Answering Lee Strobel's Questions for Atheists

Friendly Atheist has posted the third part of a dialogue with Christian apologist Lee Strobel. In it, Strobel poses questions that he thinks would be the most effective at planting seeds of faith in an atheist’s mind. In this post, I’ll answer those questions. I’ve written on some of these issues at greater length in the past, and I’ll also provide links to those essays where appropriate.

Historian Gary Habermas: “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.”

These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.

Ebon Musings: Choking on the Camel

Even if we grant that dubious 75% figure, what Habermas fails to acknowledge is that most of the scholars who study the historicity of Jesus are Christians, and are unlikely to produce conclusions that deviate from orthodoxy, even if – as in this case – those conclusions are supported by no evidence outside the biblical record itself. Habermas’ alleged “historical facts” are just the tenets of Christian belief presented in a facade of neutrality.

As such, I don’t intend to begin by making the concessions he would prefer. I maintain that of his five facts, (1) is recorded primarily in the Bible, and only secondarily, and spottily, in some documents written decades later. (2) is mostly correct, so long as we remove the question-begging assumption that the first Christians were disciples personally chosen by Jesus. (3) and (4) derive from no evidence I know of outside the Book of Acts, which was written for apologetic purposes and which Habermas has naively accepted as historical truth (see below). (5), again, is just a derivation from the creeds of Christian orthodoxy, not from any historical documents which suggest that first-century non-Christians acknowledged this.

For a comprehensive natural explanation, I propose this alternative: The first Christians believed that Jesus was a savior deity, similar to those of other mystery religions of the time, whose sacrificial death and resurrection was a sacred mystery that took place in a higher, heavenly plane and was revealed to believers through visions and revelations. Allegorical documents like the Gospels set the activities of this mythological figure in recent history for teaching purposes. Over time, through war and disruption, the original purpose of these writings was forgotten. This explanation neatly accounts for most of the available facts, including the vague and fragmentary references to Jesus in early historical documents that gradually become more concrete, the lack of reference in the epistles to a human life and career of Jesus, and the first Christians’ apparent lack of interest in sacred relics or holy places of their religion.

Philosopher Paul Copan: “Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?

Ebon Musings: Unmoved Mover: The Fine-Tuning Argument

I take strong exception to the claim that the universe is “remarkably finely tuned for life”. On the contrary, simple observation suggests that the universe is not well suited to life such as ours. When we consider the entire volume of the cosmos, we see that 99.999999… percent is cold, hard vacuum with a temperature of 3K. Within the galaxies, most of the interstellar medium is flooded with radiation. Most of the planets we’ve discovered are either freezing cold or boiling hot, unsuitable for life. In fact, in all the vastness of the cosmos, we only know one place where life can thrive – our own world – and even there, it’s restricted to a relatively narrow range of habitable zones and climates. A universe “finely tuned” for life should produce it abundantly; but in fact, life is confined to a single, infinitesimally small and fragile corner. This strongly suggests that life, far from being the intended purpose of the universe, was an unintended side product arising from a confluence of rare and unlikely circumstances.

And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?

Absolutely not! The injustices and evils that we perceive are not intrinsic properties of the universe, but qualities of human perception. We evaluate natural phenomena based on whether they have a harmful or beneficial effect for us. Often those effects are harmful, but this doesn’t imply that the universe has deviated from an original plan of goodness – that belief is a product of Christian presuppositions – only that natural phenomena occur randomly and don’t take human needs into account. In reality, the randomness and amorality of nature is a much stronger argument for atheism than it is for theism.

Talk show host Frank Pastore: “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from non-life, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

Ebon Musings: Pay No Attention to the Deity Behind the Curtain

Pastore is asking for a full account of the current state of several entire scientific disciplines – cosmology, abiogenesis, and the evolution of the conscious mind. This is more than I’ll attempt to explain or even summarize in this space, but I do have one shorter observation. If Pastore’s question is meant to raise doubts in atheists, it can only be an example of the “God of the Gaps”: the belief that anything not currently known must be miraculous.

The fallacy is a glaringly obvious one. Throughout human history, countless natural phenomena that were not understood were attributed to divine action: mental illness, contagious disease, the seasons, weather, fertility, life and death, and many more. Without exception, these supernatural explanations have receded and been replaced by natural ones as our knowledge grows. Pastore is just applying this tactic to the issues where we don’t yet know the full answers, trusting that this time the gaps will remain impenetrable, and expecting that supernatural answers should be accepted despite their repeated past failures. But if we go by track record, we should all admit that the more likely answer is that these phenomena will turn out to be natural ones as well.

Historian Mike Licona: “Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt. Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

Yes, I do occasionally experience doubt, as I’ve written about before. That’s a necessary consequence of having an open mind. But what I generally find gives me the most uncertainty is unfamiliarity. I’m not the kind of person who can dismiss a claim out of hand without looking into it, and claims I’ve never heard before usually give me a moment’s pause for that reason. But so far they’ve all failed to pan out, and the more I learn about most religious and supernatural claims, the less plausible they seem.

Author Greg Koukl: “Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?”

Ebon Musings: Unmoved Mover: The Cosmological Argument

Atheists are not committed to believing that “everything came from nothing”. Koukl’s alleged dichotomy overlooks a third alternative: that we simply do not know the ultimate origins of the universe at present, and that we can accept this as our answer for the time being until more evidence is discovered. As with Pastore’s question, Koukl assumes that a supernatural explanation, even one with no evidence in its favor, “wins” by default if a natural explanation is not currently known – this despite the well-established pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones over time.

I didn’t email Alvin Plantinga, considered by many to be among the greatest philosophers of modern times. But based on his assertion that naturalism is self-defeating, we could formulate this question (thanks to William Lane Craig for some of the concise wording): If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true? (By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)

Daylight Atheism: Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders?

The fallacy of this argument is its assumption that “survival” and “truth” are two different objectives, such that they could be selected for independently of each other. But it should be obvious that, all else being equal, greater accuracy in perceiving the world will always be a survival advantage. Granted, evolution can and does take shortcuts, producing well-known psychological fallacies like the urge to anthropomorphize natural phenomena, and many people have been misled in this way. But even here we are not helpless. By using cognitive prostheses like science, we can compensate for our mental shortcomings and learn to view the world still more accurately.

By contrast, a theist who believes that God has designed our cognitive faculties to be accurate is faced with the embarrassment of explaining why there are so many conflicting and incompatible religions. How is this so, if we are designed to perceive the world accurately? Why is there so much confusion, ignorance and error among humans when it comes to determining what the true faith is?


For me, when viewing all Strobel’s questions, what stands out about them is their ordinariness. I concur with Greta Christina that these arguments, far from being anything new or unusual, are no different – and no more difficult to defeat – than those of the run-of-the-mill amateur apologists that most atheists encounter on a routine basis. That’s not surprising, of course, since most of those people take their cues from the leading apologists.

But for the same reason, it’s meaningful because this should give us confidence – confidence that we truly can stand up to the superstars of modern apologetics and answer the best that they have to offer. It’s not even difficult. Any reasonably well-versed atheist should be able to shoot down these arguments without a problem. If this is truly the best they have to offer, then we can be all but certain that the evidentiary base of Christianity does not have anywhere near the depth or breadth that would justify an atheist’s conversion.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Matt M

    If the historical evidence was as strong as Strobel (and others) suggest, the evangelicals could just take a back-seat and leave it to historians (who must be the most religious group on the planet) to convert the rest of us.

  • Ric

    Strobel’s questions simply smuggle in the conclusions they wish you to accept. Good job rebutting them, Ebon.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’d like to expand a little on a couple of these, if that’s all right.

    “And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?”

    The problem of evil is usually posed as being the incongruity of a loving god creating a universe with evil acts so woven into its fabric. The question is not intended to be, “How is it that evil exists in the world?” – which does beg a religious answer, because it presupposes that the concept of evil is a natural and integral part of the world – but “How do you reconcile the contradiction between an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity and those things which exist which cause pain and suffering?” It’s not implicit recognition of evil as a universal concept, it’s an attempt at getting inside your worldview and showing the contradiction inherent in it. It’s the same as asking, say, a Scientologist how they reconcile Xenu with scientific observations of the earth’s age. Asking about Xenu does not imply recognition of Xenu.

    That’s not to say that I or atheists in general don’t believe in the existence of good and bad human behavior; but atheists tend to think these concepts are based on the social instincts of our progenitors, and thus on utilitarian notions of group survival, not on divine mandate or design.

    I’d also like to thank Mr. (Dr.?) Licona for offering a question which was not an attempt to poke holes, but rather to engage the answerer in reflection.

    In re: to Mr. (Dr.?) Koukl’s question, I think it’s really imperative to read the link on the cosmological argument Ebon posted. The brief blurb showing on this page doesn’t do much towards explaining why a supernatural explanation is not a decent theory, while the words written on this page alone seem to indicate a “there’s no positive evidence for anything so all explanations are equal right now and I just like mine better” sort of feel – which I know you didn’t mean, but an apologist could easily twist it.

    On the last issue – the perception of truth – I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective from the one you offer.

    I didn’t email Alvin Plantinga, considered by many to be among the greatest philosophers of modern times. But based on his assertion that naturalism is self-defeating, we could formulate this question (thanks to William Lane Craig for some of the concise wording): If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true? (By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)

    You offer arguments to support the idea that we have evolved in a way to perceive truth relatively correctly, and to display to the theist that people’s vision is not as well-formed as they think. I’d like to pass up the question of whether we do perceive the truth correctly entirely and get to the heart of the argument, which even if we accept his premises is a real bear of an affirmation of the consequent wrapped in an irrelevant conclusion wrapped in a non sequitur.

    First, I take exception to your assumption that having an intelligently, benevolently designed brain/sensory complex necessarily means our perception is accurate. If you’re familiar with psychological horror, you’re familiar with the idea that knowledge and true perception can break your brain and make your life a lot worse than it used to be. In this sort of world, a benevolent designer would have made our brains to keep us from the truth. That’s the non sequitur – the belief that a designer would design us to see clearly. But let’s assume this isn’t secretly a Lovecraftian universe and move on.

    The two possibilities are put on the table – maybe human perception was undesigned, and thus has a chance that it’s fundamentally flawed; or maybe human perception was designed, so on the whole it means we can perceive the truth. The first thing to note is that the askers give no evidence as to whether perception is fundamentally flawed or not; indeed, they’ve given a criterion for proving the lack of a designer (flawed perception/mental processes) but not one for proving the presence of a designer, since even perfect perception would not falsify either choice. Their argument, then, isn’t (A –> B) ^ A –> B, it’s (A –> B) ^ B –> A. You can’t possibly draw any conclusions about the converse, only the contrapositive. That’s the affirmation of the consequent.

    The only reason you give for why you would believe in design over mindless selection is that it makes you feel good – if you were designed, then you’re perceiving things correctly! If not, you can never be sure. Just because something would be nice doesn’t make it true. That’s the irrelevant conclusion.

    Good answers Ebonmuse, sorry I had to stick my big nose in, couldn’t resist ^^;.

  • AnonaMiss

    (Sorry about the pronoun switching in the last bit, I got a little carried away with my logic. Honestly, symbolic logic should be a required course in elementary school; or at least an annual tutorial on logical fallacies, like we got with recycling.)

  • mike

    what Habermas fails to acknowledge is that most of the scholars who study the historicity of Jesus are Christians, and are unlikely to produce conclusions that deviate from orthodoxy, even if – as in this case – those conclusions are supported by no evidence outside the biblical record itself.

    Technically speaking, if the historical evidence for Jesus were iron-clad, you would expect most Biblical scholars to be Christians.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Jesse

    We can readily disprove the premise “God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world”. Answer this question: What color is your tongue? I just posed a trick question. Your brain makes a mental model of your tongue and assigns color to it by processing the wavelengths of light that strike your retina. The color exists in the mental model but not outside it. Your tongue does not have coloration, it simply deflects photons. “What color is your tongue?” is a trick question because it asserts that colors exist outside mental models when they don’t. Our cognitive faculties sometimes deliver true beliefs, but they also deliver false beliefs because of useful fictions (e.g., colors). Let’s accept the premise for the sake of argument. If the premise is true, my belief about coloration is correct. If my belief is correct, the premise is false. If you accept that my belief is accurate, you contradict the premise. If you accept that my belief is inaccurate, you still contradict the premise. Either way, the premise is false; checkmate.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Having quickly rattled off my own responses to these questions a couple of days ago on my own blog, I felt vaguely disappointed and embarrassed on behalf of the apologists. Their questions simply demonstrate their own insecurity – their need to have absolute answers and a belief in Truth. That they thought this would work on atheists show how far removed they are from our mindset, where questions and doubt contribute to the mystery, the awe of the universe, rather than making us feel lost.

  • mikespeir

    Technically speaking, if the historical evidence for Jesus were iron-clad, you would expect most Biblical scholars to be Christians.

    That’s true, of course, mike; but how do we tell which assumption is correct? Are most Bible scholars Christians because they’ve seen iron-clad evidence for their Faith or are Christians who assume the evidence is good more likely to go into the applicable fields seeking to confirm their Faith?

  • Polly

    But for the same reason, it’s meaningful because this should give us confidence – confidence that we truly can stand up to the superstars of modern apologetics and answer the best that they have to offer. It’s not even difficult. Any reasonably well-versed atheist should be able to shoot down these arguments without a problem.

    I am currently reading “The Case for Faith” (as a concession to my mother). The most ignorant statement regarding evolution was on page 35. Here’s a gem from Kreeft:

    If there is no creator…then everything is the result of evolution. If there was no beginning or first cause, then the universe must have always existed. That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time – and, by now, everything should already be perfect. There would have been plenty of time for evolution to have finished and evil to be vanquished. But there still is evil and suffering and imperfection – and that proves the atheist wrong about the universe.

    I was in a very public place while reading that yesterday. I almost screamed yelled in a manly baritone at the book!

    OK, this is from a guy with a PH.D in philosophy with 38 years on the job. Am I missing something?
    The book is filled with similar drivel and appeals to majority, appeals to authority, and begging the question. I’m running out of space in the margins for my notes.
    She asked me if I was smarter than all these apologists. I dunno, but I’m beginning to think I am better informed and trained in logic, though I’m a very low-level, base amateur.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    Here is a little more information about that “dubious 75% figure” from Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying? “A rough estimate of the publications in my study of Jesus’ resurrection among British, French, and German authors (as well as a number of authors from several other countries), published during the last 25 or so years, indicates that there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of works that fall into the category that we have dubbed the moderate conservative position, as compared to more skeptical treatments.”

    If I am reading Habermas correctly, 75% of the scholars he surveyed were moderate conservative Christians and 75% of them accepted the empty tomb. In other words, 100% of moderate conservative Christians scholars accepted the empty tomb.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Polly,
    A good response to the “Are you smarter than them” question is to point out that even the smartest people can be spectacularly wrong and/or mistaken about things. Einstein ended up being on the wrong end of QM, for instance.

  • Polly

    OMGF,

    Good point. But, that will backfire. I can hear the response,

    “See! science is just human wisdom. It’s unreliable. That’s why we put our trust in gawd.”

    As in “gawd-awful” IMO.

  • Stacey Melissa

    As usual, the apologists challenge atheists in ways that would only convince existing believers. We’re not the intended audience; believers are.

  • J Myers

    “See! science is just human wisdom. It’s unreliable. That’s why we put our trust in gawd.”

    I would then have to ask why she prefers human imagination to human knowledge.

    And you need not claim to be smarter than the apologists, only more honest; any genuinely intelligent person who makes some of the claims that they do can be nothing other than a lying fiend.

    Good luck with the book, I don’t know that I’d have the stomach for that sort of nonsense…

  • exmachina

    I couldn’t help myself

    (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion;

    Indeed. I’m with you.

    (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them;

    I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve actually done a little research. It turns out that there isn’t anything inherent in the act of communication that requires the information exchange to be accurate. All kind of things can happen: people can be misunderstood, meaning the exchange itself is a catalyst for inaccurate information. Or people can deliver a perfectly accurate message, but the message itself is inaccurate due to confusion or deliberate deception.

    (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul;

    This is related to my answer to #2. It turns out that accuracy isn’t inherent not only in regards to communication, but thoughts themselves. Meaning that sometimes people not only say things that aren’t true, but think them as well. Further, the act of thinking them does not make them fact. One can think or believe many untrue things. This is often due to inaccurate communication (see #2). It might be a matter of, and here’s where things get complicated, someone giving inaccurate information about what they think or believe. A complicated idea, I know.

    (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother

    See #3

    (5) The empty tomb of Jesus.

    This has to do with mass and inertia. It turns out that objects at rest will stay at rest, which is admittedly, a big blow to atheism. But it turns out that they will only stay at rest provided they are not acted upon by another object, perhaps even one in motion. I’m no physics scholar, but I think it is at least theoretically possible to move a body at rest (like Jesus’ dead body) by acting on it with another object or objects capable of force. One might even be able, with sufficient force, be able to bring it to rest again in an entirely new location.

    Now that I’ve delved so far into theoretical territory, I may as well entertain another intellectual exercise. Given that things can be “moved” as I just described, and given that thoughts and communication to not manifest themselves as hard reality (stay with me now), it’s entirely possible that one, with sufficient resources, “move” a corpse, and then convey to others that they had not done so.

    Of course this is all theoretical nonsense. I’m an atheist because Richard Dawkins says I should be. I have faith regarding the rest.

  • paradoctor

    One of Frank Pastore’s rapid-fire questions is how something came from nothing. He fails to note that this argument does not favor theism; for a God would also be a something whose origin requires explanation. Did God come from nothing? Then something came from nothing. Did God come from something else? Then that something else is prior to God. Did God come from God? Then self-creation is possible, and maybe the universe self-creates. Substitute any term for ‘God’ in the above argument, and you get the same problem. The Paradox of the First Cause is a problem in logic, not theology; it argues against all ultimate explanations; in particular it has zero information about the existence of God.

    The physicist Victor Stenger suggests that nothingness is much less probable than somethingness; after all, there is only one way for there to be nothing; and therefore it would require supernatural intervention for there to be nothing rather than something.

    (And by the way, here’s a unity argument for atheism over monotheism: there are infinitely many ways for there to be one god, but only one way for there to be no god!)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Thanks for the link, Ebon! Inerestingly, when I was doing my own evisceration of these arguments, the only one that took me more than about fifteen minutes was the Plantinga one (mostly because it doesn’t get trotted out as often and I wasn’t instantly familiar with it). But what I find fascinating about that one is:

    (a) the way that it openly and frankly assumes the thing it’s trying to prove — namely, that God must have designed us to perceive the truth correctly. Why? Even if you posit an omnipotent God who can shape our brains, why would you assume that he shaped our brains to deliver true beliefs about the world? Even if you posit an omnipotent and benevolent God, why would you assume that? If evolution could have shaped our brain to sometimes be faulty for survival reasons, couldn’t God have done the same?

    (b) the way that it assumes something that we know not to be true — namely, that our minds are designed (by either God or evolution) to deliver true beliefs about the world. We know that that’s not the case. We know that our minds distort reality, and the number of outrageously wacky, patently false things that people believe is staggering. (And we know that beliefs about God vary wildly from person to person and culture to culture.) Any answer you can give for why God would do that can be answered — and better — by evolution. Evolution doesn’t have to be perfect. The Christian God does.

    The other thing that struck me about this exercise was how shockingly ignorant these people are about basic science. I expect that from Joe and Jane Theist, not everyone has time to stay up to date on this stuff. But if you’re a serious scholar, I think you have an obligation to stay current with the scientific advances of the day — especially when they relate so directly to your area of scholarship.

    I love that atheist bloggers all over the atheosphere are taking this apart. I, for one, feel strengthened and encouraged by the exercise, and I hope other atheists are, too. I often have a little twinge of, “Oh, I haven’t studied enough thoughtful modern apologetics, I really should give it a better chance” when I critique religion But every time I do study it, it’s just like this. I’m with Felicia Gilljam — it’s disappointing and embarassing.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Technically speaking, if the historical evidence for Jesus were iron-clad, you would expect most Biblical scholars to be Christians.

    One of these days I will get around to doing a post on my thoughts regarding the historicity of Jesus.

    In general though, the way I look at it, there is a spectrum of possibilities, with one end of the spectrum being that everything in the Gospels happened exactly as described, to the other end, with everything in the Gospels being entirely fictional.

    We do know that the events described in the Gospels take place in an historical setting, describing places and people that we know from the record did exist in the time frame in which the Gospels are set. It is also entirely within the realm of possibility that an itinerant preacher named Jehoshua (aka Jesus) preached in various places in the Galilee, southern Phoenicia, and Jerusalem. It is even possible that this man could have performed deeds that would have appeared miraculous to his contemporaries, such as casting out demons or healing the sick, either through outright deception (the allegedly demon possessed and sick being plants to trick people) or through some form of hypnosis (think Rasputin’s alleged ability to ease the suffering of the hemophiliac Tsarevitch Alexei) or other placebo effect.

    For those of us who are atheists, we can probably concede all of this as being at least possible. What we find ourselves unable to accept in the absence of solid evidence, is that this man Jesus was born from a virgin and rose from the dead. In this regard, there are two possibilities. Either Jesus really was born from a virgin and rose from the dead, or these are mythical events that the authors of the Gospels intended to be taken as literal truth or to be seen as allegory. Given that these people lived in a milieu where there already were myths about people born from virgins or rising from the dead, the weight of the evidence falls into the latter category of being untrue.

    So, in conclusion, I believe that it is very possible that there was a Jesus figure who went around preaching the things largely ascribed to him in the Gospels, that he may even have been executed, and that his followers afterward tried to give his death some kind of allegorical meaning in order that they would continue to go on preaching his message to others. Beyond that, I remain a firm skeptic.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    exmachina, that was the funniest thing I’ve read in days. I scared the cat, I was laughing so hard.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    The physicist Victor Stenger suggests that nothingness is much less probable than somethingness; after all, there is only one way for there to be nothing; and therefore it would require supernatural intervention for there to be nothing rather than something.

    Paradoctor, lately I have been of the opinion that there cannot be such a state as nothingness, because no matter what that state is, it is something. If there is just some zone of darkness for example, it is not nothing, it is something, and that something being a zone of darkness. I find the idea of there being absolutely nothing at all inconceivable. The closest I can come to contemplating what nothingness is is death, the end of consciousness.

  • http://www.rationalitynow.com Dan Gilbert

    I don’t have much to add to what’s already here except a heartfelt “Thank You” for taking the time to write this rebuttal (and all the Ebon Musings articles). While I look at the apologists’ questions and just seem to innately “feel” that they’re nonsense, it’s much more to my liking to have a well-thought-out, scientific, rational response to refute them. I’ve just gotten a little more inspiration to read up on the topics in greater detail than I have before. Cheers!

  • heliobates

    @Greta

    …the way that it openly and frankly assumes the thing it’s trying to prove

    Plantinga is the philosophical equivalent of a smelly guy in shabby clothes standing on a street corner with a sign saying “Will work for questions.”

    These “Reformed Epistemologists” presume (amongst other stupid things):
    * that “truth” exists and is not contingent
    * that “absolute certainty” is a requirement for knowledge and that “knowledge” has to be “justified true belief” (but they’ve never heard of Gettier)
    * that “laws of logic” “exist” but their definitive formal explication is oddly unavailable

    I’d rather take a Nerf bat to YECs than deal with these bozos and their low-rent cousins, the presuppositionalists. Their sole schtick is a faux-Socratic rhetorical approach designed to put the sceptic on the defensive. And there is no odious depth to which they will not sink.

    @mike

    Technically speaking, if the historical evidence for Jesus were iron-clad, you would expect most Biblical scholars to be Christians.

    Richard Carrier, whose interest in the New Testament is that of a professional historian, makes the point that, if the “facts” surrounding the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth are at all reliable, why hasn’t New Testament Studies narrowed down to a few interesting questions? Instead, the number of possible “Jesusi” are multiplying and no identifiable school can plausibly claim that their version of Jesus is the “real Jesus”.

    Tying that back in with the Plantingans, if God is the source reliable knowledge, why don’t New Testament scholars seem to know any reliable thing about their own damned revelation?

    Cargo cult logicians if I’ve ever seen ‘em. But no matter how they clear the runway and how often they light the torches, it’s a long wait for a plane don’t come.

  • Maynard

    (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them;

    Can someone tell me who the Barnabas M.D. was that pronounced Jesus’ death in the first place? It wasn’t that long ago there were bells in gravestones to signal someone buried alive. How can anyone be assured he was truly deceased?

    I picture John Cleese beating some guys head on a counter claiming, “This Lord is no more!”

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Jesse

    The question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, implicitly assumes three things: (1) something can be; (2) nothing can be; and (3) there is a reason why the first state of affairs prevails over the second.

    Let’s consider (2), that nothing can be. To be is to exist and to exist is to exist as something. If nothing existed, then nothing would be something. That is contradictory because nothing cannot be something, just as something cannot be nothing. Therefore, nothing never existed. Therefore, something always existed. Therefore, the state of affairs in (1) prevails over (2) because it is the only possible state of affairs.

    Let’s consider (3), that there is a reason why something prevails over nothing; i.e., that there is a cause of something prevailing over nothing. The existence of a cause or reason necessarily entails that somethingness once did not exist and that, by some cause or for some reason, somethingness began to exist. As demonstrated in the previous paragraph, something always existed and therefore there never was a time when it did not exist, and therefore there cannot be a cause or reason for somethingness. Somethingness is simply a brute fact without explanation.

    The question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, because of falsely assuming (2) and (3), is a trick question analogous to asking a male who never married when he stopped beating his wife.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    There was a recent article in Free Inquiry (it’s not online, alas, but if you deeply care it’s Vol. 29 #1), titled “Why Is There a Universe at All, Rather than Just Nothing” by Adolf Grunbaum. The gist: It reverses the question, and asks, “Why should we assume that ‘nothing’ is more plausible than ‘something’? Why should we think that nothing existing would need no explanation, but something existing needs to be explained?”

  • paradoctor

    Here’s another way to phrase the ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ logic-puzzle: namely, why are there facts? Why are there any true statements?

    Well, consider the alternative; that there are no true statements. If there are no truths, then that claim itself is a truth.

    Like I said, it’s a logic puzzle. It’s too thin a gruel to sustain a god on.

  • http://prinzler@calpoly.edu Paul

    Greta, can you offer a one- or two-sentence justification for the assertion that “something” is in less need of explanation than “nothing?”

  • kevin

    @Jesse, I really enjoyed that argument, but I think it might depend on the particular wording to work. Try changing to something like (1) it is conceivable/possible that there is something (2) it is conceivable/possible that there is not anything… I think this avoids the incompatibility in your original formulation of (2).

    As Greta pointed out, there still is no reason to suppose that ‘nothing’ is more plausible than ‘something’.

  • Dave K Welch

    And what you (continually) provide with your forum is well spoken and thoughtful reasoning. It’s one thing to watch the brutal destruction wrought upon the accidental creationist troll or or apologetic that dips his toes into the waters where Pharyngula reigns supreme. I’m not being disrespectful of P.Z. Myers mind you. His site has done wonders. I just prefer your deeper seas.
    Regards
    Dave

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Looking back over this post, I noticed one point where my answer wasn’t as strong as it could be. I want to fix that, and in the process, show in greater detail just how weak these supposedly top-of-the-line apologist arguments really are.

    The point in question is this one from Gary Habermas:

    (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother

    Habermas lists this as a “historical fact” that enjoys “virtual universal consensus”. What historical evidence actually exists to support this conclusion?

    As far as I can tell, it’s based on one verse from the Gospel of John: “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (7:5).

    That’s it. Really. Habermas’ sole piece of evidence for this supposedly universally acknowledged historical fact is a single, passing allusion in the Gospel of John. The conversion itself is never described, or even mentioned, anywhere in the Bible – not even in James’ own, probably pseudonymous epistle – but since James is described as being a believer later, apologists conclude that it must have occurred at some point.

    Habermas may or may not be telling the truth when he says that the vast majority of historians believe this. If he is, the only thing it proves is that historians are not trustworthy, not if they’re basing their entire field of inquiry on reeds of evidence as slender as this. If this is their standard for what counts as an inarguable fact – quoting the Bible in support of itself, and nothing but one vague, passing verse from the Bible, at that – then it’s no wonder that atheists remain unconverted.

    References:
    The Conversion Of James, The Brother Of Jesus
    Fact #4, James’ Conversion Part 3, Hegesippus on James (Evangelical Agnosticism)

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com/ Jesse

    Kevin,

    I appreciate that you enjoyed the argument. As you said, it might depend on the particular wording of the argument, but I cannot think of how to word the question as to avoid falling prey to my argument. Consider your wording of it, for example. The proposition “there is not anything” takes “not anything”, which denotes the absence of an ontological status, and then says “not anything” is, which denotes the presence of an ontological status. That tiny word argues for the presence of an ontological status when no ontological status exists to speak of. It reifies nothing (“not anything”) as a something, and therefore contradicts itself. Your formulation, as with the original, erroneously uses the verb to be in reference to something that cannot be. If there is a wording of the question that makes sense, it will not contain the verb to be (the words be, is, am, are, was, were, been, and being). I tried for many hours to reword the question so as to avoid that verb, but I did not succeed.

  • Polly

    I tried for many hours to reword the question so as to avoid that verb, but I did not succeed.

    Ach, your problem is Angliskii yazik (English language).

    “Nyet nichevo” is what you’re trying to say! :)

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com/ Jesse

    Huh?

  • Nes

    Wow.

    Even I could have tackled most, if not all, of those. I even had different answers than Ebon for some of them. Maybe I should get a job as an apologist. I might be able to do a better job than the current crop…

  • Mark C.

    Jesse, by your standards, I doubt that our language contains words sufficient to express the absence of everything. But consider that the concepts that words apply to get broader and narrower all the time. Zero didn’t used to be a number, after all (and by the way, how does the verb “used” make any sense there?), and the empty set is still a set, despite the latter term being defined as a collection of objects–and no one would say that they have a collection of, say, spoons, when there are zero spoons. Nevertheless, there can be a set of spoons such that there are no spoons!

    I think that being so pedantic is turning a blind eye to how language really works, and probably failing to be willing to imagine a scenario divorced from words. We humans, despite our amazing cognitive abilities, many times fail when attempting to accurately describe a state of affairs that can actually obtain.

    Now, imagine a finite collection of objects such that there is a nonzero spatial separation between them (may I apply the word “is” to a separation?), and no photons are crossing between the objects. In fact, remove all the photons from the picture (and put aside any objections that might arise from physicists). Let this collection of objects be all that exists. For purposes of imagination and further conceptualization, just imagine yourself in a dark room with finitely many objects in it, regarding yourself as not being part of this system (since seeing this state of affairs is not necessary for it to actually obtain). Now, one-by-one, remove objects from the room/collection until the last one is gone. What remains is the state referred to as “nothingness”. It IS an ontological status, but only in the same way that the empty set is a collection of objects and that zero tells us how many of something exist. Please note the the act of removing the objects does not, for purposes of this thought experiment, occur within the set–it occurs in the mind of the person doing the thought experiment–the sets are different, but similar in that they deal with the same sort of contents. It is possible for, say, three otters to exist and it is possible for two otters to exist, but this does not imply that one was physically taken out of the system or added to it.

    The concept “ontological status” exists, but the existence of a concept has no bearing on the existence of what it is there to describe.

    Hopefully that made sense.

    ——————————————————————————

    And as for a comment more relevant to the posting, I’ve been following this whole dialogue with Strobel since Hemant’s first post out of the three. I must say that while philosophy can be tricky, these apologists and whoever else are lightweights who couldn’t even contend with a somewhat philosophically-informed college undergrad, such as myself! After reading the latest volley from Strobel et al., I was left… just clueless. All these comments and questions he’s gathered from his contacts are just horrendous, full of ignorance and faulty reasoning. It truly baffles me if this is the best Strobel gather. It’s rather pathetic.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Jesse

    Mark,

    English does seem to lack the words or grammatical structure that would enable us to coherently express concepts involving the absence of everything. It seems, though, that I focused too deeply on the wording involved in the argument, which had the result of me not expressing my point as effectively as I should have. I objected not only to the wording and grammatical structure (all skeptics should practice caution when using or encountering the verb to be), but also the concept that it sought to convey. If you think of nothing as existing, you reify nothingness by making it a something and therefore contradict yourself. If you think of no truths existing, you posit the existence of the truth that no truths exist, and therefore contradict yourself. If you think of nothingness as the removal of all objects in a set, you posit a state or moment in which the set does not contain something, but the state or moment itself is something so you therefore contradict yourself. No matter how you approach it conceptually, you contradict yourself. I hope that I have sufficiently clarified my argument.

  • TommyP

    These apologist questions are old! They sound like petulant children to me, constantly repeating a losing argument, hoping for a different outcome. I wish they would either give up already, or come up with something insightful and original.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Greta, can you offer a one- or two-sentence justification for the assertion that “something” is in less need of explanation than “nothing?”

    Paul: Not really… but that wasn’t my assertion. (Or the article’s assertion.) The article (if I remember it correctly — I read it a while ago, and for some reason Free Inquiry doesn’t have it online) wasn’t saying, “Something is more plausible than nothing.” It was saying, “Something isn’t less plausible than nothing.” The assumption of the First Causers is that the fact that stuff exists is somehow wildly implausible and in need of explanation, presumably theological. Grunbaum’s point is that there’s no reason to make that assumption.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    These apologist questions are old! They sound like petulant children to me, constantly repeating a losing argument, hoping for a different outcome.

    Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

  • heliobates

    Can I just point out that no contemporary scientific cosmological theory suggests that “something came from nothing”. Every single one of them posits that “in the beginning there was something, then that something changed rapidly, then more gradually over about 15 billion years into the everything we observe around us.” To give that precursory “something” the name “God” explains nothing.

    The Higgs mechanism (if the Standard Model is right) is a coherent, testable explanation for the manner in which matter “came from” vacuum. The singularity was not a “dot” surrounded by nothing. There is no “nothing” “outside” the universe, unless we’re determined to just make shit up.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    …unless we’re determined to just make shit up.

    Isn’t that the definition of religion?

  • heliobates

    Isn’t that the definition of religion?

    I don’t know from “religion” but it certainly fits the “religious”.

    Can ya tell I’m a little burned out on this whole “arguing with believers” thing?

    @Ebon

    If he is, the only thing it proves is that historians are not trustworthy, not if they’re basing their entire field of inquiry on reeds of evidence as slender as this.

    The thing is, there’s very little “history” being done in this area. What is being done is being done by “New Testament Scholars”, not historians.

    Richard Carrier has three fascinating blog posts about the state of the field. But it’s a good indicator in any field of inquiry that the predominant explanatory paradigm is broken when research isn’t narrowing towards really difficult and interesting questions. After almost 200 years of critical scholarship, there’s a multitude of mutually-incompatible “Jesus-es” and which one you wind up with depends on your preconceptions.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Re Something vs Nothing… I don’t know how much clout this would hold with philosophers or theologians, but I find it amusing: “Nothing” – the absence of everything – can only be realised in exactly one way. “Something” has a presumably infinite number of ways to happen. From that point of view, it seems “Something” is just a tad more likely than “Nothing”!

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    I have long posited that “nothing” and “everything” are equivalent; the experience of “nothing, ever” is equivalent to the experience of “everything, all at once” (or however you want to try to conceive of it). That is, in neither case is there any difference to indicate an experience. What we experience are differences within “something”.

    Thus, one can simply re-write the question as “How did ‘something’ come from ‘everything’?” Makes more sense.

  • http://www.dangerousintersection.org Hank

    Hey Ebon, great work. These softballs certainly weren’t the nukular weapons some of us may have been expecting. Over at DI I’ve asked some questions of my own, such as they are…

    http://dangerousintersection.org/2009/02/02/i-ask-will-the-apologists-answer

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    …who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975.
    Oh? What languages were they using before that?

    (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
    The critical word in that sentence is “believed”.

    (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul
    Apparently Strobel’s never read Fight Club. It’s not a perfect analogy (for one thing, Saul went straight to Paul rather than going halfway there then returning), but then analogies never are.
    This zealousy in persecuting heretics (a la Gal 1:13 & 14) eventually got to him (if the early Christians tended to be of the meek, peaceful, downtrodden, “beatitudes”, it would have been like taking hammers to kittens). Acts 26:14 clearly shows that Saul is coming to an emotional crossroads.
    Saul, zealous persecutor, essentially turned into Paul, zealous propagandist, in an inverted Stockholm Syndrome. Empathy and compassion caught up with him.

    (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother
    The conversion of all the people at Waco.

    Philosopher Paul Copan: …and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life
    The probability of life in this universe is 100%. That said, we have a sample rate of exactly one, making it anecdotal and inconclusive. That any number of other possibilities would or would not lead to life only shows that in any of the other possible universes, life would be contemplating the serendipity of its existence or, in universes that fail to generate life, non-life would sit in wonder, pondering the remarkable fine-tuning that resulted in its own non-existence.

    Historian Mike Licona: Do you ever doubt your atheism…
    Yes. I’m not an atheist because I’m “rebelling against God”, I’m an atheist because of the lack of any real evidence for an interventionalist one…and the “evidence” supplied is typically terribly anecdotal in nature (the Argument from Personal Experience is strongest in the one who had the experience, while other peoples’ AfPEs, at least those that come from the “wrong” gods, are clearly just wish fulfillment/hallucinations), or it’s just repeating what other people believed (Redactions aside, Josephus wasn’t talking about what Jesus did, he mentioned what Christians believed He did. That he never converted, as far as I know, should tell you something about how convinced he was). Worse, the anecdotes frequently conflict with other anecdotes, which is especially problematic for the gods (and variants thereof) that claim exclusivity.
    None of that, however, precludes the possibility that there is or are God or gods. There’s nothing wrong with doubt. It’s certainty in the absence of omniscience that’s problematic.

    …and, if so, what is it about theism…
    3-O’d theism = Why does God give children cancer?

    …or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?
    (note that not all will apply to all variants of Christianity)
    Why Hell? Why do good people who believe the wrong thing go there, but a serial killer who repents doesn’t? Why, if Man can figure out proportional punishment, God can’t?
    Why is the God of the Bible so inconsistent? Zealous, jealous, loving, paranoid, relaxed, etc.
    Why does the “Holy Spirit”, which is supposed to guide, have such a poor sense of direction?
    Why does believing in an all-good, all-just God require mangling “good” and “just” into incomprehension?
    Why is the “absolute morality” of, say, true believers like the Quakers at such odds with other true believers like the Conquistadors? In short, how come absolutism in the short term becomes relativism over the long haul?
    If He can’t mess with free will, what’s with all the appearances? And why does He appear as Vishnu to Hindus, Jesus to Protestants, but never as Shiva to Catholics or Huitzilopochtli to Australian aborigines?
    Why does He always appear to one person to impart instructions, but never all people to do the same?
    Why does the end not justify the means except when God does it?
    If religion is the quest for ultimate truth and God is 3O’d and wants people to find it, why do religions keep getting farther apart?
    Why is God so bad with people?
    …and that’s just off the top of my head. I’d use the ones off the bottom of my head, but they’re all covered in beard.

    Author Greg Koukl: “Why is something here rather than nothing here?
    I don’t know. That’s the honest answer.

    Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology).
    Clearly, the universe is eternal. “Eternal” implies time, and for as long as there’s been time, there’s been the universe. Language commonly falls down when dealing with subjects outside human experience, which is why physics is written in the poetry of math (it’s also why physicists look like crazy people).

    As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?
    As an atheist, I’ve opted for pre-Big Bang agnosticism (again, it runs into the problem of language, since there wasn’t a “before” before the beginning of time). Everybody, various unprovable (at this stage) hypotheses aside, is in the same boat there (I don’t know and you don’t, either). A frank admission of ignorance is better than denial of same, and in the face of total ignorance, it’s the only rational position.

    …Alvin Plantinga…William Lane Craig…
    Or, as I call them, Bafflegab and Obfuscation. Philosophy is what people that aren’t good with their hands do to avoid feeling useless. Philosophy is to science what anedotes are to facts. Call me if they ever prove that I’m not just a brain in a jar.

    If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?
    We don’t. That’s why “feeling” and “measuring” aren’t the same word (that’s also why magicians and faith healers aren’t homeless). That’s why we try to remove the effects of the observer on the observed, in clinical trials for example. That’s why experiments are repeated by people that aren’t trying to prove the original results, but to disprove them. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s far better than any other at finding out how things actually work. So far, every time I’ve dropped a knife, it’s always landed point down in my foot (I’d appreciate if others would repeat this experiment. Modusoperandi’s First Law of Knife-Footness sounds awesome. Plus, I would like to be remembered as more than just “that guy running away on COPS”).

    Polly “I am currently reading “The Case for Faith”: That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time…”
    Creationists commonly conflate the various separate uses of the word “evolution” for the Theory of Evolution (sometimes, like Ben Stein, they mix in everything with it. The fact that “Darwinism” can’t explain gravity apparently proves both that it’s false and that Jesus is Lord. Poor Darwin never realized that he was so far off).

    Stacey Melissa “We’re not the intended audience; believers are.”
    In French, try convincing someone who doesn’t speak French of something. It’s tough convincing anyone when you’re not using the same language, or in theism v atheism, using the same language in different ways (complete with different “facts”. I have a soul, but a bonobo doesn’t, facts that I’m sure both of us find surprising). We, as with this Strobel book (and especially guys like Ray Comfort) see them as excessively credulous. I have no idea how they really see our “worldview”, but I suspect that at best it wouldn’t make sense to me and at worst it would be insulting.

    heliobates “I’d rather take a Nerf bat to YECs than deal with these bozos and their low-rent cousins, the presuppositionalists.”
    What’s so bad about starting at the conclusion and then working back from that? It got us into Iraq, didn’t it? And look how well that turned out!

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wow. Sorry. I had no idea there was so much text there when I was typing it.

  • bbk

    Strobel and others like him are doing something interesting. They write their books as if to conduct a dialog with an atheist, but their books aren’t targeted at atheists. They’re targeted at Christians. And so, the supposedly troublesome questions they pose to their imaginary atheist friends aren’t anything that actually troubles real atheists. The atheist in their apologetics is nothing more than an anthropomorphism of their own doubt and insecurity. And that’s why so many Christians love their writing. But the silver lining is that in all of this doubt that they’re trying to kill, there’s a real atheist somewhere in there trying to get out.

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    Nicely done. A few years I had read Strobel’s books, “A Case for Christ”, and “A Case for a Creator” (I think was the name). It was the first I’d heard of him and it was advertised as an unbiased journalist’s search of the truth, or some such nonsense. Imagine my shock, my shock and horror when I realized upon reading that the unbiased journalist appeared to interview only apologists. He never ever gave the impression of even briefly glancing at what skeptics were actually saying. He did give the impression that he became a Christian and was simply trying to justify it to himself without doing a thorough investigation.

    What was worse was that every single argument in both books (especially the “Creator” book, the refutations of which I am more familiar) had already been thoroughly knocked down. Even the most casual web search would be sufficient to find the relevant material. From what I’ve read here, he continues to make the same tired arguments. Simply. Dumbstruck. I agree. If this is the best apologists can offer, how can any person with a shred of rationality fall for it?

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    *grrr* A few years ago… That’s what I get for too quick typing late at night…

  • staceyjw

    I found out just how differently two (otherwise like minded) people could define the same words when discussing atheism with a long time friend.

    She is what I call a “California spiritualist” and couldnt understand why I had a problem with “faith”. After a long discussion, and a few visits to online dictonaries, we realized that we were talking about 2 totally different concepts. Adding to the semantic confusion, she added to and expanded every related word until it was so general it was nearly meaningless (to me).

    This is common with believers of any stripe- they loosely define key terms, and alter them as needed. I heard so many non-specific appeals to the “spirit”,”energy greater than us”, and “universal connections”, that I asked for explanation. There was no way for her to do this, and the generizations that she understood so well just confounded me.

    Whats the point? The general way of speaking about spirituality that was so appropriate for her, meant nothing to me. Religious people need to understand that most atheists want to hear something more precise than these greatly expanded notions of belief. Its just how we do things. Until they learn to speak the language of reason ad science, they will not be able to make any headway with us. And vice versa!
    They just dont understand why we cant JUST BELIEVE!

    Staceyjw

  • BJ

    The fact is we do not know how adaptable to the universe life is. We also do not know how much life there is in the universe since we only have this world as an example.
    Whether the universe is fined tuned to life or life fine tuned to the universe is a philosophical question, but to make the statement about how little life there is in the universe is unscientific because there is only data from one source.
    We simply do not know where life, if any, is any place else in the cosmos. There is simply not enough information.
    That having been said, extremeophiles could be a clue to life exisiting elsewhere.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    (5) The empty tomb of Jesus.

    I have an invisible pink unicorn in my hand. What, you don’t see it? Ha! That proves it’s invisible!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Why is there something instead of nothing?

    This relies on a false dichotomy; if the atheist cannot provide a great answer, the theist expects to win by default.

    Ask yourself whether the theists have given a satisfactory answer to this. So God created everything else. That doesn’t answer the question, it just transforms it into why is there God instead of nothing? What remains is just as difficult.

  • windy

    “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from non-life, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

    Please explain how matter, life, brains and moral senses come from an immaterial mind source.

  • Emrys

    On the contrary, simple observation suggests that the universe is not well suited to life such as ours.

    I think it’s a bit relative. In terms of the equations governing the universe, there might not be much wiggle room in the parameters & initial conditions for life to appear eventually. In other words, this universe is about the most fortunate you could get from plugging values into the overarching equations. (Of course, when you bring in other possible world structures, such as cellular automata, things get a little twisted.)

    Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle).

    Uh, that depends first on whether there was any “coming” done at all, which seems unverifiable/unfalsifiable to me. This reminds me of the humorous deduction that a ham sandwich is better than God. (NotExist(X: X>God) & Sandwich>Nullset => Nullset>God ?)

    Why is there something rather than nothing? – What makes everyone think there was ever any kind of event that decided between the two? It’s absurd to posit a deciding factor because that factor must itself be “something” and would have decided its own existence! Therefore, the existence of “something” is just a brute fact which is not contingent upon any other fact.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com/ Jesse

    Thank you for mentioning the ham sandwich argument; it illustrates, quite well, the point I made before about reifying nothing.

    The argument that nothingness can obtain, that it is or was, necessarily relies on assigning it an identity or ontological status. It tries to accomplish this by using the verb to be. Attempts to word it otherwise will still rely on it implicitly. We call that use of the verb the is of identity. Anyway, that argument reifies nothingness (the absence of ontological status) into a positive something (the presence of ontological status) and therefore contradicts itself.

    Another use of the verb, called the is of predication, also causes problems when applied to nothingness. You can only assign predicates to things with an ontological status, which means that this form of the verb can also reify nothingness into a positive something. The ham sandwich argument illustrates this point. (Axiom) nothing is better than God; (axiom) a ham sandwich is better than nothing; (ergo) a ham sandwich is better than God. The first axiom reifies nothingness by using the is of predication by assigning it an ontological status. Those who argue that “nothingness is a possible state” appeal to the same fallacious reasoning.

  • John Nernoff

    Historian Gary Habermas: “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.”
    These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion;….

    Nernoff: I have read the Bible carefully, especially the New Testament. Paul says your faith is in vain if you do not believe in the Resurrection.

    I am a retired pathologist, and was board-certified in forensic pathology. Therefore I have some expertise to analyze the claims presented by the New Testament with regard to the alleged resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

    First, to be resurrected from the dead, one must be first, indeed dead. Was any EVIDENCE brought forth in the case of Jesus that he was indeed dead? No.

    The reports of the case of Jesus were by anonymous writers whose original writings were long ago lost. We have only copies of copies of copies of the assumed originals. Even these reports indicate that Jesus was on the cross for a mere 3-6 hours, far short of what historically was need to produce a death by crucifixion, and even there, in the “Holy” scripture, there is disagreement of the number of hours supposedly suffered.

    There is only the CONCLUSION that Jesus was dead. There are no medical findings such as:

    1. Rigor mortis
    2. Livor mortis.
    3. A body temperature reading indicating cessation of metabolism.
    4. A determination of the lack of reflexes: corneal irritation causing an eye blink. Muscle reflexes by hammering certain areas such as the patellar area causing a kicking reflex, an so on….
    5. Obviously a total lack of radiologic studies such as CT or PET scans to show lack of brain activity. If “God” could produce a universe, he could have made a scanning device to aid the disciples in determining whether a body was indeed dead.
    6. Sludging of red cells (erythrocytes) in retinal blood vessels.
    7. An EEG reading showing total lack of electrical brain activity.
    8. Lack of breathing.
    9. An absent heart beat.
    10. And so forth….

    The fact that none of these findings (or rather lack of findings) was specifically listed in the accounts of Jesus alleged death on the cross shows that the story reveals only an ASSUMPTION or CONCLUSION (by an unidentified centurion) that he died, and totally lacks any evidence that he actually was dead. No death no resurrection. Your faith is in vain. Christianity is bogus.

  • Derek Ryan

    How am I supposed to know these answers are reliable when the name of this all knowing text box is not revealed?

  • anti-supernaturalist

    ** Sorry, big Al . . . God is dead. **

    1. Of course the reply to Plantinga is that neither our senses nor our sciences give us truths about nature.

    They can give us highly informative falsehoods. (Mathematics provides no inviolable empirical truths; it provides no empirical propositions at all.)

    In accordance with Tarski’s semantic definition of truth: df (‘p’ is true if and only if p), how we (know that p) can only be ascertained by the testing procedures belonging to the methodological procedures of the relevant sciences. As long as p resists falsification then ‘p’ is accorded the always honorary accolade (‘p’ is true).

    But no testing procedure can determine that any proposition is true without exception. There is no induction — there are no laws of nature — there are no concepts in nature — science is a cultural construct, a very peculiar construct but that’s another matter.

    2. As for the xian religion, the Jesus figure (and even more so the Pauline Christ) is a mythological construct — no better and perhaps worse than Perigrinus in Lucian’s delightful tale and certainly inferior to the entertaining, deified Heracles.

    Jesus is either a fiction made of whole cloth like Heracles or Sherlock Holmes or Batman or he was a minor historical figure enlarged into Christos by the hysterical minds of Paul of Tarsus and the writer of the material which later appeared as the so-called Gospel of Mark.

    The mythological enlargement of Siddharta Gautama into the Buddha of the Dharmapada and later into a Buddha figure of the Diamond Sutra should be a less anxiety fraught mental journey for Western apologists of xianity to deal with.

    the anti-supernaturalist

  • Azkyroth

    How am I supposed to know these answers are reliable when the name of this all knowing text box is not revealed?

    What?

  • Alex Weaver

    …huh. I don’t think that’s supposed to be possible. O.o

  • Caiphen

    Are these the best arguments Xians can use?

    Oh come on Xianity. Give me a break.

  • Joffan

    (Questor and Athan are walking and talking.)
    Q: Why is there something instead of nothing?
    A: Well, there appears to be something – let me check, yup, it’s still here.
    Q: I know – but why?
    A: It’s a precondition of asking or indeed forming the question.
    Q: What?
    A: There can’t be nothing, or there wouldn’t be a question.
    Q: Well, whatever, but why is all this something here?
    A: Which kind of “why” are you using there? “From what cause”, “To what purpose” or something else?
    Q: Um, “From what cause” is there something instead of nothing?
    A: Well, there’s an awful lot of it, so it’s a really big job to find out all the levels and layers of reasons. Big complicated project.
    Q: Maybe it’s really simple.
    A: Heh, well you can hope but it seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it?
    Q: What about God?
    A: I don’t even know if there is God, let alone what caused it.
    Q: No, I mean maybe that’s the reason.
    A: No, it can’t be. If God then there is something not nothing.
    Q: Oh yeah… how about just God and nothing else?
    A: Seems a bit pointless – you’re just adding God to the original “something”, making things harder to explain rather than easier, without any strong reason.
    Q: Just God and nothing else!
    A: “Just God” and the ability to create all the something from unquestioned powers. Basically all that something-instead-of-nothing is still wrapped up in there. It’s just an extra layer to try to hide the question.
    Q: I dunno… Let’s talk about something else.
    A: Or nothing else? Heh, just kidding. How’s the family?
    (They stroll on)

  • Rosita

    Great stuff, guys. Thanks. :-) :-) :-)


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