Lee Strobel Answers Your Questions, Part 3

This is Part 3 of the ongoing Lee-Strobel-answers-your-questions series.

Previous parts can be found here.

What argument is most convincing to plant the seeds of doubt (or, rather, faith) in an atheist’s mind?

Do you mind if I restate your question while retaining its original intent? It might be more interesting to phrase it this way: Atheists on this site have kindly submitted questions for me, but what questions would I ask an atheist?

As I pondered that issue, I decided to send emails to some of my friends to get advice on what they would ask. Here are a few of their replies — all of which I agree would be excellent to ask a skeptic. If they’re considered fully with all of their implications, they might indeed plant some seeds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granting these questions their full weight, and doing your best to set aside bias and preconceptions, how would you answer them?


  • phlebas

    While I appreciate Lee Strobel taking the time to do this, I think the authors he reached out to left out “what good is half an eye?”

    If these are the toughest questions that Christians can think of, I’m surprised the religion is still around.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Oh, puh-lease. All of these questions have been answered many times over already. The same questions apply to God as to the universe. It’s much easier to imagine how the universe came from nothing and life evolved over billions of years than to imagine how a sentient, all-powerful God just appeared out of the blue with no explanation.

    And, no, since I stopped believing in God I have not for one second worried about being wrong or “doubted my atheism”. Nothing about Christianity troubles me. It is a man made religion, just like all the rest, designed by people to help answer questions that a) they didn’t have the science to answer and b) to which there are no answers, and used by others in power to control the masses with fear of the unknown.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    Historian Gary Habermas: Those aren’t the facts at all.

    (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion

    I’m willing to grant both this and the historical Jesus. That is to say, the figure portrayed as Jesus in the Bible was crucified. Remember, outside of the Bible we have one primary source reference for the Jesus-cult*, and that one only discussed the followers, not the figure.

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

    No. An oral tradition that arose claimed that Jesus’s disciples believed that he rose and appeared before them. We’re already two degrees removed from the event, and the first tales of resurrection weren’t put to paper until half a century had passed.

    Without those two facts, the whole thing falls apart, and the appeal to authority (many historians agree that this is established) isn’t going to save the argument.

    The answer to the question is: the event never happened, the tomb was never found empty, conversions can happen for a great many reasons, ranging from neurological events or political expedience, and so on.

    Philosopher Paul Copan:

    “Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe…

    Um, no. Commonly held or not, that is not what the Big Bang Theory states. The Big Bang theory claims that all the matter and energy (and space and time) that currently forms the universe always existed, but prior to there actually being a universe, they were bundled up into a singularity. The Big Bang Theory does not require that we violate the law of conservation.

    The Big Bang occured a finite time ago- matter and energy existed prior to that point, but the universe was so dense that time itself was frozen.

    and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life

    Is it? Because, as far as we can tell, only one very small speck of the universe is finely tuned to life, and even that isn’t exactly the friendliest place for life to be. Earth is plagued by mass extinctions, cometary impacts, and in a few billion years, will be consumed by our sun. Out of the 15 billion year history of the Universe, less than 5 billion years have enjoyed the existence of life, and even then only on one planet (that we know of).

    Hardly fine tuned.

    don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?

    Not at all. If we evolved from a species that could only mate by consuming the male partner, like many species do, we would almost certainly find cannibalism an enjoyable hobby. If you want to claim that such species could never evolve to intelligence, then you’ve just granted evolution as a determinant of moral codes.

    Talk show host Frank Pastore:

    “Please explain how something can come from nothing

    Why? What reason do you have for thinking that something can come from nothing? Can you give any instance where someone has made a scientific claim about spontaneous creation (ignoring quantum effects, which hardly count, and are quite well documented, if not fully understood).

    how life can come from non-life, brain/mind, moral/amoral

    It’s called chemistry, neurology, and ethics. All of them are fascinating areas of study.

    I must say, the tone and structure of your question makes you seem like an utter penis. I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way, but that’s how it reads.

    Historian Mike Licona:

    Do you ever doubt your atheism

    Honestly? Not really, no. But then again, I’m not big into doubt. Based on the evidence available to me, I make the best decisions I can. Doubt doesn’t really enter into the equation. I have no personal stake on the subject- if the Christian god were to appear to me tomorrow and give me absolute proof of his existence that other, skeptical sources could confirm, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I live my life. Even if I believed in a god, “God said so,” is never a basis for decision making I could accept.

    Author Greg Koukl:

    Why is something here rather than nothing here?

    Why would you expect there to be nothing? Can you show me an empty universe, devoid of all matter and energy? We only have one universe to work with, and sadly, we can’t explore “Comparative Physics” to analyze how other universes behave. The fact that the only universe we have as a data point contains stuff doesn’t really give us much information.

    Practically, the weak anthropic principle applies. If our universe didn’t contain matter and energy, we wouldn’t be here talking about it, now would we. It’s entirely possible there are other Universes that are utter voids, but if they exist, there’s no one there to ponder why they’re empty.

    Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology)

    That’s a gross misstatement of both Thermodynamics and the Big Bang Theory. Quite to the contrary, the 1st Law of Thermodynamics tells us that the Universe is eternal. Molecules and other large, complex structures, are far more transient. Eventually, thermodynamics ensures that we’ll have a very uninteresting universe with evenly distributed matter and energy at roughly absolute zero. Not a habitable universe, but it’s still a universe.

    Either everything came from something outside the material universe

    Or, like the Big Bang theory contends, everything came from a singularity. Like any singularity, this one would have an event horizon, and that makes it very hard to talk about abstracts like “what about before the big bang”- relativity precludes there being a “before” in any common sense term.

    This is very close to “outside the material universe”- it’s outside our universe (in the same sense that matter falling past a black hole’s event horizon is “outside” the universe, so really, not outside at all), but it was a material universe.

    Cosmology is a thorny topic, and the scientific answers are difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain. And they also carry large error bars, but at least we know the margin for error. In the Socratic Sense, “We know that we do not know.”

    Not Alvin Plantinga:

    If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?

    Testability and repeatability. Science doesn’t promise truth. It promises results. All truths are contingent truths, based on the evidence available. Even if we accept theism, it still does not address the naturalistic origins of our senses. You can claim that god ordained that our senses deliver true beliefs about the world, but a quick trip to a 3D movie, or a flip through a book of optical illusions, or a look at false-color astronomical photographs shows us that our perceptual systems do not deliver true beliefs about the world around us.

    We know that our senses are faulty. Even with faulty senses, we can detect that much. Claims to the contrary are patently false.
    *I’m not trying to be demeaning by calling it a cult. In the historical context of the early 1st Century, that’s what they were- a heretical cult and a threat to the lawful authority.

  • http://atheistwisdom.blogspot.com Luke

    Atheists – please explain ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING in COMPLETE DETAIL. You can’t? Christianity is true then.

  • penn

    Are these tired arguments really the best Christian apologia can offer?

    I’m not sure where the first person got their facts, but I refute almost all of them. There is no good historical evidence that Jesus ever existed. No contemporary historian wrote about his life. Even though prominent historians lived at the same time and in the same area. As others have stated, the events depicted in the New Testament are the type that create historians, but no one at the time seemed interested. Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism destroys the “Why would the apostles be martyrs argument?” since there is almost no historical documentation or even biblical documentation of the deaths of the apostles. I admit Paul may have had some sort of hallucinogenic epiphany, but those aren’t that uncommon.

    On the Big Bang side, there is so much wrong. No one says that nothing caused the Big Bang, the argument is that we can’t say or even know anything about “before” the Big Bang. Time and space in our universe were created at the Big Bang, but that does not mean there was “nothing” else.

    The strong anthropic principle is just silly. We live in a universe tuned for life because we couldn’t live in anything else. We have no idea, and can/will never know how many lifeless universes have existed or currently exist. These people seem to be only interested in science insomuch as they can twist it to suit their pre-determined beliefs.

    Finally, on the life coming from non-life, we’ll see that again in the next 2 decades, mark my words. Scientists will create self-replicating organisms from non-living parts. Almost no one denies this will happen soon. So, why is it impossible for it to have happened before. Also, how is saying the mind is some separate magical entity outside of the brain simpler than following the evidence that our thoughts and consciousness are completely controlled by the brain. There is not one shred of evidence that there exists a separate mind. We just don’t know how the whole thing works yet.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    Unanswered questions are no reason to accept unquestioned answers.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com/ Derek

    please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself

    This is a red herring intended to deter us from thinking about the historicity of any of the points you mentioned.

    These historical facts are:

    You’re gonna have to cite sources on this one, I can’t just take “all historians agree these things actually happened” for granted. If I remember correctly, the earliest nonbiblical account of Jesus we have are the writings of Josephus, and he was born after the crucifixion is supposed to have happened.

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

    You mean, do I consider ontological arguments valid? No. “Stuff exists, therefore a god exists” is a huge non sequitur. Does the origin of the universe invite further study? Of course. What it doesn’t require is a supernatural explanation in the absence of knowledge.

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

    This is similar to the objection that atheists cannot be moral, or are only moral because a god exists. Considering that our sense of morality is partially an evolutionary adaptation and partly dictated by culture, no, I don’t believe concepts of “good” and “evil” exist outside our perception of them.

    “Please explain how something can come from nothing,

    Ahunno. But that doesn’t mean a god is required, it just means we don’t yet know.

    how life can come from non-life,

    Spontaneously arising molecular replicators and natural selection. Also, define “life”. Contrary to what you might think, the line between life and non-life is an awfully blurry one.

    how mind can come from brain,

    This seems more like an argument from ignorance. Mind follows from interconnected neurons as type of emergent behavior. Read Godel, Escher, Bach for a fairly good synopsis. And we know that mind comes from brain because brain damage can result in losing one’s mind. Get it?

    and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

    A personal sense of morality, or conscience, is a very positive trait to have when you’re part of a very social species. It’s likely that “morality” and altruism are selected for based on the fact that they allow humans to trust each other, which in turn affords greater protection to the group as a whole, allowing the genes of the group to be passed on.

    Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?

    Of course. The only troubling aspect, though, is that I worry I’ll go to hell when I die. And accepting Christianity based on Pascal’s Wager is not, to me, intellectually honest.

    Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative?

    Begging the question/false dichotomy. The answer, once again, is ahunno. But even if everything came from something else, that’s not enough evidence to state that that “something else” was a god.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com/ Derek

    Granting these questions their full weight, and doing your best to set aside bias and preconceptions,

    In other words, don’t answer how you would normally answer these questions. Question your stock answers and reexamine them until you’re convinced they can’t be right. Because if you were unbiased you wouldn’t be an atheist.

    Lee, most of us wouldn’t be atheists if we hadn’t already grappled with these very questions and found the theistic answers to be hollow.

  • http://www.anthroslug.blogspot.com Anthroslug

    “If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?”

    It seems odd that someone would use this as an argument to try to sway an atheist to theism, as it really just points out what most of us see as the problem with theistic thinking – it depends on initial reactions to perceptions as filtered through our own faulty senses and emotions without a willingness to try to find out what may lie behind those perceptions.

    Moreover, even if the above commentor hadn’t provided an excellent response, it still wouldn’t change the fact that belief in a god as opposed to lack of belief requires a big assumption – faulty sense or not.

    Like others, I find these questions kinda’ insulting for the simple reason that many of us have already grappled with them, and yet theists keep bringing them back up and pretending like we haven’t. Please, provide new questions that aren’t so easy to address and dismiss.

  • Beowulff

    Granting these questions their full weight, and doing your best to set aside bias and preconceptions, how would you answer them?

    By laughing at them? I’m sorry, I know you’re aiming for a serious, respectful discussion here, but these questions are rather… weak.

    please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.”

    None of the “facts” listed are inconsistent with the explanation that Jesus didn’t have a resurrection at all.

    finetuning… ontologically haunted…

    These arguments have been refuted many, many times. For instance: The probability that the universe we live in supports life is exactly one. Otherwise we wouldn’t be living in it.

    don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?

    So god put in evils so we would know the difference? How does that help? No, justice and morals are human inventions.

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

    We’re working on it. Abiogenesis research is making good progress, as well as neurological research, and morals have survival value in social species. And for the things we do not yet know, please explain how “God did it” is a better answer than “I don’t know, but we’re working on it”, or even simply “I don’t know”.

    what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?

    The only somewhat interesting question here, and the only one that could actually lead to a fruitful discussion!

    No, theism or christianity don’t trouble my beliefs. They do, however, allow certain people to try and influence other people’s lives while being able to hide behind “it’s just what I believe”, or “God said so”, instead of using actual arguments. You can’t argue with that, and with some issues, that can be troubling.

    Why is something here rather than nothing here?

    Because there is. Or, if you’d prefer, I don’t know. Don’t pretend you know either, though: why was God here to create something out of nothing, instead of nothing to create nothing out of nothing?

    If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?

    “Truth” is overrated. A good working theory works well enough, thank you very much, as long as we constantly keep refining it.

    By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.

    Then why does God allow optical illusions to happen? Are the cognitive faculties not functioning properly? Can’t be, God designed them. Or is that a deficiency of the environment? No, that was God’s work too… Or are people just not using their cognitive faculties properly? They are sinful, after all… But if that’s possible, then theists can’t trust their senses any more than atheists can.

    And about naturalism being self-defeating, as Tim Minchin said in his poem “Storm” that I heard today, I’m sure Plantinga leaves his house through his door every day, not through his 2nd floor window.

    We trust our lives to our senses and to naturalism every day, and only when there is a need to argue for a cherished supernatural belief, suddenly they aren’t enough.

  • Karl Withakay

    Historian Gary Habermas:
    I wasn’t ware that all those “facts” had been conceded by the majority of contemporary scholars, are those mostly Christian Scholars?. If those were established facts, none of those established facts would be particularly convincing.

    First, any support for the established fact status of those statements should be derived from outside the bible. (You can’t say the contents of the bible are true because they are in the bible and what’s in the bible is true.)

    (1) Should read Jesus was a historical figure and was crucified, neither are truly established and only the bible establishes he died during the crucifixion
    (2) (3) (4) Have no more convincing power than those who claim to have seen and are believers in UFO’s, Bigfoot, and the miracles or Uri Gellar.
    (5) Are you seriously telling me that given an empty tomb (that once held a certified dead body), it’s more likely that someone rose from the dead and walked off than someone bribed the guards and stole the body?

    Philosopher Paul Copan:
    There exists on the order of one hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. That makes on the order of 1X10^20th stars in the universe. We know of one star with one planet with life on it out of 10,000 billion billion stars, how does one draw the myopic conclusion that the universe is finely tuned for life?

    We categorize things in the universe according to a system we invent where things fall into the categories of good and evil. What is defined as good and evil is the result of a consensus of our culture. Different cultures have different concepts of what is evil. The bible establishes a standard for good and evil and fails to explain how or why God (who is supposedly good and loving) allows evil.

    Talk show host Frank Pastore:
    I don’t maintain something came from nothing. The universe erupted out of a singularity via the big bang. I don’t pretend to know where the singularity came from, but don’t invent a god to fill in the gaps in my understanding of the universe in order to satisfy my desire to understand it.

    Life likely evolved from non life through a series of chemical processes that began with chemical interactions that had a natural “self-organizing” tendency that gradually evolved into what we could identify as a simple life form, and so on….

    Mind from brain: The mind is the result of brain function, tinker with the brain, and you tinker with the mind. There’s no scientific support for the concept of a mind separate for the brain.

    Moral senses are a result of the consensus of society.

    Historian Mike Licona: The question is irrelevant: Strength of belief in one’s position is not a measure of the correctness of that position. If I doubted my atheism and you didn’t ever doubt your faith in God, it might only mean my beliefs were more based in objective thought and consideration than in blind faith.

    Author Greg Koukl:
    God of the gaps. Everything came from a singularity which could be defined as outside the material universe. I don’t know where the singularity came from. Just because I don’t have an answer for where everything in the universe came from, it doesn’t follow it must have come from a god. I found an apple on my desk; I don’t’ know where it came from, therefore it came from God. See also response to Frank Pastore

    Alvin Plantinga
    That our cognitive faculties were selected for survival is a good explanation for why so many people have difficulty thinking critically and logically. Correlation does not equal causation, but it may often be safer to assume it does and avoid certain (potentially unharmful) situations rather than risk a possible repeated exposure to harm. Many people do hold beliefs with no scientific basis in reality. People believe in UFO’s, bigfoot, weeping statues, homeopathy. Much of our confidence in what we believe is not based on rational, scientific thought.

  • http://wolfpurplemoon.livejournal.com Amy

    None of these questions hold much weight and their “full implications” wouldn’t plant the seeds of doubt in this atheist.

  • Siamang

    Everyone else already covered exactly what I wanted to say and probably better than I would have said it… with the exception of this analogy I wanted to put out there:

    Paul Copan:

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

    Just because we can perceive good and evil, or light and dark, or loud and quiet as different as relative to each other does not mean there is an absolutely loudest thing, an absolutely brightest thing or an absolutely good thing.

    There is no such thing as the loudest sound of all time, against which we measure all sounds for their relative quietness. Rather, all one needs is two sounds to measure relative difference.

    If some kids in high-school are cool, and some are nerds, and most kids can agree on which are which, does that mean that the fictional character Fonzie exists? Would answering this question be an adequate way to discover whether or not Fonzie exists, or if he is instead a work of fiction:

    And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in Fonzie is the existence of nerds, does the concept of nerdishness itself not suggest a standard of coolness or a style and demeanor from which nerds deviate, so these kids ought to be cooler (rather than just happening to be the way they act normally), don’t such ‘nerds’ or ‘wimps’ seem to suggest a separate standard of what makes cool kids cool independent of nature?

    I guess if “Cool” exists, and we are able to perceive it and differentiate cool kids from nerds, then certainly Arthur Fonzerelli is a real living being and not a fictional character on Happy Days.

  • Anticontrame

    The last question is interesting. It seems to make the assumption that traits which increase survivability would have no relation to an organism’s ability to form true beliefs.

    I agree that evolution may result in creatures prone to forming false beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that there’s reason to think evolution produces creatures with no true beliefs. Any variation in a mechanism of observation or reasoning that might result in a organism’s holding slightly more beliefs that coincide with external truths could easily provide a survival advantage. A creature that sees a muddled image that partly matches up with the actual scene might be better able to find food or avoid predators than one that sees images with less relation to its environment.

    That would explain the situation that we’re in: We misperceive, misremember, and follow bad lines of reasoning, but we do have some grounding in reality. We can use what faculties we have to more closely align our beliefs with external truths through repeated hypothesis testing, or through sharing and arguing over the thought processes that lead to our conclusions.

    It seems to me that this argument works better against the idea that we are the end product of a perfect being’s design. I’d expect to hold only true beliefs (or at least not be so prone to accepting false beliefs) if I and the environment in which I act were a designed and built by a god with no faults of its own.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Holy crap, I love the Fonzie analogy!

  • cathy

    I was going to say something about each, but everyone else did a pretty solid job, so I’ll only cover a few things.

    Okay, Strobel, now you address the problem of evil, the issue of mind body interaction in dualism, the issue of what causes God in the final causality argument, the issue of skepticism as to nonmaterial objects, the problem of being infinite and finite at the same time, human partenogenisis, etc. etc. Stop treating Christianity as if it is the default. You are the one trying to say that a super magical being exists, to quote Hume “extraordinary claims require extraoridnary evidence”. I have never once seen a thourough philosophical proof attempting to prove the existence of the Christian God. The best ones you have lead to a loose pantheism that excludes Christianity and makes organized religion pointless (see Leibniz, Spinoza). Some views of God, such as Christian fundamentalism, contain such basic contradictions (you would really have to believe things like that sometimes 6=12) that they are actually capable of being disproved by virtue being self contradictory and therefore impossible.

    The best we have is we don’t know for sure but all of our evidence points to X. The best you have is I know God exists because you can’t prove X but I refuse to prove the existence of God or that is is the case that not X.

    Oh and Plantinga is an unorigional douche whose best argument is just a rehashing arguments presented by Descartes and makes wild conclusions when even he admits he can’t prove them. Even comparing him to people like Toring, Nozik, and Gettier is an insult. Who is this “many” you speak of? Is it the same many who think Elvis is alive, the sun revolves around the earth (wait, you like the bible as a source, do you believe that one too? Psalms 93:1 “…surely the world is established so it cannot be moved.”), and we found WMDs in Iraq?

    Sorry, this kind of turned into a rant, but I think you get the point, or rather points.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Sit on THAT!

  • http://intjmom.com INTJ Mom

    I’ve read a lot of books over the years about Jesus and his supposed/possible historicity and I am surprised by Habermas’ assertions. Interestingly, one of Earl Doherty’s assertions is that the Romans kept very detailed records of crucifictions throughout all their provinces and there is no Jesus/Yeshua listed as being crucified in Judea during the prescribed time period.

    As for the anthropic principle, well Richard Carrier says it best I think. This universe appears to be optimized for black holes, not life. Life appears to be a minor side effect.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Lee, I’m afraid those arguments didn’t plant any theistic seeds here. You will have to do better then that… Like come up with some old-testament-like demonstrations of God’s presence. It appears to me, though, that God is in retirement. The best you can do is argue Deism. I see no evidence for a theistic God. Deism, maybe. Christianity, no.

  • Justin jm

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

    1. The Big Bang does not describe the very beginning of the universe, but as far back as we can figure out before running into the Planck epoch. Stephen Hawking seems to disagree with himself every now and then as to when the beginning of time occurred.

    2. Depending on how life is defined, (say as consciousness) it appears that it has a material origin. You can affect the material body with drugs and alter consciousness in a cause/effect manner. This indicates that it did develop from non-supernatural sources. Of course, the specifics are still unknown.

    3. If mind is synonymous with consciousness, then refer back to #2.

    4. Our moral senses are a product of consciousness and emotion (see #2 again). If you accept morality as a series of rules that help to avoid causing harm to self or others, then the rules of morality can be discovered using reason.

  • http://www.myspace.com/youreundoingmybeltwronghun Tim D.

    I just shot down about four of these same arguments (to no response) over at Crossexamined.org the other day.

    Seriously, these are nothing new. Theism has had decades to evolve its argumentative style, and yet it’s gone nowhere.

    If you accept morality as a series of rules that help to avoid causing harm to self or others, then the rules of morality can be discovered using reason.

    Unless, of course, you resort to a vague, undefined definition of “spiritual harm” which you support using only Biblical references of what “God said” about particular moral concerns.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    Strobel’s questions do nothing for me, but now I so totally believe in Fonzie.

  • http://www.anthroslug.blogspot.com Anthroslug

    I have accepted Fonzie as my personal lord and savior.

  • Fonzie

    AAAAAYYYYY!!!

  • http://themousesnest.blogspot.com Mouse

    Bodies disappearing were not unheard of in the ancient world. I think it’s Petronius who has a story about a Roman soldier who is supposed to be guarding a crucified body. There’s a comely widow mourning her dead husband, the soldier and widow get busy, the dead man’s family steals the body, and the dead husband is used to replace the dead man so that the soldier doesn’t get in trouble.

  • Desert Son

    Excellent follow-up posts, Friendly Atheist commentators!

    The highlights have been posted by better brains than mine, but I wanted to add a few quick notes in response to item 1, the “historical facts” of Jesus.

    So, a Semitic tribal member who went by the handle Eshua bar-Yehosef (or similar) who also happened to be a rabbi living in the Roman Imperial Levant?

    What are the chances?!?!?!eleventy11

    Given social naming conventions, and probability distributions, there may have been hundreds, if not thousands, of dudes named Jesus (or similar), who’s fathers were named Joe (or similar), who hung out with fisherman, and did some public speaking on diverse topics including but not limited to benevolence (relative to the times) and anti-authoritarian comments against the local government (but not against mythological Bronze Age sky spirits), with enough socio-cultural longevity that chroniclers some 50 or more years later could annotate some short stories along similar lines.

    All of which prompts the question: so what? None of those things proves the existence of god, or gods, or similar first cause, nor even that the Iesvs Nazarenvs in question was any kind of Rex Iudæorvm or similar legendary figure. An empty tomb proves . . . decay of organic matter, possibly, or the presence of grave robbers, or subsequent civilizations putting established locales to different (or even the same) uses, perhaps; it does not prove divinity.

    No kings,

    Robert

    P.S. Siamang’s Fonze analogy is, in the parlance of some contemporary Intartubes users, “pure win.”

  • Leanstrum

    Some great answers already, so I’ll be brief:

    please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.

    Free of presuppositions (such as the existence of a completely unknown and unknowable supernatural), almost any explanation is more reasonable than a complete suspension of natural law and a violation of entropy – namely, a resurrection.

    Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted

    No

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

    I’m with you right up to the last three words.

    Please explain how [1]something can come from nothing, [2]how life can come from non-life, [3]how mind can come from brain, and [4]how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.

    [1]That question, unlike the universe, is completely without content.
    [2]Quite easily, as it turns out.
    [3]I second the reference to Godel, Escher, Bach. If you really are interested in the mind/brain issue besides a tool for your religious propaganda, you will read it.
    [4]An amoral society is a destitute society (this, I suspect, is one of the reasons you cannot accept atheism). This in itself is a reason to be moral, in evolutionary terms. Read The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.

    Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?

    A skeptic’s worldview is governed by doubt. A transition back to theism would require a lapse of said doubt.

    Christianity is one of the religions least troubling to my atheism, mainly because it’s the one I know most about. Misogyny runs through the Bible like a stick of rock. It couldn’t be more obviously man/male-made if it tried.

    If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?

    Isn’t the sensing of approximate truth conducive to survival? If a tree is about to fall on you, it is very much in your interest for your senses to communicate the presence of this physical object to you, so you can move out of the way. Our senses are designed for us to navigate the physical world, for the very purpose of survival.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    [3]I second the reference to Godel, Escher, Bach. If you really are interested in the mind/brain issue besides a tool for your religious propaganda, you will read it.

    This book definitely influence my thinking that led to the idea that God was not a necessary supposition to explain anything.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Ah, yes, someone who does not put aside his own bias is asking us to put aside our bias. Charming.

    I believe that this is a prime example of poisoning the well. Rather than admit he’s dogmatically biased because of his religious conviction, he presents himself as reasonable and asks us to be as reasonable as his presentation, hoping we don’t notice that he’s dogmatic. This means that we must either agree with his positions or be labeled as being unable to set aside our biases.

    I am, myself, quite biased. To information, demonstration, perception, reason and fact.

    A better question to ask is, I think, not whether or not we are biased – we are – but what is the basis of our biases and what we’re doing with them.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Beowulff,

    He has no interest in a respectful discussion. He’s being nice as an argumentative technique, nothing more.

  • http://www.lowell.edu/users/crockett/ CosmicThespian

    First time poster. Others above have addressed many of the issues raised quite thoroughly, but I wanted to clear up some confusion over the Big Bang and how “something must have come from nothing” is something of a non sequitor.

    Big Bang cosmology does *not* state that the Universe erupted from a single point. The Big Bang model actually only says that “the Universe is expanding and cooling”. The ramification of that is another way of stating the model: “in the past, the Universe was denser and hotter than today”. And that’s pretty much it. Our understanding of high-energy physics allows to make reasonable extrapolations of the conditions of the Universe up to 10^-43 seconds after the start of the current expansion. Before that, it’s really anyone’s guess – we run into the limit of our understanding of physics.

    It’s not correct to say that the entire Universe was contained in a single point at that time. It’s more appropriate to say that the “visible Universe” – the Universe contained within our cosmic horizon and imposed on us by the finite speed of light – was contained within that volume. But the Universe most likely extends well beyond that.

    With this understanding, the Universe didn’t necessarily come from nothing. It may have just been in an incredibly hot and dense state before *something* triggered a rapid expansion of all space. Or perhaps the Universe is cyclical, going through periods of expansion and collapse. Or perhaps, or perhaps, or perhaps….

    What triggered it? I haven’t the faintest clue. But that is at least intellectually honest. The leap to a divine ignition switch belies a lack of imagination. And invoking a grand designer doesn’t address the question, it just pushes it back a step. If God can “always have been”, I see no reason why the Universe couldn’t as well with the added benefit of one less assumption.

    And I didn’t really get the Fonzie analogy. Until I realized that we we were talking about Fonzie from Happy Days and not Fozzie from the Muppets. Much clearer now. :-)

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Like others have suggested, most of these arguments have been refuted over and over again. What I hope to accomplish with this comment is to get you, Lee, and anyone else, to think about the way you think.

    Lee, I wonder if you are as frustrated by our comments as we are by yours. Have you thought about why that frustration exists? Surely you give us enough credit to realize we are not merely mobbing the outsider? I trust you are above the condescension of dismissing us as we simply do not know god. My own explanation is that we have completely different ways of thinking. Our brains are running on different operating systems, we might as well be speaking different languages.

    Allow me to quote and comment on what you wrote, in hopes that my meaning can become evident.

    …I decided to send emails to some of my friends to get advice on what they would ask.

    Are you appealing for a third party endorsement so the views you present seem more authoritative? I can appreciate you trying to present your best case, but I wonder if you haven’t convinced yourself that this technique is actually making your argument stronger, rather than just seeming stronger. Either way, I’m not buying it and I don’t think anyone else here is either.

    Historicity of Jesus:

    The accuracy of these claims notwithstanding, one doesn’t even have to delve beyond your “fact 2″ to see where your argument falls apart:

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

    Even if I were to accept the rest of your 5 “facts” of the historicity of Jesus, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that some people believed Jesus was God. This is not proof of the existence of god, though you may choose to see this as a reason to believe. That is much, much different from proof or evidence. Please do not confuse belief with knowledge.

    Ontologically haunted:

    This has been discussed in comments to your previous postings as well. In short, you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Life, as we know it, was able to evolve here because this is the type of life suitable for this particular environment. Survivability on Mars or any other planet is inconsequential to species evolving on earth. There is no such thing as a perfect species, there is only what works. There is no perfect end result of evolution that nature is looking for. We are not the end result of evolution.

    …granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil…

    Sorry, no. This is completely false and seems merely to be a way to frame the argument in such a way that you can pretend we atheists just don’t know god.

    The major objection to belief in God is that god probably doesn’t exist. There’s absolutely no evidence that isn’t completely subjective. Evil does not exist outside our minds. Evil is a judgement made by humans, not some mystical force blanketing the earth forcing us “Good” humans to do bad things.

    The real “problem of evil” is a question of whether or not the God in the story of Christianity is self-contradicting, and worthy of worship even if we were to accept its existence. It’s a question of whether or not Christianity is absurd, not whether or not god exists.

    Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”

    Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be responsible for my own actions. Sometimes I wish there was someone to blame for my own shortcomings. Sometimes I look at all the destruction in the world and want someone to tell me everything was going to be ok and I didn’t have to worry (or act!) because everything was under control. Wishful thinking doesn’t avoid reality.

    I didn’t email Alvin Plantinga, considered by many to be among the greatest philosophers of modern times. But based on his assertion that naturalism is self-defeating, we could formulate this question (thanks to William Lane Craig for some of the concise wording):

    Sorry, I find this amusing. You drop Plantinga’s name, attribute him as being among the greatest philosophers of modern times, and then quote someone else posing a question you think Plantinga might ask? Why drop his name in the first place?

    If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true?

    Well duh.

    Your mind interprets what your senses perceive of the physical world. It would be completely arrogant for anyone to assume that what they believe is what is really real.

    This is why we trust the scientific method as the best tool we have for determining what is really real. With repeatable experimentation, it allows us to eliminate subjective variables.

    This is why logic and reason are so important. Logic is a form, like mathematics, that when used properly is completely devoid of subjective reasoning.

    This is why Christians like to capitalize words like “True” as they give their perceptions undue importance. They also say things like “true beliefs” which is an oxymoron.

    This is why there is a difference between belief and knowledge and why it is vitally important to know what the difference is.

    This is why we have words like ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ to describe what a culture knew about the world and what a culture believed about the world, respectively.

    This is why we assert over and over again that no matter how strongly you believe something, that does not make it true.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that

    Theism says no such thing. It is no more and no less than a belief in one or more gods. You have to get more specific than theism to start talking about what God did or didn’t do.

  • http://ordover.wordpress.com orDover

    I know, I know. By now I shouldn’t be surprised, but this is it? This is the collective synthesis of the brightest minds in Christianity (at least according to Strobel)?

    Ever since I de-converted I’ve been on the hunt for a compelling, original argument for God, yet all I hear are the same principles touted over and over and over again, already thoroughly debunked by any book you could think to categorize under an atheist heading. It’s depressing. Are Christian thinkers so isolated that they don’t realize these points have been adequately explained, or at least that they do not actually argue for the existence of God as they conceive of him? Why can’t they come up with something else? ANYTHING else.

    Next Strobel is going to asked a biologist, and he will in turn ask us atheists and skeptics, “If people evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys around?” And then I will throw up.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    Habermas: I don’t see a particular reason to accept the Resurrection, any more than other miracle stories of a similar vintage. The primary records were written down by believers many decades later. While I accept that these writings are as well preserved as other classical documents, if not more so, I don’t blieve the miracle stories in those other documents either.

    The deeper question here is why God seems to require people to become experts on ancient history. Why is some controversial history the best evidence? God’s silence is deafening.

    Copan: the Big Bang represents a breakdown of General Relativity. Whether or not it was the beginning of time and space is up for grabs. I keep having to tell both theists and atheists to read people like Sean Carroll on this. (Edited: or read CosmicThespian, above.

    Atheists seem to like to respond to fine-tuning arguments with Linde’s eternal inflation theories. Linde might be right, but as far as I know nothing’s definite yet, so we’re left arguing which of two speculative cosmologies is best. Why not admit our ignorance? As Alex Byrne says, this stuff goes right back to Hume and Paley, and Hume’s objections to Paley will do the job (read the paragraphs starting at “Hume suggests a more convincing rebuttal.”).

    Pastore: Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. I suspect our moral senses arise out of our ability to model other people and our need to fit in to large groups, but more research is needed. I’m not sure why “God did it” is thought to be preferable to “I don’t know, let’s find out” (which is presumably Strobel’s argument).

    Licona: I’d agree with Philip Pullman’s statement: there is a lot we don’t know, and there might be something out there, but there’s not enough evidence for the versions of theism we know about. They are, to a reasonable degree of certainty, man made. What doubts I have are emotional ones: I would like it if death were not the end, or if everything were to eventually turn out for the best.

    Koukl: Doesn’t actually know any physics beyond what he’s read in popular science books, if that. Same response as to Copan above: I don’t know how the universe started, and neither does he.

    Plantinga: An interesting one. Plantinga’s argument is summarised on Wikiepdia. Plantinga is right in some ways, in that we know about cognitive biases. Nevertheless, his example of Paul and the tiger seems contrived, because we’re asked to believe that the unusual beliefs of Paul are fixed and have no consequence other than that Paul runs away from tigers. If Paul wants to pet the tiger, why does he not notice that running away means he never gets to pet it, and try something else? Presumably Paul can’t always outrun all tigers, so what happens when one catches him and he pets it? (If Paul doesn’t behave like someone who wants to pet a tiger in either of these situations, in what sense does he actually want to pet it?)

    Barefoot Bum argues effectively that Plantinga’s construction of Paul makes no sense. He further argues that Plantinga’s argument that God has given humans reliable faculties amounts to listing ways in which human faculties succeed and fail, and then saying “God wants that”, and points out we can chop out the God stuff without it making any difference.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Excellent points made by all the respondants.

    I can’t add anything meaningful to the arguments already presented.

    I can only echo what others have said. Lee, hopefully you can see by the above responses that we atheists did not reach our conclusions lightly. Quite the contrary, most of us considered these VERY questions you pose, and found the theistic answers to them to be pure bunk.

  • Erp

    I’ve read a lot of books over the years about Jesus and his supposed/possible historicity and I am surprised by Habermas’ assertions. Interestingly, one of Earl Doherty’s assertions is that the Romans kept very detailed records of crucifictions throughout all their provinces and there is no Jesus/Yeshua listed as being crucified in Judea during the prescribed time period.

    I wouldn’t trust Doherty on this. The Romans may well have kept records; however, we don’t have them for Judea (or anywhere). In the case of Judea I suspect a lot of records were lost during the the revolt in the 70′s.

    So who would look at them and why?

    Idea 1 – Romans or Jews to disprove that Jesus was resurrected. Well execution records don’t usually record God intervening and resurrecting the executed (or vice versa that he didn’t) so no reason to check them.

    Idea 2 – Romans or Jews to disprove that Jesus was executed. Personally I think the seed figure of Christianity did exist and was executed. I certainly have no doubt that Romans faced with a suspect group that claimed their founder had been executed would disbelieve that (nothing unusual about someone being executed) and therefore felt the need to check the records.

    Idea 3 – Christians to find evidence of the execution. Christians weren’t in the position to look at the records if any until several centuries later and after several upheavals that would have likely caused the records if any to be destroyed (or just decayed by time).

    BTW not all Christians believe in the physical revival of Jesus’s dead body. See Dominic Crossan’s views on the resurrection (and on the empty tomb).

  • Siamang

    One thing I notice is that Strobel invites us to tell him whatever things we have doubts about in atheism, but he does not offer his own doubts about Christianity. Yet another example of this being preaching, not dialoguing.

    Some of these questions are more compelling when turned back on Christianity.

    For example:

    Please explain how something imperfect is proof of something perfect, how finite perception is sufficient to prove the existence of the infinite, how evil can come from good, and how a perfect God would even be capable of creating something less than perfect and still maintain perfection.

    Or here’s one:

    If our cognitive faculties were selected by God, why do they suck?

    Seriously. According to the Biblical account, Adam was never omniscient. Even before the fall, he was a finite being, without perfect cognitive faculties.

    How could a perfect God make a flawed creation that was flawed AT creation?

    Now assuming my faculties were designed to be my (post-fall) standard issue, why are they so poor, so limited and so ill-suited for the tasks at hand?

    Man was created imperfect, finite and limited. That is an internal contraction with the concept of a perfect God.

    I’d further argue that as broken as we are, it is impossible for any human being to be a sufficient witness for God.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Or, to steal Siamang’s thunder, can you come up with a more rational explanation of the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve than it being the story of the Agricultural Revolution? (Y! Answers)

  • zoo

    Well, others have covered things pretty well, but I’ve found myself practicing responding to such things, so, as the things I’m best equipped to answer at the moment:

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

    It is not a “scientifically supported belief” that the universe is fine-tuned for life. We don’t even know if life exists on other planets. As someone else mentioned, the earth isn’t even that great for us. Organisms must constantly replenish their internal water supply, unless they evolved capabilities to deal with this and even those can’t go for very long. Organisms must have some form of protection from extreme heat or cold if they live in or venture to such places, and if they lose it (such as losing a blubber layer and being unable to replenish it because there’s not enough food about) they’re toast. Organisms cannot go above a certain height into the atmosphere unprotected for lack of high enough concentrations of essential gases, and the extreme low pressure of even near space presents a challenge, at best, to structural integrity. Extremophilic bacteria are the only ones able to take advantage of environments such as those with extreme concentrations of salt. Above certain internal temperatures organisms have difficulty continuing life processes because essential chemicals begin changing shape, making them not work in highly specialized mechanisms that work like a lock and key. There are many more examples I could give.

    Further exploration is indeed necessary; we need to find out what life exists elsewhere in the universe, if any, for a start. If it does exist, how is it similar to or different from life as we know it? Do they have these same types of problems? [And not quite related to the question, but interesting things that we could really do to have answered should life be discovered elsewhere: Do evolutionary principles hold true universally, as we suspect they do? Are the mechanisms by which evolution occurs in these other places the same? Similar? Completely different?]

    [I'm not ignoring the first part of the question, my physics background is not strong enough for me to feel comfortable trying to discuss it.]

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

    I guess I haven’t really considered the ‘problem of evil’ much, but in any case evil, and good, are social constructs. What is good or evil in one society is not necessarily the same as in another. Solitary animals would not have such concepts past what’s good for me [and my young] is good, and what’s bad for me [and my young] is bad. They would not consider it wrong to hurt another animal for no reason. [Doing so risks injury they cannot afford and expends energy they must replenish. I suppose you could then call actions that needlessly risk injury or expend energy evil, but they are also non-adaptive and are much less likely to be carried out.] Social animals add a layer to that because they have to get along with each other in order to function as a group. If ape A makes the leader of his/her troop angry with him/her, A risks being thrown to the bottom of the pecking order, or worse, being kicked out of the troop. What A did could be considered evil by that troop. Ape B’s troop, on the other hand, regularly engages in that practice, whatever it is. As we progressed intellectually, the concepts of good and evil became more sophisticated as well, and we were able to verbalize them. Even then several Central American groups regularly engaged in human sacrifice. The victim was generally willing, having been brought up to believe that it was an honor, and they go to something akin to heaven [nearly everyone else in their societies was believed to go to live in the Underworld after death -- which is not a pretty place]. American society today finds this disgusting, evil if you will*. It’s really not independent of nature, it’s a matter of how a particular society developed, which was an adaptive strategy in all cases as far as I’m aware to survive in a harsh environment by fostering cooperation between individuals in one way or another.

    *And yes, the way I said that could be construed as condoning such practices. I know -someone- will read it that way and get completely distracted from my point. There’s such a thing as trying to impartially report facts. If you’re having a problem here, stop, breathe, then go back and find my point.

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

    I don’t know anyone who has tried to claim something came from nothing, except literalist Christians who claim God made things out of nothing. If you’re referring to the ‘big bang’ that doesn’t imply there was nothing to begin with.

    Nobody really knows yet how life can come from non-life. We have some ideas, but nothing definite. As was pointed out above, scientists don’t even agree about what life is. It’s a difficult thing to study. We don’t have to assume it was God since we don’t know the answer though. That’s not how science works. That’s not to say there’s not a possibility that it was a god, but we don’t have evidence for that.

    The mind is probably an emergent property of a properly functioning brain, basically the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Based on my own observations it probably also exists, at least in different versions, in many non-human animals. I think this is the origin of the “soul” [basically the mind] as well.

    As for the last point, let me direct you to my answer to Paul Copan’s second question as it would be a very similar response. To clarify though, morals are an evolutionary adaptation to living in groups. Evolution by itself does not impart morals, being a blind, directionless process, but an individual following a standard way of behaving in a given group [the standard being determined by the group] greatly lessens his/her chances of being kicked out of the group and left to fend for himself/herself or to try to find another group. Group-living species, at least of the more complex variety, are often not suited to living on their own as individuals, at least not for an extended period of time. Even if they are, the group offers protection they don’t get alone [safety in numbers, for several reasons including reducing the chance of being grabbed and eaten and increasing the number of eyes looking for predators] and/or advantages they don’t get alone [males often get little access to mates if outside a group; at least if they're inside they can sneak around behind the alpha's back; food is sometimes easier to come by with a group (Harris hawks have a greater than 90% success rate hunting in groups)]. Animals in these sorts of groups tend to have more offspring, which have the social instinct and are taught what the group expects as they grow up [and so on].

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

    I have plenty of doubt, but not about atheism. I’m satisfied with the evidence I have (not that I’m unwilling to consider new evidence or even that there’s still a possibilty of god(s) existing). I know you think it is, but it really isn’t a matter of faith. The facts are what they are and I can’t but choose to accept them.

  • Gabriel

    As I read through the questions I was astonished. They felt so old fashioned and irrelevant. Everyone here did a much better job than I could at answering them. But I will say that I was insulted by the questions. It felt like those old joke questions along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?”

  • Siamang

    I don’t doubt my atheism, in that I don’t doubt that I am indeed an atheist.

    I phrase my atheism like so: to this point I have not seen evidence sufficient to convince me that an interactive personal god exists and is interacting in any discernable way with human beings.

    Until I see evidence sufficient to change my mind, I will be an atheist. Atheism being the honest default position when faced with a world governed solely by the natural and not the supernatural.

    When you can show me the supernatural, I will believe in the supernatural. But the existence of the natural cannot be sufficient evidence for the existence of anything BUT the natural. To say that the natural implies the necessity of the supernatural, when the supernatural itself is not in evidence, is like pretending you must be a billionaire if you can’t get into your piggy bank to count all your pennies.

    You will never get to infinities by stacking up finite amounts of anything. Just as you could never count to infinity by ones, or one hundreds or one billions, you cannot get to a proof of God by stacking material facts.

    Now you may say, oh, i won’t have proof, but I’ll get closer to proving. But that’s not how infinity works. The number one billion is no closer to infinity than the number one hundred, the number ten or the number one.

    No matter how much or little you make your way toward infinity, you are never any closer. You can’t stack a bunch of facts and get any closer to God.

    If you say you are, all you are doing is making a bigger and bigger pile of your own dishonesty and self-delusion.

    I prefer to be honest with myself. “I don’t know” is a far better and more honest position than “I know, and you better believe what I believe or there’s going to be Hell to pay.” That’s such transparent bullshit that I’m surprised that anyone still buys that shit.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)

    This is certainly not a universal belief of “theism.” Theistic beliefs are incredibly diverse. By your fifth word, “God,” you’ve already restricted yourself to monotheism. Furthermore, even assuming that you’re confusing theism and Christianity, your statement still isn’t true. There are many Christians who believe that God designs some people to fail. Consider the words of the apostle Paul:

    It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will? But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this? ‘Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory. . . (Romans: 9:16-23, NIV)

    Lee, how do you know that Islam is not the true religion, and that Allah has hardened your heart, just as he did the Pharaoh’s, to lead to your foreordained faulty belief in Christianity, and subsequent punishment?

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    Wow! I’m convinced!

    No, wait, it was just gas.

    My mistake.

  • Loren Petrich

    What lame arguments. The Universe is not exactly very fine-tuned to life; much of it is lethal to even the hardiest microbes.

    And much of that argumentation is God-of-the-gaps arguments. Why do they insist that their god and nothing else can possibly fill those gaps?

  • Siamang

    The truth is, none of us can know that we’re not being deceived and are brains in a jar in a matrix somewhere. To think that one has even a chance of discerning, accurately, the existence of anything not spoon-fed to us by our senses is folly.

    And the further truth is, if Yaweh exists, even He would not be able to clearly discern whether or not He was a brain in a jar in a larger matrix.

    Which is neither here nor there to us materialists, but I think it poses quite a challenge to the people who build their imaginary deities on top of everything else. The fact that they can be trumped in their “prime mover” arguments by quoting a Keanu Reeves movie.

    But I really don’t care, because matrix or no is immaterial to me without positive evidence supporting it.

    Anyway. In my experience, the followers of apocolyptic charismatic leaders of religious cults aren’t exactly the most trustworthy eyewitnesses. Let alone writers a century later supposedly telling their story. And then a bunch of people even later deciding “which version” of that was the new official version.

    If man is fallible, then man is the worst possible witness for God. If men can deceive, then a Man was the worst possible vessel for God, for he was the one thing least trustworthy in the world. If language can be mis-read, then a book is the worst testament of God. If people can mis-read, then they are the worst interpreters of that book.

    If that’s the best that the author of gravity and the atom can do, then he must be as fallible as man.

    However, if Christianity was authored by man, all is explained.

    Jesus rose from the dead, as seen by the apostles. Just as Harry Potter rose from the dead, as seen by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

  • Jason

    Did he ever end up answering the question about him claiming to be fair and unbiased, when he only seems to present one position (the same position)? Case for a Creator looks like he wrote it after attending a 3-week long Creaotard Camp at the Discovery Institute, then claims some sort of “responsible reporting”.

  • Aj

    Reply to Historian Gary Habermas: Starts out by appealing to authority and majority. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Second hand accounts from humans is one of the least forms of evidence.

    Reply to Philosopher Paul Copan:

    1) Starts out by appealing to majority. The universe being finely tuned for life is not supported scientifically at all. We are here, scientifically the universe is such that we are here. You don’t know why the laws are the way they are, you assume without evidence intention.

    2) A standard of goodness does not imply a design plan or intention at all. You are jumping to a conclusion of intention without any evidence, like any theist would.

    Reply to Frank Pastore: We don’t know and you don’t know either, and some of your questions are leading. We can relate some of the mind, moral instinct, moral logic, to the brain, and the brain evolved.

    Reply to Historian Mike Licona: I’ve evaluated claims, but never come across any evidence for gods or fairies, so my lack of belief remains untroubled.

    Reply to Author Greg Koukl: Too many assumptions to unwrap, clearly not supported by the science you cite. I’m don’t think the choices “outside the material universe” or “every came from nothing” make any sense, being grammatically correct is not enough, they need to make sense. I certainly didn’t choose one from your false dilemma.

    Reply to not Alvin Plantinga: Good job we don’t rely on my senses but science, i.e. everyones senses. Plantinga doesn’t support the assertion that this reliability is low.

    If you believe that God designed you to sense truth, the known unreliabilities of everyone has to be troubling. Let alone our constant inconsistancy of sense.

    The belief that a god designed our senses is still completely unsupported.

  • AxeGrrl

    Copan:

    the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life

    Is Paul Copan familiar with Douglas Adams’ puddle analogy?? apparently not….

    “. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in’an interesting hole I find myself in’fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    The truth is, none of us can know that we’re not being deceived and are brains in a jar in a matrix somewhere. To think that one has even a chance of discerning, accurately, the existence of anything not spoon-fed to us by our senses is folly.

    Which speaks to the importance of the scientific method as the best tool we have to interpret our observations into understanding of what is really real.

    We don’t even need to quote Keanu Reeves movies to understand that our observations are not, of themselves, reality.

    A person with synesthesia who can hear colour is going to have their own distinct view of reality.

    Someone like Ben Underwood (who very sadly passed away Jan 19) who was blind but could ‘see’ using ecolocation surely had his own model of reality.

    These are extreme examples of the power of the human brain as a simulation engine. Our minds interpret our observations into stories our minds can make sense of. Someone ‘attuned’ to ‘psychic phenomena’ is going to have their own model. An author of Christian apologetics is going to have his own model. It’s not that any of these are necessarily wrong, it’s that they are not necessarily right.

    A map is not the terrain that it models. Different maps can model the same terrain in many different ways. One map may be based on faulty information. Another map could be topographical. Yet another map could be geopolitical, while another maps population densities. But in the end, no matter how accurate and detailed a map is, it will never be the terrain.

    Science works because scientists are constantly trying to improve the map to make it better model the terrain. Yes, mistakes are made but they are eventually caught as science is falsifiable. Science is also great because anyone can do it as long as they follow the rules, the scientific method. Everyone is trying to improve the map.

    Christianity fails because adherents assume the maps they have are infallible as they were provided by an omnipotent and omniscient god. Well, at least that’s where the maps say they’re from. Christianity fails because it confuses the map for an instruction manual. Where they see a disparity between their map and the terrain, they call that the work of the devil and assume the terrain is at fault. Imagine blaming a mountain for not being on a map. When that disparity is a person, they call them a sinner or a no good shit.

    Now, I should think any apologist worth his salt should be able to turn this metaphor around saying that our view of the world should be based on the instruction manual God gave us and we have a duty to act and put God’s will in place. As noble as that sounds and as much as I agree that we must act to make our world a better place, that sentiment does not answer the question…

    What is the question? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

    Do you want to know, objectively, what is really real? That’s what science is doing… constantly improving the map.

    Or, do you want to impose your own interpretations on everyone else? This is what Christianity is doing… treating an outdated, incorrect and incomplete map as an instruction manual.

  • Bill

    They forgot this one…

    Note that the banana:
    Is shaped for the human hand
    Has a non-slip surface
    Has outward indicators of inward content:
    Green — not ripe enough
    Yellow — just right for eating
    Black — too ripe
    Has a tab for easy removal of its wrapper
    Is perforated on the wrapper for easy peeling
    Has a biodegradable wrapper
    Is shaped for the human mouth
    Is pleasing to the taste buds
    Is curved towards the face to make the eating process easy

  • EB

    “Please explain how something can come from nothing”

    Are there any physicists reading this? I would really like a proper explanation of this detail of the Big Bang theory. Based on my limited understanding, the Big Bang theory is only good as we move back towards the Planck time. Beyond this, we cannot say anything, let along “something came from nothing”, because the gravity force becomes important and we do not (yet) know how to merge it with the other forces.

    Can somebody confirm this so that I can feel more confident explaining it to a deist next time?

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    Just wondering if Lee was going to answer some of the questions posed on the last go-round. As I recall, there were some very good ones that were not / have not been addressed.

    Oh, and the Banana comment was a low blow man. I’m traumatized. I can’t STAND bananas! That’s the ONE argument to which we atheists have no response. How could we?
    I can hear Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort right now.. “Checkmate, atheists!”

    Also, do any of you think Lee may be using this stuff as material for a new book? I’m thinking there’s got to be a reason why he would do this. If he does, it would be interesting to see how he dances around the issues we’ve raised.

    It is mind-boggling to me how I used to read this guy and think, “yeah, right on! You tell ‘em Lee. Checkmate, atheists!”

    I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.

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

    I’ve written responses to all of these. It came out a little long to put in the comments here, though, so I’ve put it on my blog, and per Hemant’s permission, I’m posting a link here instead:

    The Big Guns: Greta Answers Some Theologians

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

    Just as Harry Potter rose from the dead, as seen by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

    No, no, no! Harry’s rising from the dead was not witnessed by Ron and Hermione! It was witnessed by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, most notably Narcissa Malfoy!

    Blasphemer.

    (Okay. I went to the bad place on that one. I’m back now.)

  • Lazareus

    Gary Habermas:
    “if assessed without preconceptions” all of your so called historical “facts” turn into dust. There is no way to be sure that Jesus ever existed, and that the Bible is not just literature conjured by the emperor of Rome in the effort to placate the masses.
    Miracles that never happened, don’t require an explanation.
    Paul Coban:
    Your first question makes use of the “Big Bang Theory”. While the broad strokes of the theory are well supported by data, and widely agreed on by scientists, most agree that there is not yet a good understanding of what happened in the first fractions of a second, or what (if any) will be the final end of the universe (as we understand it). As to the beginning, our understanding of what was going on in those first fractions of a second will make a huge difference to our ideas of the nature of the universe. It may be that the way we think about the “beginning” of the universe will require big changes. So, with that out of the way, even if the universe began a finite time ago, No, that wouldn’t make me think it was haunted. Your “fine tuning” point is sort of a “so what” isn’t it? If the universe hadn’t turned out the way it did, we wouldn’t be here to continue this silly argument if I accept your logic, and Victor Stenger, in his book “God: The Failed Hypothesis” refutes the fine tuning argument on it’s face.
    And, just to be clear, I don’t consider that even if I grant the possibility that a deity created the universe, it would have what you call “metaphysically staggering implications”. If a deity existed it would be part of nature, just like us, and subject to some set of “natural laws” in whatever set of dimensions it inhabited, and highly unlikely to be strongly motivated by a personal interest in my personal behavior and thoughts. Which is, let’s recall, what you are trying to justify.
    Your second question is loaded with suppositions, first, that god exists, and second, that the biggest reason people don’t believe is the “problem of evil”. But, my answer is that ethical behaviour evolves, just like species, with the difference that, our brains, being flexible, and our societies, being able to teach, and improve ethics, behaviour within our species is able to change much faster than other more visible characteristic. Which is just what we have seen through history, gradual improvements in ethical behavior in human societies, by and large regardless of religious belief, and oftimes in spite of it.
    Frank Pastore:
    Really, this is too easy. “something from nothing” – What makes you so sure there was ever a nothing?
    “life from non-life” – How do you know there has not always been some form of life? What’s wrong with saying “We don’t know yet.”?
    “mind from brain” – What makes you sure they are different?
    “moral sense from an amoral source” – First, what “amoral source” are you presupposing?
    I don’t grant you the use of the word “morals”, that word is too bound up with bluenose ideas about sex. We can talk about ethics, for this purpose defined as our ideas about how we treat each other, and how we govern ourselves. And your answer is, our ethics have evolved with us. You have only to recognize that seeing a person smile makes you feel good, and that life is easier when you don’t have to do everything yourself to see how that will work. Although our history shows that there have been some serious fights over it along the way.
    Given my experience of people, this seems very natural, and understandable without any reliance on supernatural forces. In fact, it’s been very clear that throughout history, people have relied on the “moral sense” granted by theology to justify horribly un-ethical behavior.
    Mike Licona:
    You’re asking me do I sometimes doubt my doubts?
    No, I find nothing about any religion or in real life that inclines me to believe that there is a deity with any interest in my existence, behavior or thoughts.
    I occasionally wish that there really was a hell for people like Jerry Falwell however.
    Greg Koukl:
    I don’t accept the framing of your question. We don’t know enough about the possible answers to boil it down to those 2 choices.
    Alvin Plantinga:
    That all sounds like doubletalk to me. Given that the cognitive faculties I have are what I’ve got to work with, I’m going with what I get from them. Which is to think there’s no reason to think that there is anything supernatural in the world, while recognizing that there are likely to be things that my faculties will never directly perceive. It’s okay with me if some things are never explained.

  • Grimalkin

    It’s a little sad that most of your questions have already been answered in the comment sections of the last two articles you posted here. But, like others, I just can’t resist answering.

    Historian Gary Habermas:
    The scary thing about this question is that it takes as a given fact that Jesus was resurrected. There isn’t even agreement among scholars that Jesus existed in the first place! How can there be such a strong consensus that he was actually resurrected? Or are you talking about “Christian scholars” rather than “scholars of Christianity.” I know it’s a little complicated, but these two are very different things.

    I just want to point out that the ONLY evidence of Jesus’ existence are from Christian sources. I am including the account from Josephus since the relevant passage was obviously a later addition.

    Now, if we do assume that Jesus did exist and that the tomb was indeed found empty – who found it? In other words, which gospel account are you going to follow? If Jesus was, in fact, resurrected, who did he appear to? Again, which gospel are you going to accept? I know that your book makes the claim that the gospels agree, but they don’t. Fact. You just have to read them to see. The accounts differ in very specific ways. The stories, particularly the parts that were most likely to be fictionalized (birth story and post-death story), don’t tell the same tale.

    But lets assume that Jesus did exist and that the tomb was found empty – what other narrative could explain this? Well, maybe the Romans were concerned that Christians would use the tomb as a gathering point, so they removed the body. Maybe one of the disciples was worried that Jesus’ enemies would vandalize the body, so he took it and hid it without telling the others. Maybe a bunch of wild dogs got in and ate the body. Who knows? History is full of missing bodies!

    Philosopher Paul Copan:
    I’ll let people who are better versed in the sciences answer this one. However, I would like to say that “I don’t understand this” doesn’t automatically translate into “God must have done it.” Not for me, anyway. The reason I don’t think that way is that I don’t understand God either.

    Who created God? Isn’t God, at least my understanding of what God is supposed to be, unimaginably complicated? Powerful? And happens to have all the characteristics necessary to create the universe, life, and us? Just replace the word “universe” in your question with the name “God.” And yet, I’m supposed to be stumped by the former but satisfied by the latter. Why? How does that make any sense at all?

    As to the second question, the problem of evil is only a problem if God exists. Evil, by the way, is “bad stuff.” It doesn’t have the implication of being diabolical for us. There is a standard of goodness because “good stuff” happens too. There’s no god needed to understand why life might have both some “good stuff” and some “bad stuff.”

    The existence of “bad stuff” is only an issue if there is a God. If the universe was designed, why was it designed with “bad stuff”? I’m not talking about things that can be explained away with free-will arguments. I’m talking about tsunamis, earthquakes, plagues, things that occur through no human action. Things that, if God exists, were created BY God. So why do these things exist? Why does God murder babies by designing malaria? What kind of a God would do that?

    But if God doesn’t exist, then malaria is just a living thing, like us, and it just wants to survive. It’s unfortunate that its means of survival is harmful to us, but at least no one specifically designed it to make us suffer!

    Talk show host Frank Pastore:
    Again, I will let others who are better versed in the sciences explain the first point. As for morality, think about survival. We all need something to help protect us against enemies (rivals or predators). Some animals developed big claws, others developed sharp teeth, others developed fast legs or powerful horns. Instead, pre-humans developed safety in numbers. We survive because we stick together.

    Where does morality come from? It comes from survival. If we survive best when we stick together, then we need to get along. If we act in ways that are anti-group, we will threaten the survival of the group. Anti-social individuals are therefore cast away from the group to die while pro-social individuals survive. This is a fairly simple concept. All social animals have “politeness” rules. If you’ve ever had a dog as a pet, it should be abundantly obvious how ill-considered this question was.

    Historian Mike Licona:
    Yes, I have doubted my atheism. Many times. But to fully answer your question, I will need to talk about Ghostie.

    Ghostie was my invisible friend. I had him until I was about seven years old. He was my best friend. We would play games together, go out on adventures, and stay up late at night talking.

    Then one day, I realized that I couldn’t believe in Ghostie anymore. Something had clicked and I no longer saw him by my side. It took a long time (months!) before I stopped trying to pretend he was real. Every time I tried, I just felt so silly talking to thin air. But I had had so much fun and I truly missed him. I grieved. In a way, I still miss Ghostie.

    That’s how I felt with God. One day, I just couldn’t pretend anymore. My periods of doubt are because I want God to be real. Like Ghostie, God was a friend I could tell my problems to, and who I could pretend would fix my problems for me. But God, like Ghostie, isn’t real. At some point, I just grew up too much and I couldn’t pretend anymore.

    So to answer your question, it’s the lack of an ever-present friend that is most troubling to my atheism. It’s a comforting thought, but I’m long passed the age where I can imagine, and I mean REALLY imagine, that invisible friends are real.

    Author Greg Koukl:
    Because it is. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be here to ask that question.

    And for your final question on cognition: We can’t assume that everything we see or experience is true. However, for the purposes of getting through the day, it’s usually best to assume that the car you see hurtling towards you is actually real and to get out of the way. I don’t think you should need a god for that.

    As for the other side of the coin, that God gives us the ability to see truth, I have to ask you this: How do you know? How do you know that the naturalistic view isn’t correct and that you are misinterpreting things when you think you are communing with God? Really, saying “I believe that I can see the truth because I believe that the god I believe in would give me the ability to do so” depends on far too many assumptions and beliefs. It’s really just saying “I believe that I know the truth because I believe that I know the truth because I believe that I know the truth…” Of that’s not bad logic, I’d love to see what is!

    PS: How do you know that we aren’t all actually in a computer simulation called the Matrix? Ooooh, we can’t prove that we aren’t – therefore God exists!

  • SarahH

    However, if Christianity was authored by man, all is explained.

    Jesus rose from the dead, as seen by the apostles. Just as Harry Potter rose from the dead, as seen by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.

    Okay, this made me smile. Such great books!

    Also: I have to agree with Greta, that Narcissa was the only knowing witness and Voldemort and his Death Eaters might count as unknowing witnesses. *If* Harry really died at all. Arguably, Voldemort only killed the horcrux that was part of Harry, not Harry himself. We have no reason to believe that Harry ever stopped breathing.

  • Miko

    I’d say the best source of doubt is the Strong Free Will Theorem (the mathematically inclined should see http://www.ams.org/notices/200902/rtx090200226p.pdf and others should probably ignore), in which it is proved that under some basic assumptions of quantum mechanics, human beings have free will if and only if elementary particles (e.g., electrons) have free will.

    While perfectly consistent with determinism (we know people don’t have free will since we know particles don’t), this also offers a fantastic way to allow free will in. The standard argument against free will has always been that everything except us is deterministic and so claiming that we’re somehow different is just special pleading. If, however, you are now willing to accept that particles have free will, it follows from that naturally that humans do as well. And thus from a scientific perspective, there is currently absolutely no good reason to prefer one explanation over the other. (Philosophically, determinism probably still has a logical advantage.)

    If you add the hypothesis that the existence of free will implies the existence of a god, you have a fairly decent case. Of course, this would be more of a pantheistic or deistic god, who intentionally set things up in such a way as to make macroscopic miracles impossible, so it doesn’t do the Christians much good.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind too much if it turned out that there was a god who set things in motion and then just left us alone: it’s the constant tinkering, favor seeking by worshipers, and “moral” pronouncements that get religions in trouble.

  • cautiousmaniac

    I threw out a question along the lines of what Lee replied to in the previous answer set and what siamang has been asking for in these comments. So I guess I’m glad it got addressed. Kinda.

    Um, I don’t have much to directly add besides what’s been written above. What I will add is my own opinion of Frank Pastore:

    Most. Annoying. Radio. Host. Ever. Take Rush Limbaugh and subtract the oxycontin addiction and relevance to the 21st century, and you get Frank.

    I know it’s not fair to judge people by the company they keep, but, seriously, Lee? Your friend is not someone who’s going to convince atheists of anything. Frank thinks the Earth is thousands of years old. Frank thinks that Prop 8 was cool. Frank thinks Senator James Inhofe is more correct about climate change than is the IPCC. What’s the difference between any of these opinions and those of a blowhard like Limbaugh or Coulter or Hannity or Malkin?

    Oh, right, Pastore talks about Jeebus. Ok, well then, yes, I can see why he is homies with Lee, but Frank Pastore is never ever going to say anything that is going to cause me to stop being a Bright.

    Anyway, this has been an interesting …”discussion”, so far. I am interested in seeing how the rest of it goes. Let me know if it ever turns away from this boring-as-all-hell apologetics angle and moves onto some important questions, e.g., what does Lee Strobel think atheists should do to make the world a better place?

  • http://www.wordsthatsing.wordpress.com Lirone

    Question to Lee Strobel – “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of [Allah's dictation of the Koran to Mohammed] [Buddha's enlightment] [Mithras' slaying of the bull] that makes better sense than [what these religions claim about its divine nature].”

  • http://www.dangerousintersection.org Hank

    Instead of huging-up your comments thread, I have posted my own list of questions aimed right back at the theopologists. Awaiting some good discussion!

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

  • Stagyar zil Doggo

    Siamang: “Nerds prove Fonzie”

    Dude, that was awesome!

  • Paul

    Do atheists believe the universe is the result of quantum fluctuations (chance)? If so, does that make chance the creator? And why would this belief be any more rationinal than a belief that the universe was created for a reason?

    Thanks for your time,

    Paul

  • NYCatheist

    Atheists don’t have a unified doctrine of belief regarding the origin of the universe. A quantum fluctuation is one idea explaining the Big Bang, but nobody knows for sure. Personally I like the colliding branes theory because it sounds cool. ;-)

    I don’t think any atheist would say they “believe” that a random fluctuation caused the Big Bang. I would rather say “entertain the notion”. I don’t really find it very satisfying because still my brain yearns for a cause of that fluctuation no matter what the physicists claim about uncaused quantum events. (Or the origin of the flapping branes.) Basically the only two options I can imagine is either 1. Something always existed, or 2. Something came from nothing, but maybe that’s because I am locked into a temporal reality. I find both options to be absurd.

    Short Answer: I don’t know.

    PS: Although I agree with you to some extent that an atheist who expressed a belief in a universe birthing quantum fluctuation isn’t being 100% rational, I would have to say he or she is being more rational than someone who believes in some kind of “creator” assuming you are referring to a being with personality. I justify this claim with Occam’s Razor. “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Besides we do have evidence for quantum fluctuations already.

  • Colin

    I’m late to the party, but couldn’t help but read through your entire series with Lee Strobel. I was somewhat familiar with him from my days of listening to Christian radio, and I think its fantastic you got him to come on as a “guest blogger”. Though the commenters thoroughly disintegrated his arguments, the vast majority maintained the “friendly” tone that sets this blog apart.

    Great work here!

  • Siamang

    Thanks, Colin.

    Though I think the post should have been entitled “Lee Strobel Evades Your Questions.”

    He didn’t answer mine, which was a direct indictment of his entire self-positioning as an “investigating journalist”.

  • Rosita

    “Explain how something can come from nothing”.

    The question nobody asked:

    Is [your version of god/s] “something” or “nothing”?

    If it is “something” then explain why it is better able to come from “nothing” than anything else, or else why it has more ability to be “eternal”.

    If it is “nothing” then explain how it could create “something”.

    In the final analysis of this silly example of the First Cause cosmological argument, the questioner’s personal imagination of a divinity is inserted into the end statement as if it were already proven. (Therefore there is a First Cause which does not need to come from either something or nothing and which we shall call “god”.)

    It is completely irrational to use a highly ambiguous term like “god” to identify what could just as easily be a non-sentient eternally existing “state”, which we might call “energy”. That term is considerably less ambiguous, but a lot less convenient for a theist desperate to make a case for their favorite addicting delusion.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Sorry to be commenting on a two-year-old post… but I’m frankly shocked. Really. Like, intensely shocked. These are really just such truly awful arguments. A couple of them even have patently false premises. The rest of them are the same tired old BS that’s been refuted countless times before.

    This is really it?? The best they can muster? Seriously, I’m floored.

  • Guest

    What the “Strong Free Will” theorem says is that if free will allows humans to “freely” ignore causality, electrons must also ignore causality.  This… actually makes perfect sense.

    But because it uses the sense of free will as “ignoring causality,” it doesn’t interfere with any sense of free will in accordance with causality.  As Thomas Aquinas said: “Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it [is] not of necessity [..] that what is free should be the first cause of itself, [..] for one thing to be cause of another [it need not] be the first cause.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/kinnebrew Jim Kinnebrew

    Floored, but unresponsive.  What are the answers?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kinnebrew Jim Kinnebrew

    I’m no physicist, but the way the question was set forth is that all energy, space, time, and matter came into being a finite time ago.  Isn’t this the generally approved “big bang cosmology”?  Wouldn’t that preclude your eternal “energy”?


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