The ‘biblical science’ of creationism is neither biblical nor science

Young-earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says that his expertise in science is every bit as legitimate as his expertise in biblical interpretation.

I agree. You should too.

So-called “scientific creationists” like Ham claim that they are doing “biblical science,” but what they are doing has just as little to do with the actual Bible as it has to do with actual science.

Unlike Ham, I do not claim to be a scientist. He would argue that I therefore ought to defer to him on scientific matters because he is a scientist — a “creation scientist” — and a layperson such as myself therefore ought to acknowledge his expertise on the subject.

Hogwash. I may not be a scientist myself, but it’s not difficult for me, even as a layperson outside of the sciences, to see that Ham’s claim of expertise is absurd. First, I can look to see what credible scientists think about Ham’s “science.” The actual experts in the sciences find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And second, even as a non-scientist, non-expert layperson who studied literature and theology, I can understand enough to appreciate that Ham’s scientific claims are pure bunkum. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize that, despite his claims otherwise, there’s nothing scientific about Ham’s “creation science.”

The same can be said for Ham’s other unwarranted claim — the assertion that his “creation science” is “biblical.” One can, again, turn to see what credible scholars in the field have to say about Ham’s alleged expertise. Are his ideas and interpretations taught and studied in seminaries? No. His biblical interpretation is regarded by those who study the Bible in precisely the same way that his science is regarded by those who study science. The actual experts in the field again find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And one doesn’t need any particular expertise or training to see that, either.

Ham’s lucrative career as a (very successful) con artist depends on both of these claims. His ability to gull the gullible depends on his ability to present himself as an authority on science and as an authority on the Bible. That’s how he makes his money, even though, again, he is neither an authority on science nor an authority on the Bible.

Those of us who want to expose, refute or debunk Ham and to limit his pernicious influence — who want to prevent him from defrauding his marks and from spreading ignorance through the schools — shouldn’t concede either of Ham’s false claims of expertise. Conceding either claim only validates his purported expertise and strengthens his hand.

I studied theology, not science, so in my case it makes sense to focus most on denying Ham’s legitimacy as an expert on the Bible. But that does not mean that I should therefore allow him to continue unchallenged in his claim to be an expert on science. The same is true for those approaching Ham’s nonsense from the side of science. They should focus most on criticizing the aspects of his claims that they are best equipped to respond to, but at the same time they shouldn’t accept or affirm his claims of “biblical” expertise.

Put another way, it would make no sense for me to use my own knowledge of the Bible to expose and confront Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism when it comes to understanding the Bible without also at least suspecting that he might be employing the very same dishonest tactics when it comes to science. Nor would it make sense for a scientist to encounter Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism in their field without at least suspecting that Ham might be employing those same dishonest tactics in what he says about the Bible. If I know that his claims to be “biblical” cannot be trusted, then I should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “scientific.” And if you know that his claims to be “scientific” cannot be trusted, then you should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “biblical.”

This was my complaint with the Freethought Alliance billboard rightly mocking the creationist, Hamian (Hamesque? Hamster?) view of the story of Noah. Charlatans like Ham insist that their “scientific creationism” view of that story is the most obvious and only proper understanding of the Bible. That is not true, but the billboard seems to accept and to validate the charlatans’ claim.

It does so through what I think is a non sequitur — an unmerited substitution of terms, suggesting that the two things are interchangeable and identical — that switches targets halfway through its argument. Without that substitution, the billboard would read:

“Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other creationist nonsense is there?”

That’s good stuff — incisive, witty and thought-provoking just as a billboard slogan should be.

But that cutting joke gets turned around and slices the wrong way when the word “biblical” is substituted for the word “creationist.” It thus winds up reaffirming Ham’s assertion that his “scientific creationism” is the best and the only way to read the Bible. It suggests, as Ham does, that “biblical = creationist.” It suggests that Hamsterian “scientific creationism” provides a valid interpretation of the story of Noah rather than being a weirdly illiterate exercise in missing the point.

I don’t think this was the intention of those who created this billboard. I don’t think they set out to validate Ken Ham, or to reaffirm his chronologically confused claim that no one managed to find the most obvious interpretation of the Bible until he and others invented it in the 20th century. But in its present form, that’s what this billboard does.

And I’m not saying, “Take that billboard down!” What I’m suggesting, rather, is that they change that bit about “biblical nonsense” to “creationist nonsense” — and thus change the billboard from one that delights Ken Ham to one that would upset him.

I’ll admit that I may be over-reacting or reading too much into all this. I may be prone to do that sometimes whenever we approach near this business of all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism. That’s a nasty, toxic brew in response to which I tend to get more angry than articulate.

Over the past almost nine years of this blog, I’ve encountered many, many good people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith. They were taught from earliest childhood that the absurdities of young-earth creationism were inextricably bound up in this all-or-nothing package deal. It was pounded into them, sometimes literally, and they learned what they were taught. If the universe is more than 6,000-10,000 years old, they were taught, then there is no God. If the story of Noah is not a journalistic account of an actual historical flood that killed the dinosaurs, they were taught, then Jesus is a fraud, life has no meaning, and justice, virtue and compassion are all empty illusions.

Few things make me angrier than this abusive all-or-nothing doctrine. It makes me angry because it chains together truth and lies. It makes me angry because it sets a trap, binding children into a twisted machinery that guarantees either a painful crisis of faith or a feckless, drifting life of dissonance and denial. It makes me angry because when those children get old enough to encounter the obvious and inescapable realities forbidden by that package deal, it may take them many painful years to sort out all the other lies bundled up with it — all those bogus “therefores” lashing meaning, goodness, faith, hope, and love to the unsustainable lies of a rigidly fragile foundation of “creation science.”

And it makes me angry because bundled in with all those other lies is the vicious slur that such all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism provides the only legitimate basis for a meaningful life, for goodness or worth. This is the slur that says not only that we cannot be “good without God,” but that no one is any good without this particular tiny, vindictive, brittle God. It says that if there is no God — or if God is not exactly like their idea of God — then you are unloved, unworthy of being loved, and incapable of loving others.

That slur is a lie. It is illogical, indefensible, blasphemous and cruel. But for many of those who had it pounded into them for years and years, it can take a long time and a lot of pain before they learn to stop believing it.

And but so, my point being, I do not much care for the all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism of the “scientific creationists” and the “creation scientists.”

I can see why it might be tempting to latch on to such all-or-nothing claims as a rhetorical tactic for a recreational debater of a certain temperament (again I’m thinking of someone like Bill Maher). It’s premise is absurd and dishonest, since the many things it bundles together are not really, logically linked. But if we were to stipulate that the illogic of this all-or-nothing premise is correct and that all of the things lumped together in this package-deal fundamentalism are inseverable, then our path to victory is simple. We can sweep away the whole edifice simply by proving the absurdity of its weakest link.

Unfortunately, embracing the logic of illogic isn’t so simple or so safe, even when it’s just a rhetorical tactic. If we stipulate that we’re accepting the premise of this all-or-nothing package deal, then we’re not just accepting the part of its bogus premise that says “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, you win.” We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.


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  • hf

    Fred seems to think that by ignoring his views (whatever those may be) the American Atheists have committed the straw-man fallacy.

    But the billboard-makers may not share this view, because we atheists don’t agree with you. We don’t necessarily see your views as intellectually respectable. In fact, we don’t necessarily see Fred’s views as more intellectually respectable than Ken Ham’s, if only because Fred has never said in detail what he believes and why he believes it. Nor should he — unless he wants us to treat said beliefs as reasonable and worthy of note.

    Fred has at least said that he believes Jesus actually rose from the dead. (Unless I misunderstood that entirely.) Someone here also talked about interpreting the resurrection in a way that seems to make sense if and only if it literally happened, in addition to having symbolic meaning. And if you cite Fred’s actions as a respectable reason to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead, I will publicly mock you, because you fail epistemology forever.

    Now some people here who call themselves Christians may treat the gospel narratives purely as stories with important lessons to teach us, like Star Trek or “The tragedy of Prince Hamlet and the Philosopher’s Stone.” If so, you don’t want to know what I think of you. But this seems irrelevant to Fred’s original post(s).

  • hf

     That doesn’t mean that those physicists are just wasting their time on a silly meaningless goof, however.

    Modern physics does in fact seem like a mess. If it hasn’t improved in a thousand years’ time, we may have to call the whole field a mistake and start over. (Likewise, it would seem like a bad sign if by two thousand years after Newton science had no tentative explanation for existence, or any attempt to deal with consciousness.)

    But I strongly doubt that any academic field other than theology would stay a mess for that long. Even philosophy seems to have make some small progress.

  • Too bad you didn’t explain it, then.  I’d like to know what the opposing premises he was arguing against without wading through all of that obfuscation.
    Perhaps if he’dc been more plain, the matter wouldn’t be still up for dispute all these centuries later.

  • I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out what your point is…

  • Tonio

    The question of whether gods exist is not necessarily orthogonal to the truths about relationships contained in the stories. If such gods do exist, that would likely change the nature of the shoulds. Not following the lessons of the stories would mean not just natural consequences, such as less happiness, or harm to the self or to others. There might also be deliberately imposed consequences.

  • I disagree. I think it is in the actions that danger lies.
    What you or anyone else believes neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, as Jefferson said. It’s what people DO with those beliefs.

    Yes, that’s mostly true.  It is a sad fact, however, that beliefs do inform actions and actions follow from beliefs. The details I refer to are often beliefs that lead to actions, so it’s really a good idea to consider them before they do so.

    I will allow that there is explanatory power and example in religious stories.  It’s just that they aren’t necessarily the best explanations or examples, and people do use them to come to conclusions that are sometimes unfortunate.  And since these stories are not overridden by reality for many people, they can be unpredictable in effect.

    The stories are factual or they are not.  The conclusions about them are valid or not.

    If these stories lead to wrong conclusions, and they demonstrably do, since there is so much difference in those conclusions, then they do not do the job they are supposed to be doing and should be rejected.  But they never seem to be obsolete.

    Fred is right that using religious stories as physics lessons is A Bad Thing.
    Trouble is, from an atheist point of view, the only difference between that and any religious statement about reality is degree and agressiveness.

  • hf

    That Fred’s response here seems entirely wrong. If the billboard attacked a straw-man, then who should it have criticized instead? Terry Eagleton, who says the God he thinks about is not a possible object of cognition? Thomas Aquinas, who claimed to have proofs of his God’s existence, and who appears to have thought any intelligent person would agree with Catholic sexual ethics?

    What theology, as opposed to works that allow a secular translation, should atheists consider intellectually respectable?

  • Ah. I see what you mean now. Thanks.

  • Yes, I get that truth isn’t an issue for you.  Yes, I understand that some people, possibly including yourself, believe they talk to their gods.  I just have yet to hear of any case when it wasn’t already a god they had heard of.

    “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ie – if bad things are resulting from your beliefs, then they’re bad beliefs.

    Axioms are fun!  It’s a shame that beliefs don’t tend to fall into that spectrum of good and bad so easily.  Some might well be good in one situation and bad in another.

    Still, we all do the best we can do with what we’ve got.  I mean that sincerely.  I don’t think what you’ve got is bad.

    I just think it isn’t true.

  • Some might well be good in one situation and bad in another.


    Still, we all do the best we can do with what we’ve got.  I mean that sincerely.  I don’t think what you’ve got is bad.

    I just think it isn’t true.

    Well… ditto. *grins*

  • Thank you, and thank you for helping to keep the more dangerous sort of lunatic under control so the world is a safer place.

    Oh, and thank you for not making me bring up blood sacrifice.

  • hapax

     Okay, Steve, let’s try something.

    If I should say “Factual is not necessarily the same thing as True is not necessarily the same thing as Real”, would that be intelligible to you?

    Or would you classify it as meaningless sophistry and ducking the question?

    I’d be happy to try and hammer out some mutually agreeable parameters, if you are willing to entertain the premise.

    But if your axiom (that is, a first principle that you accept as self-evident without need of proof) is that the three words above are equivalent and interchangable…

    … well, there is simply no conversation that we can have about this topic that will not end in frustration and (inadvertent, I hope) insults.

  • Yeah, pretty much.  I don’t believe that truth is different from reality or that reality can fail to comport with facts.

    I’m certainly interested in why you think they are, however.  I’m past the stage of intentional insults (at least beyond the fact that I am stuck with the position above, which far too many people seem to view as insulting) because we are having a conversation about the subject rather than an argument.

    Understanding is what I seek, actually.  I already know why I think the way I do.  Why do you think the way you do, and why is that, for lack of a better term, better?

    Of course, I understand if you prefer to leave it here.

  • hf

     I’d certainly advise using other words. Could we just as well substitute “valuable” or at least “insightful” for “True”? Why or why not?

    The word “Real” seems like a hopeless bog at present, though I think eventually humans will have to either use the term or dissolve it somehow.

  • hapax


    Yeah, pretty much.  I don’t believe that truth is different from reality or that reality can fail to comport with facts.

    I’m certainly interested in why you think they are, however.

    Okay, first of all I purposely used the adjectival forms — factual, true, real — rather than the nouns — fact, truth, reality — because those latter get mixed up with other meanings.

    I believe that the words “factual”, “true”, and “real” mean different things because, umm, they are different words?  They have different roots, they are used in different contexts, they have different connotations.

    There are lots of subtle shades of between the words depending on where they are being used, but as a first level of distinction I’d point to something like this:

    “Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.
    “True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.
    “Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.

    I’m open to revisions, however.

    Why do you think the way you do, and why is that, for lack of a better term, better?

    Hmm.  Because I care about words.  Because I care about using them with precision and accuracy.  Because context is important to me.  Because I understand things in terms of relationships, instead of in isolation. 

    I’m not saying it’s “better”, by any means.  I’m saying that’s the way I *think*.

  • “Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.
    “True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.
    “Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.

    The word geek in me is suddenly wide-eyed and flailing.

  •  Are… Are you asking me to summarize four thousand pages of medieval theology for you? Seriously, it’s like 800 years old. Even with the Sunny Bono Copyright Extension, it’s still public domain. Look it up and read it. Or, you could maybe try _not_ making the bizzaro-logic leap of “This is too complex for me to understand it, therefore it is stupid.”

  • hapax


    Could we just as well substitute “valuable” or at least “insightful” for “True”? Why or why not?

    Once again, this is my understanding of the connotations, and I certainly am willing to  discuss it:

    But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Whereas a story or belief that is “True” carries the implication of “Do I live up to IT?”

  • hapax

     P.S.  This is an enthralling conversation and I’d love to keep up with it, but I am falling over with exhaustion and must to bed.

    Please do not interpret my lack of response to offense or lack of interest.

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s a nutshell of how I have come to understand this thinking. It comes in a two-pronged form:

    1) God is self-evident: The universe exists, so it must have come from a creator. This creator has our best wishes in mind, and thus causes good things to happen to us, saves us from certain destruction, and blesses us with countless small benign occurrances throughout the day. If you find a penny on your way to work, God put it there. If rocks fall and miss you by an inch, God diverted them. God’s existence is obvious because every day, someone defies probability in some way.

    2) God is inscrutable: He sometimes causes (or perhaps merely allows) bad things to happen to us, perhaps to teach us a lesson in humility, in life, or perhaps something that we are incapable of understanding. Hence, God causes people to be born blind, causes horrifying accidents to leave someone with grievous scarring and takes the lives of infants in their cribs. Why? It must be for a reason, and that reason must be benevolent, even if it is beyond a human mind to grasp. So God is also incomprehensible.

    It entails some mental gymnastics that I’m not willing to perform to fully believe both tenets of this idea, but it’s something I’ve heard in a thousand variations for many, many years. I have arguments for both prongs, but at some point I just throw up my hands and hope the person saying such things eventually comes to realize that there’s an element of egocentricism and blindsidedness required to make these work.

  • Ah, well, given that you used the more nebulous adjectival forms, and I the concrete noun forms, then of course, we’re talking past one another and we should restart this when we’re both awake again.

  • No, see, I understand things pretty well.  If YOU understood it, I suspect you could summarize it.  If Aquinas understood it, it wouldn’t have taken 800 pages of Latin.

    Unless you’re telling me it’s all staged mathematical formulae?

    Sure, I know–I just haven’t appreciated the subtlety of design of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  • Silly timezones getting in the way of conversation… *grumbles*

  • If YOU understood it, I suspect you could summarize it.


    I understand the rules of English punctuation very well – but I couldn’t possibly summarise them.

  • My main problem with Dawkins is his repulsive lack of empathy when it
    comes to, for example, survivors of sexual abuse from the Irish Catholic

    I’m just shaking my head at the way he actually managed to fuck up the big giant billybat the Catholic Church handed him with which to beat the entire Catholic hierarchy over the head.

    I mean, who wouldn’t empathize with what these people have suffered through? Here in Canada, generations of Aboriginal (First Nations) people got thrown into residential schools run by the Roman Catholic Church of Canada whose priests promptly declared open season on everything those kids had to call their own and inviolable.

    Were I Richard Dawkins I’d be bashing the Catholic Church from pillar to post over the way their entire hierarchy used the cover of religious doctrine to validate and justify the horrendous behavior of their priesthood.

    Not pooh-poohing the experiences of the victims.

  •  You know, it seems to be a common theme that people obsessed with proving how much smarter they are than everyone else are always going around claiming that thigns they don’t understand are “the emperor’s new clothes”.

    Look, every time you don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean the emperor is nude. Sometimes, you’re just an idiot.

    For example, when you’re arrogantly dismissive of something you brag about not understanding, which is still studied and considered one of the most signifigant texts of catholic theology 800 years after it was written.

    It makes you sound downright anti-intellectual. I’m sorry I can’t summarize the life’s work of one of the greatest thinkers of the thirteenth century into somethign short and pithy like “9-9-9”.  Frankly, if I could, I’d want my money back from college because they spent a whole *semester* in a special topics course to just scratch the surface.

  • aunursa

    If the billboard attacked a straw-man, then who should it have criticized instead?

    Why do they need to criticize or mock anyone’s theology?  They could instead, for example, just tell us what’s so great about atheism.

  • hf

     But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Deliberately so, since we may have different goals and I can’t tell if you actively want to obscure this possibility or not.

    You remember that I mostly don’t think people should ask if they live up to the story of Jesus, right? Sometimes it seems better than the alternative, practically speaking, but if we substituted “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” I think that would produce an even better world by my lights.

  • hf

     Um, nothing “is so great” about atheism in an absolute sense. It just avoids one mistake, which religious people have (annoyingly) made significant.

  • Keromaru5

    AnonymousSam: That’s… not really the logic I’d use to say God is self-evident or inscrutable.  I personally say he’s self-evident only as a subjective judgment call, and a lot of thought about the kind of God I find plausible, beyond what any religion teaches; and I don’t expect anyone else to be convinced by it.  I say he’s inscrutable because I agree with the reasoning of the Church Fathers and various other theologians, that God’s essence could never be contained in this universe, nor could any concept, even the most pious, ever do him justice.  God isn’t one object or one concept among many, but the source of all of them, including existence itself.  Any language I use about God can only serve as a finger pointing at the moon; it can’t bring me a true experience of God.

    Or, to put it another way, God is inscrutable in the same way every other human mind is inscrutable.  I’m not Professor X, so I just don’t have the access.

    It’s a clunky and imprecise summary of 2000 years of theology that doesn’t get much attention in the West, and there’s a metric crapload I’m leaving out about prayer and praxis and so on, but there you go.  For a better explanation, I recommend books like the Cloud of Unknowing, The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides, and the many, many, many, many works of Thomas Merton; and much of the foundation for it is in the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.  This isn’t the kind of thing that can be easily settled on a blog comment thread.  Especially one on Disqus.

  • Tonio

    For a moment I assumed you were defending the thinking. “The universe exists, so it must have come from a creator” is merely an assumption, and so are “this creator has our best wishes in mind” and “it must be for a reason.” I suspect that you agree.

    hope the person saying such things eventually comes to realize that
    there’s an element of egocentricism and blindsidedness required to make
    these work.

    Valid point. The way you codified the thinking, the underlying theme is “The universe is all about us/me.” Antonin Scalia once referenced “believers in unconcerned deities” as though he was talking about something he scraped off his shoe, and perhaps people such as him feel deeply threatened by the idea of a god who is indifferent to them.

  • The argument can be made that sometimes, when asked, you have to condense and distill in a way that makes sense to people who know very little about the details of what it is you do.

    Someone asks me, “Why should I care about nuclear physics? Give me the executive summary!”

    Especially if that someone’s from a funding agency, I better be able to answer, “Because it helps answer questions about where we came from and what happened along the way,” and then be able to expand as needed*.

    So maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to pooh-pooh the people who feel they have legitimate greivances about the way other people seem to act as though questioning or requesting some condensation is an immense offence.

    I have said it before once and can’t remember where the exact post is – my statement went something like this:

    People who are often disposed to an anti-intellectual ivory-tower (as they conceive it) bent are usually, in general, being suspicious of the way smart people and big words can be used to deceive and trick them (subprime mortgage crisis, anyone?) by means of incredibly dense verbiage that seems to almost make sense when you squint at it the right way and the Moon’s in the right phase and you had pink pajamas that morning.

    So every liberal who insists that “it’s complicated”, “it’s too hard to explain in a simple sentence”, or when they do try, use big words and long sentences?

    As much as they may be telling the truth, it just reinforces the suspicion such folks have that liberals are a bunch of flim-flam artists.


    * For example, studies of nuclear reactions in the lab tell us something about what happens in stars many many light-years away; studies of decaying nuclei helps us understand things about, among other things, their shapes**.

    ** Yes, the nucleus is not just a featureless ball. It actually can look like a sphere, a doorknob, even a pear or a blimp.

  • Sure you can, in a general way.
    Periods end thoughts, commas separate them, exclamation points add emphasis. Semicolons join related thoughts, dashes stand in for other types of punctuation, and colons provide a punctuation arrow from a thought to a conclusion.
    Does it get all the subtleties and irrationalities?  No, it’s a summary.

  • Still considered by whom, exactly?  People who already believe what it says?  People who think that pure logic can magic something into existence?
    You’re telling me the Emperor’s clothes are beautiful.  I’m telling you to point out these supposed clothes.  You say I’m too dumb to see them.  Who’s arrogant in this equation exactly?
    If you studied this book for a semester, but can’t tell anyone what it says.  I don’t think you got your money’s worth.
    Something you can’t explain doesn’t consitute much of an argument.

  • I just look at it as a matter of quality of thinking rather than density of thinking. As a matter of course, it IS complicated, but every nuance need not be explained in the summary.  There is a central point to every thesis or field than can, in fact, be summarized, just as your summary of physics above.
    Somethimes, said summaries are so broad that they are, in every detail wrong, but at the same time present the central point in an understandable way.  After that, questions can be answered on the basis of the details.

    So I can’t really see any reason theology cannot be so summarized, other than that it sounds silly when it is.

  • Tonio

     My exposure to theology is somewhat limited, and although I can follow some of the logic involved, I don’t get the premises. The theologies seem to regard the existence of “God” as blindingly obvious. I’ve often said that if I had never encountered religions throughout my life, the idea of “God” might never have occurred to me. It remains an idea that people talk and write about.

    That doesn’t mean that I believe there are no gods. I feel that I would be intellectually dishonest if I ruled out the possibility of things existing beyond my perception. But I also say that logical argument is inadequate to demonstrate the existence or properties of “God,” something that theologians like Aquinas seem to be attempting. It’s not a matter of the logic being flawed, since they are probably far more skilled than me in crafting logic. It’s that any such argument amounts to an untested hypothesis, or perhaps an untestable one. To me, it seems like a trying to become an expert on public opinion while marooned alone on a desert island.


    I’ve often said that if I had never encountered religions throughout my life, the idea of “God” might never have occurred to me.

    It is, of course, difficult to say anything with certainty about a counterfactual so far from my actual experience. But I suspect that the basic idea that there’s something big and powerful and kind of like my parents… that’s always out there, hiding behind the trees or the clouds or otherwise just out of sight but still within reach… that’s capable of making me suffer or of satisfying all of my desires or anything in between, and is indispensible to my achieving any goals worth achieving… that cares about my actions but is somewhat capricious, that can be propitiated and even sometimes manipulated but cannot be successfully predicted or challenged… I suspect that idea would come to me pretty naturally.

  • Keromaru5

    So are you actually interested in what we have to say, or are you just looking for ways to mock us? Calling it ’emperor’s new clothes’ on and on doesn’t exactly suggest a good faith effort to learn–you’ve apparently already decided that we’re kooks. We’re not exactly professionals (as far as I know), and we’re trying to explain some complicated metaphysical stuff, so cut us a little slack, okay?

    I mean, when I get into conversations with Hindus and Muslims and RL atheists, we manage to avoid confrontation because we’re not worried about who is ‘right.’ We just delight in learning more about one another and comparing notes about our beliefs.

    What’s so bad about saying, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand, do you mind clarifying?’

  • Tonio

    While I don’t know as many people in RL who belong to different religions, it wouldn’t be my place to try to change their beliefs them even if I wanted to do so. Now, if someone insisted that their beliefs should be mine also, that’s when I would want some sort of proof, because they’re trying to change my beliefs. Or if they’re pushing a political agenda that hurts people, such as quoting Leviticus to justify keeping same-sex marriage illegal. In the second case, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to want them to prove that the words in that book are indeed what their god wants. That wouldn’t exclude me offering secular arguments showing how the agenda is harmful and unjust.

  • Is it not possible to consider that if one has never encountered the concept or idea of an extraneous-to-this-universe immanent being that organizes and controls it in some fashion, then the very idea of “God” would be far-fetched?

    Incidentally, I always find it a little hubristic to assume that some immanent being cares that much about exactly one planet (a very ordinary planet in a very ordinary solar system in a very ordinary position in a rather ordinary galaxy) and the intelligent beings on that planet that our fortunes might rise or fall depending on the caprices and whims of said being.

  • OKay, even my odd schedule requires me to occassionally go to work, and I need to do that now, but allow me to ask in relation to this:

    “”Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.”True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.”Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.”

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?
    What can be true that does not contain truth?
    What can be real which does not reflect reality?

  • hapax


    But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Deliberately so, since we may have different goals and I can’t tell if you actively want to obscure this possibility or not.

    Excellent point.  But I don’t proselytise.  I do not consider ANY story either true or real for anyone who does not self-select it.  That’s why it’s a wonderful thing that we have such a wide variety of stories to choose among!

    For example, if I were to try to live up to “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”, I suspect that it would turn me, personally, into a bit of a jackass.  But I am happy (really, no sarcasm) that it provides value and insight to you. 

  • hapax


    The argument can be made that sometimes, when asked, you have to condense and distill in a way that makes sense to people who know very little about the details of what it is you do.

    The problem is, the passage that Ross quote IS a condensation and distillation, using very very dense and precise language, of a complicated thought. 

    To make it make sense to people who know very little about the meaning of the words would require pages and pages of footnotes and explanation.

    If you want it put “in layman’s terms”, Keromaru5’s version below is about as good as I’ve seen.  It loses a lot of the subtleties, though, which will inevitably bring up accusations of hand-waving and question-begging.

  • Tricksterson

    ” God is self evident:  The universe exiists and so it must have come from a creator”

    This is the only part of statement 1 I agree with

    “God is inscrutable”

    Agree with this too but also beluieve that it invalidates the rest of statements 1 and 2:  If It is incomprehensible there’s no reason to assume It’s benevolent.  Or malevolent.  Or that It’s even aware of our existance any more than say, Michaelangelo was aware of the existance of a handful of molecules somewhere in his David’s left heel.

  • AnonymousSam

    What works for you, works for you. However, I’d rather anthropomorphize existence than ignorance. For me, God (or more accurately, divinity) is the sum of all that is, not the sum of all that I don’t understand (it helps avoid the God of the Gaps fallacy, for one thing, because I can be educated to fill those gaps of my awareness). If it should be that God’s immensity is incalculable, it’s only because no mind can grasp the scope of the universe and the countless chemical and physiological and psychological ramifications which have gone into making this moment the here and now.

    After I read Exodus, I stopped being willing to let priests and theologians tell me that I couldn’t possibly hope to understand God.

  • AnonymousSam

    I wonder if any part of that has led into the concept of a personal relationship with the divine. Certainly, the Old Testament God(s) had little to no interest in a personal relationship with anyone not wearing magic underwear.

  • Keromaru5

    See, that’s the very thing I find so beautiful, the idea that the creator of such a vast, complex universe could find one dot worthy of his attention. For me, it’s humbling. It is for the Psalmist, too: ‘What are human beings that you should be mindful of us?’

  • It is, of course, possible to consider that.
    Indeed, I have considered it.

    And on consideration, I conclude the concept I described would come to me pretty naturally, as I said.

    You can think I’m wrong; that’s OK.
    If you have reasons for thinking I’m wrong, I’m interested in them.

    I should perhaps add that I also suspect that I would, in that hypothetical world, conclude that the concept I described is sufficiently unlikely to describe any actual entity that I do best to act as though it didn’t. (The same conclusion I came to about that concept in the real world, after it was proposed to me.)

    I agree that it’s hubristic to assume that the referent for the concept I described cares about me, or my species, or my planet, more than it cares about other people, other species, and other planets.

    It has not been my experience that the hubris associated with an idea anticorrelates reliably with that idea’s likelihood of occurring to me.

  • hapax

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?What can be true that does not contain truth?What can be real which does not reflect reality?

    Wow, that’s a surprisingly complicated question. 

    My answers might sound flippant, but they are meant to be sincere.  To “unpack” them might take a longer reply than you are patient with, so let me know if you want me to dig further:

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?  An unproven or disproven hypothesis.

    What can be true that does not contain truth?  That which is contained by truth.

    What can be real which does not reflect reality?
    That which reality reflects.

  • malpollyon

    hapax, do you happen to know if your definition of “true” has a standard philosophical label? For example would you endorse any of these accounts of truth?