An Unserious Response to the Theist’s Guide

I’ve received another response to my essay on Ebon Musings, “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“, which challenges theists to explain what they would accept as proof that their religious beliefs were mistaken. For the record, I’ll point out that this essay has been publicly available since June 2001, almost nine years, and in that time – counting the response just received – I’ve gotten a total of three replies.

What’s ironic is that this latest response underscores, rather than contradicts, the point I originally made in my essay which explains why I posed this challenge:

Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them. In short, they are closed-minded, and have been taught to be closed-minded.

This is a perfect description of the latest response. Its author, though he puts on a pretense of open-mindedness, has offered terms that are purposefully designed to be impossible to fulfill. His response is therefore made in bad faith and is not a serious answer to my challenge, but I’ll analyze it anyway, the better to show how the theist mindset works.

Here is how he begins:

To convince me that God doesn’t exist, please come up with an alternate explanation for the existence of every single physical particle in the universe. Everything – down to the minutest sub-atomic particle known or surmised presently, to everything yet to be discovered in the future – must be accounted for up-front each with its own individual explanation. Since we can not assume that an agent that has one address, so to speak, like a Supreme Being, will organize and order our material universe, so any convincing explanation of existence must, out of necessity, account for each individual particle in the universe separately and distinctly, each one by itself.

The observable universe has on the order of 1080 – that is, 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – subatomic particles. For each one of these, this person demands an individual, separate and distinct explanation. Obviously, this task could not be accomplished in the lifetime of a human, or, for that matter, in the lifetime of the universe. And even if we somehow had the resources to attempt this, most of the explanations this person demands would require historical facts that are irretrievably lost to us. Atoms don’t accumulate evidence about their past history; how in principle could you ever find out that iron atom #7,128,462,971,394 originated in the supernova of this star and not that star?

My respondent has numerous other demands, most of which are equally unreasonable, but I won’t belabor the point. His entire lengthy essay was a waste of his time to write; it’s just a roundabout way of saying, “Nothing could ever change my mind about the existence of God.” Why he didn’t just say that, I don’t know – unless it makes him feel better, soothes his cognitive dissonance, to be able to tell himself that he’s offered an “answer” to my challenge and therefore isn’t closed-minded. His essay suggests as much:

Now Mr. Atheist has noted that some people have rigged the conditions under which they would give up religion to be so impossible that, of course, their beliefs could not be touched. Now I’m not into those kinds of games.

Needless to say, I don’t intend to permit him that false comfort, which is why I’m calling his sophistry what it is. His “challenge” is designed to be impossible, and he’s well aware of this. He’s dishonestly playing the very same kind of game he claims to deride. Too bad for him that I don’t intend to indulge him in it.

It’s no surprise, also, that his ludicrous standard of proof for atheism is not one he ever applies to his own beliefs. Does he require an individual, separate and distinct explanation of how and why God manufactured every proton, electron, photon, quark and graviton in the cosmos? Of course not. For him, as for most believers, “Goddidit” is a perfectly sufficient explanation that requires no further detail or supporting evidence. Of course, when dealing with scientists, they demand meticulous proof, every step checked and triple-checked, every single bit of relevant data unearthed and supplied, every possible alternative hypothesis conclusively disproven with mathematical certainty. If they applied anything near this level of scrutiny and hyperskepticism to their own faith, they’d long since have become atheists!

My correspondent also thinks he has something to offer that would satisfy one entry on my list of convincing proofs for theism. I’ll consider his evidence in a followup post to appear shortly.

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.

  • Alex Weaver

    “x cannot be proven beyond an unreasonable doubt” is true for all x. This isn’t an obstacle to people believe anything else; why the sudden interest in absolute certainty when x contradicts one of their religious tenets?

  • http://oneyearskeptic.blogspot.com/ Erika

    It’s no surprise, also, that his ludicrous standard of proof for atheism is not one he ever applies to his own beliefs. Does he require an individual, separate and distinct explanation of how and why God manufactured every proton, electron, photon, quark and graviton in the cosmos?

    Or perhaps more relevant to his beliefs, does he require individual, separate and distinct explanations of every contradiction in the Bible? Can he trace every supposed scribal error back to the scribe who made the error? Does he have actual explanations for why God would allow cruelty, evil, and natural disasters, or does he just say, “God is mysterious”?

  • Zietlos

    Erika, that is probably a better counter-request than every incidence of atoms, as that can be a simple Goddidit answer, while the origins of contradictions and the origin of every individual evil act as per proper sourcing (act “a” done by person “a” was 23% lust, 17% wrath, 32% envy…), for every person ever to cross the Earth or beyond the stars. This must be done in order to prove that no evil act ever came from a god, to fulfill one of the basic tenants of their faith. I’d prefer 5 significant digits, but I’ll take basic %s, because I’m lenient. This would be the equivalent counter-request, in my eyes, though it would arguably be easier (only a few billions of people have passed this earth, with a few millions of acts each), but equally as impossible, as Jzahb AlDul, random peasant, did evil actions that must be explained, but he is long forgotten to history, like the subparticles.

    I look forward to this foreshadowed continuation post, Ebon… Yet for some reason dread it based on this one…

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    Wow, just skimmed that reply, & it was atrocious. I totally don’t understand why this person wants an explanation for every individual particle. If we were to figure out the Theory of Everything, the most fundamental law of physics that would do it, wouldn’t it?

    Why isn’t accounting for the existence of laws of nature sufficient for this person? Maybe I’m missing something.

    Anyway, same old shit – where did the universe come from? To which we always reply – where did god come from? For some reason we never get an answer to that. Curious, no?

  • Tacroy

    I was reading your original Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, and I take issue with your position that a holy book containing a truly modern theory of physics like quantum mechanics would be indisputable proof of divinity.

    I would actually argue that anyone who thought logically about Zeno’s paradox of dichotomy could independently come up with a quantum theory of reality. The paradox states, in one phrasing, that a person traveling from point A to point B can never reach point B, because there are an infinite number of points between A and B and it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of points.

    Clearly, anyone who accepted reality as it is would come to the conclusion that because travelers often reach a destination, something must be wrong with the paradox. Zeno argued that, therefore, there was no difference between A and B, and motion was an illusion.

    The other way you could argue it, however, is that the number of points between A and B are finite, which means that space can be sliced up into infinitesimal quanta. Therefore, there is no impossible traversal of infinite points involved, and everyone can move again hooray! Also, you’ve just invented a quantum theory of space!

    As far as I’m aware, nobody ever made that argument in ancient times. However, if I did see such a theory in an ancient religious text, I would not consider it to be absolute truth; the derivation is simply an alternate interpretation of Zeno’s paradox.

  • TEP

    By that guy’s standards, he should be a believer in every single idea everybody has ever believed in at some point in history. We should believe in dragons, because we can’t explain every single instance of fire that has ever happened. We should believe in gorgons, because we can’t explain the precise mechanism by which every single instance of fossilisation took place, and therefore cannot be certain that some of these didn’t occur as a result of creatures falling foul of a gorgon’s petrifying gaze. We don’t know where every single atom of gold came from, so I guess that means leprechauns are a reasonable thing to believe in. We can’t explain every single shipwreck in history, so presumably, kraken, the Midgard Serpent, flying saucers and undead pirates are all reasonable things to believe in. We can’t conclusively prove that every single vote ever made in every election in history was made by a human, hence it is perfectly acceptable to believe the alternate explanation for the origin of these votes that extraterrestrials are disguising themselves as humans in order to interfere with out electoral processes. In order to disprove vampires, we need to know everything about every single case of exsanguination in history and provide explanations for how they took place by natural means. This can’t be done, so I guess vampires are real. Oh, and for a more Christian themed example, we don’t have explanations for every single instance of misfortune that occurred during the Middle Ages, so the Church’s hobby of blaming it on witches and then immolating them was completely justified, right?

  • Monty

    I’d also like to point out that a number of his arguments are instantly refuted by the anthropic principle.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    And why couldn’t this respondent’s argument apply equally well to Zeus, Ganesha or the litany of other gods previously or currently worshiped by humanity?

    We don’t know everything there is to know about our Universe, therefore I created it. Ta da! Worship me.

  • Snoof

    The other way you could argue it, however, is that the number of points between A and B are finite, which means that space can be sliced up into infinitesimal quanta. Therefore, there is no impossible traversal of infinite points involved, and everyone can move again hooray! Also, you’ve just invented a quantum theory of space!

    Yes, but that’s not a quantum theory. That’s philosophy. For it to be a _theory_, it’d need to make actual predictions and to describe how these predictions could in principle tested. Consider a holy book with a description of the photoelectric effect and the two-slit experiment, with quantitative predictions on the energy of the electrons and the distribution of the diffraction pattern. _That_ might convince me.

  • Alex Weaver

    I just had an interesting thought. He literally will not accept a universe without a god: his criterion for accepting that God as he conceives of it doesn’t exist is proving that YOU fit the bill instead.

  • Hendy

    Cool – I actually just had this conversation!

    In a recent discussion with a believer, I brought up the issue of unanswered prayer, healings, and Jesus’ foretelling that believers will drive out demons, drink poison, etc. I proposed that my current leaning toward naturalism is more logical than theism because I can provide a clear set of standards for belief. If I witnessed the things above occurring with predictability and repeatability, what in the world would be my excuse not to believe?

    On the flip side, the only plausible reasons not to believe I’ve heard provide (better than this guy’s anyway) are perhaps to time travel and park outside of the tomb and wait on Easter eve, 33AD… or for a believer to be presented with Jesus remains.

    Here’s the ironic part for me, at least:
    1) the atheist’s reasons for believing fall into the category of exactly what we should expect from religion. Religions promise these very things! When they don’t happen they have to be explained away, usually by issuing some culpability to the target (lack of faith, unrepentant sin, etc.). Jesus never turned anyone away who asked for healing. Even if he reprimanded them for lack of faith… he still did the miracle!
    2) time travel and finding Jesus’ skill are exactly what we would never expect the atheist to produce. Without dental records or some other identification method, it is a truly impossible request.

    Lastly, William Lane Craig has literally stated [1] that he would not believe even if he time traveled back to 33 AD, parked outside of the tomb, and Jesus did not come out. He has also debated at lengths with arguments, and when asked by the moderator whether the opponent could have brought arguments to convince him otherwise, he literally states that his belief does not rely on arguments [2].

    So, even if conditions are met to satisfy the request, belief seems to persist. A similar point has been made against atheists, namely that even if they saw an amputated limb regrow in front of them at the invocation of the name ‘Jesus’, that their unbelief would persist because they would surely find a way to explain the evidence without the supernatural. What do others think about this?

    [1] http://www.jcnot4me.com/Items/contra_craig/contra_craig.htm#Comments%20on%20Craig%27s%20Book:%20Reasonable%20Faith

    [2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhUH2TBKqjk (watch starting at ~0:35 for the quote)

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

    It’s the ultimate god of the gaps fallacy…

  • prase

    Atoms don’t accumulate evidence about their past history; how in principle could you ever find out that iron atom #7,128,462,971,394 originated in the supernova of this star and not that star?

    And moreover the atoms are fundamentally indistinguishable, so there is not much sense in asking about the origin of some certain atom.

    The “response” is really amazing. Its length (and the fact that he created a new blog just for the purpose of having this discussion!) suggests that he is serious and wants to discuss, but it is hard to conceive how to say more clearly that he will not change his opinion, no matter what the argument.

  • Lynet

    Thing is, Tacroy, your example of a quantum theory of space doesn’t actually describe any of our current quantum theories; a “quantum theory of space” with substantial qualitative differences to the one you proposed has been used to try to describe a quantum theory of gravity (it’s known as “loop quantum gravity”), but, like all theories of quantum gravity, it requires a lot of mathematical messing around, and even then, we’re not absolutely sure that it makes sense, let alone what it would predict, if it predicts anything.

    In other words, this example that you’ve proposed as a way to try to show how advanced physical theories might be predicted by the bible purely by human means actually wouldn’t have worked, if it had happened…

  • jane hay

    What an intellectually fragile individual he must be. Hey, how about black holes and white holes? G-d is a singularity ! Re – Science Daily http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100406172648.htm
    299, 792 km/s – It’s not just a good idea; it’s the Law!

  • Polly

    To convince me that God doesn’t exist, please come up with an alternate explanation for the existence of every single physical particle in the universe.

    “alternate”? Alternate explanation to what, exactly? He doesn’t have a theory of how all those particles came to be. Certainly nothing even approaching a level of rigor required by the average toddler looking up at a sky that’s blue rather than green.

    And what does explaining particles and future events have to do with proving a god doesn’t exist? If everything that is, has a cause, then explain to me where your god came from – who created him? Then we’ll talk about his creation which by necessity is less energetic and complex than he is and, therefore, more easily explained.
    If no one was was needed to create your god, then no one was needed to create the universe. Fair’s fair.

    This would be like a prosecutor claiming that Bob the defendant must be the murderer because the defense can’t explain the state and structure of every cell in the corpse down to the level of mitochondrial proton pumps to his satisfaction and has to rely “merely” on the argument that Bob was seen by a few hundred people on the other side of the globe at the time of the murder.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The paradox states, in one phrasing, that a person traveling from point A to point B can never reach point B, because there are an infinite number of points between A and B and it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of points.

    Only if one ignores the amount of time it takes to travel between any two given points. As the distance between point A and B gets broken up into smaller intervals, the time it takes to move between each point also gets broken up into smaller intervals. If you break the distance up into an infinite number of points, then the time it takes to travel between those points also becomes infinitely short.

  • Monty

    Regarding Zeno’s Paradox: that’s basically half of calculus. Adding together an infinite number of infinitely small values.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    The OP’s tart humor brings interest to an otherwise pathetic argument. Good job, Adam.

  • CSN

    A rock fell from the top of a mountain, it dislodged a few larger rocks which did the same and it became a landslide. How did this all of this rock and dirt get down here? Please account for every speck of dirt that finds its way to the bottom of the hill, individually and distinctly.

    All you actually need is an understanding of the physical laws which allow for the escalation and you can extrapolate back, whether or not you know how that first rock fell. Given laws the pattern accounts for itself! This seems to be the universal failure of understanding of the “there had to be a creator” types.

  • Alex Weaver

    All you actually need is an understanding of the physical laws which allow for the escalation and you can extrapolate back, whether or not you know how that first rock fell. Given laws the pattern accounts for itself! This seems to be the universal failure of understanding of the “there had to be a creator” types.

    Not quite; a number of them agree with the above and then equivocate between the “if-then-statement” nature of physical laws and the “thou-shalt” nature of “laws” in most other usages to insist there must be a “lawgiver” (who just happens to have exactly the properties their parents’ religion defines it to have).

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I think Alex is right – the entire argument is constructed to require a supernatural creator.

    You can’t ask, “What created your god?” because that’s not the point. The point is that something supernatural had to start everything. You can call it quantum physics and he can call it God, but essentially both of you are just putting a name to an unknown quantity, so you’re both logically equal. And since the entire argument was invented to create the illusion of epistemological equality, he wins!

    The solution is to avoid the entire nonsense in the first place. When he starts off with, “Well, something can’t come from nothing,” you respond with, “Sure it can. It happens all the time. It’s happening right freaking now. See: quantum foam. So… what was your point again?”

  • genewitch

    @CSN: Actually, chaos theory would make that sort of prediction impossible, too many variables.

    In a vacuum, you have a source of gravity and a billiards table (the one with no pockets) – with a perfect friction coefficient, and perfectly flat.. You set up a 9 ball rack of perfect spheres, and strike them with a perfectly spherical cue ball. In this circumstance, you can extrapolate backward, because there are no unknown variables. Anything more complex than that and it’s guesswork. (for instance, meteorology!)

    If we knew what happened in the universe prior to 10^-32 or whatever the planck constant is, we would (should) be able to extrapolate forward based on rough observation of locations of planets, stars, galaxies, figuring in the speed of light and gravity (if any) – and therefore be able to predict the future down to the very words everyone will say, location of any particular carbon atom, whatever.

    It would just take a very long time and every computer ever made to do it. so either way, it doesn’t matter. Science can’t know (because of planck’s constant) – and neither can religion (because of A) no god or B) free will.)

    What a pain in the ass the debate is.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Erika, that is probably a better counter-request than every incidence of atoms, as that can be a simple Goddidit answer, while the origins of contradictions and the origin of every individual evil act as per proper sourcing (act “a” done by person “a” was 23% lust, 17% wrath, 32% envy…), for every person ever to cross the Earth or beyond the stars. This must be done in order to prove that no evil act ever came from a god, to fulfill one of the basic tenants of their faith.

    Excellent point, Zietlos. I suppose I could answer my theist correspondent here by telling him that, if I’m to believe God is all-powerful and all-good, I would require a complete accounting of every decision God has ever made, proof that he was the one responsible for it and not some other causal power, and a comprehensive and airtight listing of his reasons and motivations for making it, so I could be sure he was motivated by benevolence and not evil. Doubtless, he’d instantly perceive how ridiculous a request that was, and would accuse me of acting in bad faith – and he’d be 100% right. But that ridiculousness is exactly on par with what he’s asking for here.

  • Snoof

    In a vacuum, you have a source of gravity and a billiards table (the one with no pockets) – with a perfect friction coefficient, and perfectly flat.. You set up a 9 ball rack of perfect spheres, and strike them with a perfectly spherical cue ball. In this circumstance, you can extrapolate backward, because there are no unknown variables. Anything more complex than that and it’s guesswork.

    Yes and no.

    Remember uncertainty. For one thing, these balls are made of atoms, right? So you can’t measure the exact positions of the atoms in the balls to more than a certain degree of accuracy (thank you, Heisenberg). So any predictions you make will have a degree of uncertainty – you won’t be able to say “at time t, the ball was at position x”, but rather “the ball was at position t at time x+dx” where dx is the uncertainty in position. Of course, since you then need to use that data to extrapolate further back, the errors grow larger and larger.

    But what if you assume they’re not made of atoms at all, but are some kind of magic platonic spheres which operate purely under Newtonian mechanics? That solves the uncertainly problem, but you hit another one. With that many balls on the table, you may run into a three-way collision. Now, the thing is, three-way collisions can’t be solved analytically – there’s no “exact answer” to the equations which describe them. What you can do is use numeric methods to approximate the positions but if you do this, once again you’re putting a degree of uncertainty into the calculations.

    So the point I’m trying to make is that guesswork is even more common than you said!

    (In fairness, I should point out that in both cases you can probably reliably predict the history of the system to within a fraction of the balls’ diameter quite a long way back. But you can’t be _certain_.)

  • Chris

    Demanding a scientific accounting for the location of everything we’ve found and will find (seriously? Come on) is not the same kind of answer as the one your correspondent offers. He desires a reason for every atom while only offering in return an explanation for the method of their sorting. The field of physics would be in a similar class to his answer: a way to find the answers, but not the answers themselves.

  • Peter Clemerson

    July 2010

    Here is a less dismissive response to Mr Ben-Taleh. It’s unfortunately terse because of the requirement to compress it into the allowed 15,000 characters. I invite him to respond.

    Hello Mr. Ben-Taleh,

    Paragraphs 1.d to 1.12 reduce to two questions that have exercised philosophers for centuries; (1) why is there something rather than nothing, and (2) why are the laws of physics the way they are and not something different.

    My response is a form of agnosticism. Frankly, we do not know how to answer these questions and should be honest enough to admit it.

    Deists accept the existence of the universe as adequate evidence for the existence of a supernatural entity but make no further claims.

    Why don’t I adopt this position? My answer undermines both deism and all forms of theism. Adopting the belief that an invisible entity created the universe begs an inevitable question: if all entities need to be caused to exist and one (or more) caused the universe to exist, what entity caused that causing entity to exist, and so on in an infinite regress. Theists claim their entity is causeless. If causeless entities are allowed in our philosophical belief system, why should the universe not be one?

    There are many philosophical arguments for the existence of god and all can be shown to be invalid. Read Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion or the appendix in Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A work of fiction.

    Some remarks in paragraph 1.11 are simply incorrect. You say that coordinated processes are needed to explain both mitosis, and by implication many or all other biological processes, and the shining of stars, other than the mere laws of nature. This is simply not the case. The chemistry of a huge number of cellular processes is well understood and every one is completely explainable by particular chemical reactions governed by the laws of chemistry, all of which can be reduced to the laws of physics.

    For an explanation of how stars shine and H bombs work go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fusion . Only the laws of physics are required.

    Consciousness is not one undifferentiable experience. We have many conscious experiences, all sufficiently different from each other to have different names; sight, hearing, and smell tell us what is happening outside our bodies and taste, aches and pain, touch, itchiness, tiredness or fatigue and nausea to tell us something about the surface and interior of our bodies, all generated by activity in different combinations of parts of the brain. An ever increasing amount of detail can be found in the relevant books and academic journals, which exist in profusion.

    There remains the problem of explaining the nature of these different subjective conscious experiences and how activity in unique combinations of parts of the brain gives rise to them.

    Professor David Chalmers offers a first step to understanding by expanding our concept of matter to include conscious experiences and suggests that the information processing that takes place in the brain has a necessary extra dimension or conscious component determined by the type and content of the information being processed and the type of processing that it is undergoing. Go to Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 2, Number 3, 1995, pp. 200-219 to get a fuller explanation.

    Emotions are just one more type of conscious experience and therefore originate in the brain like all the rest. To say that emotions can barely be conceptualised suggests you are unfamiliar with the literature. Please read Why we Feel, by Victor Johnston, which gives some indication of which parts of the brain are active during some emotions, and then R Plutchick’s Emotions and Life or the early works of Paul Ekman.

    The thousands of pieces of evidence for Darwinism are quite sufficient to convince me, yes, convince me, that life evolved by natural selection once started by means of increasingly complicated chemical processes known as abiogenesis. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg for a video that explains how only the laws of science are needed.

    Read Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth for a good explanation of evolution by natural selection. Given that emotions are just one conscious experience among many, it is easy to propose that they arose as animals with increasing cerebral complexity evolved over hundreds of millions of years. This statement is easy to accept given that emotions are adaptive in the same way that pain is. They each have a particular function; they motivate us to act in ways that either protect or promote our welfare. Because each emotional experience is identifiably different from others, each one motivates us to do something unique. If the experience is pleasant, such as joy, it motivates us to continue the state or repeat the activity that gave rise to it, which promotes our welfare. If it is unpleasant, such as grief at the loss of a possession, it motivates us to do something to bring this unpleasantness to an end and/or avoid a repetition, thereby protecting our welfare. I agree that we have emotions that are positively damaging but the emotionally motivated damage we do in these cases is usually damage to someone else to benefit ourselves. We are sometimes prepared to hurt someone else even if we hurt ourselves at the same time, as long as we hurt them more, thereby benefiting relative to them.

    You are right that such damaging actions are contrary to the survival of the species but you show evidence of out-dated thinking here. Biologists long ago ceased to think of humans or any other species as acting in the interests of the species. We act in the interest of ourselves as individuals, or to take a more gene-centric view, we act in ways to propagate our genes into the next generation. You could read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene to get a better understanding of this.

    You request in paragraph 1.15 an explanation of chance or luck. I regard these words as clothing for ignorance. Whenever an event occurs that could have one of a number of different outcomes, we often say that the particular one that eventuates is a matter of chance or luck. What that means is that we were ignorant of the particular physical conditions that caused one of those outcomes to occur rather than any of the others. A die on a gambling table obeys only the laws of physics. To think otherwise is superstition.

    The unanimity among the cosmologists that you write of simply does not exist. There are innumerable views about what happened fourteen and a half billion years ago and none claim to describe an act of creation that brings the universe into existence. The real point is that no-one really knows what happened that long ago in detail. There is general agreement on the Hubble expansion of the universe, and according to a relatively recent discovery, this is accelerating. However, views on what actually happened at the start of this expansion are based on speculative assumptions for two reasons. First, all the laws of physics simply break down at infinite density so no-one can apply current laws to say what happened to start an expansion from zero volume and second, the theorists have outdistanced the observers by about a billion years. The theoretical folk create mathematical models, many based on string theory, for what might have happened from a tiny moment just after the commencement of the expansion. They assume the prior existence of something as opposed to nothing, and there are myriad variations. The observational astronomers do not have instruments that can observe anything that far back in time and can therefore not make observations that might select among the possibilities. In addition, there are other cosmologists who claim that string theory is wrong and useless. You may like to read Not even wrong by Peter Woit. Some cosmologists led by Lee Smolin have developed their own theories, based upon what they call Loop Quantum Gravity. These cosmologists examine the detailed quantum mechanical nature of a vacuum and claim that when at high enough density, as would be the case if you extrapolate the Hubble expansion far enough back in time, matter becomes repulsive. According to them, there never was the mathematical singularity of infinite density, and the current expansion follows a previous contraction and big crunch. It’s most unwise to recruit cosmology to support religion. We do not know enough,

    The spontaneous generation that you refer to in 1.20 that was ‘given up’ 150 years ago was the spontaneous generation of life, not everything. You can read up on Pasteur’s experiments if you want to know more.

    Your opposition to polytheism consists of mere assertions that gods would necessarily behave like a human committee and these necessarily make a botch of everything they do. How can you possibly know when you, a human, are discussing supernatural beings? I am no polytheist, but you will have to try harder than this to defeat polytheism.

    I agree that the Torah existed in 246 BCE.

    A big point of relevance to your article is the documentary hypothesis. I have copied below a slightly abbreviated version of it from Wikipedia.
    “The documentary hypothesis holds that the Torah, (the first five books) was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors). The number of these [narratives] is usually set at four, but this is not an essential part of the hypothesis.
    In an attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in the biblical text, and refusing to accept forced explanations to harmonize them, 18th and 19th century biblical scholars using source criticism eventually arrived at the theory that the Torah was composed of selections woven together from several, at times inconsistent, sources, each originally a complete and independent document. The hypothesis developed slowly over the course of the 19th century, by the end of which it was generally agreed that there were four main sources, combined into their final form by a series of redactors. These four sources came to be known as the Yahwist, or Jahwist, J (J being the German equivalent of the English letter Y); the Elohist, E; the Deuteronomist, D, (the name comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, D’s contribution to the Torah); and the Priestly Writer, P.
    Julius Wellhausen’s contribution was to order these sources chronologically as JEDP, giving them a coherent setting in the evolving religious history of Israel, which he saw as one of ever-increasing priestly power. Wellhausen’s formulation was:
    the Jarwist source ( J ) : written c. 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah
    the Elohist source ( E ) : written c. 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel
    The Deutoronomist source ( D ) : written c. 600 BCE in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform.
    the Priestly source ( P ) : written c. 500 BCE by Aaronic priests in exile in Babylon.
    The Redactors : first JE, then JED, and finally JEDP, producing the final form of the Torah by 450 BCE.

    Diagram of the Documentary Hypothesis.
    * includes most of Leviticus
    † includes most of Deuteronomy
    ‡ “Deuteronomic history”: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings

    Books on this subject exist in great profusion. One introductory very readable account, written to be acceptable to someone with a Jewish background, is Richard Friedman’s Who wrote the Bible? According to the style of writing, Friedman allocates various bits of the five books to each of J, E D and P. Some of the last redactors may have been Ezra or, more likely, his followers.

    The Masoretic text of the Torah was completed after the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian invasion and the exile. The implications of this are enormous: the passages containing predictions and prophecies were edited into their final form after the prophesied dire things to come had already occurred.

    A more general argument supporting the rejection of the prophesies is that the history of mankind, as illustrated by many Egyptian and Assyrian texts that date to this period and both earlier and later, shows that wars were almost continuous. One empire followed another with conquest after conquest. Prophesying disaster in the form of destruction by other peoples must have been one of the easiest and obvious things to do.

    Your statement that no other nation maintains such a continuous literary record of its history is, I’m afraid, wrong. The late scholar Mary Boyce dated Zarathustra to approximately the same time as Moses and of course Zoroastrians still exist, although in very small numbers, in the country in which they originated, Iran. Their religion, which also forbids inter-marriage and is as old as Judaism, may have played a part in their survival as a cultural entity but that does not prove the truthfulness of its claims, as I am sure you would agree.

    The prophesy in 2.25 was true before it was written irrespective of when that was. Idolatry existed at the time of writing, always had and continued afterwards. The Tanach is replete with the cursing of the prophets at the continuous idolatry of the some of the people of Israel. Forecasting the future is very easy when a lengthy past and the present are identical.

    The Deuteronomic prophecy in Paragraph 2.28 is invalidated given the redaction and editing that took place in the 5th century BCE. In post-exilic times, the political decision of Cyrus to allow the Jews (and others) to worship their own god within his Zoroastrian empire could easily be interpreted by the pious as non-abandonment. As Deuteronomy was later being edited into its current shape by the faithful, why not add a paragraph then to say so?

    Paragraphs 2.31 to 2.50 paraphrase the accounts of the exodus, orally transmitted legends which, in pre-Davidic times, became ever more impressive, like fishermen’s tales. Had 600,000 men really been leaving Egypt with Moses, who possibly actually existed, the Israelites would indeed have numbered 2M. Archeologists estimate the population of Egypt then at between two and half million and five million. An exodus of two million would have caused economic collapse, which would have been documented in the histories of both Egypt and its militant imperial Asian neighbours. The archaeologist Israel Finkelstein notes that such a number of people in Sinai for decades would leave detectable traces. None have been found. The figures are fantasy and undermine the trustworthiness of everything else.

    The ten commandments presented humanity with nothing new. Worse, they forbid neither the bodily harming of others nor exploitation to the point of slavery. They document the limited moral precepts that underlie Habburami’s legal code written in about 1750 BCE. Another, perhaps better, set of moral precepts is to be found in the ancient Egyptians’ Negative Confessions, some versions of which were written even earlier. I’m sure Moses knew all about them and took them into Sinai.

    I have read your book, the Torah, Mr. Ben-Taleh. Please read some of mine.

    Peter Clemerson

    Note: a diagram of the Documentary Hypothesis failed to register. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis to see it.

  • Cate

    As I am new to this website, I there any way that I can contact (such as email) Adam Lee, the writer of the Theist’s guide to converting atheists? If so, this would be a pleasurable opportunity for me to do so.

  • hyperbolee

    In his letter he says: Explain Existence. I can say the same: Explain God. Unfortunately for him he’s using a God of the Gaps argument and just because we cannot yet explain it fully the default win goes to God. Stupid Atheists.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X