The Case for a Creator: Information Wars

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 9

How likely is the spontaneous origin of life? In chapter 9, Stephen Meyer likens it to one of those tornado-in-a-junkyard scenarios that creationists love so much:

“Imagine trying to generate even a simple book by throwing Scrabble letters onto the floor. Or imagine closing your eyes and picking Scrabble letters out of a bag. Are you going to produce Hamlet in anything like the time of the known universe?” [p.229]

Obviously, the answer is no. Almost as obviously, however, this is not a question that bears on the origin of life.

Let’s see how Meyer’s facile comparison holds up if we put some actual numbers on it. I downloaded Hamlet from Project Gutenberg and did a character count on the text file. Not counting spaces, punctuation or the copyright notice, I came up with a total of 129,839 characters. Since the alphabet has 26 letters, it takes a minimum of 5 bits to specify any single letter, which means that Hamlet has (129,839 x 5) = 649,195 bits of information.

To contrast to this, consider the smallest known genome: Carsonella ruddii, a bacterium that lives in the guts of leaf-eating insects called psyllids. It has only about 160,000 base pairs of DNA, coding for 182 proteins. But since there are only 4 base pairs in DNA, it takes only 2 bits to specify each one, which means that Carsonella‘s genome contains (160,000 x 2) = 320,000 bits of information: less than half of Hamlet! And Carsonella is the smallest modern genome. The very first life, which was probably little more than a self-replicating hypercycle of molecules, would have been smaller still.

Obviously, this analogy is still rigged in Meyer’s favor: neither evolution nor the laws of chemistry are very much like picking Scrabble tiles out of a bag. The laws of English are such that the vast majority of possible arrangements of letters are meaningless gibberish, but this is not true of proteins and DNA. Because a protein’s function is defined by its shape, virtually every possible string of amino acids potentially “means something” in a way that random combinations of English letters don’t. In the primordial sea, there would have been billions of different molecules drifting around, bumping up against each other, interacting in countless ways. Until we know the smallest possible interacting set of molecules that could be called alive – and we don’t know that, at least not yet – there’s no basis for any claim about how likely it would have been for such a thing to arise by chance.

“There’s a minimal complexity threshold… There’s a certain level of folding that a protein has to have, called tertiary structure, that is necessary for it to perform a function. You don’t get tertiary structure in a protein unless you have at least seventy-five amino acids or so. That may be conservative. Now consider what you’d need for a protein molecule to form by chance.

First, you need the right bonds between the amino acids. Second, amino acids come in right-handed and left-handed versions, and you’ve got to get only left-handed ones.

Creationists are fond of invoking this “handedness” problem (the technical term is “chirality”). It refers to the fact that certain organic molecules like sugars and amino acids naturally come in two stable configurations that are mirror images of each other, like your left and right hand. Most living things use only left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars, and creationists often suggest that no natural force could produce this bias.

But, in fact, there’s a wide variety of natural mechanisms that can sort molecules by chirality. Some common crystals, such as calcite, selectively absorb molecules of one handedness on one crystal face and the other handedness on the opposing face. (The chirality of all modern life may simply be because that vital first set of chemical reactions occurred on one side of a rock rather than another.) Circularly polarized ultraviolet light also selectively destroys molecules of one handedness. (The Murchison meteorite, which contains amino acids produced in the early solar system, has an imbalance of left-handed amino acids, and some scientists feel it’s for precisely this reason. See also.) There’s also a chemistry principle called “majority rule” in which certain reactions that begin with a weakly chiral mixture can produce products that are strongly chiral. Some scientists even believe that the laws of physics are not completely symmetric and one chirality is energetically favored over the other. Any of these mechanisms, or several of them in combination, could plausibly be why life has one chirality and not the other. We don’t know the true cause for certain – but it’s not that we have no idea how it could have happened; it’s that we have too many candidates and can’t choose among them!

“Third, the amino acids must link up in a specified sequence, like letters in a sentence.

Run the odds of these things falling into place on their own and you find that the probabilities of forming a rather short functional protein at random would be one chance in a hundred thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. That’s a ten with 125 zeroes after it!” [p.229]

There’s no explanation of how Meyer got these numbers (again, footnotes are absent just where they’d be most helpful). But I strongly suspect he’s committing the poker player’s fallacy again: assuming that only one amino acid sequence can provide the function he wants. His mention of “a specified sequence” implies as much. But in any plausible origin-of-life scenario, there wouldn’t be one miracle sequence, but a large number of functionally equivalent sequences. We already know this to be true in modern life: a large percentage of mutations are neither positive nor negative but neutral, having no effect on the overall shape or functioning of the protein.

But if Meyer’s numbers are right, it should be easy to prove in an experiment: just generate some organic molecules at random and see what happens. If he’s correct, nothing interesting or useful will ever emerge. Well, unlike creationists comfortably ensconced in their armchairs, real scientists do run experiments like this. From a Usenet post by the biologist Howard Hershey:

Random syntheses of 50 nucleotide long RNAs generates certain specific selectable functional ribozyme (RNA enzyme) activities relevant to biological functions that would be needed for an ur-organism (RNA ligases, terminal transferases, etc.) in the range of once every 1014-1017 molecules (a mole of molecules is about 1023, so it is a virtual certainty that you will have a number of molecules with the needed activities in a millimole of such randomly generated RNA (you would certainly be able to hold this in a thimble). Moreover, ALL these activities would be present in the SAME millimole of RNA.

For technical details, see this similar paper from the journal Science: “Structurally Complex and Highly Active RNA Ligases Derived from Random RNA Sequences”. The authors say, “The fact that such a large and complex ligase emerged from a very limited sampling of sequence space implies the existence of a large number of distinct RNA structures of equivalent complexity and activity.”

To put this in layman’s terms: a thimbleful of randomly generated RNA sequences contains numerous enzymes with an interesting variety of biologically relevant abilities. This is a far cry from Meyer’s “ten with 125 zeroes after it”. Either nature is pulling a prank on us by defying the odds every single time, or else the ID advocates’ calculations are based on unrealistic assumptions. Note that these RNA enzymes were only 50 nucleotides long – shorter than Meyer’s “minimal complexity threshold” of 75 amino acids or more – and yet were still able to perform biologically interesting functions. And for any plausible origin-of-life scenario, we’re not talking about a thimbleful of molecules, but a whole planet’s worth.

Other posts in this series:

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.

  • Rick M

    Do creationist/ID proponents ever specify what was created and what happened through a natural process? Meyer claims a “minimal complexity threshold” of 75 amino acids. Does he propose that the Creator personally designed those 75 amino acids and then let nature take over until another irreducibly complex feature, say a light detecting feature (an eye), would be advantageous then jumped back into creative mode?

  • Valhar2000

    No, Rick, what Meyer is implying is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour, and if we accept Him into hearts we will be Saved. Really! What’s so hard to understand about this?

  • keddaw

    #Creationist: How could something as complex as a human come about by chance?
    -Biologist: By evolution through natural selection from simple organisms.

    #Creationist: The eye is too complex to have evolved.
    -Biologist: Here’s one way that it happened in mammals, here’s another from the octopus family and here are animals with intermediate stages.

    #Creationist: What about life, how did life start?
    -Biologist: We’re not entirely sure, but we think several self-replicating molecules gained in efficiency and complexity over time to the point where they could almost be said to co-operate. When they started to co-operate they took on characteristics that could loosely be called living. The complexity of these larger chemicals or almost-organisms increased through random changes and the best replicators, or the best utilisers of other molecules, flourished while constantly changing.

    #Creationist: You said you don’t know! It must have been God. And not just any God, but the one who sent His only Son to earth to die for our sins!
    -Biologist (backing away): Yeeeesssss.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Another deep flaw in this logic is the unstated assumptions (in the presentation of the odds) that:

    1) The entire abiogenetic sequnce can only have happened to an individual molecule; and (based on this)

    2) that there could be no environmental input on the matter.

    The prebiotic “soup,” or clay-bed, or other material substrate, with its uncountable quadrillions of interacting molecules, would have acted as a massively parallel processor, and thus those enormous strings of zeroes get pared down accordingly.

    As far as chirality goes, the environment would seem to act as a selective filter. After all, molecules don’t go together any old way; they must fit together in certain ways, and it strikes me that this particular selective filter would have a strong impact on the qualities of both chirality and crystallization properties.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Another excellent dissection! Way to handily show how the research directly contradicts the IDiot claims, and also show how Behe abuses numbers to prop up his cardboard “conclusions”.

    I think this series would make a handy companion guide to The Case for a Creator, with the hyperlinks transformed into footnotes/endnotes. Maybe. You might have a marketing issue. Really, I just want to jam these rebuttals in between the chapters for whoever owns the book, and force them to read it. And understand it. OK, yeah, I just don’t want anyone getting away with being so fucking wrong about, well, everything. Gosh, is my dogmatism showing? I better tuck that away…

  • TomA

    It’s not hard to understand it Valhar; it just makes no sense. At all.

  • jack

    I have a professional interest in proteins and protein folding, so I just can’t resist responding to some of the copious bullshit spewed by Stephen Meyer as cited in this post. There are so many things wrong with the following quote that it’s hard to know where to begin:

    You don’t get tertiary structure in a protein unless you have at least seventy-five amino acids or so. That may be conservative.

    No, that’s not conservative: it is simply false. Here’s one of my favorite proteins, one with a potent biological function and nice tertiary structure, weighing in at a mere 56 amino acids. There are many others this small or smaller, but the idea that a protein must fold to a unique native structure to have a function is also bullshit. Most do, but many don’t. Some fold only in part, with other parts of the chain remaining flexible and disordered. Some fairly large ones (much larger than 75 amino acids) remain completely disordered, like the proteins that serve to maintain spacing between microtubules. And there is no lower limit to the number of amino acids in a polypeptide that is required for biological function. The peptide hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are polypeptide chains of 9 amino acids each. The potent and ubiquitous neurotransmitter glutamate could be considered a “protein” of exactly one amino acid in length. But the real problem with all of this is that it makes no sense to be discussing proteins at all in considering plausible scenarios for the origin of life. Proteins were not involved in any way in the origin of life. They are Johnny-come-lately molecules, invented long, long after the origin of life.

    But enough ranting. Valhar2000 gets to the real heart of the matter in comment #2.

  • Richard P.

    “Imagine trying to generate even a simple book by throwing Scrabble letters onto the floor. Or imagine closing your eyes and picking Scrabble letters out of a bag. Are you going to produce Hamlet in anything like the time of the known universe?”

    Well, actually that’s what happened… the universe began and threw it’s Scrabble letters (the building blocks of life)onto the floor, about 13 billion years later you have Shakespear writing Hamlet.

    Seems pretty obvious to me.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Oh yeah? Well…what about the hummingbird? If so-called “evolution” is true, then they could not possibly exist. How would a so-called “naturally selected” bird hum? They don’t even have lips!
    Checkmate, Darwin!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Lee Strobel help up as an example

    A column by Kerry Hubartt

    One former atheist made that conclusion by searching for the truth and concluding that the events of Holy Week — in fact, the Bible in total — are truth: truth that transformed his life.

    So Strobel says he decided to take his legal training and his journalism training and investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity. He says he did it with a journalist’s attitude: “Give me the facts. I’m going to look at both sides.”

    See? All he wants is facts.

  • Jim Travis

    Does it really make sense to posit that a mindless universe can produce something as complex and wonderful as life when we, with all our intelligence and technology, can’t even approach producing it? Not from scratch, anyway.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jim Travis: Does it make more sense to posit that what we don’t know is majik, instead?

  • Jim Travis

    Let’s just say that we don’t know what we don’t know. No appeal to magic is necessary. But can we honestly rule out the existence of creative activity until we understand everything?

    Do you think that someday we will be able to design and make life on our own?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The question is not whether we can “rule out” that or any other possibility, but whether we have positive evidence supporting whatever hypothesis we propose. There are an infinite number of possible explanations that can never be ruled out, but for that very reason it’s pointless to consider any except the ones that make definite predictions which are borne out by the facts.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Jim Travis
    The odds are firmly stacked against a supernatural explanation. Whenever there has been a natural phenomenon we couldn’t initially explain theists have been quick assume God is the answer. However when explanations have been found, God has actually been the answer precisely never.
    As has been pointed out; the immense amount of time, the array of available chemicals and substrates, the vast number of options that can lead to biological activity all make a natural abiogenesis not only possible but probable. We may never be able to recreate those initial conditions or wait the millions of years necessary to replicate the process, and the “life” that emerged would not necessarily be the same one that did all those billions of years ago but we still don’t need God in the mix.

  • Jim Travis

    I dare say that we will never be able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt or demonstrate with certainty that God exists and is active in the universe. But then the odds are also stacked against our ever being able to explain how everything works. Usually when we learn how something works that we didn’t understand, we discover something new that we do not understand.

    Example:

    I remember when I used to think there was a kind of determinism at work in the universe. That if we knew enough about what was going on in the universe now, that we could predict everything that will happen in the future. But I now know that could never be. We can’t even accurately predict the future position of a single electron. (Heisenberg uncertainty principle and all)

    I would suggest that if we insist that only the material is real, and that the only path to truth is scientific observation of that material reality, then we will have to become comfortable with the presence of mystery… the presence of that which we do not understand.

  • Gary

    You can almost make a good analogy for natural selection using Scrabble. Pick Scrabble letters out of a bag, select the ones that look useful, discard the ones that don’t, repeat… and hey presto, you end up with a word!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Do you think that someday we will be able to design and make life on our own?

    Unless the religiots succeed in throwing us into a new Dark Age; yes, I do. And much sooner than you might be thinking. Depending on what criteria you set for success, it may have happened already.

    I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer
    That article was from way back in 2007.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    But can we honestly rule out the existence of creative activity until we understand everything?

    Mr. Travis, can we honestly rule out Santa Claus until every possible excuse ahs been exhausted? After all, maybe he doesn’t live at the North Pole, he lives under it. Or maybe the flying reindeer are invisible. Maybe he uses a space-time vortex to visit all those houses at once. Unless you have considered all these possibilities, and many more which i haven’t got around to fabricating yet, any dismissal of Santa Claus as a myth would be dishonest.

    Either that, or you’re full of shit. I know where I’d put my money.

  • Jim Travis

    This would not be making new life. He is reprograming already living tissue:

    The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

    It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form.

  • Jim Travis

    You can almost make a good analogy for natural selection using Scrabble. Pick Scrabble letters out of a bag, select the ones that look useful, discard the ones that don’t, repeat… and hey presto, you end up with a word!

    I think language actually evolved in a different order. There were perhaps things in out life that were important like what we call fire and sabertooth tigers. We learned to communicate with pictures and/or sounds about these very real concrete things and the pictures or sounds evolved into words and a system to manage these words (alphabet) Not really a chance sort of thing.

  • Jim Travis

    When I was a child, I may have believed in Santa Claus for a while, but since then I have come to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he does not exist. He doesn’t fit with too many other things that make sense to me. He is not consistent with the world view that I have developed over the years. (Plus the fact that I had to put together all those toys for my kids when they were young on Christmas Eve.)

    I think the crux of the difference between atheists and theists revolves around 2 points.

    1. If you are convinced that there is no existence outside of material existence, then you will not find any evidence to support the idea of God. If you are open to the idea of reality that is not based in the material, then it opens up a door in your mind for the possibility of Gods existence.

    2. You can’t believe everything you hear about God these days. Some people say ridiculous things about him, leading others to reject the possibility of a God entirely.

    What do you guys think?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jim Travis, the Scrabble analogy is, well, an analogy (“it’s ‘like’”, not “it is”). Even the best analogy is still just an analogy. Better than an analogy is a describelogy, which isn’t even a word.

  • Jim Travis

    Better than an analogy is a describelogy, which isn’t even a word.

    It is now… at least between you and me!

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jim Travis “He doesn’t fit with too many other things that make sense to me. He is not consistent with the world view that I have developed over the years.”
    It doesn’t matter whether something makes sense or it conforms to your worldview. It doesn’t matter if you like it. It only matters if the hypothesis fits reality. Quantum physics doesn’t make sense, but it fits reality, and other peoples’ gods fit their worldview, but that doesn’t make their gods any more real than yours does for yours.

    “1. If you are convinced that there is no existence outside of material existence, then you will not find any evidence to support the idea of God.”
    So, to find evidence for one thing I don’t see I need to assume the existence of another thing I can’t see?

    “If you are open to the idea of reality that is not based in the material, then it opens up a door in your mind for the possibility of Gods existence.”
    I try to stay open to the possibility, but not so open that my mind falls out.

    “2. You can’t believe everything you hear about God these days.”
    “These days”?

    “Some people say ridiculous things about him…”
    You do realize that anything said about God is “ridiculous” to some other believers? This simple fact makes that a tu quoque.

    “…leading others to reject the possibility of a God entirely.”
    When Pat Robertson says some vicious thing, I don’t reject God on that basis. I reject Pat Robertson. When he does the same and backs it up with an in-context biblical passage (written by someone who, like Pat, thought the Lord worked through him), it’s more problematic. When millions of other people’s “Holy Ghost” agree with him and his thug of a God, I weep for the future of humanity.
    I don’t reject the possibility of some deity or deities, I just think the ones posited so far are really, really unlikely. The ahistorical “issues”*1 and the bits that have aged poorly*2 in the various holy books render the gods that inspired them less likely to be real and more likely to have been made up by people (whether or not those people really believed it is moot. Moot!).

    1. Like, say, the falsity of the big tales of Genesis, from a six day Creation to Adam & Eve to the Fall to Noah to the Flood to Babel to Exodus, not to mention the severly compressed timeframe.
    2. Moses’ God was a bloodthirsty douche (“Egypt enslaved you? Outrage! Now go get yourself some slaves.” “All your neighbours are evil. Oh, and they’re living on your land. Now go blood some stuff up.”), Jesus’ one thought that punishing the wrong person for everyone elses “sin” of being imperfect and that sending the majority of Man to an eternity of firey burning for the “crime” of not believing the right thing as justice.

  • Peter N

    1. If you are convinced that there is no existence outside of material existence, then you will not find any evidence to support the idea of God.

    So are you saying that your god does not exist or act in the material world?

    If you are open to the idea of reality that is not based in the material, then it opens up a door in your mind for the possibility of Gods existence.

    Doesn’t it open a door to any number of false beliefs? How are we to distinguish between true and false beliefs without material evidence?

    2. You can’t believe everything you hear about God these days. Some people say ridiculous things about him, leading others to reject the possibility of a God entirely.

    How do you know you’re right and they’re wrong? Couldn’t all religious people be wrong?

  • Zietlos

    Jim, you’ve got your heart in the right place. Your chest. If it wasn’t, you’d be dead. Funny how that works out. Anyways, some rebuttals:

    Clearly Santa Claus does not exist, as Jim said, I have also put up trees in the middle of the night and populated them with presents. Barring sparse definitions of Sinterklaas, we can say he, and his legion of slaves that make toys for the gentry, don’t exist. It’s basically the same thing as when I do nice things for people, even setting them up to happen in advance (by say, giving a professor a gift so the next person speaking with them is taken lighter), and they say “god” did it, really, I’m just taking the role of some childhood fantasy. I do Santa’s work. I do God’s work. It’s the same work, really, by modern definitions of the word.

    As for question #2, anything which has an effect on the physical realm, from earthquakes to cosmic rays to higgs boson particles to pure chaos theory, has some measurable effect. Even quantum physics, which is not quite “physical” and does cascade into the realm of the meta-physical at points, all its properties can cascade into our reality, and therefore, is believable, partially. There’s something that is not physical, but is believable. (And I didn’t even pick at your word choice by mocking it through saying that “concepts” exist despite not being physical, despite your nit-picking on word choice earlier. :p )

    All atheists are open to the possibility of God existing, we would not be rational thinkers if we did not, but like the possibility that I will be struck by a freak plume of lava tomorrow and die (another possibility I accept), I don’t let such low odds dictate my actions.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    1. If you are convinced that there is no existence outside of material existence, then you will not find any evidence to support the idea of God. If you are open to the idea of reality that is not based in the material, then it opens up a door in your mind for the possibility of Gods existence.

    How does an immaterial God interact with a material Universe, specifically? And, if She doesn’t interact with the Universe, how is She relevant at all?

    2. You can’t believe everything you hear about God these days. Some people say ridiculous things about him, leading others to reject the possibility of a God entirely.

    And what exactly is your guidon to determine who is in touch with the divine and who is (pardon my Texan) full of horseshit?

  • Snoof

    Even quantum physics, which is not quite “physical” and does cascade into the realm of the meta-physical at points, all its properties can cascade into our reality, and therefore, is believable, partially.

    It’s even better than that. See, it’s important to remember that quantum mechanics is a _mathematical model_. Physicists can’t say that a wavefunction “really” exists, despite the fact that it’s used to make testable predictions of actual physical behaviours. Rather, it’s a mathematical artefact, part of the mathematics used to _describe_ quantum systems, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to anything real. Unless, of course, you’re a Platonist. :)

    It’s kind of like doing a survey of cars on a road based on the time of day. You’ll find it’s possible to map real data to various functions and thus be able to predict (within tolerances) how many cars will pass a given point in a given timeframe, but that doesn’t mean that the function you use actually exists in some way.

    On the other hand, some quantum behaviours (uncertainty, tunnelling, entanglement) are genuinely weird, but they actually can be shown to occur, whether they make sense to you or not.

  • Zietlos

    Snoof! You’ve solved it! God is an antiquated waveform anomaly! Now, we just need to find its source… Maybe given off by event horizons of black holes? We haven’t found everything there yet. (And who says Socratic Discourse doesn’t find Truth anymore? Bah.)

    Getting into sentient waveforms… That’s the land of possible bestselling soft sci-fi there. Hmm… An interesting idea…

  • XPK

    @Jim – What makes you think atheist minds are not open to the concept of “God”? It is a concept I am continually evaluating, then re-evaluating, and ultimately rejecting almost every day. And what makes you think people commenting here haven’t spent large parts of their lives believing in “God” only to reject the idea later?

    “2. You can’t believe everything you hear about God these days.”

    From you, from someone else, or from anyone else other than you?

    “Some people say ridiculous things about him,”

    Including you and every other religious person in the world. Of course only the things you say are true representations of what “God” is, and everyone else is wrong

    “leading others to reject the possibility of a God entirely.”

    But that isn’t really true. Many atheist/non-believers/agnostics/undecided are open to the “POSSIBILITY of a God,” It is the insanely low PROBABILITY of any “God” that causes many to remain skeptical.

  • SimonPure

    Hoyles Fallacy: The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.

    God has never made anything like a Boeing 747. Only humans can make a 747.

    The Airbus A380 is larger in all respects, but it wasn’t around in Fred Hoyle’s time.

  • Daniel

    The great irony of the ID/evolution debate is that neither are definitive or even contradictory. That’s probably why the official position of the Vatican (and most mainline Christians & other religious folk) is in support of evolution, while neither surrender their underlying belief in a transcendent reality (i.e. divinity).

  • Jim Travis

    “2. Moses’ God was a bloodthirsty douche (“Egypt enslaved you? Outrage! Now go get yourself some slaves.” “All your neighbours are evil. Oh, and they’re living on your land. Now go blood some stuff up.”), Jesus’ one thought that punishing the wrong person for everyone elses “sin” of being imperfect and that sending the majority of Man to an eternity of firey burning for the “crime” of not believing the right thing as justice.”

    These are good examples of what I consider to be “Bad Publicity” for God. How could anyone in their right mind believe in a God like this!

    My concept of God might be better known to most as truth, beauty and goodness. When you search for truth, you are looking for God. When you appreciate beauty, you are acknowledging Gods presence. When you are good, you are being like God. So with all truth seekers who are practicing atheists I feel a real filial bond. I spent several years myself as a practicing atheist and am very sympathetic to the viewpoint of sincere, truth seeking atheists.

    JT

    PS how do you copy the quotes of someone else here and indent them in your comment?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    When you appreciate beauty, you are acknowledging Gods presence.

    While admirable, this is not not only so vague as to be meaningless, but begging the question as well.

    … I spent several years myself as a practicing atheist …

    What, pray tell, is a “practicing atheist”? Am I in danger of heaven for having not observed the forms?

    eta: To copy quotes, use this format: [blockquote]text to be quoted[/blockquote], except replace the brackets with “>” to close the commands, and “<" to open.

  • XPK

    @Jim – Yes, your “concept of God” is simply that, a concept. If you desire to believe in “truth, beauty, and goodness” you can certainly do so without “God” so I fail to see what calling these things “God” does to enhance the experience. And if you use “God” to enhance those experiences, why do you not see “God” in lies, ugliness and evil?

    How could anyone in their right mind believe in a God like this!

    Oh yes, of course, your particular version of “God” can only be the good things! And of course those good things can only be things that you yourself consider to be good.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I always find it amusing when theists get into pissing matches about the “true nature” of God.

    Oh, and someone needs to make a bingo card or something out of the Proofs. Jim just used #7:

    ARGUMENT FROM BEAUTY, a.k.a. DESIGN/TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
    (1) Isn’t that baby/sunset/flower/tree beautiful?
    (2) Only God could have made them so beautiful.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    And #59:

    ARGUMENT FROM CREATIVE INTERPRETATION
    (1) God is:
    (a) The feeling you have when you look at a newborn baby.
    (b) The love of a mother for her child.
    (c) That little still voice in your heart.
    (d) Humankind’s potential to overcome their difficulties.
    (e) How I feel when I look at a sunset.
    (f) The taste of ice cream on a hot day.
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    And #662:

    MICHAEL BENEDIKT’S ARGUMENT FROM GOOD
    (1) God Is the Good We Do.
    (2) We do good.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Probably a few others, but those were the ones that sprang to mind.

  • Jim Travis

    I did not mean to offer the existence of truth, beauty and goodness as an argument that God exists. I rather meant to suggest that truth, beauty and goodness are the most visible manifestations of God to we finite, material beings. And that we can use these qualities as sort of a compass that points Godward. If we are becoming more full of truth, more beautiful, and increasingly good, we are becoming more like God. Becoming closer to God. If we let ourselves become full of or identify with that which we know to be false, or become hateful and selfish, or treat others poorly, we are moving away from God.

    Oh yes, of course, your particular version of “God” can only be the good things! And of course those good things can only be things that you yourself consider to be good.

    And of course this is the $64,000 question. Who gets to decide what is good, or true or beautiful?

    The quote from Justice Potter of the US Supreme Court decision on pornography comes to mind: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description (of pornography); and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it”, but that seems unsatisfying. I don’t think of anyone as having the authority to make such pronouncements. (The Pope might disagree with me on this point… not the only thing we don’t see eye to eye on.)

    But perhaps this:
    I have often told people that there are as many paths to God as there are people willing to walk them. No person can make the journey for any other, and everyones journey is unique. And as for which end of the compass neelde points north and which points south, I say every honest, sincere, normally minded individual is perfectly capable of determining that on his/her own.

    What, pray tell, is a “practicing atheist”? Am I in danger of heaven for having not observed the forms?

    Nice!

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I rather meant to suggest that truth, beauty and goodness are the most visible manifestations of God to we finite, material beings. And that we can use these qualities as sort of a compass that points Godward. If we are becoming more full of truth, more beautiful, and increasingly good, we are becoming more like God. Becoming closer to God. If we let ourselves become full of or identify with that which we know to be false, or become hateful and selfish, or treat others poorly, we are moving away from God.

    This is all just an exercise in begging the question. If god doesn’t exist, then “becoming more like god,” is actually an exercise in getting away from the truth which contradicts your idea that it’s getting closer to truth. That is, unless your idea of god is simply a concept instead of an actual entity. If that’s the case though, then to what end and why should anyone else care about your concept of what is truth, beauty, and goodness?

  • goyo

    “These are good examples of what I consider to be “Bad Publicity” for God. How could anyone in their right mind believe in a God like this!”
    So Jim: I guess you don’t believe in the bible either? Great; another “my version of xtianity is different, but it’s the correct one”.

  • Jim Travis

    This is all just an exercise in begging the question. If god doesn’t exist, then “becoming more like god,” is actually an exercise in getting away from the truth which contradicts your idea that it’s getting closer to truth. That is, unless your idea of god is simply a concept instead of an actual entity.

    God is much more than truth, beauty and goodness, but that is how God is most discernible to us. But let’s suspend the question for a moment of whether a Supreme Being, or Unmoved Mover, Uncreated Creator exists or not and let me ask: “Do you believe that that truth, beauty and goodness exist?” You seem to believe that truth exists; that some statements are more true than others. Do you believe some things are more beautiful than others. And do you believe that some acts are more moral than others?

  • Jim Travis

    I guess you don’t believe in the bible either? Great; another “my version of xtianity is different, but it’s the correct one”.

    Well, I don’t believe that the Bible is literal, Absolute Truth. Our collective view of God has changed over the millennia, and the Bible is a record of part of that.

    I think most atheists have arrived at where they are by having rejected what others have told them about God. I don’t really understand why you would be derisive about a different point of view just for being different. And did I not just say above that there are as many paths to God as there are people willing to walk them? Hardly suggesting that MY way is THE correct one.

    Rather I say that everyone who honestly and sincerely searches for truth, beauty and goodness is on a real and valid journey of discovering them, and that there can be no limits placed on what they can discover.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    But let’s suspend the question for a moment of whether a Supreme Being, or Unmoved Mover, Uncreated Creator exists or not and let me ask: “Do you believe that that truth, beauty and goodness exist?”

    I’ve often seen the moving of goalposts, but I must admit it tickles me to see them moved towards me. :)

    I think most atheists have arrived at where they are by having rejected what others have told them about God. I don’t really understand why you would be derisive about a different point of view just for being different.

    That may be what you think but that does not define me, nor many contributors here. Your stereotype aside, most of us do not sneer at a contrary viewpoint solely because it is contrary. The fact is, as an atheist I see many different proposed justifications for a god, and, because of my atheism, am able to discern the differential rationales; whereas the (pardon me) typical theist will generally accept the fact of theism without inquiring into discrepancies, because they feel a simpatico that may, perhaps, bind them against outside skepticism.

    Most atheists question everything. Understand that, and you understand most of us.

    Also, don’t take it personally.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jim Travis “I think most atheists have arrived at where they are by having rejected what others have told them about God.”
    But it’s all “what others have told them about God”. If it wasn’t monotheism wouldn’t exist. Neither would organized polytheism, which is consistently what the answer was thought to be, for the most part, before those nutty Hebrews came along and messed with the program. And don’t even get me started on that no-good Jesus fellow*1!
    The correct answer would turn out to be a bunch of little gods, ghosts and other such things, individual and unique to each person, generated by our talent for attributing agency to agent-free natural occurrences, filling in gaps in the incomplete model of reality in our heads…which is a lot like animism and others among the “primitive” religious groups.

    “I don’t really understand why you would be derisive about a different point of view just for being different.”
    I try, generally, to not be derisive. Instead, irreverent. It’s my nature. Don’t fret, I’m the same way about atheists, too. Those people don’t believe in nothin’, man!*2

    “Rather I say that everyone who honestly and sincerely searches for truth, beauty and goodness is on a real and valid journey of discovering them, and that there can be no limits placed on what they can discover.”
    Is the goal God or is the goal knowledge? Or, is knowledge God? If you know three things, does that make God a trinity? What if you learn another thing on top of that? I’m ever so confused.

    Thumpalumpacus “Most atheists question everything. Understand that, and you understand most of us.”
    I don’t. I rebel by being completely uninquisitive and accepting everything at face value.

    *1. He never pitches in for pizza. Jerk. We know you’re hiding in the bathroom, Jesus! You’re not fooling anyone with that “I’ve got to go turn some wine in to water” line.
    *2. Take that, atheism!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Modus, when does the straight man get paid?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Thumpalumpacus, when does the funny man get paid?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    You’re paid with our laughter, damn it.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Laughter doesn’t put a roof over my head. Or, it does, but metaphorically. Metaphors are terrible at keeping the rain off me, unless it’s metaphorical rain. Which it’s not.

  • zenbullet

    hey jim thanks for posting.

    I’m sure it’s too late in the game but there it is.