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What’s ironic is that this latest response underscores, rather than contradicts, the point I originally made in my essay which explains why I posed this challenge: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

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About Adam Lee

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