Avoid Christian Rationalization With This One Rule

Christians and atheists have many major points of disagreement, and these often rest on differing ways of evaluating evidence. How do we evaluate ancient miracle claims? Or modern miracle claims? Or claims of fulfilled prophecy? Or claims of contradictions in the Bible?

Let’s take the Levitical laws against homosexuality as an example. The Christian may argue that Leviticus 18:22 is pretty clear: “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is an abomination.”

But the Levitical laws have been dismissed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Kosher food laws, animal sacrifices, prohibitions against mixed fabrics and all that are gone. Why keep this one?

And so goes the argument, back and forth, getting nowhere.

If I may suggest a solution …

Bias enters science as well, and science has a response that we can use: the blinded scientific trial.

For example, the Templeton prayer study was a blinded trial. The people offering prayers didn’t know the patients they were praying for, and patients were divided into three categories: not prayed for, prayed for (but didn’t know it), and prayed for (and knew it).

Let’s extend the blinded trial into the area of everyday apologetic arguments.

Imagine that an atheist charges a Christian with bias, stating that the Christian is guilty of special pleading. The charge might be that the Christian labels as fulfilled prophecy a claim in the Bible, though they’d reject an equivalent claim from another religion. Or that a modern-day Hindu or Muslim miracle is nothing compared to its Christian counterpart. Or that the Noah flood story is history while the Gilgamesh flood story is mythology.

Here’s how the blinded trial would work.

1. The Christian and atheist agree on the claim. In the case mentioned above, the claim might be, “The rejection of homosexuality in Leviticus is binding on the Christian today.”

2. The Christian proposes the rules for evaluating the evidence, defines terms (“objective,” for example), and defines the relevant evidence (the NIV version of the Old Testament, for example).

3. The rules are evaluated by the atheist for ambiguity and bias. A rule such as “but keep all the anti-gay stuff” would be an obvious example of a biased rule.

4. If the atheist isn’t satisfied with the proposed rules, he can offer them. It doesn’t matter who proposes the rules; it only matters that everyone agrees that the rules are clear and fair. If there is no agreement after several rounds, then the worldviews of these two antagonists may be so incompatible that discussion is pointless.

5. With a set of fair rules for evaluating the evidence, give the problem to a third party agreeable to the Christian and the atheist. With the claim, the evidence, and the rules for evaluating that evidence, this judge decides if the claim is met.

A third party acceptable to everyone may not be hard to find, at least in principle. Sure, the Christian might want a Christian and the atheist an atheist, but what about a religious non-Christian? The Christian couldn’t object that this judge has an anti-supernatural bias, and the atheist couldn’t object to Christian presuppositions.

Submitting the issue to an actual person for evaluation could be as simple as finding a Hindu blogger or a leader in a local mosque and emailing the problem with the title, “Could you settle a bet for me?” Nevertheless, I see submitting the problem to an actual person for evaluation as mostly a thought experiment. Instead, I propose a different final step for most situations:

5′. The two antagonists work through the problem themselves. No, they’re not guaranteed to reach a common understanding, but simply going through this process with the agreed-to rules may clarify the issue so that a point of conflict dissolves away. Maybe the two parties didn’t realize that they were using a term differently, for example. Or maybe imagining the harsh light of an objective outsider on these questions erodes one party’s certainty.

This process is symmetric, and it could apply to an atheist claim as well as a Christian claim. Nevertheless, with the burden of proof typically on the Christian’s shoulders, the blinded trial would in practice be applied mostly to Christian claims.

If Christians want to just believe, that’s fine. But if they want to play in the arena of evidence, this is a way to ensure that everyone’s playing fair.

In adversity,
everything that surrounds you is a kind of medicine
that helps you refine your conduct,
yet you are unaware of it.
In pleasant situations,
you are faced with weapons that will tear you apart,
yet you do not realize it.

— Huanchu Daoren

Photo credit: Blog King

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    “…it could apply to an atheist claim as well as a Christian claim.”

    AFAICT, atheists don’t make claims in this realm. All they really do is simply question the claims of the religiots: “Really!? Why on Earth would you believe that?” So this might not be as symmetrical a process as you’re painting it.

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

      You could be right. I wanted to approach this in as fair a way as possible.

    • Rick

      I thought atheists claimed:

      Everything came from nothing
      Order came from disorder
      The big bang explains all of cosmology
      All animals and plants evolved from common ancestors
      Etc, etc.

      Sounds like some claims to me. Darwin and others thought there were some claims to be made on your side. AFAICT.

      • RichardSRussell

        While it may certainly be true that some atheists make these claims, it’s not because of their atheism. As I frequently point out, most of the world’s atheists — about a billion Chinese — believe in all sorts of other hokum and superstition, like ancestor veneration, reincarnation, Chinese traditional “medicine”, good-luck charms, Communism, feng shui, etc. They just don’t happen to believe in deities. I’ll bet most of them would just look at you with a puzzled expression if you posed the above statements to them.

        • Rick

          And that bit about the Chinese proves what?

          And are you saying you don’t make the common atheist claims I suggested?

        • RichardSRussell

          Reread the first sentence, Rick: “While it may certainly be true that some atheists make these claims, it’s not because of their atheism.” Atheism has no dogma; it makes no claims. A common intended insult from religiots is “You atheists don’t believe anything!” Of course that’s ludicrous. As normal human beings will, we believe all sorts of things. But not because we’re atheists. Atheism is a condition, a state of affairs, a circumstance, not a belief set.

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

        Everything came from nothing

        This is the consensus of cosmologists?? Show me.

        Order came from disorder

        We just went over this! Water evaporates from a sugar or salt solution, and beautiful crystals are left behind. Order from disorder.

        The big bang explains all of cosmology

        ?? I think there’s a lot more to cosmology than just this. But if you’re saying that science has no unanswered questions about the Big Bang, show this to me as well.

        All animals and plants evolved from common ancestors

        This is what Michael Behe says, and I’d hesitate to disagree with him.

        • Rick

          And I’ve already responded to these things. Crystals aren’t language code. They are shapes. And I don’t agree with everything Behe says. I’m not sure how he stays in the everything from “common ancestor” camp, but that is his business.

          In any case, Behe is not my guru. I’m into trying to figure out the actual truth behind the claims, and evaluating the evidence as best I can.

        • tyler

          oh of course sugar crystals are a code

          we can do with sugar crystals just like we do with dna. pick out a few seemingly meaningful shapes, sizes, etc and assign arbitrary symbols to them. all sorts of patterns emerge that way that can tell you all sorts of things, such as the curvature of the surface the crystals formed on, the length of time it took to evaporate, conceivably you’d even be able to predict how this particular sheet of sugar crystals will react when other substances are introduced to it (such as which bits will dissolve first and which parts will hang on til the end)

          really the only difference between dna and the hypothetical sugar crystals is that we have a universally accepted set of symbols for dna interpretation. it’s just highly convoluted chemistry dude, unless you are aware of some examples of biological materials reacting in arbitrary ways contrary to our current understanding of chemistry?

          people get really caught up with the word ‘code’ and tend to forget that dna isn’t a literal code like what software designers use. it’s just abstraction. imagine someone declaring physics wrong because the electron cloud theory doesn’t account for snow and hailstorms…

        • Rick

          Thanks for the perspective. I don’t see the similarity though. I don’t have a pet crystal. It doesn’t reproduce. It has no personality nor does it make complex protein chains. It’s out of its league if it’s pretending to be similar to living creatures with complex interacting systems of systems. We can learn about crystals and they can only tell us stuff once we learn about them. They can’t learn about anything. No consciousness nor purpose other than being chemical in nature.

        • Armanatar

          Those complexities are emergent properties of the basic chemical processes involved, much in the same way that the chemical properties of atoms are derived from the number and arrangement of subatomic particles that form them, and so on. Biological evolution is simply one manifestation of the way in which randomness, self-replication, and selective pressure can yield great complexity. You can get a sense of the difference between evolutionary processes and intelligent design by looking at the products. Evolution works by increments over a great period of time and is possessed of no “look-ahead”; that is, it can’t see a dead-end before it runs into it, or tell a local optimum from a global optimum. It also has no preconceptions about what changes will yield a better result; it essentially solves problems by spamming a million answers and seeing which ones take. As such, you see things like vestigial body parts (like our appendix or the remnant hind limbs of whales) and overly-complex solutions to simply problems (like the giraffe nerve mentioned above). Another good example is the enzyme RuBisCO, critical in carbon fixation in plants. it’s an extremely slow-working enzyme and has poor substrate specificity (it’s supposed to grab CO2, but it grabs oxygen nearly 30% of the time when available, and doing so is actively detrimental to the plant). Any first year grad student could come up with a much better enzyme configuration to accomplish the same task, but because it’s the intervening steps to get to a better enzyme wouldn’t work at all (thus leading to the death of the plant), the enzyme remains untouched and instead elaborate mechanisms have evolved to cope for its inefficiency. This is a problem that evolution cannot solve, but even human intelligence could if we were designing it, and the problem is unsolved. Which is more probable, then, that evolution behaved as expected, or that the so-called “intelligent designer” just dropped the ball on this because he was too busy giving whales hip bones?

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

          I don’t have a pet crystal. It doesn’t reproduce.

          You asked for order from disorder, and you got it (sugar crystal from evaporating sugar solution). QED.

        • Rick

          I rejected that example, but thanks for reminding me of the example. The one I said was not code, living, nor relevant. No QED. Did you really think that line would convince me?

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

          Did you really think that line would convince me?

          Certainly not. I don’t think anything I could say would convince you.

          But don’t demand an example of order from disorder, get one, and then say, “Missed me!!”

          You said, with amazement, “I thought atheists claimed: … Order came from disorder” and then I provided an example. If you actually want something else (code or living or whatever), then say so.

        • Rick

          I guess i thought it would be obvious that when I said I was looking for order I wasn’t looking for geometric shapes that occur naturally. I’ll b more careful to be specific next time.

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

          I guess i thought it would be obvious that
          when I said I was looking for order I wasn’t looking for geometric shapes that occur naturally.

          Not obvious to me. You ask for order from disorder, and the idea comes to mind of molecules disordered when dissolved but ordered when in a crystal formation.

          You weren’t looking for order that occurs naturally? So were you excluding natural examples a priori?


        • MNb

          Special pleading. You only see order when you want to see order.

        • Rick

          I think I gave some reasonable distinctions. Tell me why I’m wrong.

        • RichardSRussell

          “I don’t have a pet crystal. It doesn’t reproduce.”

          Neither does Morse code. Does that make it not a code?

        • tyler

          i was just addressing why your use of the code metaphor was misguided and incorrect. so long as you understand now why the “code needs a coder!” argument is wrong my work here is done~

          though i should tell you that the only difference between your pet crystal and your pet dog is… complexity. in the colloquial sense of the term, not the non-existent scientific sense.

        • Rick

          You are correct. The difference is complexity. A stalagmite may have a shape similar to a rocket. But the more complex of the two was designed. And it can get you somewhere. Big difference. So no, I don’t see that your “code needs a coder” rebuttal is convincing.

        • tyler

          that’s a little bit silly because complexity exists all over without requiring a designer. all you need for complexity to exist is… rules. complexity is just the interaction between those rules. might i recommend playing around with this for a while:


          a case could be made, perhaps, that a god set up the rules and the initial conditions, but it’s hardly a stretch to see complex patterns emerge from humble beginnings.

        • Rick

          Some complexity, sure. More complex than the most complex software ever devised by all our intelligence, and a different OS for every organism and plant, and they all work—to me that isn’t in the same category.

        • tyler

          you are postulating an upper limit to natural complexity for which there does not appear to be any indication of, and which current science strongly suggests does not exist. moreover, your comparison to information technology is once again overreaching. in less than a century humanity has gone from clockwork abacuses to computers that do literally everything, and our rate of advancement is moving along exponentially. evolution, in addition to running on a process that is counter-intuitive to our way of thinking and though being much slower than human progress, has been running for literally several billion years. the ‘different os’ analogy is also disingenuous, as the GCAT business appears to be standard across the board–as far as i know, science has yet to find a life form that does not rely on some form of dna or rna. it is likely you only looked as far as the kingdom taxonomic classification and did not bother to check for traits common to all life.

          i do not think you have a strong argument here. it may be in your best interest to try a different tack.

        • Rick

          You may be well beyond me in some of this, but my OS example seems pretty appropriate. All DNA and RNA uses four protein letters. All computers are binary, using only two. Kind of similar except DNA is more complex and has an OS for every life form. A bigger difference exists between cows and cabbage than between Windows 7 and Windows 8, and to go from Windows 7 to Windows 8 required the intense efforts of lots of teams of programmers.

          But from cabbage to cows was a fortuitous set of accidents to the atheist. Lotsa faith required. Even with lotsa time.

        • tyler

          uh… cabbages and cows are on entirely different branches of the tree of life. you should probably google cladistics, as you are falling into the far too common trap of assuming a sort of malleable interweaving merging blob-like thing rather than a pattern of distinct branches.

          if you are intent on the operating systems analogy, then the different taxa would probably be represented by apple, microsoft, linux, and so on, which all developed from previous iterations of even simpler, less distinct systems. and from those you’d have the old extinct operating systems like windows 3.0 and 95 and macintosh and the early linux builds and so on, and then the modern day operating systems that ‘evolved’ from those being things like windows 8 and all of those smartphone operating systems that branched off of their parent oses, whatever apple os we’re on now, and who knows what the heck is going on with linux.

          basically the cows from cabbages suggestion was like telling me that a bunch of developers worked tirelessly to create windows 8 out of android jelly bean’s source code. i think that you should probably stop using analogies until you have a better understanding of concepts such as branching hierarchies, inheritance, and the like.

        • Rick

          It’s a word picture, not a science lesson. Both use DNA and both came supposedly from the first single celled

        • tyler

          i do not mean to insult you but you really do not seem to be educated enough in the subjects of information technology and biology to be able to discuss them competently, or even to paint consistent word pictures. i would highly recommend doing more research in these fields before forming a polarized opinion.

        • Rick

          Thanks. I fully admit that the cabbage-cows reference was faulty and that is why I told you it was a word picture, explaining that both use DNA and came at some point back in your scenario to a common point of the first single cell. I think you missed that attempt at restatement. Do you think there were multiple first cells?

          Just curious as to what your understanding is about where life began.

        • tyler

          i understand that you were trying to get the point across that some species are very distinct from each other, but your analogy failed on every level and betrayed a highly simplistic at best or outright false at worst grasp of the mechanisms and theory of evolution. i do not think any satisfying conclusion can be reached as long as you hold such a misguided understanding; i feel i can explain evolutionary biology to you all day and you will still find basic and invalid faults in it because your educational foundation in this particular field is so riddled with misconceptions. i am honestly almost expecting you to pull out the “if humans came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” line of arguments. again, i do not intend to insult you, but i feel it is important to recognize these fundamental faults before any real understanding can be achieved.

          i do not think abiogenesis is relevant to this discussion, but it seems unlikely that any abiogenesis event was limited to generating only a single lifeform, or that there was (or even still is) any hard line between life and non-life.

        • Rick

          Since you now understand that I was not trying to play a geneticist, but only to make a point, I see no reason for us to pursue this line further. The point didn’t work for you. I get that. Again. Thanks.

        • Kodie

          Your analogies really only make sense to you. It is how you are perceiving the information as it makes sense as you see it, but you are hindered… so, so hindered by what you don’t know and what you don’t understand. I can’t explain it as good as tyler, and you are biased against my input anyway.

          Let me put it this way, as if I am Rick: a man and a woman are beside one another and you soon discover that that man is the woman’s son. How can a man come from a woman? How could a full grown man come out of a woman who is smaller than he is! I have no idea, I will assume it is magic.

          I’ll assume you actually would know that he used to be a lot smaller and even while the woman became a fertile adult, he did not even exist in any form. But you think in very short amounts of time and complexity in your own personal definition of it astounds and baffles you, such that you do not listen to people trying to explain in simple terms why you are wrong. Your confirmation bias here shows that you believe what you already believe, argue what you already have learned, and deny any new information that could widen your comprehension of things a little closer to how things actually are.

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

          But from cabbage to cows was a fortuitous set of accidents to the atheist.

          Why cabbage to cows? You show less knowledge of evolution than you imply.

          Why “fortuitous”? That suggests that cows were a goal.

          Why “accidents”? That suggests that evolution is just a random process.

          Lotsa faith required.

          You keep saying that, which puzzles me. It’s like you’re using “faith” as an insult. Is faith an embarrassing crutch to you, too?

          We laymen trust, based on evidence, that science is correct here. You want to pretend that there is no such thing as evidence-based trust. Do you have it for medicine?

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

          Or, perhaps you meant to refer to a range of life forms (cabbage to cows) rather than a temporal sequence. That would make more sense.

        • Rick

          No, faith is not an embarrassing crutch.

          Yes, I have evidence-based trust in medicine.

          I’ve already admitted the problem in my cabbage-cows reference and restated the point. I was trying to use alliteration and humor in an analogy. It was sloppy. Mia culpa. Again. Feel better now? I forgot this was a no humor zone.

          But thanks for piling on. It’s very effective. Theres a penalty for that in some sports.

        • smrnda

          As a person who works with bio-informatics software, you can actually reduce all representations of DNA and RNA to binary if you want to, the way that you can reduce higher level programming languages to binary machine instructions if you want to. In fact, I’d say you can reduce any information to binary.

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

          A different OS for every species? I thought you had dismissed the curious things we see in DNA–our similarity to chimps, our common DNA defects, atavisms and vestigial features, and so on–as a designer making variations on a theme.

          So which is it–is the designer whipping up a new OS from scratch for each species, or are the biologists right that there are family commonalities?

        • Rick

          Kind of a mix, I guess, but I don’t really know. Nor do I claim to.

          But there seems to be more difference between chimps and humans than between Windows and Mac. But in both cases, the designer is using similar tools, much as your house and mine had different architects but both use similar construction methods in all likelihood. That similarity of 2x4s and electrical wiring doesn’t mean that one evolved from another. In the case of biology, I would have to say it is consistent with a single creator to have used similar tools but to have varied his style a lot for different creatures and plants, etc.

          Not that hard to conceive. You seem to want me to pigeon hole exactly what happened and that is clearly not reasonable nor necessary to explain the concept.

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

          it is consistent with a single creator to have used similar tools but to have varied his style a lot for different creatures and plants, etc.

          But why phrase it that way? It makes it look like your goal isn’t to follow the evidence but rather to interpret the evidence so that it supports your pet hypothesis.

          You are trying to follow the evidence without an agenda, right?

        • swbarnes2

          DNA isn’t a “code” either. It’s a molecule. It interacts with other molecules based on its shape, based on chemistry.

          Anyway, let’s get specific shall we?

          Here’s are two protein sequences.


          Which has more information, and how did you determine that?

          I’ll give you a hint; one cleaves a particular substrate, the other does not. Which is more complex?

        • Rick

          No clue. Hint: That is not the topic. The philosophy of how DNA came to be functional is. Randomness doesn’t explain it for me. If it does for you, you have much more blind faith than I do.

        • Kodie

          “Avoid Christian Rationalization” is the topic. And there you go, avoiding it by running straight toward it.

        • swbarnes2

          Chemistry isn’t random. It follows specific rules. You mix carbon, and oxygen, and hydrogen, and energy, you get organic molecules. DNA is functional because it is a chemical that interacts with other chemicals. Once the chemicals are formed such that the rules of chemistry make them self-replicating, randomness is harnessed to replication.

          That’s what all those genetic algorithms show; randomness, harnessed by replication yields astonishing outcomes, very unlike what “intelligently”-designed solutions look like. DNA looks like it came about by this process, not any intelligent designing.

        • smrnda

          Given that DNA isn’t really a very good way of encoding information and the replication process is highly susceptible to error, it seems more like a random chance thing to me.

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

          it seems more like a random chance thing to me.

          Perhaps even a Rube Goldberg machine. Complexity and design aren’t the same thing.

        • smrnda

          Complexity is often bad design. Simplicity is far better since it’s easier to understand and diagnose a simple system.

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

          That you find evolution startling or baffling isn’t too surprising. You are an outsider.

          You could read up on evolution to find out why the people who understand this stuff say what they say. Then you’d have no need for faith. Problem solved.

        • Rick

          I think I have read on it as much as you. I’m just not convinced by your side. Not sure how this advances your case.

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

          I think I have read on it as much as you. I’m just not convinced by your side.

          I’ve got a ways to go before I get my doctorate in biology. Sounds like you’re in the same boat.

          I don’t understand a lot about biology. If I cared to and had the time, I could devote myself to study and turn those questions into understanding.

          Does the consensus view within quantum physics keep you up at night? If not, why do you focus on evolution rather than some other domain of science?

          Not sure how this advances your case.

          Because it shreds the “I guess you’ve got more blind faith than I do” line. Good for laughs, I’ll grant you, but looking at a discipline of science to which you’re an outsider and saying, “Whoa! Who’s gonna believe that malarkey??” can’t be salvaged by saying that anyone who accepts it is guilty of blind faith.

        • Rick

          I focus on the science that makes my case. Quantum physics is kind of a different breed, and even there, I suspect the rules that govern it are ordered.

          I guess I don’t feel shredded by that response. I use science all the time in a practical way, and have had enough training to know how the basic sciences work. Enough to be comfortable discussing it’s concepts, as are you. Common sense still applies to these discussions. After all, they’re more philosophy than science.

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

          I focus on the science that makes my case.

          I’m trying to figure out if you have a religion-driven agenda. Sure looks like it to me. Quantum physics (which, let’s be honest, is completely insane) doesn’t step on your theological toes, so you let it go. Those eggheads in with their big experiments can just putter on since they’re not bothering you.

          But biology? Geology? Those are annoying, so you jump into the fray.

          If your actions aren’t driven by a religious agenda but merely an open-minded search for the facts, perhaps you can jump in and clarify. Perhaps you understand why an outsider would see you this way.

          Common sense still applies to these discussions.

          I disagree. Common sense might’ve been a key tool 200 years ago, but it’s useless at the frontiers of science. If it were easy, we would’ve discovered it centuries ago. It’s not easy.

        • Rick

          I try to find examples I can use to explain my case, nothing more or less. I don’t deny quantum physics. I just think the parameters were set up by the same creator. But it’s hard to make an example understandable with something none of us understand. That’s all. It’s not about what is annoying, or what you find annoying. It’s simply trying to find examples which communicate. On this blog, not much does.

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

          I don’t deny quantum physics.

          Why not? The objections you raise about evolution—demanding that we use common sense, saying that it’s ridiculous, and so on—apply far more to quantum physics, which actually is nonsensical.

          You accept the basics of evolution. You have no problem with either random mutation or natural selection. You have no problem with allele frequencies changing over time, which is the definition of evolution. You apparently see some sort of wall that prevents change going as far as creating speciation, which is where you differ from the actual science, but let’s marvel at this substantial overlap you have with this field that you reject.

          “Scientists” pushing evolution drives you crazy, but quantum physicists doing their completely illogical thing doesn’t? You can see why it’s clear to many of us that you are operating from a religious agenda, not from an honest search for the truth.

        • Rick

          I haven’t been at all secretive that I have a different view than you do. If I could be convinced from these arguments that I’m wrong, I would certainly consider them. I try to help you atheists understand where we Christians find your arguments insufficient to do that. No secret agenda. Just trying to communicate in a civil manner. Not sure why that is so tough for your side, which results to name calling and innuendo.

          Chill folks—let’s just talk about this stuff. You’re all getting worked up. Life is too short. Unless it is eternal, of course.

        • Kodie

          You are saying, beyond a certain complexity, you have no other explanation other than an intelligent deity, while we are explaining that a deity explains no such thing and is not needed. You Christians find non-theist arguments insufficient because you don’t understand, you fail to meet the information without already believing in something that is magical and invisible. This is what I don’t understand either – once the illusion is presented, you can’t see things another way. You are willing to forgo rational thinking to believe something that sounds outrageous from the get-go. You find it impossible to confront reality because it is too amazing to believe, and yet you substitute an unfounded fantasy figure who accomplished the whole deal because you anthropomorphize, i.e. you make god in your own image, nature.

          Why do you more easily believe that there is a sculptor playing with his dollhouse from a spirit realm than you believe that things just change and adapt to their environment? A crystal can form by responding to its environment. Why can’t a person come from an ape that way? Apes adapt and learn and share and over generations, become another animal.

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

          If I could be convinced from these arguments that I’m wrong, I would certainly consider them.

          Do I hear you say that you reject the idea of having a religion-based agenda (that is, coming at this with an immutable presupposition), and that you approach reality with an open mind, following the facts where they lead?

          I try to help you atheists understand where we Christians find your arguments insufficient to do that.

          Yes, that is helpful. It’s most helpful when you can point out flaws in atheist arguments. Simply saying that you don’t care for the arguments or their conclusions doesn’t do much, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

        • Rick

          Yes. (Having said that, I’ve never seen an argument for atheism that was convincing enough to seriously question my current world view.)

          Yes. (I try to do that. I may not rise to your standards for doing so.)

        • Kodie

          I use science all the time in a practical way, and have had enough training to know how the basic sciences work.

          Do you understand how much you don’t understand that you take for granted that someone else does know, to make your life more practical than it would be? I don’t need to know how to build a bridge to drive on one. Knowing how to build a bridge is not practical knowledge for my life, but you are sort of dismissing what you don’t need to know or use personally as fitting in categories that you decide, based on your limited knowledge. Sure, it is common sense, you don’t need to know all the ins and outs of, say, how an air conditioner works, but then you are positive that lakes work differently. Common sense! You can tell the difference between a cabbage and a cow, like a kindergarten champ, and this is where your certainty that two things are in no way (as far as is practical to you) alike, conclude a deity.

          You don’t know because you don’t need to know, but then you don’t get to insert your own posits from your practical point of view as a non-expert with shallow understanding of the topic. When it’s time for dinner, there is a major difference between cabbages and cows. When you are trying to argue against evolution, nobody cares what kinds of hilarity ensued when you brought home a cabbage instead of steak from the supermarket.

        • Kodie

          Why is there a distinction for you? Bias. We did already do this, but you didn’t follow through.

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

          Crystals aren’t language code.

          This is the second time you’ve asked for examples of order from disorder, and this is the second time I’ve rubbed your face in this very simple and obvious example.

          Sugar molecules in water are disordered. In a crystal lattice, they’re very ordered. Order out of disorder. QED.

          If this isn’t what you want, then stop asking for it.

          I don’t agree with everything Behe says.

          That’s a relief. Here’s what he says in Darwin’s Black Box, p. 5:

          For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it.

          The guy’s nuts, amiright??

        • Rick

          You’ve “rubbed [my] face in this very simple and obvious example?” Really? Sounds like snarky Bob is back.

          Insanity has been said to represent trying something over and over and expecting a different result. If you tried the same unconvincing argument before and I responded with why it was unconvincing, why would you try it again. You’re not going to get a different result.

          Crystals form in shapes according to chemical bonds. DNA is more like Morse code, unmistakable when used properly. (Thanks, Richard for your example there!)

          Quite different.

          No, Behe isn’t nuts, and I don’t claim any of you are.

          I wish the same courtesy could be extended to folks you’ve failed to convince. We see things differently.

          My goals are simple. I want you to know that while Christians don’t often visit here (think there’s a lack of hospitality perhaps?) there are answers to all of your issues raised.I don’t read every post nor respond to every barb, but when I do, I want you to know there are better answers than the ones you are providing. I will chime in occasionally to remind you that your answers as atheists are not convincing to folks who see cause and effect and are open to the possibility of a creator.

          There is a more coherent answer. You just have to be open to the possibility of a creator and you will see the evidence everywhere you look.

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

          Sounds like snarky Bob is back.

          Rub the lamp, and out he comes. If the dialogue doesn’t advance and we go over and over stuff, I get annoyed in the hope that a change of attitude will stop the insanity. (As you note, it doesn’t.)

          Insanity has been said to represent trying something over and over and expecting a different result.

          Oh—so you do know this then?

          If you tried the same unconvincing argument before and I responded with why it was unconvincing

          You said no order from disorder. I gave an example. Then you said: no order from disorder.

          What response do you recommend from me?

          Quite different.

          Than what?? You asked for order from disorder. If that’s not actually what you want, then I’m looking for some kind of backtracking. “What was I thinking?? I didn’t mean order from disorder. Everyone knows that examples of this happening without intelligence are common. What I actually meant was …” and then you clarify.

          See how that works?

          I wish the same courtesy could be extended to folks you’ve failed to convince. We see things differently.

          Yes, we do. I’m still waiting for a reasonable way a layman can reject the scientific consensus as our best provisional approximation to the truth.

          think there’s a lack of hospitality perhaps?


          I want you to know there are better answers than the ones you are providing.

          And you provide a valuable service when you bring up new, strong viewpoints that are relevant and that contradict what has been said in the post. I gotta tell you, though, that the evolution denial thing is really tilting at windmills. Saddling your position with that embarrasses your position. Most Christians reject the YEC thing, so you don’t have to drop Christianity to have a consistent position with respect to science.

          The water’s fine. I’m just sayin’.

          I will chime in occasionally to remind you that your answers as atheists are not convincing to folks who see cause and effect and are open to the possibility of a creator.

          Just ensure that your argument isn’t of the form “well, here’s how we could rearrange things so that my Christian presupposition is intact.” Such an argument convinces no one. It should satisfy you least of all. What is interesting is starting with no assumptions and following the facts where they lead.

          You just have to be open to the possibility of a creator and you will see the evidence everywhere you look.

          This is what I’m talking about. Yes, I suppose if your goal is to rearrange things to line up behind your presuppositions, you can get through life feeling bombarded with confirming evidence. Alternatively, you can actually seek the truth.

        • Rick

          As could you.

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


        • Rick

          Your last comment was, Alternatively, you can actually seek the truth.

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

          Right. What I was puzzled by was your “Nuh uh!!” response to a rather long comment. I guess I expected you’d have more.

          Or, perhaps there’s more agreement than I expected.

      • Sven2547

        Let me take a crack at these:

        Everything came from nothing

        It is a common misconception about the “Big Bang” that there was nothing, then it went “BANG!”, then there was matter. Physics dictates that mass-energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted to other states, and modern Cosmology reflects that. The mass-energy of the universe existed before the “big bang”, but in an unknown configuration. Then it formed a singularity, then there was the massive expansion of space-time, as well as rapid cooling and energy conversion, known as the “Big Bang”.

        In stark contrast, it is the Christian creation myth (among others) that everything was *poofed* into existence…

        Order came from disorder

        I’m not quite sure what you mean by this vague statement. Any scientist worth his salt knows that thermodynamics dictates that net entropy rises universally. That part is crucial. For example: life has generally gotten more complex on Earth over time, but that doesn’t violate thermodynamics, since life on Earth is gaining energy from an outside source: the Sun (which is undergoing the massively entropic force of nuclear fusion).

        The big bang explains all of cosmology

        I’ve never heard this claim before. The “Big Bang” explains CMBR and universal expansion, which become the basis for Hubble’s Law. It also explains certain observations regarding galaxy formation, but I’m not sure I’d say it “explains all of cosmology”… a more learned man than I could provide a better answer. It certainly doesn’t contradict modern Cosmology.

        I have to run AFK, so I’ll cover the rest later.

        • Rick

          Got it. But at some point the matter came from … ??

        • Sven2547

          The matter was previously energy, but the total sum of matter + energy in the universe has always been the same, as far as our current understanding of physics is concerned. During the “Big Bang”, much of the singularity’s energy was converted to matter.

          The conversion of energy-to-matter or matter-to-energy is rather thoroughly established. An atomic explosion, for example, involves the rapid conversion of a tiny amount of matter into energy.

        • Rick

          Ok. And the energy came from …?

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

          What are you getting at? If your point is that science doesn’t have all the answers, we’re all on the same page there. Problem is, (1) science probably will and (2) this doesn’t give any support for a pet theory of your own.

        • ataripixel

          Every supernatural mystery ever solved by science has turned out not to be God.

        • MNb

          Nowhere. The sum is probably zero.
          If you want to make this argument you have to turn to quantum fields connected to elementary particles, like the recently discovered higgs boson. Problem for you is that you’ll have to reconvert to a dice playing god, like The Flying Spaghetti Monster. See my question above.
          So if you’re intellectually honest as you claim to be you’ll either have to drop the argument entirely or drop your christianity.

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

          In response to Wm. Lane Craig’s “something can’t come from nothing” (common sense in our middle world, but laughable as an evidence-less axiom within quantum physics), why imagine that “something” is more likely?

          (That wasn’t exactly on topic, I realize.)

        • MNb

          I’m afraid I don’t understand your question.

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

          It was rhetorical. I was simply saying that “something can’t come from nothing” assumes that “nothing” is more likely.

          That’s a claim that needs evidence.

        • Sven2547

          And the energy came from …?

          I think I have already answered that. The mass-energy of the universe has presumably always existed, since it can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted.

        • MNb

          “the total sum of matter + energy in the universe has always been the same”
          In fact it’s probably zero. Gravity provides a lot of negative energy (movement being in the opposite direction of the force).

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

          Science doesn’t know. And that’s where it’ll just have to lie for a few years or decades or centuries until science has more to add. That science has zillions of unanswered questions (it does) gives no support to the “God dun it!” hypothesis.

        • Rick

          And that is a profound missatement of the intelligent design. If you’d read more about it perhaps youd understand it better. (To quote another post you made.)

          But trading barbs isnt going to advance anything. It does make me think you don’t have all that many convincing arguments though. How about if we get back to those?

          Where did the energy come from is just another version of “everything has to have a cause.” It’s more a philosophical question than a science question. Which is why the continual appeal to science consensus is irrelevant to the topics where you frequently try to bring it to bear. I should have realized that earlier. I’ll try to point it out when I see it in the future.

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

          And that is a profound missatement of the intelligent design.

          You’re right. I should’ve said, “Unspecified and unidentified supernatural powers dun it!”

          It does make me think you don’t have all that many convincing arguments though. How about if we get back to those?


          Where did the energy come from is just another version of “everything has to have a cause.” It’s more a philosophical question than a science question. Which is why the continual appeal to science consensus is irrelevant to the topics where you frequently try to bring it to bear.

          I don’t understand the first sentence. Maybe there’s some context I’m missing.

          Are you saying that hypothesizing that the Big Bang came from pre-existing energy doesn’t provide an ultimate answer? That would be true. (1) Saying “I don’t know” works perfectly fine for me. The many questions science has gives zero support for the God position. (2) As MNb pointed out, the total energy could well be zero. (3) Nothing could be unstable (Lawrence Krauss’s position). (4) Philosophy? I see no value in that here. I look to science to answer questions about the origin of the universe.

        • Rick

          Seriously? Your whole Cross Examined book is philosophy.

        • RichardSRussell

          As I think I’ve explained the previous dozen times you’ve raised the issue, there are 4 leading hypotheses:
          (1) Some entity created it.
          (2) It’s always been there.
          (3) It sprang into being spontaneously.
          (4) There is no Universe; it’s all a figment of your imagination.

          The existence of the Universe alone does not provide any means of distinguishing among these hypotheses. Each of them ends up with the Universe we perceive around us; each of them is capable of explaining it; none of them deals with how this was accomplished.

          In the absence of any convincing evidence for any of the hypotheses, the simplest answer to your question is “nobody knows”. A slightly longer version tacks on “…. and anyone who claims to know is either deluded or lying.”

        • Rick

          A dozen times? Really? I don’t recall seeing that list before but whatever on that.

          Do you really find it effective to characterize someone whom you have failed to convince by the power of your arguments as deluded or lying?

          I don’t claim to know. What I claim is that one of the four is more reasonable than the others based on the evidence I see. You see it differently. I don’t characterize that as deluded or lying. I don’t judge your motives. I just believe you are not open to the most logical possibility.

          To which of the three do you adhere?

          2) It’s always been there—so it is infinite
          3) It came into existence by spontaneous… ??
          4) It has never been there (and neither have you or me)

        • RichardSRussell

          Rick, I sometimes wonder about your literacy skills. Right after I get done writing “Anyone who claims to know is either deluded or lying” you respond “I don’t claim to know. Why are you calling me a liar?” Did you really lose track of “anyone who claims to know” somewhere in the 2 words between that and “deluded or lying”?

          You think 1 of the possibilities is “more reasonable” than the other 3? Why? By what logic? All 4 hypotheses explain the available evidence equally well. None of them has any additional evidence they can point to as a bulwark for this particular claim. Why do you lean north rather than east, south, or west?

        • Rick

          Not calling you a liar. Since you responded to me, I thought you said I was claiming to know. But I didn’t write what you have in quotes attributed to me, “Why are you calling me a liar?” So I’m not sure why you included that in the part you attributed to me, but of course, my literary skills are in question here. Hmm. Chill, maybe?

          Thanks for insulting my literary skills though. That is really endearing.

          I’ve already stated that I think number one is more reasonable given the evidence of apparent design. Not sure why you are asking that, since it should be clear to you where I stand. All 4 hypotheses don’t explain available evidence equally well to me. If they do to you, then that is your prerogative. I can’t go there.

        • RichardSRussell

          It wasn’t literaRy skills, it was literaCy skills, and this very misreading of it by you shows that, however insulting you might find it, it continues to be accurate.

          Another example: I ask “why you favor the hypothesis you do” and you respond “It should be clear to you where I stand”, as if I’d asked what you believe instead of why you believe it.

          Frankly, it’s not worth my time any more trying to deal with someone whose communication skills seem not to be founded on a common understanding of the English language.

          Bob apparently has more stomach for this bullshit than I do, so I’ll leave you to him. For my part I’m done trying to put across simple declarative sentences and short, explicitly worded questions only to have them consistently misconstrued or evaded at the receiving end. This is not dialog, and it’s getting nowhere.

        • Rick

          Thanks for this correction. I will avoid responses to you if you prefer. They usually end with you going away mad and calling me names, so I would have to agree that your assessment of the futility is probably correct. Please note that I have made every effort to be civil in spite of your not doing so.

          I still wonder why you modified what I said, and then attacked me for something I didn’t say, but since my literacy skills are so substandard, perhaps the quotation marks meant something different to you. No response from you on that error on your part. But I’m sure it is really my fault.

      • Sven2547

        Picking up where I left off:

        I want to point out that these claims are not intrinsic to atheism. These are scientific claims. Atheists are often (but not always) fond of making scientific claims and so are Christians. There are no “atheist claims” except “there are no gods“. This can be modified a bit (“There are probably no gods”, “I don’t think there are any gods”, etc) but that really is the gist of it.

        Common Ancestry is another scientific claim (not to be confused with an “atheist claim”). The genetic and fossil-based evidence for this is quite strong. There’s not much to tell, it’s really quite straightforward.

  • Rick

    Great idea! Let’s try it. Let’s start with issues I brought up recently on another or your posts.

    1) I said that you as atheists were subject to biases perhaps even to a greater extent than Christians.

    2) I said that DNA evidence is compelling for an intelligent creator.

    The responses I got were that I was ignorant, mostly. No one addressed either issue directly. And since it was something on the order of all of you piling on one (me) I chose not to respond after a bit. Not so productive. And I’m summarizing from memory here, not going back to dredge it all up. Spoiler alert—I don’t have time to get to all of your posts nor do I read all of the posters. (So there may have been some cogent responses I missed. Feel free to let me know about that.)

    But let’s go with the DNA claim. No one addressed that effectively. No one really touched the bias claim either, but we have to start somewhere.

    You as a programmer ought to be able to come up with a set of rules to demonstrate how we can evaluate my claim. After all, we have what is best correlated to DNA in our experience — computer language. Right up your alley!

    So how do you get behavioral changes resulting in DNA change that is passed to offspring, as one of your enlightened writers offered? Or how do we explain increases in complexity from random copy errors in software?

    My set of rules includes that we must demonstrate that the preponderance of the evidence is on the side of stasis and micro-evolutionary change, with no macro ever having been observed nor proven. Or not.

    Your rules? My guess is that you will say, “Forget thinking about it. We must go with consensus of the experts I deem relevant.” Thereby negating the post above. But surprise me!


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

      You as a programmer ought to be able to come up with a set of rules to demonstrate how we can evaluate my claim.

      I keep responding, and you keep bringing us back to the point before my response. Yes, I suppose it feels better back here, when you’ve fired your snappy salvo and before I reply, but I’ve replied so many times that I wonder if you’re forgetful or if it’s simply selective memory.

      DNA alone demolishes the Design Argument. DNA isn’t like a fine Swiss watch; it’s a Rube Goldberg machine.

      To your point, my rule (and I’m pretty sure you’ve seen this a dozen times) is simple: laymen have no choice but to accept the scientific consensus where it exists as our best provisional explanation of reality. (By what platform could they object?)

      So how do you get behavioral changes resulting in DNA change that is passed to offspring, as one of your enlightened writers offered?

      Since you have, one hopes, read quite a bit about evolution, it would speed the conversation along if you’d make the first obvious moves in the chess game yourself instead of simply opening with king pawn 2 to king pawn 4.

      My dog scratches at her bed and turns around before she lies in it. I didn’t teach her that. Her mother didn’t either. It’s instinct—she came out of the box knowing that that’s what one does.

      Humans are just one more type of mammal that comes out of the box with programming that pushes them one way rather than another.

      Of course, I don’t pretend that this is thorough. But since you’ve heard this all before, I don’t want to waste too much time repeating myself. If there’s something that you truly don’t understand, perhaps I can help.

      Or how do we explain increases in complexity from random copy errors in software?


      My set of rules includes that we must demonstrate that the preponderance of the evidence is on the side of stasis and micro-evolutionary change, with no macro ever having been observed nor proven.

      I’m not following your point here. If you’re saying that you’re happy with microevolution but not macroevolution, be sure to include the mechanism that keeps the micro from becoming macro. You presumably imagine a metaphorical well that surrounds each species. Individuals can move around inside that well but can’t get out. What is this well?

      “Forget thinking about it. We must go with consensus of the experts I deem relevant.” Thereby negating the post above. But surprise me!

      I’m happy to oblige. I go with the consensus of experts that any bonehead would agree are experts: those with doctorates in the relevant field of science. Those without relevant degrees don’t get a vote.

      • Rick

        Kind of what I expected. You refused to propose a set of rules.

        As for your wikipedia link, it refers to genetic programming, which is an intelligently designed process, not random. People make the software that makes the moves.

        In artificial intelligence, genetic programming (GP) is an evolutionary algorithm-based methodology inspired by biological evolution to find computer programs that perform a user-defined task.

        Once again, the emperor has no clothes. But I’m not smart enough to really say that, of course.

        But by your standard, neither you nor most of your contributors have standing to comment on these subjects, since, as a computer programmer, you have no formal training to do so. (I disagree with that, but I’m not sure how you get around it to disallow my comments but allow yours. Another mystery of life!)

        • trj

          Why then do you bring programming into the discussion when you’re obviously going to dismiss any of its findings, on the basis that programming requires intelligence and intent. Do you think it’s honest to propose to your opponents that they use a methodology which you intend to dismiss out of hand?

        • Rick

          I think it is honest to propose a topic that suggests a logical conclusion that there must have been intelligence.

          Atheists deny any supernatural existence, so by definition dismiss any claim of any religion based on forces we do not observe in process today. See any similarity?

        • trj

          If you can demonstrate how this alleged supernatural realm influences our natural world, then by all means let’s hear it. Until then, there are thousands of contrasting supernatural assertions about the cosmos floating around, most of which you’ll happily dismiss yourself. Add to that the lousy track record of spiritual claims coming true, and you should get an idea why skeptics don’t put much trust in your supernatural assertions and don’t consider them a useful basis for discovering facts about our world.

          Science at least attempts to use evidence, observation, and testing. Religion? Not so much.

        • MNb

          Nope. I can tell you what kind of evidence would convince me of an intelligent supernatural entity (BobS might call it a hyper intelligent alien, but to me that would not make any difference). Many atheists can. So because of symmetry, Rick – what kind of evidence would you accept that
          a) there is no intelligent supernatural entity at all;
          b) you have worshipped the wrong one your entire life, ie would urge you to reconvert?
          You can’t answer these questions? Then your rationality is fake.
          I find this a lot simpler than BobS’ set of rules.

        • smrnda

          You don’t seem to understand the definition of genetic algorithms. The user selects a task like ‘find shortest path from A to B.’ This is the user defining the environment and the goal, NOT the program. Then, randomness generates programs and iterations of the programs that perform better make it to the next step. At no point in time is a programmer writing the programs/algorithms. The process would be comparable to selective breeding in animals. You don’t think people actually intelligently designed different breeds of dogs, do you?

          It’s a lot different than if I actually *wrote code to do something.*

          The procedure is analogous to evolution, except the environment is determined by chance and the goals are defined by the needs of the organism.

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

          Kind of what I expected. You refused to propose a set of rules.

          I did. You just didn’t like it. But not a problem: point 4 says that if one party isn’t doing a good job proposing rules, the other is welcome to jump in and do so. Go for it. Show us the rules that I’m too timid to offer.

          it refers to genetic programming, which is an intelligently designed process, not random.

          The design of the process is intelligent. The process itself is not. You asked for how to increase complexity in software from random errors. If selection is OK as well, then genetic programming is your answer.

          Once again, the emperor has no clothes.

          If you’re referring to evolution, you do realize, I hope, that the person who overturns evolution has a Nobel Prize with his name on it. I suggest you stop hiding your light under a basket and get out there and tell some of these pencil-neck biologists how life really works.

          What do you figure—are they all idiots or just liars?

          But by your standard, neither you nor most of your contributors have standing to comment on these subjects

          I accept the scientific consensus. Why do you raise the point? Was I violating my own principle somehow?

          I’m not sure how you get around it to disallow my comments but allow yours

          What are you talking about? Our discussion of biology?

          We’re both armchair biologists. Did you think that it’s a capital crime for laypeople to discuss biology? When I get to be king, that will indeed be the case, but that happy day hasn’t yet arrived.

          It’s when we armchair biologists reach a conclusion that rejects the scientific consensus that we have a problem. That would be pretty laughable, wouldn’t it?

        • Rick

          There’s no nobel prize for anyone who doesn’t fit the world view of the Nobel committee.

          As far as armchair biologists being laughable, you are an armchair doctor every time you choose a medical professional or fill a prescription. We exercise discretion all the time in decisions we make based on where we put our trust. I don’t find that laughable. It is called being a mature adult, evaluating the experts and choosing who we find credible. We all do it every day. At least the adults among us do.

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

          There’s no nobel prize for anyone who doesn’t fit the world view of the Nobel committee.

          Wow—does your persecution complex know no bounds?

          The issue here is science. There have been hardball debates (for example, the plate tectonics one was quite spirited, as I understand it), but the correct science wins out in the end.

          Don’t you say that IDers will indeed overturn the consensus? If so, where does this complaint of yours come from?

          As far as armchair biologists being laughable, you are an armchair doctor every time you choose a medical professional or fill a prescription.

          Nope. Not really a parallel.

          Show me a time when you considered the consensus within medicine and concluded, “Nope—that’s wrong. I’ve done the research, and that conclusion is simply wrong.”

          Sure, you may have rejected a doctor’s recommendation or gotten a second opinion or opted for the doctor’s second or third preferred choice. Not the same thing.

          We exercise discretion all the time in decisions we make based on where we put our trust. I don’t find that laughable.

          Neither do I. Now, can we get back to the subject at hand?

        • Rick

          Not today. I only have so much time.

          I’ve been on topic from my perspective. If you disagree, I can’t control that. Simply making charges that my answers have been out of line doesn’t advance your case. Enjoy the last word for a while.

          Gotta job. Gotta run.

        • smrnda

          It’s not wrong to suggest that bias exists everywhere. You seem to be implying that this means that absolutely no knowledge of anything is possible, which is a bit too extreme a position to be tenable. My belief that a doctor can help me and a faith healer cannot isn’t just bias, it’s simply applying the track record of each and deciding which to go by. I’m not an ‘armchair doctor’ when I choose real medicine over some homeopathic nonsense.

        • Rick

          I completely agree.

          The charge of bias in Bob’s post seemed to be directed at Christians. My response to him (which was never answered) was that there is bias on the atheists’ side as well. Doesn’t seem too controversial to suggest that but no one except you (and perhaps Ron) has seemed to allow for that.

          Some biases are appropriate and well founded. Others are not.

        • smrnda

          I’d say that atheist biases are far more reasonable. My bias against the existence of gods is that there is no means of actually verifying that they exist. No experiment will work since most religions have some means of explaining away things like unanswered prayers. It’s in the realm of pure speculation as far as I’m concerned.

          I’d also say the belief in gods can be accounted for by psychological and social factors as well.

        • Rick

          My assessment of the reasonable nature of your beliefs is different from yours. But thanks for pointing out that I’m a victim of psychological and social factors. That kind of shuts the door.

        • smrnda

          I’m not saying I’m not subject to biases. I find it strange to assume the existence of a god without some hard evidence. It’s kind of up there with ‘will we ever contact intelligent alien life?’ At present, I’d say we don’t know enough to answer that question and what we’d be providing is more a guess than a true estimation. I’m okay with speculation on some areas, but I prefer to draw a distinction between ‘reasoning from evidence’ and ‘speculation.’

          I actually don’t think one can disprove the existence of gods since they tend to be unfalsifiable hypotheses to begin with. If something is unfalsifiable, accurate knowledge is unattainable.

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

          My response to him (which was never answered) was that there is bias on the atheists’ side as well.

          Obviously. Atheists are fallible humans, just like Christians.

          Some biases are appropriate and well founded.

          Like what? Like the Principle of Analogy? Like an assumption that there is no supernatural?

    • EmpiricalPierce

      1) I said that you as atheists were subject to biases perhaps even to a greater extent than Christians.

      A blank assertion. Provide examples and evidence. I am skeptical you can offer a valid example of bias worse than “We know God wrote the Bible because the Bible says so, and we know the Bible is true because God wrote it”.

      2) I said that DNA evidence is compelling for an intelligent creator.

      Counterexample: http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2010/06/22/the-laryngeal-nerve-of-the-gir/

      What is the “intelligent design” behind the laryngeal nerve?

    • avalon

      Hi Rick,

      “Or how do we explain increases in complexity from random copy errors in software?”

      I think I can provide some info for that:


    • Ron

      1) I said that you as atheists were subject to biases perhaps even to a greater extent than Christians.

      Atheism addresses only one proposition: belief in the existence of deities. Nothing more, nothing less.

      As a nonbeliever, my bias tends towards empiricism: an epistemic system which explains the universe much more reliably than mysticism.

      2) I said that DNA evidence is compelling for an intelligent creator.

      No. The existence of DNA is compelling evidence for the existence of DNA. The existence of a designer–intelligent or otherwise–remains an unproven hypothesis which needs to be demonstrated before it can be used as a causal agent for anything else.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Sadly, my experience with human bonding is that it is based more often on defining what “other” we exclude than on agreement. If we are going to continue acting like attacking packs of dogs with too little eternity to go around, there is no purpose, in my mind for religion. atheists know that there are issues that can never have empirical evidence, like emotion; yet they continue to ridicule all that they don’t each personally experience or understand. Are humans really any more evolved than other animals, after all?

    • smrnda

      Not sure I follow… are you saying that there is no empirical evidence for emotion? Sometimes it’s pretty obvious (crying babies are not happy but that doesn’t tell me if they are hungry, tired or need a new diaper) but we can actually detect physiological responses and even use brain imagery to some extent. An interested example of the latter were the MRI images of the brain of serial killer Brian Dugan – they showed that, unlike most people, his brain did not respond to morally questionable images.

      In terms of things others experience that atheists don’t, I know a few people who believe in ghosts who investigate haunted buildings. The question is whether their experiences are better accounted for by confirmation bias.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Unless a blind test is done comparing Brian Dugan’s brain to a wide variety of the brains of others, both serial killers and “normal” people, his MRI results prove nothing. How was “morally questionable” defined? Who interpreted the test? I don’t believe there are any human endeavors that aren’t touched by some bias. This is why, in science, results must be replicable under many sets of circumstances. In truth, even scientists are working on prevailing theories which are often changed as new evidence and new ways of testing come along.

        I simply don’t assume that what I know or believe I know is superior to what experiences of others show them. We all find a comfort zone, a box in which we live. The lucky ones find others in their comfort zones and communities are formed. I accept that we will always have different areas of comfort and become stressed by ideas and things that look, feel, taste, smell “different” to us and our community. Some fight; some flee; some accept the stress and grow or die.

        Each of our emotions are informed by our personal experiences, before, during, and after we are born. What paralyzes one with fright, may energize another. What makes one cry, may make another laugh uproariously. We humans seem to be able to reprogram these emotions with enough will to do so.

        I happen to be a person who likes to peek inside many different boundaries, and even live within a variety of communities. The stresses of learning the ways of others and incorporating some of them into my life are usually worthwhile to me in that they enrich my life. But then again, I’m a writer of human narrative “non-fiction”.

        For the record, I believe that all of the universe is imbued with a mysterious energy that I call The Sacred Spirit. I believe, from my limited life experience that humans have special capacities to expand their own spirits at will. Some humans seem to have more ability to make this choice than do others.

        I hope this clarifies what I was saying in my previous comment.

        • smrnda

          The researcher who looked at Dugan, Kent Kiehl, has been researching the topic for a long time. You can check his CV out at the U of New Mexico website and find the publications. Scientists can’t just make wild speculations and get anything put in a journal, there is a serious process of vetting studies for correct methodology that starts before any experiment or study is even begun. You’re totally correct that scientific knowledge is changing all the time. Psychologists used to rule ‘mental states’ as something that could not be researched since it could not be observed – we’re not 100% there, but we’re able to see things (with better technology) that they couldn’t.

          As another person who has lived in a lot of different places with different cultures, it seems like my life hasn’t been that much different than yours, and it’s led me to conclude that in many areas there’s no ‘right’ or ‘correct’ way. In some areas I think we’re dealing with subjective things, like what constitutes a ‘normal’ breakfast food, but in other areas I think some things work and others don’t – I’ll admit that it’s a totally subjective preference if you use the Western Calendar or the Chinese Lunar Calendar, but I think that it’s not wrong to say that Chinese Traditional Medicine and Normal Medicine isn’t the same type of opinion. Perhaps the task is identifying what’s truly just a matter of preference/opinion from what’s really a matter of fact.

        • Y. A. Warren

          “Perhaps the task is identifying what’s truly just a matter of preference/opinion from what’s really a matter of fact.” I agree with that. Remember all the rules about what scientifically defines a mammal, but their were exceptions to the “rule’?

          I believe we’d find very few, if any eternally irrefutable facts. Humility would have to become part of being fully human for us ever to admit that we are comfortable in our own beliefs, and those which are accepted by our own circles and that all beliefs are based on our own perceptions of events, experiences, and information.

          As a mother, I attempted to protect my children from adopting behaviors that could have them rejected by those on whom they were dependent for their lives and safety. I treated our shared lives as a PG movie. On any new exposures, I asked for their opinions and attempted to guide them in informed choices for their behaviors while they remained constricted in their freedom to survive without a close-knit community. They now live and bring their children up by their own comfortable community “truths.”

        • smrnda

          I agree we’d find few real facts. Perhaps learning is less getting new information than it is weeding out bad information.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Or assimilating several points of view…

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