First comment: anonymous is illogical.

I’m getting an influx of religious readers to the blog.  Cool.  Welcome to all of you.

These religious readers are leaving comments.  Cool.  I’ll spend today responding to some of them.

The first comes from anonymous:

as a Christian myself, your comment gave me goose bumps. It is true. We Christians tend to make fools of ourselves by contradicting what we preach. Still, when all is said and done, God…not religion ….. is still ….. well, he still takes my breath away. Yes, it’s all so illogical but so is love, so are the animals…so is the sun rising and setting. It’s all very illogical but it’s there. We cannot raionalise it away. In Southb Africa, I experienced the occult first hand. Saw, felt and heard many things. If only I did, I would have thought i am crazy, however, others did too …..why am I mentioning this? Well, i know there are demons/evil spirits call it what you want, so, what else is out there that we find hard to believe? But it’s there.

This is what leaped out to me:

Yes, it’s all so illogical…

Yes, yes it is.  What’s more, if you must open with “my beliefs are illogical, but I’m going to believe in them anyway” then just how seriously do you take those beliefs?  If god wanted people to believe in him, why make a world where being logical makes everything better (you open your door by twisting the knob rather than by constantly trying to walk through it, for instance) and where being illogical usually hurts or at least makes you look like an idiot (try being illogical on tests in school), and then make belief in him illogical?  This seems like a god who is trying to open up doors to hell, not shut them.

…but so is love…

No, it’s not.  Love is a state of the brain not unlike happiness or sadness.  We know happiness or sadness exist because people behave in particular ways when their brain is in that state.  When people are happy, they smile and laugh.  When they are sad, they frown and cry.  And when someone is in love, they behave in a way that reveals that state of their mind.  That state of the brain may move us to do irrational things, but love is not irrational in the least.

Likewise, belief in god is a state of the brain, and no logical person (read: the people who care if they’re right…read: the opposite of illogical people) will deny that belief in god exists.  People clearly behave in a fashion that confirms their belief in god.  Of course, the belief in god says nothing to the existence of that god (otherwise every Muslim you came across would convince you).  Only logic applied to reason and evidence can accomplish that, otherwise people would be running around saying “Love is illogical, therefore unicorns!” or “Love is illogical, therefore a guy 2,000 years ago stacked 50 horses one on top of the other and carried them to Antarctica.”

In fact, think hard about that last one and tell me, honestly, if someone rising from the dead is more probable.

…so are the animals…

First, are you suggesting we should emulate animals?

Second, I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.  How are animals illogical?  Do you mean they have limited cognitive faculties so that they sometimes engage in sub-optimal behavior?  If so…yes, but that’s animals doing illogical things.  It doesn’t mean the existence of animals is illogical.  In fact, we have a whole discipline of science (biology) which makes sense of animals.

…so is the sun rising and setting.

No, it’s not.  The earth rotates on its axis, so from our vantage point it looks like the sun is rising and setting.  It’s actually very logical.

I feel like you’re equating logic with purpose on this one.  They’re not the same thing.

We cannot raionalise it away.

Nobody is trying to rationalize away the rising and setting of the sun or love.  We know it’s there.  What we want is to explain these things, which we would’ve been unable to do without logic.  Logic is how we distinguish what is true from what is false.  People who cast logic to the wind are going to be wrong far more often and easy to take advantage of.

Logic gave us the heliocentric model of the solar system.  It has helped us to understand much of the psychology and neurochemistry surrounding love.  Logic produces the most reliable of all human claims to knowledge.  Conversely, abandoning logic has given us every folly.  It’s clear into which category your god placed his existence.

In Southb Africa, I experienced the occult first hand. Saw, felt and heard many things. If only I did, I would have thought i am crazy, however, others did too

And yet you can provide no details, the way a person likely would if they really saw something that defied the laws of the universe.  You didn’t say “I saw a person grow a third hand after muttering the proper magic words.”  Your claim is very ambiguous, just “I saw the occult.”  There are videos on youtube of preachers healing “someone” somewhere in the country of some malady, and their congregations looking on wide-eyed.  Each would assure me they saw a miracle, when all they really saw was a guy saying that somewhere someone was being healed.  Praise Jesus.  Clearly the threshold for what constitutes a miracle can be pitifully low for those who already want to believe.

I am not one of those people.  Instead, I want my beliefs to be accurate.  I want to avoid being tricked into believing something false.  I would argue, anonymous, that this is precisely what you should want.  And the only way to make sure my beliefs are as accurate as possible is to apply critical thinking (read: logic) to everybody making a truth claim, because often times they will be wrong.

I find it far more likely you saw something easily explicable and are now reporting it to me as “the occult.”  Why?  Because we know people do this already.  But we’ve never seen someone grow a third hand after the proper incantations.  What’s more, even the people who claim specifics on this type of thing can never reproduce them.  Strange that.

I grew up in the 1980s, which were rife with claims of UFOs, always accompanied by fuzzy pictures or videos taken at night and lacking any real detail save for a strange shape and some lights.  Then video and picture-taking technology improved.  In fact, where once upon a time having a camera on a random person was pretty rare, now everybody has a smart phone that can take pictures.  And yet, claims of UFOs and pictures of them have decreased sharply, even though cameras are everywhere.  It’s clear that people were embellishing on things they saw and counting on the lack ability of other people to investigate to prop up those claims.  The people who eagerly believed them without further evidence, we know now, were suckers.

This is how I look at your claim of the occult.  You don’t even have a fuzzy picture, you just have a sketchy claim with no real evidence.  In an age where lots of people can take video on their phones, why do we have no videos of the occult?  I mean, we have videos of the most improbable, unlikely things.  Why not the occult?  Like with UFOs, I don’t wish to be a sucker.  Neither should you.

Well, i know there are demons/evil spirits call it what you want, so, what else is out there that we find hard to believe? But it’s there.

No, you don’t know that.  You have no evidence for that, and where there’s no evidence there is no knowledge.  And where you open by saying your beliefs are illogical, there’s surely no knowledge.  You are someone who has asserted (not admitted) that his beliefs are all-but-certainly wrong from the get-go, and that you somehow still believe you can advance them as truth.

This, of course, is the very nature of faith.  That is why it’s ugly.  It makes people illogical, wrong, and proud of it.

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.

  • Glodson

    I think that was actually Rozanna, based on the fact this person posted the same message in the same thread.

  • Art Vandelay

    Sun rises. Sun sets. You can’t explain that.

    • Glodson


      Now I shall take the day off.

      • SB

        Bill O’Reilly.

        • Glodson

          I cannot explain Bill O’Reilly beyond he’s really fucking stupid.

          • iknklast

            I don’t want to explain Bill O’Reilly. I just want Bill O’Reilly to go away. Surely there is some job he could do where he wouldn’t bother anyone? Like…oh, I don’t know…chicken plucking?

          • SB

            “I cannot explain Bill O’Reilly beyond he’s really fucking stupid.” Tru dat! ;)

            However, I’m not sure whether you’re aware that Art’s comment is a Bill O’Reilly quote.

          • Glodson

            @ SB

            Oh, I got the reference. The whole idea about the Tides was stupid. He even doubled down on the stupid when people explained that the tides were caused by the gravitational pull of the moon by saying something to the effect of “How did the moon get there? How do you explain that?”

            Again, my answer would be gravity.

    • Andrew Kohler

      At least Bill-O gave some great material to our favorite deity:

  • SB

    “You have no evidence for that, and where there’s no evidence there is no knowledge.”

  • baal

    The ‘illogical commenter’ could do with a few science classes mixed in with explainer videos that show how magic is done (hint, it’s all tricks and special props).

  • Mel

    I often hear Christians say that they’ve “felt God’s presence” therefore he has to be real. When I was a Christian, I had some really powerful experiences in worship service and believed that I was feeling the Holy Spirit. Since becoming an Atheist, I have had the exact same experience while seeing my favorite bands perform live or having a great conversation with friends or looking up at the stars and thinking about the universe. “Feeling God” in church is not a uniquely Christian experience, so it is not a convincing proof of his existence. Every culture can provide an example of “powerful experiences” whether it be a reaction to religion, art, music, meditation, “the occult” etc. I think it is more a testament to the capabilities of the human mind to respond to external stimuli with such a complexity of emotion. To me, this scientific explanation does not in any way diminish the beauty of the experience, but it does negate the need for a spiritual component.

    Furthermore, I find that the natural world is even more awesome (in the true sense of the word) when not attributed to a supernatural being. It is extraordinary that our planet is spinning and orbiting a massive star in the vast vacuum of space and that our galaxy is just a tiny speck in a universe chock full of galaxies…as opposed to the work of an omnipotent God who was bored and lonely.

    • kagekiri

      Yup, same here on the “god-experiences” continuing even after becoming a rather anti-religious atheist.

      Of course, the go-to Christian argument is “well, THAT’s not the same feeling, your first feelings must’ve been weaker than mine!”

      To which I say, “F that noise.”

      My best evidence for God, due to lack of answered prayers (well, lack of answers distinguishable from random happenstance, aka no promised miracles, visions, prophecies), was the overwhelming feeling of awe and wonder during worship, or when I’d observe things in nature.

      Turns out I really just loved singing and nature. I can get the same rousing sense of awe singing things that are entirely non-religious, or even if I don’t know half the words or language, or if they’re from other religions (though gospels, despite lyrics that now make me cringe, are still particularly fun). I still feel in awe of nature, without having to ignore factual stuff about evolution for fear of it damaging my faith.

      • Thumper1990

        A Godist would probably just tell you it’s still God you’re feeling, since music and nature all come from Him. All good shit comes from him, right? And all bad stuff, but that’s just him punishing us for… stuff. And usually missing his target and/or causing massive collateral damage in the process.

  • StillAwake

    Re: non-defined occult: I’m a skeptic kinda-new-atheist who would love to know where to get feedback about (for lack of a better term) “supernatural” experiences. I have had 1 vivid experience that I really have no idea how to explain (and 3 others that were weird, interesting, and left me wondering- but not so hard to explain).
    I was once in a mostly-empty ground-floor room and there was a schoolbag on the floor a few feet away from me. It suddenly dragged itself across the carpet towards me. What a grand miracle, eh? ;) It didn’t roll or fall, there wasn’t a cat inside. It was as if it was on a string… but I would have had to have been the one pulling the string. I wasn’t on drugs, never have been. I have no vision problems. It wasn’t an earthquake or anything like that.
    I’m not trying to “Aha! You can’t explain this, therefore MAGIC!” anyone, but does anyone have any online resources in this area? Why does stuff like this happen? Is it … magnets? I have always wondered how it happened.

    • Glodson

      I cannot fully explain what happened. But I will say a few things. First: our memories are a poor guide. We don’t always remember what actually happened well.

      Let’s think about the bag. Let’s assume you remember it exactly as it happened. There’s only four possible forces at work, as that’s it. Two we can eliminate right off the bat as they don’t have the range to effect the bag. That leaves gravity and the electromagnetic force. Now, to figure out what moved the bag, we need to know exactly how it was positioned. Was it firmly on the floor? Or did it have a slight height to drop from? What was the bag made of? What was the floor made of? To make the bag move, there had be a transfer of energy. So the bag either had to have fallen, or maybe a small tremor transferred some energy. Under the right circumstances, a small tremor could easily move a small bag on the right surface.

      The alternative to these naturalistic explanations, looking to use the understood properties of physics, is to posit a supernatural force. One that we cannot normally detect. This would lead to other questions. Like what force is it? If it isn’t using gravity or electromagnetism, it would need be a force we’ve not detected. To effect the world on the macroscopic scale, it would need be on the order of around a billionth of the strength of gravity to escape our notice. This would be unlikely able to move the bag easily.

      Stuff like this happens because we don’t have the best memories of how exactly it transpired, and sometimes there’s events that cause them we don’t connect to the event. A small tremor could transfer the energy through the floor, and that energy could have imparted a bit of momentum to the bag. That’s a plausible explanation. A large truck could have passed by quickly, also setting into motion the same event. If the bag was very light and empty and a window open, a breeze could have done it it.

      Also, just in case anyone cares: magnets work because of the atomic structure of ferromagnetic materials. In particularly, the electrons. As such, if these atoms are aligned, (magnets have things called domains, when the domains are aligned, you get a magnet) a magnetic or electric field can effect the magnet. A brief and hurried explanation of magnets.

      • Kodie

        Floor not level.

        • Glodson

          Had not thought of that.

          That’s a good possible explanation too.

          There’s probably even more I’ve not thought of that are materialistic and consistent with what we know of the world. The alternative requires a force that we’ve not observed and we have no reason to believe exists. A needless complication.

          • Kodie

            A couple years ago, on UF forums, I told the story of the mystery sponge. The shortened version of the story goes that I one evening saw a sponge in the sink of a type I do not buy. A sponge in the sink is nothing strange, but I live alone and don’t invite people over.

            Honest, the first thing I did was look at the ceiling to see if there was a hole it dropped through from the floor above. Even though I am not 100% certain where the sponge really came from, I deduced that several months earlier, when my parents came to see me while I was sick in the hospital for a few days with pneumonia, I do know they bought cleaning supplies, and I do know they tried to clean my apartment one morning, that this one sponge stuck to the bottom of something else I hadn’t moved in a few months, put in the sink one day, took out of the sink without turning on a light, and the next time I looked at the sink, there’s this weird sponge of a type I do not buy right on top. It’s a somewhat improbable but likely chain of events that makes more sense than even falling through a hole in the ceiling or, like, a sponge fairy; I certainly see no (other) evidence of a dish-washing ghost. I would love to have my own dish-washing ghost.

            Little things like such happen every so often, why do they freak people out? It’s so minor that I have to wonder why anyone would assume they have supernatural causes. If a bag moves off the floor and hangs itself up on a hook, say thank you butler ghost! If it slides across the floor, assume that gravity had something to do with it, not invisible hands.

          • Phil

            This American Life this week has a fun episode on coincidences. One of the stories talks about magic change appearing in the shower.

            I’d recommend it, if you find you have time to kill while driving/commuting/etc.

          • sqlrob

            Says the person that invoked gravity how many times earlier in the thread :D

  • mck9

    Pedantic correction:

    We orbit the sun, so from our vantage point it looks like the sun is rising and setting. It’s actually very logical.

    The apparent rising and setting of the sun is almost entirely due to the rotation of the earth, not to its orbit around the sun. Consider that the constellation Libra (for example) also rises and sets, but we are not orbiting Libra, nor it us.

    If the earth rotated exactly once per revolution (like Mercury), the sun wouldn’t appear to rise and set at all. If the earth didn’t rotate at all, the sun would appear to rise and set once per year.

    I have no quarrel with your larger point, but you were a bit careless with your explanation.

    • JT Eberhard

      You are 100% correct. Was lazy writing on my part. Fixed. :)

    • Erülóra

      Pedantic correction to the pedantic correction:

      Mercury is not tidally locked with the Sun. It used to be believed that it was, but in 1965 it was discovered that Mercury actually has a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance. It rotates 3 times for every 2 orbits. A better example might be to compare the Earth-Moon system to the Sun-Earth system. The Moon orbits the Earth, but the Earth never rises in the sky from the perspective on an astronaut on the Moon because of the Moon being tidally locked to the Earth so that it rotates at the same rate it orbits – the same side is always facing the Earth.

    • Andrew G.

      Mercury doesn’t actually rotate once per orbit round the sun, it rotates 3 times per 2 orbits. It was thought to be 1:1 originally because it was being observed on alternate orbits and showed the same surface features each time, but more observations and radar measurement corrected that.

      Given that it has a relatively high eccentricity, it is very close to tide-locked in the part of the orbit closest to the sun, which holds it in resonance at the 3:2 ratio.

      (This means that a solar day on Mercury is actually two of Mercury’s solar years long)

  • kagekiri

    My Dad, who I once thought was pretty damn rational, did throw out occult powers and black-magic he’d witnessed as a child as proof of God/the supernatural after I told them I was an atheist. I think the claims involved things like cutting themselves without bleeding? Or other somewhat creepy, but still physically feasible weirdness?

    At the time, it seemed like he was taking personal offense that I was rejecting his claims, and that I was doubting him unfairly, calling him a liar, and disrespecting him, so it made it hard to respond with anything in the face of his hurt.

    Yet in retrospect, it’s actually quite telling that the best evidence for miracles were apparently in a cult of demon-worshipers. Just like me, he’d seen no real miracles or definitively answered prayers from the Christian God, even after decades of fervent belief.

    Hell, the head pastor of my former church claimed he saw kung-fu powers in China, like in movies with running on the air and using chi to knock people down, or iron body techniques and other impressive body feats. He claimed it was because of deals with demons (apparently, deals with the devil are good for both blues music AND kung-fu powers; who knew?).

    Yet despite our church being into tongues, healing, and prophecy as basic tools for every Christian, and all of the fun Holy Spirit mumbo-jumbo, we just didn’t see that actually happening (well, tongues happened, and vague prophecies by people who were told they HAD to prophesy, but that’s not nearly so impressive). All we had were people “feeling” God during worship or prayer, or claiming random happenstance as “answered prayers”. Stories of missionaries resurrecting people/animals overseas were contrasted with people in the congregations dying of cancer after desperate prayer.

    TL,DR, God has less tangible or visible evidence than demonic super-human powers even for Christians, or God <<<<< kung-fu movies

    • Glodson

      Hell, the head pastor of my former church claimed he saw kung-fu powers in China, like in movies with running on the air and using chi to knock people down, or iron body techniques and other impressive body feats. He claimed it was because of deals with demons (apparently, deals with the devil are good for both blues music AND kung-fu powers; who knew?).

      Why does Satan get all the cool shit?

  • Ahcuah

    “Logic gave us the heliocentric model of the solar system.” Let me just expand slightly on this. It was logic, and a bunch of very careful and reproducible observations.

  • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    The Bill O’Reilly Argument rephrased: I’m so intentionally ignorant I have no choice but to believe in magic!

  • Jasper

    Let me see if I can make an argument:

    Love exists and is illogical.
    Singing exists and is illogical.
    Believing that C’thorlogigon the Potato-Unicorn exists is illogical.

    See? You an’t just rationalize these things away because they’re illogical.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      I’m convinced. Where can I learn more about C’thorlogigon the Potato-Unicorn?

      • iknklast

        Where can I get a potato unicorn? I want one.

  • Thumper1990

    “Yes, it’s all so illogical but so is love, so are the animals…so is the sun rising and setting.”

    Love may very well be illogical, but we can at least explain it through the discipline of Biochemistry. The other two are not illogical in the slightest; though your feelings upon seeing them may be. And those feelings are equally well explained by biochemistry.

    • Glodson

      What makes love illogical? It is an emotion, caused by parts of brain. We can explain love on many levels. We can explain it through the reactions in our brains. We can explain love on a different scale by using psychology. We can explain norms associated with expressions of love by looking at sociology and anthropology. We can even look at such expressions in the animal kingdom.

      Love can be explained. Love might not seem like it but has a logic behind it. Love, and other emotions, might lead to us to do illogical things, but there’s perfectly logical explanations how we came to be in love.

  • Tholo

    When I was about eight years old I awoke in the middle of the night and had to go to the bathroom. As I was taking care of business, out of the corner of my eye I saw the towel on the rack begin to sway back and forth. I was in a locked room with the windows shut, and there before my eyes the towel was moving on its own. I absolutely felt a supernatural presence as every hair on my body stood up and I froze in horror. I still remember that scene vividly, though oddly I don’t remember what occurred immediately after. Did I run to my parents room? Did I go back to bed and spend a sleepless, terrified night? I don’t know.

    What I do remember, is reading the next day that a huge earthquake had struck in the middle of the night some hundreds of miles away and had been felt in our city. Earthquakes were not common where we lived, and I certainly had no experience of them, but even my little eight-year-old brain was able to make the connection that here was a rational explanation for what I had experienced.

    This natural occurrence that had happened hundreds of miles away had me for a moment believing in ghosts. How many times in the history of the world has mankind jumped to a supernatural explanation simply because they didn’t have the necessary information to form a rational conclusion? How many earthquakes have been transformed into ghosts? Strange noises into monsters? Schizophrenic voices into God telling a parent to murder a child? Epilepsy attacks into demons? Etc., etc., etc. Why do we assume when there is an account of an unidentified flying object that there are alien beings aboard spying on us, rather than consider any number of rational explanations: weather balloons, military planes, swamp gas, the International Space Station or Venus? No, no, it left me breathless, therefore it must be something!