This is the fourth in the five-part series of fictional dialogues with my friend Al that I wrote quite a few years ago. I have posted some of the others here. This one was published in Skeptical Inquirer magazine a couple years ago.
My friend Al stopped by for lunch yesterday. As usual, we started with a cold one, accompanied by family news and discussion of world and local events. By the time we were refilling our glasses, though, the discussion had turned to a common theme. Al is a devout Christian, and I am an atheist. We remain good friends because we respect each others’ views, and we never let the heat of the discussion overwhelm our friendship.
Al was on an Intelligent Design theme, haranguing me about the improbability of the “perfect” conditions for life on the earth. The mean temperature straddles the melting point of ice, making aquatic life possible…the weak force in the atom providing just the right conditions for matter to condense and form stars and planets, etc. He hammered home his main point: How could this have occurred as a result of random processes? Only the hand of a divine designer could have constructed such a perfect place for human life.
I countered that our very existence showed that conditions for our particular form of life could develop. How many other universes had developed devoid of life, or with radically different life forms? We would never know. But our existence did not mandate the intervention of a Creator. Neither did it preclude His existence. We simply do not have enough information to draw a conclusion.
I pointed out, though, that given a hypothesis that A exists, with no evidence to support A’s existence, the burden of proof should fall on the hypothesizer. A hypothesis should have some basis in logic or observed phenomena to suggest that it might be true. Otherwise, it is pure speculation. I noted that proof of A’s existence required only a single event to prove its truth, but the converse is not true. It is virtually impossible to prove the non-existence of A. In the case of God, it would be necessary to examine every infinitesimal space in the Cosmos with a God Detector before His non-existence could be proven. Given a total lack of evidence supporting the existence of A…or God…I tended to be a skeptic.
Midway through our second beer, I served our lunch, consisting of a salad and some delicious sandwiches of my own design, consisting of Limburger cheese, anchovies and crisp slices of rutabaga, on pumpernickel bread.
We continued our discussion as we ate, and afterwards over coffee. Having reached a stalemate over Intelligent Design, Al went back to a more traditional argument for the existence of God.
“It’s all spelled out very clearly in the Bible. Just read Genesis.”
But how did he know that the Bible was correct? He responded that the Bible was written by God, so it must be true. My head was spinning at that point, but I didn’t know if it was caused by the beer or the circular reasoning.
When Al finally left in mid-afternoon, I was starting to feel a little woozy. That sandwich wasn’t sitting very happily on my stomach. So, I decided to take a nap, and I had the strangest dream…
I dreamed that I was sitting in a bar on the waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, drinking a beer and watching the late afternoon sunlight fade on Table Mountain. Suddenly, a very attractive young lady slid onto the bar stool next to me, smiled and struck up a conversation.
“I belong to a very small church called Brevision.”
“Never heard of it,” I said. “Tell me about it. What does the name mean?”
She smiled happily and explained, “The name is derived from Brevibacterium linens, the bacterium that is used to make Limburger cheese. The central belief of our church is that Pluto is made of Limburger cheese. ”
Now I pride myself on being a pretty cool guy, not easily bamboozled. My first thought was that she was pulling my leg, but her expression, deadly serious and intense, kept me from laughing out loud.
“Pluto?” I bleated.
“Yes. You know, the smallest and furthest planet.”
“Ex-planet,” I corrected, trying to recover a little ground. “It has been downgraded to dwarf planet.”
An expression of annoyance crossed her flawless face. “Yes, we found that rather demeaning, but we have come to terms with it.”
“We?” I asked weakly, as I tried desperately to hold up my end of this bizarre conversation.
“Our church members. Pluto is the center of the Universe. It’s terrible that the International Astronomical Union doesn’t even recognize its importance.”
“How many members does your church have?” I asked, struggling gamely to keep it going.
“It varies. Twelve to fifteen. At the moment we are down to twelve.”
“Why do you think Pluto is made of Limburger cheese?”
“We don’t think it is. We know it is.”
“But how can you know that? Nobody has ever been there, and we have only faint and blurry images.”
“We just know,” she said, smiling an incandescent smile that made me wish I were forty or fifty years younger.
“Look,” I said. “Limburger cheese is made from cow’s milk. I think it is highly unlikely that there are cows on Pluto. So it seems to me that it is also highly unlikely that there is any Limburger cheese there.
She looked at me as if I were a child and said very condescendingly, “You must be a scientist. Your thoughts and logic are all based on your experiences here on earth. Limburger cheese is just a bunch of chemicals, and the Creator could easily make all of it that he wanted.”
“Creator? What Creator?”
Now she was eyeing me like I was an idiot.
“God, of course.”
Now I was really confused! How did we get from Limburger cheese to God?
“You think that God exists?”
She looked at me with those gorgeous eyes, and blinked. “How else can you explain all that Limburger cheese?”