blatantly apparent to you, namely that if “always was” is not personally satisfactory to you, your next task should be to explain where God came from.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      bill:

      If you wish to call yourself an atheist you need a test to determine “first cause.”

      Science doesn’t know what caused the Big Bang, if anything. Some quantum events may not have causes.

      “Always was” is not personally satisfactory so I must go with “god.”

      I suggest that, since science doesn’t know, you satisfy yourself with that. What grounds do you have for any other interpretation?

      • http://livingontilt.wordpress.com Katherine Harms

        With respect, I must ask, are you now asking me to have faith in a scientific assertion which has no explicable basis?

        • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

          I’m not sure I understood you right, but are you saying that there doesn’t seem to be good evidence for the Big Bang, so why should you believe it?

          There’s lots of evidence that the Big Bang happened, and scientists understand pretty well why things unfolded the way they did once they got started. Check out the Wikipedia page. Scientists just don’t understand well why it got started.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          In my personal view, the biggest stumbling block to the very core concept of evidence is that it doesn’t truly exist to us unless or until we’ve physically, personally experienced it. If we cannot see it, taste it etc. how does our actual physical body “know” it’s there? Our mind may make sense of it in the abstract realm, but so does God to some people, even with no evidence. That’s literally the only way we, bodily, will ever know anything is “real,” and even then those five senses lie to us all the time.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I think science has left personal experience far behind. No longer do chemists taste things, like Newton did. The Large Hadron Collider, Hubble space telescope, and other big science machines have many stages of data massaging before the scientists get the data.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I understand the evolution in method that has taken place, and that a lot of trust has to take place between all of the disciplines. That was my essential larger point.

      • billwald

        No other grounds except my personal gut feelings. I don’t expect to convince others. The best I can do is find other people with similar gut feelings and spend a couple of hours a week talking about arguments that support our mutual gut feelings. “My” bunch of people calls itself, “First Everett (WA) Christian Reformed Church.”

        So why am I on this list? Bruce is an old (long distance) friend and we go back maybe 20 years. We don’t take disagreements personally and should always be friends.

        I’m retired and have to much time on my hands. Disliking every possible “sport,” I find stirring the political/theological pot interesting.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          No other grounds except my personal gut feelings.

          Thanks for your frankness. Some people would try to rationalize this in a grander way.

          I don’t expect to convince others.

          OK, but why have you convinced yourself? Wouldn’t you want to find experts who actually understand this domain, unlike you and me?

          “My” bunch of people calls itself, “First Everett (WA) Christian Reformed Church.”

          Small world. I spoke to a group of freethinkers/atheists in Mount Vernon two days ago. I’d be happy to speak to your group if that would be interesting. Or, we have a speakers bureau.

          I’m retired and have to much time on my hands. Disliking every possible “sport,” I find stirring the political/theological pot interesting.

          I like that attitude.

  • Ann

    After reading all of this…Doesn’t agnosticism make the most sense? I put atheist and fundamentalist “I’m sure!” In the same camp.

    • Virginia Fitzpatrick

      I remember Joseph Campbell – author of “The Power of Myth” – asking why our internal subjective reality was not as important as objective external reality. His interviews with Bill Moyer in the 1988 PBS series did convince me of “The Power of Myth” because many of those Myths spoke to my internal reality. Sometimes people feel compelled to claim even the most fanciful elements of those myths have an external reality – thus converting myth into religion. They seem to think those myths need that objective validity for their power. The ancient sages loved parables and I am not sure they meant for their stories to be taken as objective rather than subjective truth. Other times people rejoice and believe in the internal truths of their myths without the conversion to religion e.g. St Nicklas, Paul Buyan, Bacchus, the Easter Bunny . I am fascinated by many religions (i.e. myths) for that reason. My favorite bible story narrates Christ’s visit to the wilderness and his temptations by the devil. The inner meaning of that story is very real to me. I certainly don’t worry my head about weather the two protagonists – Jesus and the Devil – ever walked the earth. It would not make any difference to the subjective truth of the myth. In Campbell’s mind “myth” was not a put down but it did imply the true origin of all religions.

      • billwald

        Technically, “myth” refers to a “story of beginnings” and implies neither truth nor not true.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I love those stories too. I did some paintings and a puppet show about the Temptations (not the musical act).

          “A myth is a story that isn’t necessarily true that speaks about the truth” ~Bart Ehrman

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Ann:

      I am an agnostic because I don’t know. I’m also an atheist because I have no god belief.

      Those definitions may not be ones that you share, but most atheists that I know don’t see these categories as mutually exclusive.

      • Virginia Fitzpatrick

        I thought agnostic and atheist were mutually exclusive because I thought atheist actively denied the existence of god. However your definition of atheist would include agnostics along with others who did not admit to a lack of knowledge. Since you have studied this issue more extensively than I have, I will defer to your definitions. However, I will quibble that the same word often connotes different things to various groups that use the word.

        • Richard S. Russell

          In fact, Virginia, your own understanding of the word agnostic — as a sort of mushy, indecisive middle ground between the belief of theism and the denial of atheism — is almost surely more widespread than the one used among organized atheists. We generally use the approach outlined by George H. Smith in his seminal work Atheism: The Case against God, and Smith himself built on the work of the guy who originally coined the term agnostic, Thomas Huxley (AKA “Darwin’s bulldog”).

          Smith asserts that we are dealing with 2 separate questions here:
            (1) Does god exist? (Those who say “yes” are theists; those who say “no”, atheists.)
            (2) How sure are you? (Those who are positive are gnostics; those who aren’t, agnostics.)

          There are 4 possible combinations of these answers:
            (a) gnostic theists (“I know that God exists.”)
            (b) agnostic theists (“I believe that God exists, but I’m not sure.”)
            (c) agnostic atheists (“I don’t believe that God exists, but I’m not sure.”)
            (d) gnostic atheists (“I know that God does not exist.”)

          I myself am an agnostic atheist with respect to the various “superhero” gods like Thor, Zeus, Kokopele, Quetzelcoatl, Demeter, Anubis, Ganesha, or Baal. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that they exist, now or ever, and I don’t, but they’re not physically or logically impossible, merely highly unlikely, so I suppose I must in all honesty grant that I can’t know for sure and certain that no such critters exist anywhere in the space-time continuum.

          However, I am a gnostic atheist with respect to the big-G God of the Abrahamic religions, because of the logical impossibilities inherent in being simultaneously omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Arguably, no entity can possibly be any one of those things, and having any 2 such ultimate attributes is right out, since they would inevitably conflict with each other. No way it can possibly happen. So, not only is there no evidence for the god named God, there is ample reason to believe there never could be. Thus I contend that I do in fact know for certain that no such critter exists.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          You mention the incompatibility of the omni- attributes. Can you point me to a post that argues this? (Or do it yourself if it’s no trouble.)

          I’ve found this argument convincing to me but not an especially good tool since I’ve found it a bit complicated. I prefer to use simple arguments (they’re easier all around).

        • Richard S. Russell

          I keep meaning to write this up more niftily, but basically what it comes down to is a series of variations on the old riddle “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”. This pits God’s omnipotence against itself and creates an inescapable logical conundrum.

          But there are other variations on the theme. If God knows everything, then he knows exactly what’s going to happen at any given moment. This augurs ill for free will, of course, as any number of commentators have pointed out, but it also argues against his omnipotence, since either he knows exactly what’s going to happen (omniscient) and thus is powerless to change it or else he can do anything he pleases any time he feels like it (omnipotent) and thus didn’t know in advance how things were going to turn out.

          He’s everywhere, right? (Despite the fact that nobody’s ever been able to detect him anywhere.) So, to pose to him the challenge to omnipotence that came as a most satisfying conclusion to an episode of the new Outer Limits (except there Sherman Hemsley used it to prevail in a deal with the Devil), “Get lost!”

          And so on. You get the general idea. Imagine a scenario in which one of these ultimate powers is matched against another. One of them wins, the other loses, which means God didn’t really have that 2nd one after all, ergo he’s not the super-dude they all claim he is.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I loved that episode!I thought it was Tales from the Darkside.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          I would not use the words “mushy, indecisive” to describe my beliefs. To me “agnostic” has always meant the existence of God is unknowable’ which is also the definition of the British Dictionary in my iMac app. So being agnostic, I feel free to make up my own set of beliefs. When people ask me if I am Christian ( usually in the form of which Church I go to) I just say that in no way would I ever worship a male authoritarian god. That belief sets a bad example. Instead I blabber ad nauseam ( to my listener) about how I respect “Mother Nature”. They are afraid I won’t stop, so they change the subject away from religion. Whether provable or not my belief has served me well. I have a book on mushrooms titled “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets that serves as my bible. I and Stamets take a Bayesian approach to our beliefs i.e. we are willing to modify them as more data comes in.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          most religions do modify when more data comes in. They start out as cults, might get to sects and may even end up as far as a denomination when a schism occurs!

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Religions do not modify their core beliefs – ever. If they did, there would be no religions.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          That’s quite an absolutist statement, and one that is not supported by history. Many of the major world religions we see today began as rejections or complete overhaul of those core beliefs in some form or another.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          That is an absolutist statement, unsupported by and links or verifiable facts. Remember, I said “core beliefs” Yes, the Catholic church did accept that the earth revolved around the sun and is accepting, mostly, of evolution. That doesn’t mean any of their core beliefs have changed, no matter what the evidence against them or lack of evidence for them.

          Other religions are no different and you have presented no proof that they are.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          It’s actually not absolutist, which is why I stated “many.” When you stated “Religion-with-a-capital-R” you made the first claim, that there were no exceptions to your rule.

          In fact, the criteria for “core beliefs” are nebulous if one refuses (or chooses not) to define what they are even supposed to be. As for religions that allegedly refuse to change these core beliefs (which have yet to be defined):

          Christianity began as an Apocalyptic Cult largely rejecting the Law, stating that it was impossible to follow.

          Buddhism began by Gautama Buddha rejecting the worldly pleasure of living in a wealthy Hindu family.

          Islam was founded by Muhammad, who is believed to be the final prophet in a lineage of Judeo-Christian prophets, but he is by far the most important in Islam.

          Bahai’i was founded by Baha’u'llah, a Muslim (which he himself claimed was a fulfillment of Babism, which began as Shaykhism, which was a “Twelver” form of Shi’a Islam).

          The Hare Krishna are essentially a Monotheist form of Hinduism.

          And when you say religion doesn’t modify, how could one explain the syncretic concept in Japan of “born Shinto, die Buddhist?”

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          There are no exceptions to my statement. I specifically said that. I am sorry that you lack the with to comprehend a simple English statement.

          Born Shinto Die Buddhist? Which one changes? The person changes, not the religion. FYI, Buddhism is not a religion. I also regret you lack the intelligence to understand that.

          You have done nothing more than demonstrate your unwillingness to change yourself and inability to understand anything.

          Have a nice life wallowing in your ignorance. Tchau!

        • Dain Q. Gore

          “You have done nothing more than demonstrate your unwillingness to change yourself and inability to understand anything.”

          I have made no such accusations to you as a person. I assumed good faith and that fact checking your statements (as you did mine) would not be met with such hostility. In fact, I looked up many of these religions as I did not know much being intellectually curious as to their origins, and if they were rebellious offshoots of a former belief system. Apparently I broke my hardwired instinct to assume at that very moment.

          “Born Shinto Die Buddhist? Which one changes? The person changes, not the religion.”

          That’s actually kind of at that the heart of what makes a religion: people. I could go on, but apparently I am too ignorant to have your ear to what I have to say.

          “FYI, Buddhism is not a religion. I also regret you lack the intelligence to understand that.”

          Buddhism is a *religion* indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one”.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

          “Have a nice life wallowing in your ignorance. Tchau!”

          You cannot know my mind, as I cannot know yours.

          TL:DR: QQmuch?

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Your proof of Buddhism is a religion?

          I regret that you are determined to remain a fool and willfully ignorant. Now, please go away. I only have a small amount of time to deal with assholes. You have exceeded yours.

        • John Carpenter

          I taught a class on Asian religions. I don’t ever remember anyone denying that Buddhism is a religion. Get real.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I really don’t know where or when this hostility has presented itself. I never claimed to believe in anything other than what is in front of my face at the moment, and even that could be a lie.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I have heard a lot of people claim Buddhism is a religion. But not one of them was a Buddhist. Most were fools like you.

        • John Carpenter

          You spew insults because you don’t have any facts or reason on your side.

          Speaking at International Convention on Buddhism in Vadodara, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet said, “We cannot say that one religion is best. I am a Buddhist but I can’t say Buddhism is the best religion. It depends on a person’s perception that what is best for him.”

          So the Dalai Lama says that Buddhism is a religion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There are more flavors of Buddhism than just the Dalai Lama’s.

        • John Carpenter

          Yes I know. I also know that that point is entirely irrelevant here. I also know that the kind of people who bring up totally irrelevant points are often trying to distract from the truth rather than advance it.

          That you hack into other people’s posts makes you a fraud and you should not be allowed to post here. You’re unethical.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          If you don’t think that it is, go correct the wiki and see what happens :)

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Oh yes, Wikipedia is such a reliable source of accurate information. Not quite as bad as you but bad enough.

          GO fuck yourself shit for brains

        • Guest

          *Citation needed.

        • John Carpenter

          You have a lot of hostility. You may claim to be a Buddhist but you’re not. Neither am I. I’m a Christian. I believe in truth and reality.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I never claimed to be a Buddhist. That’s a figment of your imagination.

          You’re a christian? Then any rational discourse is impossible. You are a liar, a fool, or a hypocrite. Maybe all three at once. Please go away and pretend you “won.” You’ve used up all the time ali have for fools, assholes, and idiots.

        • John Carpenter

          James, get real. You claimed at least two things: (1) Buddhism is not a religion and (2) Buddhist don’t claim that Buddhism is a religion. I showed that you were wrong with a quote from the Dalai Lama. You respond with profane insults. Ignorance, bigotry and hostility make a very unpleasant combination.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          So does your obnoxious arrogance. But that’s just being a christian. I have never met a christian who was not a liar, a fool, or a hypocrite, often all three at the same time. You seem to fit the latter description.

          You seem to bve too stupid to know wean to STFU.

        • John Carpenter

          You have some serious problems.

          You’re the one who made the ridiculous claim that Buddhism wasn’t a religion and said that Buddhists don’t say it is one. Talk about foolish. I proved your wrong. If you’re here pretending to actually know something, you’re the hypocrite and the liar.

          I don’t think you’re capable of responding in any other way than spewing profane insults.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I don’t think you are capable of anything but typical theist arrogance.

          What is profane? Did I miss the announcement that you have been appointed to determine that for everyone? Being a smugly arrogant christian, you probably believe you can do that.

          Again, go fuck yourself. I am sick of you, asshole.

          I know as a “true believer” you have to get the last word to make yourself continue to feel superior. So have at it. I will never reply to you again. Enjoy your hell on earth of a life your religion has made for you. You’re not going to run my life, though.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You have a lot of hostility.

          And you ought to know.

        • John Carpenter

          I have a lot of hostility to ignorant bigots who hack into other people’s posts, boasts of their own debating victories while not actually making an intelligent point because he’s too much of a fraud to actually learn.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          KMA, asshole

        • John Carpenter

          Dude, get some counselling. You have serious problems.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          My most serious problem is having to deal with moronic assholes like you. If you would just STFU, this site and the world would be a better place .

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          James: You’d better listen to John. He knows about serious problems!

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          You mean listen to a delusional religious wacko? Then I really would have problems. I would mean I would be as willfully ignorant as he is and, even worse, we’d both be wrong.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I must confess, I will have to reconsider my position on Buddhism not being a religion.

          I just read some more about it, that does cast a new light upon it for me. It’s not nearly as benign as people would have us believe.

          http://rationalist.org.uk/4021/the-dark-side-of-buddhism

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Tibetan Buddhism (also practiced in Mongolia) is pretty religion-y. I’ve been to the monasteries and seen the paintings of hell.

          There are other flavors (perhaps Zen would be the extreme) which are more philosophical and with no supernatural elements.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          You want me to listen to someone that is delusional and accept his fantasies as being real? That is a serious problem.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          It seems from what I’ve seen here from my recent exchange, John certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on that quality…

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Dain, Bob is upset because I blew up his assertion that the NT is legends by finding a real scholar on legends who emphatically said it doesn’t read anything like a legend. So he responds with insults. He’s also a hacker. He’s hacked into some of my posts and changed them and rigged them so I can’t edit them. He’s also likely hacked into my e-mail. He’s dangerous and should be reported to patheos.com for using their site to find victims for his hacking.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wrong again. I’ve modified your comments after you refused to act responsibly. You didn’t take the hint, so now you’re blacklisted (at least, I’ve started that process).

          Hacked your email? Stolen your identity, too, I suppose? Wow–aren’t we paranoid?

          People who can act responsibly are welcome here. People who can present a strong defense of the Christian position are especially welcome here.

          People filled with hate, however, aren’t. Bye.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Who has ever presented a strong defense of christianity?

          The” strongest” defenses are always, “You must have faith” and “The bible is true because it says it is true.”

          Faith is accepting as true that for which there is not supporting evidence and even much evidence against it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well, that was almost what John gave as a strong argument in response to my requests. I would say, in response to your comment however, that there are more meaty arguments—Transcendental Argument, Design Argument, Moral Argument, Fine Tuning Argument, and so on.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          I agree, but it seems all of those “arguments” no matter from what angle, come down to, “our beliefs are true because we want them to be.” I have long said that, given undeniable proof, I would change my position on anything, including religion. I have yet to hear any rational proof for any religion. It’s always, “I believe and don’t upset me with facts.” Then the usual threat, “You’re going to hell.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Religions modify their core beliefs and become new religions. The LDS church is an example. Or Christianity from Judaism.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          LDS changed its stance on polygamy when it was forced to do so. Christianity was a new religion and not a modified Judaism.

          If stubborn stupidity is a religion, then it doesn’t change either.

        • Richard S. Russell

          To me “agnostic” has always meant the existence of God is unknowable, which is also the definition of the British Dictionary in my iMac app.

          Indeed, that’s the version of it originally put forward by Huxley, so you are in good company in that regard. And, as I indicated above, most English speakers (to the extent that they’ve thot about the concept at all) are probably closer to that version of agnosticism than they are to Smith’s.

          Nonetheless, I think that Smith makes an excellent point that, regardless of your meta-thot processes (because the Huxleyan concept of agnosticism isn’t so much thinking about God directly as thinking about the process of thinking about God), when push comes to shove you either do or don’t believe in God at any given moment. It’s Smith’s contention that it’s a boon to clear thinking to restrict the theism/atheism binary to just that one issue: “All things considered, do you or don’t you?”

          It’s then just a small step to pointing out that the same clarity can be achieved by also treating the gnosticism/agnosticism meta-question as a binary as well, invoking the Law of the Excluded Middle. Here he’s on shakier ground, I think, because we all have different thresholds for what we consider surety or certainty, so there’s certainly no consensus on where the boundary should be drawn, however clearly a bright demarcating line may exist in the mind of any one person.

          Still in all, I’ve found it useful for purposes of discussions like this to separate the 2 questions, and, since we’ve got such handy labels for them, I like to make use of them rather than having to try to come up with new ones that carry less baggage.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          ergo he’s not the super-dude they all claim he is.

          Helpful argument, thanks.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia:

          I feel free to make up my own set of beliefs.

          Interesting. Lots of Christians do that but aren’t as honest about it as you.

          Whether provable or not my belief has served me well.

          Why not just follow science? What’s the point in any belief in the supernatural or, indeed, any faith at all?

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          Bob asks: “Why not just follow science? What’s the point in any belief in the supernatural or, indeed, any faith at all?”

          I think my mushroom bible is scientific. My beliefs in Mother Nature are based on observations and not just what Aristotle (or even Darwin) claim. I like my metaphor. I suppose my belief (or prior Bayesian probability) is that we are wiser to work with Mother Nature than to ignore or subjugate her. I know many that have quit a different attitude.

          When I and others were trying to organize a service in the Unitarian Fellowship to claim access to clean water as a civil right, I wanted to read a psalm about how essential in many ways a mountain stream was to the sustenance of life. Some objected that I was preaching religion because the psalm referenced God. Another woman came to my defense and said that we should think of God as a metaphor for what we don’t understand. I just tolerated the theistic reference because I was happy to find that an ancient sage expressed my earthly observations so beautifully. It led credence to the notion that our claim was neither new or radical. Anyway God won by one vote in the committee and I was able to read the psalm.

        • billwald

          “I think my mushroom bible is scientific. My beliefs in Mother Nature are based on observations and not just what Aristotle (or even Darwin) claim.”

          Then Mother Nature is your deity. I have no problem with that. In Proverbs, Wisdom has a fem. gender.

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          I have a jolly time making Mother Nature into a deity. In my more serious mode she is a metaphor for the natural world which does not include the supernatural and the man made.

        • billwald

          >Why not just follow science? What’s the point in any belief in the supernatural or, indeed, any faith at all?

          Doesn’t compute. By definition science has nothing to say about the supernatural.

          Modern Americans worship science and think that any investigation which can use expensive and complicated equipment must be “scientific.” Any true statement of science must be capable of falsification. If something can’t be shown tothe false, then logically neither can it be shown to me true.

          My favorite bad example is history. Every school kid studies history but I have never heard anyone claim that history is scientific. How, then, does history become “scientific” when the time period in question is before the available written record i.e. prehistorical? Studying million year old bones. What is scientific about that?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Virginia:

          we are wiser to work with Mother Nature than to ignore or subjugate her.

          My interpretation of that is: rather than use superstition, use evidence to actually understand nature.

          Are we saying the same thing?

        • Virginia Fitzpatrick

          probably.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          By definition science has nothing to say about the supernatural.

          And what do we have but science to understand reality? Sure, we have superstitions and wishful thinking, but they’re not reliable, because they’re not scientific.

          Am I missing something? Show me some other avenue to understand reality besides science and other fields that follow evidence (history, for example).

          Any true statement of science must be capable of falsification.

          And that’s the nice thing about theology, right? You don’t have to subject yourself to falsification, demands for evidence, and all that.

          Studying million year old bones. What is scientific about that?

          If you actually don’t know, look up archaeology and anthropology.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          “And what do we have but science to understand reality?”

          Personal experience (which would include empirical evidence, ie the evidence we have experienced personally) is the only thing we can have any kind of tangible trust in (that and the five senses), and even that is subjective and can lie to us, and does so constantly.

      • Ann

        My understanding of an atheist is the BELIEF that God does not exist whereas an agnostic does not take any position on whether or not this world has a supreme creator. I prefer to think not about the existence of God.I’m more comfortable believing in the Mystery of creation without any claim that I can describe that mystery. I agree with Karl Rahner that we would do better to acknowledge a mystery and leave it at that. I also think Elizabeth’s comment is right On target.

        Myths that have to do with “beginnings” is one example of myth..myth is often about far more than just beginnings.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ann:

          I agree with Karl Rahner that we would do better to acknowledge a mystery and leave it at that.

          Science unravels mysteries. Does this mean that you dislike science?

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Leap of logic. I think those ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive, either. Sometimes it’s okay to say “I don’t know” rather than “I must know.”

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

          Are you saying to surrender to willful ignorance rather than to seek knowledge?

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

    I have often said that, presented with undeniable evidence, I would change my position on religion. With that statement, I usually ask the theist, what would it take for you to change yours? In almost fifty years of this, I have never received an answer that didn’t eventually translate to “Nothing.”

    Yet, the religious accuse me of being closed-minded. It would be laughable if it were not such a tragic display of voluntary ignorance and determined stupidity.

    • billwald

      That’s because atheism is a religion. By definition “believing in” an uncaused cause is a religious thought.

      • Richard S. Russell

        sigh

        How often do we have to repeat this before it finally sinks in? Atheism is not a belief in something, it’s the absence of a belief in something.

        It’s so simple: “a-” without, “-theos-” god, “-ism” belief. Without god belief, get it? Without, as in none, absent, not there, missing, gone, can’t be found, doesn’t exist.

        Since, by definition, a religion is a belief in something, by definition, atheism is not a religion. I’d hope that a guy who trots out the phrase “by definition” would understand what it means.

        • billwald

          Anyone who thinks something can’t exist any place in the universe or the multiverse isn’t thinking clearly.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          Where are you on the unicorn question? Do you think they exist? Or perhaps you’re reserving judgment because this race is just too close to call. Or perhaps you’re like most people who say the evidence is quite strong that they don’t so, though you can’t prove it, you live your life as if they don’t exist.

          “Without god belief” doesn’t mean “I’m certain there is no god, because I have personally turned over every rock in the universe simultaneously, and he wasn’t there.”

        • Richard S. Russell

          Again, you continue to miss the point. You say “anyone who thinks that X” as if atheists hold a positive belief in X. Not the case, as I have been at some pains to point out, and which you continue to ignore.

          Atheism is a condition, a state of being, not a body of doctrine or dogma that one must subscribe to in order to qualify, and that condition bears little resemblance to your caricature of it. For instance, nothing whatsoever about atheism says squat about the origins of the universe or the development of living organisms. True, individual atheists may hold opinions on those subjects, but those opinions are not derived from their atheism, which, to repeat yet again (since it still apparently hasn’t sunk in) is the absence of a belief in any gods.

        • Kodie

          A deity who is directly concerned with me? That’s a huge leap. A wizard caused the universe into existence? You mean, no materials, no blueprints, no tools, magically originated a whole universe. That’s easier to believe than “I don’t really know what started it”? If he existed beforehand, why? And where? And how? There was nothing (supposedly).

          Explain to me your belief in an uncaused cause and why it’s important to you for others to believe in non-science that you have to use invalid arguments. Basically, you don’t know either, but you can’t rest without a story.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

          Anyone that thinks there is a god with no evidence for one and much evidence against one isn’t thinking at all. Perhaps they are not capable of thinking? But, to believe (not know) in any religion requires one to abandon facts and rational thinking.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I would assume good faith but if you wish to engage in that level of hyperbole, if they “weren’t thinking at all” they would have no motor functions and would not be able to type any readable response to the visual stimuli on-screen (unless given infinite typewriters etc.) ; at least, according to the limited evidence on biology we have before us. As for thinking “clearly” that opens up a whole different level of criteria, much more subjective in nature.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        bill:

        What uncaused cause do I believe in? Aside from the ones physics tells us about (uncountably many exist at the quantum level), I can’t think of any.

        I don’t suppose uncaused causes trouble you. Your deity was uncaused, right?

      • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

        That old “atheism is a religion” ignorance has been disproved so many times I am always amazed when someone is not embarrassed to use it. It seems that nothing is too stupid, too untrue, too ludicrous that religious people will not use it.

        Atheists do not have beliefs. We have knowledge. “Beliefs” and “Faith” are the same. They mean “accepting as true that for which there is not supporting evidence and even much evidence against it.” Think about that, if you are capable. Is it intelligent and rational to do that?

  • billwald

    Bob,

    “Show me some other avenue to understand reality besides science and other fields that follow evidence (history, for example)”

    Old saying, “The side which wins the war writes the history.” Millions saw JFK murdered on TV and there is no agreement as to who did it or why.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      bill:

      Is there a point here? I missed it.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        From my reading the point is one of view.

  • Jim (the other Jim)

    My answer to anybody who asks what would convince me of gods existence: If god exists, he already knows what would convince me, and he hasn’t done it. Therefore, he either a) doesn’t exist or b) doesn’t care, which flies in the face of the doctrine of all Abrahamic religions.

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

      My answer has always been, “Given undeniable proof, I would change my position on anything, including religion.” To date, after over 50 years od this, no one has even tried to furnish undeniable proof. It’s always something absurd like “Proof is all around you, open your eyes.” Or, “Read the bible, it’s all in there.” Obviously, those people have never read the bible in its entirety as I have. That’s how I became atheist at age 13.

      The answers I have been given are so pathetic they insult bot their intelligence and mine.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        James:

        And then you have earnest scholars like William Lane Craig who give deist arguments (fine tuning, cosmological, teleological, the [unbelievable] ontological, and so on). They think (or say that they think) that the Christian position is the obvious correct one. And very few of them were convinced into Christianity by their arguments–one wonders why they think we should be.

        • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

          They might think that for the same reason that those that give the “look all around you, proof is everywhere” answers. They want to believe so they believe. Little things like facts and logical thinking are no longer relevant for them. Nor, they think, should they be for us.

        • billwald

          I lost track of this thread, don’t usually ignore replies except to let someone have the last word. From the top:

          >The holy book would be perfect—no errors, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies. Not much to ask from a perfect deity, right?

          Assumes facts not in evidence. Maybe God talks to us like like we talk to children. Never exctly a lie, never the whole truth. No one ever tells the whole truth.

          > “I think person A is a good person. Person A steals my wallet. I don’t think person A is a good person.”.

          Thinking is different than claiming to know.

          >Of course, the Bible is not even close to actual science

          The word, science, is contaminated and meaningless. It should limited to ideas that can be experimentally falsified.

          >Testimony alone is laughably inadequate.

          “Eye witness” evidence is actually the least reliable. Since Sherlock Holmes circumstantial evidence rules.

          >TRULY educated atheists actually NEVER convert away from atheism.

          The other side of the the “True Believer” coin.

          >Unless we sign up for the Get Out of Hell Free card, free for the asking

          According to an honest analysis of Dutch Calvinism, If you are signed up it is because God signed you up before before God created the universe. Most Calvinists are inconsistent because any variation of salvation as the null position can’t pay the bills.

          >I think believers need to find another word than “works” for what prayer does.

          AGREE 100%!

          >That runs afoul of Libertarian Free Will, though.

          There is no objective evidence for the existence of “free will” unless it means the ability to act against one’s nature or against one’s best (earthly) interest. Like a cat choosing to swim in the ocean.

          >There’s a 1 in 4 billion chance

          Keep in mind that “Probability and Statistics 101″ teaches that probably only applies to future events and statistics only applies to past events. In other words, “what happened, happened,” and that’s all we can say about it. The pragmatic theoretical problem is defining “the present.”

          >If you read the Bible as a sort of instruction manual on how to control God

          Most humans are terrible at reading and following instruction manuals. It is usually a last resort.

          >How did first-century Jews view prayer?

          We don’t know! There are no “official” Jewish documents written from the end of the Tanakh until the Jews started putting oral tradition into writing as a response to the Christians re-interpreting Tanakh.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          Maybe God talks to us like like we talk to children.

          Could be. But we don’t presume God first and then rationalize away falsifying evidence like this. Rather, we start with the null hypothesis (there is no god) and follow the evidence.

          “Eye witness” evidence is actually the least reliable.

          Good point. And the claims for eyewitness evidence in the Bible are weak.

          The other side of the the “True Believer” coin.

          Have you read my post arguing that there is an asymmetry here? That well-educated atheists don’t convert?

          [probability] only applies to future events and statistics only applies to past events. In other words, “what happened, happened,” and that’s all we can say about it.

          Nicely stated.

        • John Kesler

          billwald wrote:There is no logical reason why God MUST always be 100% honest and 100% good.

          “Paul” disagrees with you in Titus 1:1-2:

          Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, 2in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began—

        • billwald

          After looking at both sides I have concluded that the Pastorals were written after Paul’s death and were included in the canon for command and control, not theological reasons. Paul’s “real” letters were about a egalitarian “bottom up” congregational church organization.

        • billwald

          > Rather, we start with the null hypothesis (there is no god) and follow the evidence.

          So as friendly, civilized people, we can agree to disagree.

        • billwald

          Continued,

          >Atheists: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

          There is no evidence that “belief” is determined by “free will.”

          >Isn’t it pretty crazy to be quoting scripture to atheists?

          Isn’t it crazy to waste time preaching atheism to “True Believers” of Christianity? Me, I’m retire and have time on my hands.

          >>Religion is about “first cause.” Everything else is details that don’t matter until first cause is resolved.

          >And that would be the cause that you’re preaching. Does that make you as goofy as you think the rest of us are?

          Yes, but I do it as an amusement. “Science says” that such stirring the pot keeps one’s brain flexible

          >A (not necessarily the) 3rd possibility, which has already been mentioned several times in this discussion, but which you evidently chose to ignore, is that the Universe sprang into being spontaneously, without cause.

          Not logical unless one also concludes that other events occur without cause.

          >You also chose to ignore my earlier question about how, if you truly believe that nothing came from nothing, you can explain where God came from. Surely you aren’t willing to allow “always was” as a possibility, since you assert that that’s an either/or situation that can’t co-exist with the idea of God. So where, then? Who made God? (Bonus points if you can see where this is headed.)

          I don’t claim to “KNOW.” “Believing in God and Jesus” is my null position (my gut feeling) because I was raised to believe it. It doesn’t cost me anything substantial in this life in the USA to believe it. If I was raised in Iran my null position would have been Islam.

          >But how do you avoid mistaking aliens (especially lying aliens) for a god?

          My Guardian Angel keeps me on the straight and narrow even though there is no way to tell if I live in a physical world or “The Matrix.”

          >I’ve heard that one myself. Good insight. And the fact that God hasn’t provided atheists with that convincing evidence makes you think that he’s either an SOB who enjoys seeing people broast in hell or (dare I say it?) he doesn’t exist.

          There is no logical reason why God MUST always be 100% honest and 100% good. The physical universe seems to be balanced between good and evil. The universe is obviously not 100% good or there would be no problem of theodicy. A 100% evil universe would 100% chaotic, not “physical.” Anyway, if God was a 100% liar we would still be able to determine truth but it would take lots of bandwidth.

          >We live in a Middle World. The very small (quantum stuff) and the very large (universe, black holes, etc.) are, not surprisingly, odd and counterintuitive to brains adapted to the Middle World.

          AGREE! Thus it is not a physical impossibility for Jesus to have walked through a closed door once or twice but “probably” not three times.

          >are we to believe that [God] made the universe millions of years ago, then sat around waiting for Abraham to be born so he could really get down to business?

          God exists outside of time. Time doesn’t exist. It is only something a clock measures.

          >Fear not. I don’t own a gun or anything except the odd spray can that might explode.

          You depend on your government to protect you? You don’t worry about dying? Maybe you have a death wish?

          > And what do we have but science to understand reality? Sure, we have superstitions and wishful thinking, but they’re not reliable, because they’re not scientific.

          Reality might the The Matrix and we only exit in computer memory.

          >>Old saying, “The side which wins the war writes the history.” Millions saw JFK murdered on TV and there is no agreement as to who did it or why.

          >Is there a point here? I missed it.

          The point is that the Big Bang is a historical study and not falsifiable. Same with the history of evolution. Real time, in the lab, genetics IS science.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          bill:

          There is no logical reason why God MUST always be 100% honest and 100% good.

          And the theodicy that we’re given (God has his reasons) makes it reasonable that a bad god is behind everything that we see. Doesn’t that explain our world just as well?

          it is not a physical impossibility for Jesus to have walked through a closed door once or twice

          Yes, but why imagine that that is what happened?

          God exists outside of time. Time doesn’t exist.

          I need evidence for that. Sounds like a snappy answer just to get the Christian out of a bind.

          Reality might the The Matrix and we only exit in computer memory.

          Like everything, we follow the evidence where it leads. We might be in the Matrix, but the evidence doesn’t point there. There might be a god, but the evidence doesn’t point there, either.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I’m not so sure that Craig necessarily feels so obligated since his business is apologetics and not necessarily straight-up evangelical-level conversion.

          However, I’m glad that you acknowledge he’s an earnest scholar, since many in his field are not that polite due to the conclusions to which he’s personally arrived.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I think very little of WLC and his apologetics arguments.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          And yet you seem to assume his goal is to convert. Have you read his mission statement?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Not that I remember. Should I?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And as for WLC’s goal, I’m certain that it’s to convert. I’ve heard several of his lectures where he uses valuable time during debates to make a personal appeal that people accept Jesus.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          You’re certain, but you haven’t actually read it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Already made clear that I haven’t; still waiting with barely contained impatience for you to tell me what it is.

      • Dain Q. Gore

        I’m told that proof about molecules is all around me, yet I have yet to see a single one, taste one, touch one, or smell one or hear one, thereby experientially “knowing”–unassisted, with just my unaugmented body–of its individual existence.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I can’t imagine that you’re saying that sensing information is the only way you ever trust something–the earth goes around the sun, matter is made of atoms, Mongolia exists, and so on.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I never said it was the only way we can trust something, it is the only way we can actually know it is “real.” The rest—inevitably–is a matter of trust, yes, absolutely!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          As you’ve made clear, this way of knowing that something is “real” isn’t much to write home about. “X is the scientific consensus” is IMO a more reliable statement than “I know X is true because I experienced it myself.”

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I’m not sure that it is more reliable, especially when using time as a critical factor. Consensus is not definitive, and changes all the time.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The consensus does indeed change, but it’s about the best we’ve got.

          It was you, wasn’t it, that talked about how fallible the human brain is? Pareidolia, cognitive biases, illusions, mental illness, even low blood sugar, mean that our brains give us a pretty unreliable report about reality.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I don’t think I did specifically talk about how the brain works (except for construction of abstract thought), but I concur 100% with that. Even the five senses, which is all we really, concretely, definitively have, fail us all the time. I’m especially fond of Pareidolia for artistic reasons, and lately have been noticing more and more instances of Confirmation Bias in nearly every facet of what’s passes for debate these days, present company excepted.

  • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

    I believe in all gods, for theology is essentially teleology. That is my heresy, i.e., αἵρεσις, or choice.

    The monotheists, or “rigorists” as Jonathan Kirsch depicts them in “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism” (Viking, 2004), really hate such a choice.

    By the way, “atheist” was a term use first against pre-Constantine Christians, as documented by Kirsch, for they did not believe in the gods.

    So what did it take me to believe in all of people’s various gods? An ancient, i.e., pre-Christian-”rigorist,” pagan ethic of tolerance.

    However, I do call myself a Christian, in the same spirit that Thomas Jefferson called himself one, whose recognition of Jesus’ ethical teachings is minus the “dunghill” of Pauline dying-rising-solar-deity salvationism.

    • Dain Q. Gore

      what are your thoughts on the theory of Paul as a Roman agent?

      • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

        Robert Eisenman’s Herodian theory of The Mythmaker’s political agenda is worth entertaining.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          Thanks! I am definitely going to do so!

      • RichardSRussell

        Paul is always being credited for things he didn’t do, like creating the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him on a trip out west. Personally, I think it was Babe. Nobody ever suspects the ox.

        • Dain Q. Gore

          I think the Mythmaker analysis that Brian directed me to was more the speed of what I was looking for.

        • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

          By calling Paul “The Mythmaker,” I was referring in general to many people who realize Paul conjured Christianity with little regard to what Jesus taught, and specifically to the book “The Mythmaker” by Hyam Maccoby (who considered Paul a Pharisee.)

    • John Carpenter

      Basically, then, you just believe in your own opinions. Probably not a firm foundation.

      • http://peaceegalitarianism.blogspot.com/ Brian Bowman

        Basically, then, you abdicate your own thinking to others’ opinions. Probably not a firm foundation.

  • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

    Hmm. A lot of these are really good points, but I think there’s a more important question: what historical or archeological discoveries could convince you that the resurrection actually happened?

    Otherwise, there are just a few particular points worth addressing….

    The concept of including scientific knowledge is problematic for several reasons. In order to qualify, the piece of knowledge would need to be sufficiently precise to rule out a lucky guess. But in order to accomplish such a level of precision, the revelation would pretty much have to be accessible only to modern audiences (for example, “The power contained in a measure of substance shall be found to be the same as the measure of that substance combined successively with the haste of that which is seen and again with the haste of that which is seen” for e=mc2). One would then have to wonder why the “proof” was only accessible to people who lived after Einstein, but no one else.

    Moreover, ancient people would have little reason to record such information if they had no way of conceptualizing or understanding it. This isn’t a problem for the “Bible was dictation from heaven” fundamentalists, but it IS wildly inconsistent with the more progressive view that God employed the myths and writings of men to reveal himself.

    If the information WAS accessible to ancient people, then it would be impossible to know whether the information was truly revealed or simply developed and was attributed to revelation, which leaves us right back where we started.

    Among the “necessary traits” group:

    “No errors, no ambiguities, no inconsistencies.” Well, fair enough, I suppose, particularly against the backdrop of American fundamentalism. But this rules out the possibility that a deity would reveal itself from within a culture (as opposed to revealing itself from outside of the culture), employing existing myth to reinvent and realign beliefs and practices. Any particular reason why this would not be possible?

    “The religion would have no internal divisions or doctrinal conflicts.” How large of a division would be considered a defeater? Surely there is no contradiction in one single individual breaking off and creating a new religion to suit his own ends. Is it merely required that original orthodoxy maintain a majority?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      PW:

      what historical or archeological discoveries could convince you that the resurrection actually happened?

      None come to mind. Feel free to offer some.

      One would then have to wonder why the “proof” was only accessible to people who lived after Einstein, but no one else.

      Because God is eager to have humans come to believe him? Or is this a trick question?

      Moreover, ancient people would have little reason to record such information if they had no way of conceptualizing or understanding it.

      There’s plenty of boring information in the Bible. Adding two more chapters isn’t much of a burden.

      the more progressive view that God employed the myths and writings of men to reveal himself.

      Nice—God condoned the slavery and genocide with gritted teeth because he knew that that was simply the culture of the time. That’s a strained reading of the OT, but perhaps that’s your point here.

      Unfortunately, having God hide himself behind Sumerian and Babylonian myths of creation, flood, and so on makes the Bible look like just another ancient book of nonscientific nonsense. It’s hard to imagine why that would fit with God’s divine plan.

      If the information WAS accessible to ancient people, then it would be impossible to know whether the information was truly revealed or simply developed and was attributed to revelation, which leaves us right back where we started.

      And yet the Bible looks precisely like the blog of a desert people from 3000 years ago—hardly anything worth believing.

      Why having something really cool in the Bible would be a bad thing, I just don’t get.

      a deity would reveal itself from within a culture (as opposed to revealing itself from outside of the culture), employing existing myth to reinvent and realign beliefs and practices. Any particular reason why this would not be possible?

      Of course it’s possible, but why believe the resulting religion?

      You’re saying that God, the divine trickster, could’ve made plain his divine nature but choose not to to make his people’s holy book look indistinguishable from all the other ANE holy books. Sorry—I’m missing why that’s a fabulous idea.

      How large of a division would be considered a defeater?

      Sounds like no possible division would be a defeater for you!

  • Virginia

    Since I was booted off this blog, why was I spammed with 30 posts on Tuesday from your blog all from you and Gore? I read one, that was enough.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You mean blacklisted? No, I didn’t blacklist you. I can’t remember anything remotely annoying about you (am I forgetting something?!) What problems are you having that would send you to that conclusion?

      There has been some activity on some posts (perhaps this is one of them–I forget), so you might’ve seen a flurry of comments.

  • billwald

    >The concept of including scientific knowledge is problematic for several reasons.

    Glad that someone else in the US has noticed. There is nothing “scientific” about the topic of history. History is an art, not a science. No one earns a B.S. in history.

    The use of an orderly approach and expensive technical instruments does not turn an art into a science. “If a conclusion can’t be disproved, then neither can it be proven.”

  • JackKnifeJake

    Nothing. Because Even If an supreme being Did Exist i wouldn’t worship Him or Her. Because He or She Obviously doesn’t Give a shit about us Even if He or She Did Exist. Just Watch the News sometime or go to a Poor Community Or Country and See Just see how much God loves his children. And also I do not care for the Master/Slave Relationship.

    • RichardSRussell

      “Even If an supreme being Did Exist i wouldn’t worship Him or Her.”

      Exactly!

      The whole idea of “worship” just creeps me out, anyway. How self-loathing do you have to be to think that that’s a decent use of a human mind?

      I mean, we made fun of Toni Basil’s one-hit wonder “Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine. You’re so fine, you blow my mind.”, but Christians think we should actually live it every day of our lives. Ick. Get some self-respect.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Aha! You’re just too proud to bend the knee.

        Or something.

  • billwald

    But what if the good guys really did get their pie in the sky, by and by?

    • RichardSRussell

      Speaking as one of the good guys (and a dedicated science-fiction fan): “The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.”

    • http://slrman.wordpress.com/ James Smith

      Then we should accept Pascal’s wager and at least pretend to believe, “Just in case?” That assumes any deity is so moronic that he would be fooled by and as accepting of pretend belief as of true believers. Any god that stupid is no god. I would prefer one that placed the decency of a life above any beliefs.

  • Rebecca Horne

    What would convince me that a god exists: it shows up, in some measurable way, and demonstrates that it is not a product of evolution. I don’t know how such a thing could be proved, though. Maybe a genome (or equivalent) in which every single gene can be demonstrated to have a positive and measurable effect, with no “junk” genes?
    Anything based on circumstantial evidence (miracles) are subject to the problem of aliens using technology so advanced (or at least so foreign) that it is indistinguishable from magic.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Interesting idea. I’m still stuck on aliens who were a million years more advanced than us (or a billion) being so far ahead of us that our analysis would be pretty ineffective.


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