Ongoing blogalog

The blogalog with John Henry continues.

Round 1:  John’s first, my first

Round 2: John’s

Hey John.

There’s a lot here.  Forgive me if I jump right in.

You speak about the burden of proof.  I’m going to quote you specifically throughout this email so you know exactly to what I’m responding.

In any honest conversation, the burden of proof is on the person attempting to convince the other, and in a two-way conversation like this, the burden of supporting our assertions is on both of us.

How am I to prove that god doesn’t exist?  If something doesn’t exist, what more evidence could I possibly have other than the absence of any evidence for that thing?

Let’s try it this way.  Let’s have a two-way conversation over whether or not you’re a murderer.  I think you are.  I’ve provided no evidence other than I think you look like a murderer and I really feel you’re a murderer.  Convince me you’re not.  How would you do it?

I will start by defining God as the first cause of the universe (or multiverse, if you’re one of those string-theory folks.)

There’s a lot to say here.  First, is this your only definition of god?  No intelligence?  No all-wise, no all-good?  No male or female?  You said you were a Catholic, and standard Catholic beliefs have a great deal more to say about god than, “It was the first cause.”

Anyway, even if I were to concede that our universe had a first cause (this would say nothing about what preceded our universe), so what?  You cannot just point to something we observe and say that it’s god.  You can’t point to lightning and say that lightning exists and it’s god, therefore god exists.  You can’t point to a tree and say that the tree exists and it’s god, therefore god exists.  Redefining words doesn’t bring any guiding intelligence into them.

Anyway, as far as the infinite regression problem goes.  Even if I were to concede that everything required a cause (which I don’t, and neither do physicists, see probability clouds, decay of a radioactive nucleus, virtual particles, etc.), our two options are, as you said, either something at some point spontaneously began to exist or something existed forever.  Let’s examine both options.

1.  Something existed forever.

Ok, why isn’t it matter and the laws of physics?  Those things create order all by themselves over time.  What’s more; we know they exist.  If you want to call matter and the laws of physics god, fine, but that’s just a different definition for completely natural things.  You don’t get to smuggle a bunch of supernatural qualities in afterward.

You also can’t say that we know of nothing that can exist forever and then immediately postulate something that existed forever.  Things either can exist forever or not.  Pick one.

2.  Something existed without a cause.

Ok, why isn’t it matter and the laws of physics?  We know they exist.

You may respond that we know of nothing that can exist without a cause (which isn’t true), but there was a time when we didn’t know how earthquakes could happen via natural causes.  “What could move the earth but god?” asked the theologians before saying that it must be god.  Of course, our understanding of nature evolved, and once again “god” was replaced by natural causes.  This has been a pattern that has saturated our history.

And that’s just the thing.  We started out understanding nothing about the operation of the universe.  Ever since that time everything we have explained, literally everything, has been found to be the product of mindless forces acting on inanimate objects.  You might call these mindless forces “god”, but that would only make you an atheist with a wonky definition of natural phenomenon.

So let’s be honest; nobody knows what happened before the Big Bang.  I don’t.  You don’t.  Physicists don’t.  But we do know how all kinds of things after it happened, and none of them point to god.  Literally none.  Now, you may say that god is whatever caused the Big Bang, but by doing so you’re saying that god is what you don’t know.  So you’re either developing a reverence for your ignorance, or you’re saying that because you’re ignorant of something that you have knowledge about it.  Neither of these are good ways to formulate beliefs.

I wrote earlier that existence does not make sense to me without God – without a first cause. In other words, a godless universe (a universe without a cause) is literally inconceivable.

And what is your solution?  Something that required no cause?

Every phenomenon in the universe, as we know it, is contingent – it owes its existence to something else.

You are wrong about this.  But even if you weren’t, what does this tell you about god?  If you already believe that something can exist without a cause, why not matter and the laws of physics, which we know exist and which we know produce order all by themselves?

Consequently, as far as I can tell, a godless universe is a universe without a first cause, and thus a nonexistent universe. The phrase “godless universe” is as meaningful to me as the phrase “four-sided triangle.”

I rebut it thusly: as far as I can tell, a god is something without a first cause, and thus a nonexistent thing. The phrase “uncaused god” is as meaningful to me as the phrase “four-sided triangle.”

They’re your standards.  Either they apply or they don’t.  Pick one.

Now, when I spoke about sensing God’s presence, I wasn’t referring to a feeling of euphoria; I’ve had euphoric feelings outside the context of communion with God. What I was referring to was a pervasive sense that someone was there with me, every moment of my life. I’m sure you’ve thought you were by yourself in a room and suddenly sensed that someone else was there.

Yes, I have.  But I only accepted their presence once it was confirmed and not a moment sooner.  I’ve also been in an empty room where I felt there was someone else present, but there wasn’t.  This is the whole point.  Our feelings must be tempered by evidence.

Call it intuition, or a subconscious response to clues you weren’t aware of noticing – the feeling of not-being-alone is a very distinct feeling. I have never in my life felt truly alone, and that is probably the biggest reason I am not an atheist, as I was raised to be.

This confirms only the feeling.  It does not confirm that there is actually somebody there.  Also, “clues you weren’t aware of noticing” are not evidence.  They’re not even something you’re aware of, so how can you cite them as evidence?

Consider for a moment you were telling me of other feelings.  What if you felt that there was a talking fish in your house?  Or that aliens were monitoring your every move?  Just like the person in the room you claim to feel now, there is no evidence for these things.  In cases where a person feels one thing but the evidence is lacking (or in opposition to his intuition), a wise man concludes that his intuition is wrong.

I tried, constantly, to tell myself what you are, in essence, though in gentler words, telling me now: that I was delusional, and that I should ignore my delusions.

What you should do is realize that there is a better explanation for them.  All human beings have impulses and intuitions that prove incorrect.  We must be willing to realize that feelings can be undeserving of merit, which I wager you’ve done with plenty of other feelings.  It does not make you a freak.  It makes you like any other human being.

Consider this: I’ve been very public about my psychological disorders (thanks to the god you say loves me giving me a malfunctioning brain).  I actually do, at times, see things that aren’t there.  This is more than euphoric, fuzzy feelings – I actually see them and can confirm them through one of my physical senses.  This is more personal evidence than you have.  And yet, who could argue that once the evidence was evaluated (including the fact that others cannot see what I see), that I should continue to believe that these things are there?

You may respond that others feel what you feel, but you’re wrong.  If I set up a painting and had twenty people look at it, they would all be able to stare and confirm several specifics.  What are god’s qualities?  How tall is he?  What does he want from humanity?  Virtually every person who feels god disagrees, which means, at minimum, virtually all of them are misguided.  Why not all of them?

About the optical illusion I gave as an example of how our senses can, and do, deceive us, you said…

You say that this is a better explanation for my experience than that God really is present. I disagree. It is a better explanation given the assumption that philosophical materialism is true, which is not quite the same thing.

Why not make that assumption?  We appear to live in a materialistic world.  Even if god does exist, he created you with senses bound to materialistic input (sight, smell, taste, sound, tactile response, etc.).  He created a world with disease, predatory animals that think humans are delicious, tornadoes, limited food, etc., where you must use those senses, not any reliance on the supernatural, in order to navigate all his obstacles.

For instance, people do not send psychic messages to their friends, they dial their phone.  People do not fly by telekinesis, we build airplanes.  And sickness is fought by taking someone to a doctor to receive medicine based entirely in materialistic philosophy, rather than prayer (and when you do pray over sickness without recourse to medicine, people die).  Reliance on the supernatural would have led us the way of the dodo ages ago.  But reliance on materialism allows us to exchange emails.

So the evidence is abundant that we live in a materialistic universe, not a universe where supernatural forces affect anything.  Do you have any evidence to the contrary?  If not, by your own assertion, my explanation for your experiences (being another natural flaw in the brain that causes you to put too much stock in feelings) is the better one.

What’s more, why would a god make unraveling the mysteries of this world, something we must do in order to survive all the avenues to death with which he littered the world, and then hide his existence from those senses?  If he wants to know you, why wouldn’t he appeal to your natural senses?  Is god’s existence not a more relevant fact than the softness of carpet?  If so, why did he makes the softness of carpet plain, and choose to reveal himself to you through a nebulous feeling (the same feelings, I’d wager, that lead people to all kinds of wonky and conflicting conclusions about the nature of god)?  This god that you’re describing appears indifferent to the idea of knowing anybody, which is exactly what a godless universe would look like.

And lastly, is there any belief that can’t be defended by saying “Yes, you would be right as long as you assume the laws of nature and logic are consistent.”?  If you have to argue that one of those standards was relaxed in your favor in order to defend your position, it may be time to re-think a few things.

I would say, rather, that delusion is the way materialists explain away supernatural phenomena.

Explain away?  You have so far told me you have feelings.  That’s not a supernatural phenomena.

These explanations seem inadequate to me in part because I am not, so far as I can tell, prone to any other kinds of delusions.

But you are prone to error.  It’s part of the human condition.  The squares on the checkerboard appeared to be different colors, for instance.

But my main objection is that discounting my experiences as delusions requires me to discount my sense impressions of reality, which I’m generally disinclined to do without very good reason.

I have no doubt you are sincere when describing these feelings.  I simply think you poorly concluded what has caused them.  What I am saying is that your feelings look more like the product of your natural brain than a god reaching out to you.

I’m all for skepticism, but it is not (and should not be) the default approach to all experiences. (That would mean virtual paralysis.)

Skepticism is not the same as doubting to the point of never changing your mind.  If you told me you owned a nuclear surfboard, I would be skeptical since such an object isn’t known to exist.  This is not anything close to paralysis, because if you showed me the surfboard, I’d change my mind.  Skepticism means withholding judgment until good evidence is presented.  Feelings are simply not good evidence.  They’re not good evidence for the two squares on the checkerboard being the same and they’re not good evidence for a god reaching out to someone.And not all claims should be met with the same level of skepticism.  Consider the following propositions:

1. I own a car.
2. I own a nuclear bomb.
3. I own an interstellar spacecraft.

Not only are these statements (or beliefs, if you really subscribed to them) progressively unlikely to be true, but in order for any sane person to accept them as true requires increasingly more evidence. If admonished with the first one, it is easy to accept it as true because lots of people own cars. If I claimed the second, you’d need more evidence since, even though they exist, very few people own nuclear bombs.  However, once you get to the last one, you would need an inordinate amount of evidence, more than the nuclear bomb, to confirm that I own an interstellar spacecraft.

In your case, you have flat out said that your case resides on the existence of forces that have never, to my knowledge, been witnesses, tested, or confirmed.  This makes them indistinguishable from imagination.  If you have any evidence for the supernatural, by all means present it.

My claim is that you are wrong about what causes your feelings that, you say, are caused by god.  Intuition is frequently wrong, and is revealed to be wrong by examining where it clashes with the evidence.  Lots of people say they feel things about god that both of us agree simply cannot be the true.  In this, human error is not very different from people owning cars in terms of probability.

On the other hand, you are saying that a god for which no evidence exists outside of your feelings, is trying to reveal himself to you in a fashion indistinguishable from the errors of plenty of others, and through means that evade the senses he gave us.  Are you beginning to see which of us is the car and which is the interstellar spacecraft?

Sure, I could ponder the question of whether all other people were merely sophisticated robots, designed for my benefit, and programmed to act as if they were real people with real thoughts and feelings; certainly the world I live in is exactly what I would expect to see, were that the case. But it seems a simpler and more natural explanation that they are real people, more or less like me.

The idea that we’re not robots also has the benefit of having all the evidence supporting it as a conclusion.  What would you say to someone who said they felt like people were robots?  Would you believe the person admonishing you that being around robots is a different feeling from being around people, and that they cannot imagine how they could be deluded when they feel it so strongly?  The answer is simple: you would tell them that their intuition does not, and should not, trump the evidence.

By the same token, it makes sense to me to treat my experiences of communion with God as what they seem to be.

Can you describe these experiences of communion with god?  Are they just feelings of his presence, or does god speak back?  If so, how?  Maybe I could come over sometime when he’s there and I could ask him a few questions?You and I right now?  We’re in communion.  It’s palpable for everybody else to see.  We could rely on others to confirm that our senses were not deceiving us.  Isn’t it just a bit strange how god has placed infinitely more importance on your ability to be reliably in communion with me than with him?  Maybe he wants you to listen to me.  ;)

I confess that I have no idea what you were trying to say with this paragraph.

Your picture of the shadowed chessboard is a great illustration of what we’re talking about. On one level, the pixels on my computer screen in both areas are displaying light at the exact same frequency. However, the illustration is a representation of a more fundamental and solid reality: that of a chessboard with a figure on it casting a shadow. Despite the fact that the pixels in this illustration glow with the same colors, our minds see past that, and perceive the reality behind the illustration: that the chessboard being illustrated has squares in alternating colors, some of which are shadowed by an object blocking the primary source of light. You say that my mind is fooled into seeing two sets of the same color as being different; I say my mind has correctly assessed the objects being represented, and that the two squares being illustrated are actually of different colors – this illustration’s limitations notwithstanding. Fixating on the pixels in the illustration, rather than on the reality of the objects being represented, would make it impossible for me to understand the actual objects or to play a game of chess online.

You seem to be saying something that is demonstrably the case (the two squares are the same color) is not the case.  But surely that can’t be what you’re saying.

Your second objection was to my statement that God wants you to know him. The substance of your objection (and please correct me if I am misrepresenting your argument somehow) is that an all-knowing and all-powerful God could eliminate all confusion about his existence and nature at any time he wished, and would do so if he actually wanted us to get to know him.

I’ll say you’re not entirely right.  Here’s what I said.

You say that, “The best I can do is tell you that he’s amazing, and that he loves you, and he wants you to get to know him.”  You didn’t provide any evidence for this, but it seems clear that this is not the case.

The god you describe as amazing is the same god that has decided the best way to communicate his existence is through a means that creates mass confusion and war, and that looks indistinguishable from a misattribution of causation for euphoric feelings in the brain.  That’s not very amazing.

You also said god loves me, which I would later address.  But my rebuttal to the idea that god wants to get to know me was completely uncoupled from any idea of a loving god.  I simply pointed out that if he wanted to get to know me (or you), that he was going about it in very foolish and ineffective ways.  In fact, the means god has employed for me to know him have, thus far, been indistinguishable from a godless universe.  It’s easy to see where god could have done a better job at getting to know me, but very difficult to see how he could possibly have done worst.

If I want to get to know someone, I walk over and introduce myself.  God has displayed a plan for getting to know me less that betrays an inferior competence to every single person who has ever gotten to know either of us, John.  If I accept your premise that god wants to get to know me, then god is either less competent than humans (in which case, why call him god?), or he doesn’t exist.

This is a variation of the problem-of-evil argument

No it’s not.  Unless you’re referring to my response to your claim that god loves me, in which case that premise is all yours.

First, as you pointed out, God’s intellect is superior to mine. Have you ever changed your mind about the wisdom of a course of action after learning new information? Given that, it certainly makes sense that what might seem a wise course of action to you, given the limited set of information and limited perspective you have, would seem like folly if you were omniscient. It is not just possible, but likely that an omniscient God‘s ideas about how best to establish relationships with us would differ from our own.

First, you should establish that god exists before waxing on about his incredible wisdom.

Secondly, is there any act so outlandishly foolish it that cannot be excused by saying, “Yes, it appears god is really dumb here, but he’s wiser than us so there must be an explanation we don’t know about”?  Ordinarily doing dumb things would impact our impression of someone’s wisdom, but not for god.

He wants to get to know me by masking his existence?  Sounds counterproductive, but god’s got a plan (a good plan, mind you).

He shows love for me by giving me a malfunctioning brain that has created a great deal of pain in my life?  Nah, just wait it out.  The dude’s brilliant and doesn’t want you to suffer…even though he’s made you suffer.

Jews into ovens without god lifting a finger?  Yeah, one would normally conclude that god either is apathetic (not a very lovey quality) or doesn’t exist.  But if you just assume god exists and you assume he loves people and you assume he’s wise, then you’ll see how even though something he’s done seems smash-your-head-into-sharp-objects stupid to us, that god has some super wise justification that I, the person defending his wisdom, am just too dumb to see.

At what point is god’s idea of love so diametrically different from our own that we can conclude he doesn’t seem to love anybody?  We can certainly say that god’s love is identical to human indifference/malice, which is an odd conclusion to reach about a being who is supposed to be better than we.

Well John, human standards for wisdom/idiocy or love/indifference are all we have to work with.  If god exists, he made us that way.  They’re also the standards that you, presumably, have used to establish he loves us.  If those standards point to god being indifferent (or even malicious) then the best conclusion we humans can come up with is that your assertion, that god loves us, is flat out wrong.

First, he wants us to love one another, and to do that, we must interact with one another.  That’s why we see God sending Jonah with a message to the Ninevites, rather than just shouting down at them directly. It’s not that he created the Ninevites with broken brains that were unable to hear him

If he were to give us all the same message, how would that prevent us from interacting with each other?So if god told them, why not tell me?  Why plop his true prophets in with all kinds of people throughout history who were either wrong or lying, counting on his followers to say, “God spoke to me!  He’s not going to speak to you, but he spoke to me and you need to listen to what I have to say.”?

If god gave a real message to the Ninevites, why didn’t he give them some way to distinguish themselves from all the others in terms of credibility?  Why didn’t he give them some good evidence that god existed?

You and I both already agree that tons of people throughout history have claimed to bear a message from god and have been mistaken.  How do I know the Ninevites were not in the same boat?

The god you describe is a god so inept he cannot formulate a better plan than thousands of fringe cults.  An inept god could not construct a universe.  It is not the god you’re describing.

Also, one of the best ways to make something meaningful is to make it a mystery. Something you work for (or at least suffer for) has more value than something that is given to you as a matter of course.

Hold on a minute.  God wants to know me, but now I have to work for it?Making himself a mystery is also a great way to not get to know people.  Yet you’ve told me that god does want to get to know me.  Which is it?

Also, by making himself mysterious, god’s making it look like he doesn’t exist.  Why would god make it look like he didn’t exist unless he either really didn’t exist or he didn’t want you to believe in him?  You’re shooting yourself in the foot with this mystery stuff.

The central question of faith is a personal relationship.  It’s not about believing that God exists (there’s nothing especially noble about holding an honest opinion one way or the other) any more than saying that you have faith in your friend means you believe your friend exists.

You and I have a personal relationship.  If someone asked you why you believed I exist you would immediately say a lot of different things.  What you would not say is, “because I have faith JT exists.”  You have good reasons and good evidence that I exist.You would not say you feel that I exist.  Ditto for your best friend.  Ditto your siblings.

You would not say “JT has all of these qualities” to answer the question of my existence.  Ditto for your best friend.  Ditto your siblings.

Personal relationships are not a matter of faith.  They’re what it really looks like when you can interact with someone.  This is not what you have with god.  If you doubt this, we can have an evidence-off!  I’ll provide evidence that my girlfriend exists and you can provide evidence god exists and we can compare.

You might say you have faith in your friend as an expression of optimism that they can accomplish something, but you would no more use faith to confirm their existence than you would cite faith as your reason for believing a wall exists.  You can touch a friend, you can speak to them and have them speak back.  You can hug them.

Having faith in someone means trusting them.

But not trusting that they exist to the exclusion of any evidence.  While a friend’s actions may be uncertain, their existence (if you’re not delusional) is a matter of fact easily confirmed by evidence.

The best a Christian can do, for an atheist like you, is offer you an invitation – to say, in essence, that there is some reason to believe that there is an uncaused cause that created the universe. That his own experience, and that of billions of other people, is that this entity can be known personally, and has told us that he loves and wants to know you too. That he invites you to knock at his door – to kneel down in private and talk to him honestly for a bit – and see what happens. That although he’s not yours to command, and he probably won’t be giving you a personal miracle under carefully controlled laboratory conditions on demand, he has promised that if you ask for the Holy Spirit, you will receive it.

Evidence.  Please give me evidence.  It is not sufficient to lecture me merely on what you believe.  The only relevant thing is why you believe it.

 I never said that God is a precondition for free will.


A person with no free will can be made to trust in God, but if he is to have free will, there must be room for a choice to be made.

In my opening I argued that we do not have free will in what we believe.

I do not choose my beliefs.  I cannot choose them.  The brain is an engine that generates a map of reality based on what facts are rattling about inside.  It is the reason if I were to walk to the edge of a rooftop that I could not convince myself that gravity stopped working by sheer force of will.  I cannot simply choose to believe the apparently absurd.  My brain won’t let me (not would I want to choose to believe something ludicrous even if I could).  If god exists then this is the brain with which he made me.  It makes no sense then, to say that he expects me to do what he specifically made impossible.

You didn’t respond to this, so it continues to be my answer to your assertion that god’s existence must be nebulous for us to have a choice.  All the same, even if we had evidence that god existed we could still choose whether or not to follow him (or to trust him).  This doesn’t rescue the complete lack of decent evidence for god’s existence.

A simple, easy, irrefutable, universal proof that God is good and all-powerful would kind of make trusting him irrelevant, wouldn’t it?

No, it would just make it a smart decision.  But we’d still be able to decide.You’re using free will, in this case, to white wash the abundance of evidence that if god does exist he is weak and indifferent at best (malicious at worst).  Only some of this evidence has been detailed for you and your responses, in all honesty, have been bad.

God is, I believe, a precondition for existence

Why does existence require god?

I’ve tried to answer your email in full without getting too sidetracked, which means that I may have misunderstood you or completely overlooked something important in the process. If I have, I beg your pardon and your patience in pointing out to me where I’ve gone wrong.

I actually do appreciate that.  It is not uncommon in these discussions for the religious half to completely ignore what I’ve said and move on to other arguments.  For the most part you’ve not done that, and I’m grateful.To help keep that trend alive, here are some challenges on the table from this email.

1.  In our hypothetical conversation in which I accuse you of being a murderer, who has the burden of proof?  If it’s up to you to convince me you’re not a murderer, how would you do it?

2.  For things we don’t know (like what caused the universe), why do you get to label them as god rather than saying, “I don’t know”?  For instance, all explanations throughout history have shown natural causation.  If the historical trend is 100% in favor of natural explanations, and we can just apply labels to what we don’t know, why not call the first cause “nature?”

3.  If you say nothing can exist without a cause, how do you get around god supposedly having no cause?  If you believe that things can exist without a cause, why is it god, which nobody has ever seen, and not matter and the laws of physics which are everywhere?  (Fair warning: I’ve done this enough to anticipate the “anything that comes into existence has a cause” escape, but didn’t want to put words in your mouth by addressing it yet.  I’m drooling waiting for it though. :P)

4.  The standards to which you’re holding my case do not seem to be the same standards to which you’re holding your case (see the point directly above this one).  Why the inconsistency?

5.  Why would god give you feelings (and give others contradictory feelings) as the only evidence for his existence when he’s made it clear that feelings are often in error and must be corrected by the evidence?

6.  If god wants to know either of us, why has he given us irrefutable proof of the inconsequential and nowhere near that kind of evidence for his existence (which, presumably, is a much more important fact)?

7.  We seem to live in a materialistic world.  I listed off plenty of evidence for this (and the evidence is as simple as looking at what has shaped our world).  Why do you believe otherwise?  Do you have any evidence?

8.  Can you admit that you are at least prone to error?  You must be if the two squares on the checkerboard appear as different colors to you.

9.  Can we agree that skepticism does not equal paralysis?

10.  If you think faith in god is the same as faith in a friend, shall we compare the evidence for my girlfriend’s existence against your proof of god’s existence?

11.  Do you have some standard other than human standards of wise/foolish or loving/malicious by which to evaluate god?  If so, how did you acquire them?  If not, how can you possibly say god is both wise and loving?

12.  Why does god speak to others, giving them proof of his existence (of the same sort you suggested would violate our free will and take the mystery out of things), but not to me?  Why do so many people (far and away the majority) think god has spoken to them and get it wrong?



About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • kevinbutler

    Absolutely nothing to do with the post itself, but for all of those interested in JT’s team debate with Matt Dillahunty…HERE HAVE A VIDEO:

  • Jasper T

    In any honest conversation, the burden of proof is on the person attempting to convince the other, and in a two-way conversation like this, the burden of supporting our assertions is on both of us.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s not how the burden of proof works. He just decided to redefine it on the fly.

    Person A is making the claim, and has the burden of proof. If person B is trying to convince person A that the burden is not met – while that also has a burden, all it requires is to point out the lack of evidence and reason supporting person A’s position.

    It’s still up to person A to substantiate his/her/its claim.

  • Timid Atheist

    Consider for a moment you were telling me of other feelings. What if you felt that there was a talking fish in your house? Or that aliens were monitoring your every move?

    Or consider memory smells or sounds or touches. There have been times where I will be in a room and swear I smell something, only to sniff again and not smell anything at all or smell something completely different. The senses are not infallible.

  • Jasper T

    These explanations seem inadequate to me in part because I am not, so far as I can tell, prone to any other kinds of delusions.

    Delusion doesn’t necessarily mean “hallucination”.

    Thinking that you’re more awesome than you are is a delusion.
    Thinking that you’re going to win the lottery this Saturday is a delusion.
    Thinking that bats are a kind of bird is a delusion.

    We’re prone to biases, priming, interpretation errors, memory errors, cognitive errors, etc.

    That’s why evidence must be objective. There’s so much error in the human mind/brain that any “indicators” that exist only in a mind have an insurmountably high error margin.

  • Jasper T

    God is, I believe, a precondition for existence

    What does it mean to exist? Can a god exist before existence? Does that even make sense?

    He seems to have set up a paradox.

  • theschwa

    10. If you think faith in god is the same as faith in a friend, shall we compare the evidence for my girlfriend’s existence against your proof of god’s existence?

    Evidence of girlfriend, not so hard.
    Evidence of a Canadian girlfriend requires a lot of evidence.
    Evidence of a Canadian girlfriend you met at camp last summer and who moved even further away requires significantly more evidence.

  • Icy Cantu

    “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” -Matthew 5:21-22

    Jesus (the Son of God) said that being angry with your brother or calling him a fool are the equivalent of murder. This is why repentance is a necessary prerequisite to forgiveness. Without the mercy and forgiveness of God, we are all doomed.

    That is the amazing thing about scripture. Knowing that Jesus is the Truth gives Christians a decided advantage over those who build on sand. We know that even if we mess up, as long as we own up to our mistakes, He forgives us.

    By the way, you might consider revising your mission statement…

    “There’s nothing in our mission statement about tearing down religion.” -J.T. Eberhard


    “For all of you wondering why we fight religion, this is why. It’s because the pulpit is the portal through which the moral failings of the first century find their way into ours.” -J.T. Eberhard


    • cag

      “There’s nothing in our mission statement about tearing down religion.” -J.T. Eberhard

      What has this blog got to do with the SSA? It would be like PZ being maligned because his blog is not designed to solely promote UMM*.

      JT is much more civil than I would be in demolishing the bankrupt ideas of goddists. Quoting the bible to people that understand that the bible is the least trustworthy book ever printed is totally unconvincing. Religion is a joke, but it is no longer funny, so you can quit your act of piety. Go practice your disgusting religion with the other haters (luke 14:26). Obviously if you hate yourself then “loving” your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) makes me fortunate to not be your neighbor.

      * University of Minnesota Morris

    • Stephanie Zvan

      Icy! How nice of you to take time out of not being able to respond to arguments in another thread to post a complete non sequitur here.

    • Desert Son, OM

      Icy Cantu! Back and better than ever!

      Jesus (the Son of God)

      Evidence required (on three accounts, incidentally: existence of Jesus, status as son of god, existence of a god. Any god. With or without offspring).

      said that being angry with your brother or calling him a fool are the equivalent of murder.

      Then if he really did exist, and really did say that, Jesus had what I would politely describe as a “problem of perspective.” Murder is the equivalent of murder. Being angry is the equivalent of being angry. Calling someone a fool is the equivalent of calling someone a fool (you could generalize this one somewhat to say it’s the equivalent of labeling someone with an insult, for example, but you do have to take care when generalizing).

      To say that calling someone a fool is equivalent to murder is a false equivalency. Other examples include: “Feeding tropical fish is the equivalent of embezzling millions of dollars” or “Taking piano lessons is the equivalent of sacking Constantinople in 1453.”

      Regardless, if Jesus really did exist, it’s clear from that quote that he was an only child, because it only takes a few days around a sibling to get to the “calling a fool” stage. And I say that as someone who loves his siblings.

      Without the mercy and forgiveness of God, we are all doomed.

      Does it strike you at all strange that the god offering mercy and forgiveness is the same god responsible in the first place for the circumstances that require petitioning for mercy and forgiveness?

      We know that even if we mess up, as long as we own up to our mistakes, He forgives us.

      So, just to clarify, the as-yet-un-evidenced god that created the circumstances that would allow transgression to happen in the first place, including the will to transgress, will forgive transgressors if the transgressors take responsibility for transgressions that can ultimately be laid at the feet of the god that created the conditions in the first place?

      Got it.

      By the way, you might consider revising your mission statement…

      Oh, I see what you’re confused about there. Yeah, see JT’s blog, What Would JT Do?, and its content do not reflect the opinions of the Secular Student Alliance, which JT makes clear in the disclaimer box just under the headline banner.

      Still learning,


    • Daniel Schealler

      Icy, if you want to persuade atheists that you are correct, you need to change your approach to be in line with how we form beliefs.

      I spoke about this with you earlier, but you may have already abandoned that thread at the time I posted.

      Rather than re-posting, I’d just like to draw your attention to that comment.

      In that comment I lay my cards on the table, and show you how to argue against myself, or an atheist like myself, in such a way that we would have no choice but to update our beliefs to become consistent with your claims.

      It’s not that hard: You just need to argue from the other direction.

    • ah58

      “Jesus (the Son of God) said that being angry with your brother or calling him a fool are the equivalent of murder.”

      And you believe that shit? What if you brother got drunk, beat your mother and put her in the hospital? YOU are to be punished for being angry with him?

      Your book demands that you feel guilty for normal things and tells you you’re evil and worthless because of it. The only way to out of it is to BEG an imaginary friend to forgive you.

      Your church declares that you’re that you’re sick and they’re the only cure. *That* is what’s evil.

    • Forbidden Snowflake

      Jesus (the Son of God) said that being angry with your brother or calling him a fool are the equivalent of murder.

      And this, despite steep competition, is one of the stupidest fucking things about Christianity.
      Really, any human being would be much better off with someone getting angry at them than with someone murdering them. The difference in impact on human well-being is immense between anger and murder. For a deity to consider these things equivalent it would have to not give the tiniest fuck about human well-being, and therefore not be a loving god.

    • Robert B.

      That’s a rather disturbing fantasy story. Your villain characters sound like classic abusers with a little good-cop-bad-cop on the side. The whole “I’ll inflict the same infinitely horrible torture on you for any infraction, large or small, so you better ask nice for me to forgive you” thing is really creepy. Is this story original, or is it fanfiction for something?

      (Oh, and by the way, why did you post it here? This thread is about providing evidence and justification for believing things.)

    •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

      Knowing that Jesus is the Truth gives Christians a decided advantage over those who build on sand.

      Still avoiding my question so you can post more Bible quotes, eh?

      I’ll phrase it another way. It’s still a two-part question, though. What makes you so sure that the Bible reflects the mind of God, and could you be mistaken?

      I have more questions, but they depend on your answers to this (which I’m confident I’ll never see).

    • Jasper T


      Could you tell me why you cite bible quotes at us?

      Do you think they’re convincing? Is it an appeal to authority of some kind? Or is it just procedure?

    • theschwa


      Wait, which Jesus?

      (the Son of God)

      Oh…THAT Jesus.

  • Rory

    “Are you beginning to see which of us is the car and which is the interstellar spacecraft?”


  • Erin Branscome

    Consider this: I’ve been very public about my psychological disorders (thanks to the god you say loves me giving me a malfunctioning brain). I actually do, at times, see things that aren’t there. This is more than euphoric, fuzzy feelings – I actually see them and can confirm them through one of my physical senses. This is more personal evidence than you have. And yet, who could argue that once the evidence was evaluated (including the fact that others cannot see what I see), that I should continue to believe that these things are there?

    This, this, this.

    In Dec. of 2010, I nearly died. That’s not hyperbole. I spent a month in ICU and several months in the hospital recovering. The experience utterly changed my life in many ways, but the relevant discovery here is: I will never trust personal experience again, myself or someone else’s.

    The first week, as I was clinging to life and in and out of awareness, I completely believed that I had been kidnapped, the nurses were trying to kill me, and my father had a stroke. I heard and saw the head nurse kill five cops and drag their bodies away. I heard them tell me my father was dying (and it was my fault). I believed the TV was talking to me and that I could communicate with my captors through the set by moving my hand. And on and on. Even as the people around me tried to tell me what was reallty going on. As time went on, I realized that I was hallucinating, that none of that had happened, but it was so real. I knew it like I knew my own name. It took over two weeks for me to shake it off.

    It’s hard to communicate fully how it felt. But I do know that I will never, ever trust, “I can feel God with me,” or even, “I saw ________” as any sort of evidence for the existence of the supernatural.

    • Hypatia’s Daughter

      Paranoid hallucinations are a side-effect of morphine (I think it is morphine). Both my mother and a good friend had terrible hallucinations, just like yours, when they were given morphine, post-surgery. And I would have appreciated a warning from the hospital staff that this was a possible side effect

      • drdave (not the dr. dave who writes for WWJTD)

        First person annecdote, so it is not evidence. That only happens when you stack them up and they become statistics. Under morphine after surgery, the nurses ordered pizza and were getting ready to burn down the hospital wing I was in. They finished the pizza and were getting ready to lock the doors and leave.

  • Spencer

    I love this. You’re demonstrating that we can tear arguments apart and still have a civil discussion.

    Whether our words wear bow ties or brass knuckles, logic, reasoning, and the overwhelming piles of evidence bear out our position.

  • Sandro

    Yeah I don’t know…. I’d still like to see the debate with CL. It would have been ten tines better than this stuff. This is like low hanging fruit, not very good for the audience. In my opinion.

    • B-Lar

      The low hanging fuit it might be, but thats what the people with no ladders will be picking!

      Without trying to blow anyone’s trumpet, and in my opinion, what JT does particularly skillfully is refine his responses to all the commonly asked questions. After he has his position clear in his mind he can be flexible with his metaphors (so as not to stagnate) and remain calm (so as not to offend).

      This demonstrates method which even the well-skilled can benefit from seeing, while also ever reinforcing critical thinking basics. I can watch great skill repeatedly perform the same menial task again and again all day long. Its like poetry.

    • JT Eberhard

      The arguments he’s using are the same ones the “sophisticated theologians” are using, just without all the obfuscating language.

      Yes, it’s low-hanging fruit, but it’s the only fruit on the tree.

      • MattDonald

        What a lie! I was just over at Cl’s blog, how can you say this is the only fruit on the tree when that guy is practically begging to debate you? You’re only reply is that he is a “troll” but the guy is obviouslly better than what you’re currently arguing with.

        Hate to say it, but dodging does kinda make it look like you’re afraid.

  • B-Lar

    Work that keyboard JT! You got it goin’ on!

    No seriously, though. That was pretty inspirational.

  • stevenbey

    JT, are you Hitch’s second coming?

    • JT Eberhard

      If I ever get to be a fraction as good as Hitch, I’ll die happy.

      As good as him? Not a chance. Not ever. The man was a legend.

  • JT Eberhard

    I’m honestly two steps away from banning Icy Cantu for god-botting.


    • Daniel Schealler

      Personally, I want to try and get a response out of zir regarding the post I made to zir the other day about evidence and the appropriate way of appealing to an atheist to change their beliefs.

      I haven’t had a personal response back from Icy yet, so I’d be a bit sad to see zem go.

      But that’s just a personal goal of mine, and I totally understand if it’s not persuasive enough for you or the rest of the commenters to tolerate what is, admittedly, god-botting with an otherwise total lack of engagement with our counter-points. Particularly given that I’m probably very unlikely to get back any form of response at all despite my naive optimism to the contrary.

      Your call, methinks. I’d like to hold out for a bit longer for personal reasons, but it has gotten to the point where the banhammer is justified. I’ll support your decision either way.

      • Makoto

        Yeah, right now I’m still hoping for some responses beyond more bible quotes and YouTube music videos. Icy is kind of boring right now, but maybe with enough responses about engaging us, something will happen.

        I’m not holding my breath, but I’d also like to wait a bit longer before any bans are brought out.

    • Rory

      I would be in favor of keeping him/her around if the quality of the youtube clips improves. For instance, there’s a great video of ever face punch in the movie ‘Road House,’ and that’s the sort of thing that would really allow me to be okay with the godbotting.

      Come to think of it, the reception Icy gets with every post kind of reminds me of the face punching montage.

    • Parse

      Personally, I’d put Icy on probation. Make a couple of reasonable rules for Icy to follow: no youtube videos, no Bible quotes, their comments must quote the part of the original post (or comment) that it’s in response to, and no drive-by posting (if they post in a thread, then they need to respond to the first two replies received). One strike, and they’re out.
      I’ve always pictured you as the cat-playing-with-its-food type, and this would give Icy enough rope to hang themself.

    • Desert Son, OM

      I do wonder if Icy Cantu has been “dispatched” by a religiously-affiliated spiritual adviser and/or superior to the heathen realms of the Intarnetz to “spread the good news.” It’s the digital age, after all, it follows that the “witnessing” would go digital, as well.

      Regardless, good question. I find myself (today, at least) ambivalent. The preaching is annoying, but I’ve posted why I think there may be value in counter-commenting against Icy Cantu’s nonsense.

      Still, the problem remains: at a certain point, it’s just noise, and the counter-comments that consistently blow Icy Cantu’s nonsense out of the water have been made. If there are others legitimately wondering about these issues, then they may reach a point where they stop reading Icy Cantu, too, because there’s no “there” there.

      I wish Daniel Schealler and Erulóra Maikalambe could get responses to their legitimate (and fantastic) questions. I’m hesitant to imagine that they are likely to receive anything other than more bible quotes, more sermons, though.

      Maybe the situation is already at the point of diminishing returns. At a certain stage, the noise coming in far exceeds the gradually decreasing signal coming in, and Icy Cantu didn’t start at a particularly high gain anyway.

      How about this? If there are any religious lurkers out there that have been asking questions about faith with sincerity and a willingness to honestly see where the questions lead, maybe send JT an email (no need to post publicly if you don’t feel comfortable, after all) and let JT know if Icy Cantu’s presence has been additive or subtractive to your evaluative framework.

      Still learning,