Faith Comes First

A few months ago, a theist contacted me by e-mail to claim that her church, the Mormons, had fulfilled many of the criteria set forth in my essay "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists". There was one criterion she thought was unfair of me to list - evidence of miraculous occurrences brought about through prayer:This one is rough, mainly because faith must precede the miracle.Similarly, another theist who contacted me by e-mail claimed that it didn't matter whether anyone could answer … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VIII: Mill's Methods

Today's post on critical thinking concerns the five principles collectively known as Mill's methods, first presented together in 1843 by the Enlightenment philosopher John Stuart Mill in his book A System of Logic. Each of them is intended to illuminate the flow of causality in a different way, giving us mental tools to link causes and effects. In this post, I'll highlight past entries in my "Popular Delusions" series, and show how failure to properly use Mill's methods has duped the … [Read more...]

Little-Known Bible Verses X: Don't Trust Your Heart

I first came across today's little-known Bible verse while reading The Pilgrim's Progress, and it was so amazing to me that I had to set the book aside and look it up on the spot. Search on the internet, and you'll find volumes of Christian apologetics seeking to justify the author's belief in God by claiming that they just know he exists because they can feel his presence in their heart:The imagination knows God and the heart knows God, but the conscience silences the whole person because of … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VII: Risk Assessment

Given that this is an atheist site, I feel compelled to start this post with a snappy anti-religion quip, so here it is: Children and teenagers are more likely to be molested or assaulted in church than they are on social networking sites like MySpace. Parents, do you want to protect your kids? Keep them home on Sundays and send them to the computer instead!But it wouldn't be fair to leave it at that. This statistic doesn't prove the inherent riskiness of going to church. What it proves is … [Read more...]

The View From the Ground

Over the past two months, I've written about the differing epistemologies of religion - where the individual's personal conviction is taken as a reliable guide to truth ("The Aura of Infallibility") - and science - where the assumption is that individuals are fallible and should work as a group to correct each other in a spirit of free inquiry ("Self-Correction").The question I now want to turn to is this: How does a lay person tell the difference? Why should people who are not particularly … [Read more...]

On Presuppositionalism

In "Unmoved Mover", I wrote about the presuppositional argument used by some modern Christian apologists. In this post, I want to say some more about presuppositionalism.The presuppositionalists have a point in this sense and in this sense only: a worldview is worth being held only if it is possible to reason consistently from that worldview given its own starting principles. If those principles lead inevitably to their own negation, then that worldview is self-contradictory and must be … [Read more...]


Last month, in "The Aura of Infallibility", I talked about how some religious believers declare themselves and their beliefs to be infallible in order to ward off the frightening possibility of having to decide what is true. This is, obviously, a futile tactic. We can proclaim ourselves to be immune to error as often as we like, but reality is unlikely to be impressed. Human beliefs, no matter how strongly or confidently held, do not decide the way the universe is.What these believers fear, … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically VI: Bayes' Rule

You've just been to the doctor, and she has some bad news. There's a deadly new disease sweeping the population - one which strikes 1 out of 100 people and invariably kills everyone who catches it. Medical science has developed a test that is 95% accurate during the incubation period: that is, when given to someone who has the disease, it correctly returns a positive result 95% of the time, and when given to someone who does not have the disease, it correctly returns a negative result 95% of the … [Read more...]

The Aura of Infallibility

Religious beliefs, as a general rule, aren't based on evidence.I have little doubt that my fellow nonbelievers will agree without reservation, and equally little doubt that religious believers will call me arrogant and uninformed for so sweepingly dismissing the basis of their beliefs. But that's not what I'm trying to say. By this statement, I'm not referring to the question of whether solid evidence underlies the tenets of religion (although I trust I've made my views on that issue known). … [Read more...]

On the Limits of Knowledge

A common argument made by religious apologists is that atheism is unreasonable because, to exclude the possibility of God, a person would have to have total knowledge of all that exists in the universe. Otherwise, we might overlook a deity hiding in one of the gaps in our knowledge. As one Christian put it to me in an e-mail:And certainly, unless you have visited an appreciable portion of the cosmos and whatever else, there is at least a reasonable possibility that a creator exists. In other … [Read more...]