Pharyngula

34 Unconvincing Arguments for God

Here’s a very useful document that I got from August Berkshire (you can also get this in pdf form from Minnesota Atheists): 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God. I guess he forgot to include all the convincing arguments for gods, but I’m sure some wandering delusional troll will try to provide some. That’s OK, I’m sure August would be willing to increase the number in his title.

Anyway, maybe a better title would be “34 arguments for god, and why they are unconvincing”. Go ahead and make suggestions to improve them, I think August will be checking in and following along.

34 Unconvincing Arguments for God
by August Berkshire

Introduction – Atheism ? the lack of belief in gods ? is
based upon a lack of evidence for gods, lack of a reason to believe in gods,
and difficulties and contradictions that some god ideas lead to.

Nevertheless,
atheism is a tentative state, subject to change if compelling theistic
arguments are presented.

Following
are some of the arguments that atheists have considered, along with some of the
reasons these arguments have been rejected.

(1) God-of-the-Gaps (God as a
“free lunch”)
- Almost every “proof” for
the existence of gods relies, at least in part, on a god-of-the gaps argument.
This argument says that if we don’t know
the answer to something, then “God did it.” “God” gets to win by default,
without any positive evidence. But is saying “God did it” really an answer?

Intelligent
design, god-advocate William Dembski has authored a book entitled No Free
Lunch.
However, “God” is the ultimate
“free lunch.”
Consider the following:

We
don’t know what gods are composed of.

We
don’t know what gods’ attributes are.

We
don’t know how many gods there are.

We
don’t know where gods are.

We
don’t know where gods come from or,
alternately, how it is possible for
them to always exist.

We
don’t know what mechanisms gods use to create or change
anything.

We
don’t know what the “supernatural” is,
nor how it is capable of interacting with the natural world.

In
other words, we know absolutely nothing
about gods ? yet at least one god is often given credit for many things.
Thus, to say “God did it” is to answer a question with a question. It provides
no information and only makes the
original question more complex.

The
god-of-the-gaps argument says that not only do we not have a naturalistic
answer today, but we will never
discover a naturalistic answer in the future because no naturalistic answer
is possible.
Thus, to rebut a
god-of-the-gaps argument, we only have to show that a naturalistic answer is possible.

For
example: We open the door to a room and observe a cat sleeping in a corner. We
close the door, then open it again five minutes later. We observe that the cat
is now sleeping in another corner. One person says “God did it by levitating
the sleeping cat” (without offering any proof). Another person says “It’s
quite possible that the cat woke up, wandered over to the other corner, and
fell asleep again.” Thus, although no one saw what actually happened, the
god-of-the-gaps argument has been rendered implausible by a possible
naturalistic explanation.

(2) Leaps of Faith – The fact is, no one even knows if it’s possible for gods to exist. Just because we can imagine something
doesn’t mean it’s possible. For example, we can all imagine ourselves walking
through a solid wall, but that doesn’t mean it’s possible. So, just because we
can imagine a god, doesn’t mean its existence is actually possible.

Because
there is no direct proof for the existence of any gods, a typical believer must
make at least nine leaps of faith to
arrive at the god they believe in. These are separate leaps of faith because one leap does not imply the next leap.

The
first leap of faith is that a supernatural realm even exists.

Second,
that beings of some sort exist in this realm.

Third,
that these beings have consciousness.

Fourth,
that at least one of these beings is eternal.

Fifth,
that this being is capable of creating something from nothing.

Sixth,
that this being is capable of interfering with the universe after it is created
(i.e. miracles).

Seventh,
eighth, and ninth, that this being is all-knowing, all-powerful, and
all-loving.

If
people want to believe in a god more specific to a particular religion, then
some additional leaps of faith are necessary.

So,
when we speak about gods, we have absolutely no idea what we’re talking about
(see unconvincing argument #1), and we have to make at least nine leaps of
faith to get to the god most people believe in.

(3) Holy Books - Just because something is written down does not make it
true. This goes for the Bible, the Qur’an, and any other holy book. It is
circular reasoning to try to prove the god of a holy book exists by using the
holy book itself as “evidence.”

People
who believe the holy book of one religion usually disbelieve the holy books of
other religions.

(4) The Argument from
Historical Settings
– This argument states
that because historical people and places are mentioned in ancient stories,
that everything else about those stories, including descriptions of
supernatural events, must be true. By this argument, everything written in the
Iliad, including the intervention of
the ancient Greek gods, must be true.

(5) “Revelations” of Others - All religions claim to be revealed, usually through
people called “prophets.” But how can we know that a “revelation” is actually
a “message from a god” and not a hallucination?

A
revelation is a personal experience. Even if a revelation really did come from a god, there is no way we could prove it.

People
of one religion usually disbelieve the revelations of other religions. These
revelations often contradict each other, so what basis do we have for deciding
which are the “true revelations”?

(6) “Revelations” of One’s Own
(Personal Testimony, Feelings, “Open Heart”)
- This is when you are personally having the revelation or feeling that
a god exists. Though you may be sincere, and even if a god really does exist,
a feeling is not proof, either for you or for someone else.

It
will do no good to ask atheists to “open our hearts and accept Jesus” (or any
other deity). If we were to set aside our skepticism, we might indeed have an
inspirational experience. But this would be an emotional experience and we’d
have no way to verify if a god was really speaking to us or if we were just hallucinating.

Many
atheists have stories of how wonderful it felt to lose their belief in gods.
As with religion, this is not proof that atheism is true.

(7) Most People Believe in God - It’s true that throughout history, most people have
believed in at least one god. But mere popularity doesn’t make something true.
(Most people used to mistakenly believe that the Earth was the center of the
universe.)

The
number of atheists in the world is currently increasing. We can imagine a day
when most people are atheists. (In fact, most of the top scientists in the
U.S. already are atheists.) However, as with religion, the popularity of
atheism will not be able to be used as proof of its truth.

Even
today, it is probable that in England and France atheists outnumber theists.
Does this mean that God exists everywhere except in those two countries?

(8) Evolution Would Not Favor a
False Belief
- Would evolution reward a
species incapable of perceiving reality? Would evolution reward a species that
hallucinated? If not, then a god must exist, according to this argument.

However,
evolution does not reward what is true. Evolution rewards that which is useful.

No
one can doubt that religion and god-belief have sometimes been useful. “God”
can be employed like Santa Claus, to keep people behaving well in order to earn
a reward. “God” can also be used to justify horrible behavior that benefits
your group, such as Islamic suicide bombings or the Christian Crusades. “God”
can reduce your fear of death.

Nevertheless,
in an age of nuclear weapons, the dangers of god belief far outweigh its
usefulness.

(9) The “God Part” of the Brain
- Some religious people argue that a god
must exist, or why else would we have a part of our brain that can “recognize”
a god? What use would that part of our brain be otherwise?

However,
imagination is important for us to be able to predict the future, and thus aids
in our survival. We can imagine all kinds of things that aren’t true. It is a byproduct of being able to imagine things
that might be true.

As
a matter of fact, scientists have begun to study why some people have religious
beliefs and others don’t, from a biological perspective. They have identified
certain naturally occurring chemicals in our brains that can give us religious
experiences. For example, the brain chemical dopamine increases the likelihood
that we will “see” patterns where there are none.

In
studies of religion and the brain, a new field called neurotheology, they have
identified the temporal lobe as a place in the brain that can generate
religious experiences.

Another
part of the brain, which regulates a person’s sense of “self,” can be
consciously shut down during meditation, giving the meditator (who loses his or
her sense of personal boundaries) a feeling of “oneness” with the universe.

(10) Ancient “Miracles” &
Resurrection Stories
- Many religions have
miracle stories. And, just as people who believe in one religion are usually
skeptical towards miracle stories of other religions, atheists are skeptical
toward all miracle stories.

Extraordinary
events can become exaggerated and grow into miraculous legends. Good magicians
can perform acts that seem like miracles. Things can be mismeasured and
misinterpreted. Many things that seemed like “miracles” in the ancient world
can be explained with modern knowledge.

Regarding
resurrections, atheists will not find a story of someone resurrecting from the dead to be convincing.
There are many such legends in ancient literature and, again, most religious
people reject the resurrection stories of other religions.

Many
religions reports that their god(s) performed obvious, spectacular miracles
thousands of years ago. Why have these miracles stopped? Is it because the
gods have become shy? Or is it because science started?

(11) Modern Medical “Miracles”
& Resurrection Stories
– Modern
medical “miracles” are a good example of “god-of-the-gaps.” A person
experiences a cure for a disease that science can’t explain. Therefore, “God
did it.” God never has to prove himself in these arguments. It is always
assumed that he gets to win by default.

But
this argument assumes we know everything about the human body, so that a
natural explanation is impossible. But the fact is, we don’t have complete
medical knowledge. Why don’t we ever see something that would be a true
miracle, like an amputated arm instantaneously regenerating?

Several
studies of prayer, where the patients didn’t know whether or not they were
being prayed for, including a study by the Mayo Clinic, have shown prayer to
have no effect on healing.

(This
raises the question of why we would have to beg an all-powerful, all-loving god
to be healed in the first place. It seems ironic, to say the least, to pray to
a loving god to be cured from diseases and the effects of natural disasters
that he himself created. It also raises the Problem of Evil: If God is
all-powerful and all-loving, why does evil exist in the first place?)

Modern
resurrection stories always seem to occur in Third World countries under
unscientific conditions. However, there have been thousands of people in
modern hospitals hooked up to machines that verified their deaths when they
died. Why didn’t any of them ever resurrect?

(12) “Heaven” (Fear of Death) - Atheists don’t like the fact that we’re all going to die
any more than religious people do. However, this fear does not prove there is
an afterlife ? only that we wish there
was an afterlife. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

There
is no evidence for a god, no evidence that he created any place for us to go
after we die, no explanation as to exactly what that place is composed of, nor where it is, nor how a
god created it from nothing.

There
is no evidence for a soul, no description of what a soul is composed of, and no explanation of how a non-material
soul evolved in a material body, or,
alternately, no explanation of how or
when
a god zaps a soul into a body.

If
a fertilized human egg has a soul, what happens if that egg splits in two to
form identical twins? Does each twin have half a soul? Or did the original
fertilized egg have two souls?

What
about when the opposite happens, when two fertilized eggs fuse to form one
human being, creating what is known as a chimera? Does that person have two
souls? Or did each original fertilized egg have only half a soul?

If
a one-week-old baby dies, what kind of thoughts will it have in an afterlife?
The thoughts of a one-week-old, which are zero? The thoughts of an adult? If
so, how will that happen? Where will those thoughts come from and what will
they be?

There
is no reason to believe our consciousness survives the death of our brains.
The mind is not something separate from the body.

For
example, we know the chemicals responsible for the feeling of love. Drugs can
alter our mood, and thus change our thoughts. Physical damage to our brains
can change our personalities, and our thoughts. And learning a new skill,
which involves thinking, can physically change the structure of our brains.

Some
people get Alzheimer’s disease at the end of their lives. The irreversible
damage to their brains can be detected by brain scans. These people lose their
ability to think, yet they are still alive. How, one second after these people
die, does their thinking return (in a “soul”)?

If
people had to choose between a god and an afterlife, most people would choose
the afterlife and forget about God. They only choose god belief because it’s
the only way they know of to fulfill their desire for an afterlife. [Thanks
to Edward Tabash for this point.]

(13) Fear of Hell – The idea of hell strikes atheists as a scam ? an
attempt to get people to believe through fear what they cannot believe through
reason and evidence.

The
only way to approach this “logically” is to find the religion that punishes you
the worst for disbelief, and then
believe that religion. Okay, you will have saved yourself from the worst
punishment that exists ? if that
religion is the “true” religion.

But
if that religion (with its punishment) is not the true religion ? if the religion that has the second or
third worst
punishment for disbelief is
the true religion ? then you have
saved yourself nothing.

So,
which religion’s hell is the true hell?
Without evidence, we can never know.

Even
within Christianity there are three different versions of hell. There is the
traditional version, where your “soul” burns forever. A second version says
that eternal punishment is too cruel for a loving god, so your “soul” is burnt
out of existence.

And
a third version says that hell is not a physical place but the condition of
being forever separated from God. But atheists are already separated from God
and are having a good time, so they fail to see how this is a punishment. And,
how can a person be separated from God when God is supposedly everywhere?

(14) “Pascal’s Wager” / Faith –
In short, Pascal’s Wager states that we
have everything to gain (an eternity in heaven) and nothing to lose by
believing in a god. On the other hand, disbelief can lead to a loss of heaven
(i.e. hell).

We’ve
already noted that heaven is wishful thinking and that hell is a scam, so let’s
address the issue of faith.

Pascal’s
Wager assumes a person can will himself
or herself into having faith. This is simply not the case, at least not for an
atheist. So atheists would have to pretend to believe. But according to most
definitions of God, wouldn’t God know we were lying to hedge our bets? Would a
god reward this?

Part
of Pascal’s Wager states that you “lose nothing” by believing. But an atheist
would disagree. By believing under these conditions, you’re acknowledging that
you’re willing to accept some things on faith. In other words, you’re saying you’re
willing to abandon evidence as your standard for judging reality.
Faith doesn’t sound so appealing when it’s phrased that
way, does it?

(15) Blaming the Victim - Many religions punish people for disbelief. However,
belief requires faith, and some people, such as atheists, are incapable of
faith. Their minds are only receptive to evidence. Therefore, are atheists to
be blamed for not believing when “God” provides insufficient evidence?

(16) The End of the World - Like the concept of hell, this strikes atheists as a
scare tactic to get people to believe through fear what they can’t believe
through reason and evidence. There have been predictions that the world was
going to end for centuries now. The question you might want to ask yourselves,
if you’re basing your religious beliefs on this, is how long you’re willing to
wait ? what amount of time will convince you that the world is not going
to end?

(17) Difficulties of Religion –
It has sometimes been argued that because
certain religious practices are difficult to follow, nobody would do them if a
god didn’t exist. However, it is the belief in the existence of a god that is motivating people. A god
doesn’t really have to exist for this to happen.

Difficulties
can serve as an initiation rite of passage into being counted one of the
“select few.” After all, if just anybody could be “saved,” there might be no
point in having a religion.

Finally,
the reward for obedience promised by most religions ? a heaven ?
far outweighs any difficulties religion imposes.

(18) The Argument from
Martyrdom
– It has been argued that no one
would die for a lie. This overlooks the fact that people can be intentionally
or unintentionally fooled into believing a religion is true.

Most
religious groups that promote martyrdom promise a great reward in “heaven,” so
followers don’t perceive the loss of their lives as a great sacrifice.

Does
the fact that the 9/11 bombers were willing to die for their faith make Islam
true? What about cults like Heaven’s Gate, where followers committed suicide
in 1997 believing their “souls” were going to a space ship carrying Jesus on
the far side of a comet?

(19) The Argument from
Embarrassment
– Some religious people
argue that because their holy book contains passages that are embarrassing to
their faith, that those passages ? and the accompanying descriptions of
supernatural events ? must be true or they wouldn’t have been included in
the book.

A
classic example of this argument is the Biblical description of the disciples’
cowardice after Jesus’ arrest. Yet in this case, as in others, embarrassing
moments can be included in a fictional story to heighten dramatic tension and
make the eventual triumph of the hero of the story that much greater. [Thanks
to Robert M. Price for this point.]

(20) False Dichotomies – This is being presented with a false “either/or”
proposition, where you’re only given two alternatives when, in fact, there are
more possibilities.

Here’s
one that many Christians are familiar with: “Either Jesus was insane or he was
god. Since Jesus said some wise things, he wasn’t insane. Therefore, he must
be God, like he said he was.” But those are not the only two possibilities.

A
third option is that, yes, it is possible
to say some wise things and be deluded that you are a god.

A
fourth possibility is that Jesus didn’t say everything that is attributed to
him in the Bible. Maybe he didn’t actually say all those wise things, but the
writers of the Bible said he did. Or maybe he never claimed to be God, but the
writers turned him into a god after he died.

A
fifth possibility is that Jesus is a fictional character and so everything was
invented by the authors.

(21) Meaning in Life – This is the idea that, without belief in a god, life
would be meaningless. Even if this were true, it would only prove we wanted a
god to exist to give meaning to our lives, not that a god actually does exist.
But the very fact that atheists can find meaning in their lives without a
belief in a god shows that god belief is not necessary.

(22) “God is Intangible, Like
Love”
- Love is not intangible. We can
define love both as a type of feeling and as demonstrated by certain types of
actions.

Unlike
“God,” love is a physical thing. We know the chemicals responsible for the
feeling of love.

Also,
love depends upon brain structure. A person with a lobotomy or other type of
brain damage may lose the ability to feel love.

Furthermore,
if love were not physical, it would not be confined to our physical brains. We
would expect to be able to detect an entity or force called “love” floating
around in the air.

(23) Morality/Ethics – This is the idea that without a god we’d have no basis for
morality. However, a secular moral code existed before the Bible: the Code of
Hammurabi.

In
Plato’s dialogue called Euthyphro,
Socrates asks a man named Euthyphro whether something is good because God says
it is, or does God announce something to be good because it has intrinsic
goodness?

If
something is good because God says it is, then God might change his mind about
what is good. Thus, there would be no absolute morality.

If
God merely announces something to be good because it has intrinsic goodness,
then we might be able to discover this intrinsic goodness ourselves, without
the need for god belief.

Christians
can’t even agree among themselves what’s moral when it comes to things like
masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce, contraception, abortion,
war, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and the death penalty.

Christians
reject some of the moral laws found in the Bible, such as killing disobedient
children or people who work on the Sabbath. Therefore, Christians must be
applying their own ethical standards from
outside the Bible
to be able to recognize
that these commandments in the Bible are unethical. [Thanks to Dan Barker
for this point.]

In
fact, most religious people ignore the bad ethics in their holy books and concentrate on the good advice. In other words, theists pick and choose their ethics just like atheists do.

Other
animals exhibit kindness toward one another and a sense of justice. We have
found the part of our brains responsible for feelings of sympathy and empathy
? “mirror neurons” ? which serve as the foundation for much of our
ethics.

Morality
is something that evolved from us being social animals. It’s based on the
selfish advantage we get from cooperation, and on consequences. Helping one
another is a selfish act that has evolutionary rewards. (See also
Argument 25, against the existence of altruism.)

We
also judge actions by their consequences, through trial and error. The
best formula we have come up with is to allow the maximum amount of freedom
that does not harm another person or impinge on that person’s freedom.
This creates the greatest amount of happiness and prosperity in society,
which benefits the greatest amount of people (the greatest good for the
greatest number). This view includes the protection of minority rights, since
in some way we are each a minority.

Since
there is no evidence for any gods, it follows that any moral belief can be attributed to a god. So, rather than
being a certain guide, religion can be used to justify any behavior. One simply has to say “God told me to do it.”
The best way to refute this reasoning is to discard the idea of gods altogether.

Even
if a god doesn’t exist, some people think that a belief in a god is useful
to get people to behave ? kind of like an invisible policeman, or, in the words of President George W. Bush: “(God) is
constantly searching our hearts and minds. He’s kind of like Santa Claus. He
knows if you’ve been good or if you’ve been bad.” [April 8, 2007 (Easter),
Army post, Fort Hood, Texas.]
Do we
really want to make this the basis for our ethics?

Any
decent ethical system does not need the supernatural to justify it. However,
belief in the supernatural has been used to justify many unethical acts, such
as the Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, gay-bashing, and 9/11.

(24) The Argument from
Goodness/Beauty
– Some religious people
argue that without a god there would be no goodness and/or beauty in the world.
However, goodness and beauty are defined in human terms.

If
the Earth’s environment had been so nasty that it was impossible for life to
evolve, then we wouldn’t be here to ponder this question. So, obviously, at
least some things about the Earth’s environment are life-affirming, and we are
naturally drawn to these things ? our survival depends upon it.

As
for the beauty of art: we are naturally drawn to life-affirming images, shapes,
and colors. However, there are many examples of art, such as the paintings of
the Cubists and the Surrealists, that are loved by some people and hated by
others.

(25) Altruism – People sometimes say that without a god there would be no
altruism, that evolution only rewards selfish behavior.

However,
it can be argued that there is no such thing as altruism, that people always do
what they want to do. If they are only faced with bad choices, then people
choose the thing they hate the least.

Our
choices are based on what gives us (our genes) the best advantage for survival,
including raising our reputation in society.

“Altruism”
towards family members benefits people who share our genes. “Altruism” towards
friends benefits people who may someday return the favor.

Even
“altruism” towards strangers has a basis in evolution. This behavior first
evolved in small tribes, where everyone knew each other and a good reputation
enhanced one’s survival. It is now hard-wired in our brains as a general mode
of conduct. [Thanks to Richard Dawkins for this point.]

(26) Free Will – Some people argue that without a god there would be no free
will, that we would live in a deterministic universe of cause and effect and
that we would be mere “robots.”

Actually,
there is far less free will than most people think there is. Our conditioning
(our biological desire to survive and prosper, combined with our experiences)
makes certain “choices” far more likely than others. How else can we explain
our ability, in many cases, to predict human behavior?

Experiments
have shown that our brain makes a “decision” to take action before we become conscious of it!

Some
believe that the only free will we have is to exercise a conscious veto over
actions suggested by our thoughts.

Most
atheists have no problem admitting that free will may be an illusion.

This
issue also brings up a conundrum: If a god who created us knows the future, how
can we have free will?

In
the end, if we are enjoying our lives, does it matter if free will is real or
an illusion? Isn’t it only our ego ? our healthy self-esteem that is
beneficial for survival ? that has been conditioned to believe that real
free will is somehow better than imaginary
free will?

(27) A Perfect Being Must
Necessarily Exist
- This is known as the ontological
argument for God, first developed almost
1,000 years ago by Anselm.

We
are asked to imagine the greatest or most perfect being possible. For most
people, this is their conception of a god. Then it is pointed out that it is
greater or more perfect for something to exist rather than not to exist.
Therefore, this being (God) must necessarily exist.

But
this argument does not address the question of whether it is possible for a perfect being to exist. It also means that our imagination
can will things into existence. Not
everything we can imagine is possible.

Let’s
apply this logic to a different subject. Imagine a perfect skyscraper. It
would remain undamaged if terrorists flew planes into it. Yet no skyscraper
can withstand such an assault without at least some damage. But that violates
our premise that the skyscraper must be perfect. Therefore, such an
indestructible skyscraper must exist.

(28) Why is there Something
Rather than Nothing?
- This argument
assumes that, without a god, we wouldn’t expect anything to exist. However, we
have no idea of the statistical probability of Something existing rather than
Nothing.

According
to physics and astronomy professor Victor Stenger, symmetrical systems tend to
be unstable. They tend to decay into less symmetrical systems. Now, Nothing
? the lack of anything ? is perfectly symmetrical, and thus highly unstable. Therefore, Something is more stable than Nothing. Thus we would expect there to be Something rather than Nothing.

We
might just as reasonably ask: “Why is there a god rather than no god?” and “Who
created this god?”

(29) The Argument from First
Cause –
This argument states that we live
in a universe of cause-and-effect. However, the argument goes, it is logically
impossible to have an infinite regression of causes. At some point the
regression has to stop. At that point you need a First Cause that is not the
result of any cause itself. That First Uncaused Cause, it is claimed, is God.

The
universe we live in now “began” about 13.7 billion years ago. Whether the
universe existed in some other form before that ? whether there was
energy/matter/gravity/etc. (a natural world) before that ? is unknown.

We
don’t know if the natural world had a beginning or whether it always existed in
some form. If it had a beginning, we don’t know that a god is the only
possible creative source. We don’t know that a god can be an uncaused cause.
What caused God?

Virtual
particles pop into and out of existence all the time. Quantum physics
demonstrates that there can indeed be uncaused events.

(30) The “Laws” of the Universe – Where did the “laws” of the universe come from? Any
physical “law” is merely an observed regularity. It’s not something handed
down by a celestial tribunal.

According
to physics and astronomy professor Victor Stenger: “It is commonly believed
that the “laws of physics” lie outside
physics. They are thought to be either imposed from outside the universe or built into its logical structure. Recent physics disputes this. The basic “laws” of physics are mathematical statements that have the form they do in an attempt to describe
reality in an objective way. The laws of physics are just what they would
be expected to be if they came from nothing.

[all emphasis added]

(31) The “Fine-tuning” of the
Universe
- Some religious people argue
that the six physical constants of the universe (which control such things as
the strength of gravity) can only exist within a very narrow range to produce a
universe capable of sustaining life. Therefore, since this couldn’t have
happened “by accident,” a god must have done it.

Again,
this is a god-of-the-gaps argument. But beyond that, this argument assumes
that we know everything about astrophysics ? a field in which new
discoveries are made on almost a daily basis. We may discover that our
universe is not so “fine tuned” after all.

Another
possibility is that there may exist multiple universes ? either
separately or as “bubble universes” within a single universe. Each of these
universes could have its own set of constants. Given enough universes, by
chance
it is likely that at least one will
produce and sustain life.

We
know it is possible for at least one universe to exist ? we are in it.
If one can exist, why not many? On the other hand, we have no evidence that it
is possible for even one god to exist.

Now
let’s take a look at most people’s definition of a god: eternal, omni-present,
all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. Can God be any other way than exactly
the way he is?

Although
there is some small margin for variance
in the “fine-tuning” of the constants of the universe, there is traditionally no
margin for variance in the constants of
God. Therefore, our universe with a traditional god is logically more
implausible than our universe without one.

And,
of course, we must ask: Who or what fine-tuned God?

If
the universe was created specifically
with humans in mind, then the enormous size of the universe (most of it hostile
to life) and the billions of years that passed before humans showed up are
ridiculous and wasteful ? not what we would expect from a god.

(32) The “Fine-tuning” of the
Earth
- Some religious people argue that
the Earth is positioned “just right” in the solar system (not too hot, not too
cold, etc.) for life to exist. Furthermore, the elements on Earth (carbon,
oxygen, etc.) are also “just right.” These people claim that this couldn’t
have happened “by accident,” so a god must exist to have done the positioning
and chemistry.

We
should be able to recognize a god-of-the-gaps argument here. But an even
better rebuttal exists. If Earth was the only planet in the universe, then it would indeed be remarkable
that our conditions turned out to be “just right.”

But
most religious people acknowledge that there are probably thousands, if not
millions, of other planets in the universe. (Our own solar system has eight
planets.) Therefore, by chance, at
least one of those planets will have conditions that will produce some kind of
life.

We
can imagine religious purple creatures with four eyes and breathing carbon
dioxide on another planet also falsely believing that their planet is
“fine-tuned” and that a creator god exists in their image.

(33) Creationism / “Intelligent
Design”
– This is the idea that if we
can’t currently explain something about life, then “God did it”
(god-of-the-gaps).

However,
if Genesis, or any similar religious creation myth, is true, then virtually
every field of science is wrong. Not only is biology wrong, but so too are
chemistry, physics, archeology, and astronomy, as well as their many
subdisciplines such as embryology and genetics. In fact, we might as well
throw out the entire scientific method.

Creationists
often make a distinction between “micro” evolution and “macro” evolution
? that is, change within a species, which they accept, and change from
one species to another, which they do not accept.

But
what are the mechanisms for “micro” evolution? They are: mutation, natural
selection, and inheritance. And what are the mechanisms for “macro” evolution?
Exactly the same: mutation, natural selection, and inheritance. The only
difference is the amount of time required. Do some genes say to themselves:
“Gee, I better not change too much or it will upset some religious people?”

Evolution
is the best explanation, and the only explanation for which we have any
evidence, for the age of fossils, for the progression of fossils, for genetic
similarities, for structural similarities, and for transitional fossils.

Yes,
there are transitional fossils. For
example, we have a good fossil trail of species going from land mammal to
whale, including basilosaurus, a primitive whale that still retained useless,
small hind legs. Even today, whales retain their hip bones.

(Some
creationists argue that those tiny hind legs would have been useful for mating,
thus basilosaurus was a separately created species and not a transition. But
if those hind legs were so useful, why did they evolve completely away?)

In
fact, snakes, too, still have hip bones, and once in a great while we see a
snake born with vestiges of hind legs, demonstrating their evolution from
reptile ancestors that had hind legs.

In
China we have found many half-reptile/half-bird fossils, demonstrating that
transition.

There
is the recently discovered fossil tiktaalik, which helped filled a gap between fish and amphibians.
It was discovered in Canada, exactly where, and in the age of rock, that
evolution predicted. [Thanks to PZ Myers for this point.]

On
the other hand, if a perfect god
created life we would expect him to do a better job. We wouldn’t expect that
99% of all species that have ever existed would have gone extinct.

As
the Christian evolutionary biologist Kenneth R. Miller stated: “if God
purposely designed 30 horse species that later disappeared, then God’s primary
attribute is incompetence. He can’t make it right the first time.” [“Educators
debate 'intelligent design’ ” by Richard N. Ostling, Star Tribune. March 23,
2002, p. B9.]

As
the evangelical Christian Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project,
stated: “ID [Intelligent Design] portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator,
having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own
initial plan for generating the complexity of life.” [The Language of God,
pp. 193-194.]

If
a perfect god created life we would not
expect birth defects. If a perfect god
created life we would not expect “unintelligent design” such as a prostate
gland that swells and shuts down the urinary tract, when the urinary tract
could have just as easily have been routed around the prostate gland. Is “God”
an incompetent or sloppy designer?

If
a god created all life within a week then, even with an alleged worldwide
flood, we would expect to find a thoroughly mixed geologic column of fossils.
We don’t find this.

We
also have the contradiction that people claim that God is “pro-life,” yet he
allows for spontaneous abortion. One third to one half of fertilized human eggs get spontaneously aborted, often
before the woman is even aware that she’s pregnant. If a god designed the
human system of reproduction, this make God the world’s biggest abortionist.

Thus,
scientific evolution provides answers, whereas religious creationism and
“intelligent design” only introduce more questions.

(34) The universe and/or life
violate the second law of thermodynamics (entropy)
– The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) states that
in a closed system, things tend toward greater disorder. Some religious people
argue that because the universe and life are so orderly, that a god must be
required who could violate this law.

Again,
I thank physics and astronomy professor Victor Stenger for the secular
explanation:

The
universe does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. The universe
started with the maximum amount of disorder possible for its size. Then, as the universe expanded, this allowed for more disorder to occur, and, in fact, it is occurring.

Despite
the fact that the overall disorder is increasing in the system called the
universe, increasing order is allowed
in subsystems, such as galaxies, solar
systems, and life ? so long as the net effect to the entire universe is increased disorder.

If
a god created the universe, we would have expected it to start in an orderly
fashion, not in disorder. The fact that the universe started with maximum
disorder
means that a god could not have created it, because a purposeful creation would have
had at least some order to it.

It
also turns out that the negative gravitational energy in the universe exactly cancels the positive energy
represented by matter
, so that the total
net energy
of the universe is zero, which is what you would expect if the universe came from
Nothing by natural means. However, if
a god was involved, you would have expected him to have introduced energy into
the universe. There is no evidence of this.

It’s
interesting how theists will cling to the second law of thermodynamics to try
to prove the existence of their god, while totally ignoring the first law of
thermodynamics ? that matter/energy can be neither created nor destroyed
? which would thoroughly disprove
the existence of their god as a being who can create something from nothing.

Conclusion – Religious people have a tough, if not impossible task to
try to prove a god exists, let alone that their particular religion is true.
If any religion had objective standards, wouldn’t everyone be flocking to the
same “true” religion? Instead we find that people tend to believe, to varying
degrees, the religion in which they were indoctrinated. Or they are atheists.

© 2006, 2007 August Berkshire. Dec. 1, 2007.

Feedback is welcome.

Send e-mail to augustberkshire [at] gmail.com.

Comments

  1. #1 The Flying Trilobite
    December 2, 2007

    The movie “Contact” from the book by Carl Sagan is one of my favourites…except it throws out Number 22 on your list as a conversation stopper for the archetypal scientist characer, Ellie. She flounders around looking for an answer to proving her deceased father loved her.

    If love was intangible, remembering birthdays and anniversaries and her favourite wine would not be important. Weddings wouldn’t occur.

  2. #2 Anon
    December 2, 2007

    Many of the “arguments” overlap greatly with one another–to the extent that they are essentially repeats. If each argument comes from a different source, quoting and citing that source would bring home the fact that it is not Berkshire who is being repetitive, but the arguers.

  3. #3 Frank Mitchell
    December 2, 2007

    ‘Many of the “arguments” overlap greatly with one another …’

    The last version of this document I saw was titled “21 Unconvincing Arguments for God”, so the author must have added the last 13 as a response to recent personal or national debates. In particular, 29 is (I think) from Aristotle, and 30-34 answer common talking points of cdesignproponentsists.

    I don’t think citing sources for arguments will necessarily help; because of the religious echo chamber, these arguments seemingly come from myriad sources, and in fact might demonstrate parallel evolution in action. A taxonomy might help, but I interpret the purpose of “X Unconvincing Arguments for God” to be a cheat sheet for atheists debating theists, or perhaps a DSM for theistic delusions of rationality.

  4. #4 CC
    December 2, 2007

    If I might blogwhore just a teensy bit, I once discussed this whole ridiculous notion of “perfection” here. Feel free to point out the errors of my ways.

  5. #5 Sampo Rassi
    December 2, 2007

    To quote the Unreal Tournament announcer: “Mo-mo-mo-MONSTERKILL!”

    To quote Oolon Colluphid: “Well That About Wraps It Up for God”

  6. #6 Hank Fox
    December 2, 2007

    Most atheists have no problem admitting that free will may be an illusion.

    Bullshit.

    Free will is an illusion only if you define it in absolutist terms, to mean something like “the ability to defy all natural laws at will,” or “the ability to imagine something literally unthinkable and then to do it.”

    I’ve even heard people insist that if you can’t defy gravity, or simply DECIDE to walk through a wall, you don’t have free will. People who say it would invariably conclude that anybody in a wheelchair automatically doesn’t have free will, because they can’t walk, despite wanting to. Why even have a discussion about the phrase if you’re going to pop out with such stupid arguments?

    Yet most of what I hear about free will seems to demand such a definition.

    To hear an atheist make such a statement, it seems to me I’m hearing the same type of unexamined holdover from religion that causes people to say you can’t have morality without God, because God is the source of morality.

    So: Free will only comes from God, and without Him, we can’t possibly have it. Therefore, those people who don’t believe in God can’t believe in free will.

    Uhhh … no.

    Atheism itself is a demonstration of free will.

    I define free will to mean something less absolutist, something like “the ability to be a conscious individual capable of making one’s own choices, especially in the face of pressure to conform.”

    I say free will is something we’re all probably capable of, but only under certain difficult conditions, conditions which most of us probably don’t attain. It’s sort of like getting a PhD, or finishing a marathon. It takes an immense amount of work, and a lot of us just aren’t up to it.

    Free will takes reason, introspection, awareness of your own nature, awareness of the nature of your social and natural environment, plus the determination to be an individual.

    Free will happens outside the herd. Most of us don’t go to the trouble. We’re content to be just like everybody else – to eat the fast food, covet the hot car, keep up on the latest fashions, praise Jesus (or Allah) right along with everybody else, watch the popular shows, watch the commercials and buy the shit advertised, get our tattoos, hate the right outgroups, and allow our knees to jerk every time our political and religious leaders hit us with their little rubber hammers.

    In other words, acting and reacting automatically to the forces that act on you is the opposite of free will. (You can find legions of them among the conservatives, the follow-alongs, the silent, the obedient, the strident dullards who think George W. Bush is the greatest president who ever lived.)

    If you’re NOT acting and reacting automatically, if you’re THINKING about what you’re doing and why, if you’re evaluating everything based on criteria you yourself have worked out, you’re exhibiting at the least the first half of free will.

    Free will, to me, is really about being Human, as opposed to being Beast. Nothing wrong with the beastly parts of us, but if that’s all you’re living in, all you’re living as, if you’re not bothering to use that most Human of gifts – independent Reason – you’re cheating yourself and everybody around you of the best and most complete You that you could be.

    Free will is not an illusion. It’s just that a lot of people – certainly those who don’t believe in it – never get to have it.

  7. #7 Bad
    December 2, 2007

    The major weakness I see is that despite the introductory premise setting things up as a matter of skepticism, many of the discussions go on to unnecessarily make strong assertions of their own, like saying that a god would not have created a universe in a high state of disorder.

    In my opinion, those sorts of things should be avoided. They are virtually never necessary to demonstrate the inadequacy of the claims they are responding to, and they commit the arguer to having to defend all sorts of crazy assertions for which there is no possible evidence to work with.

    I also think that his usage of Stenger is pretty clumsy. While I certainly like VS’s arguments, a lot of them in this context are far too technical right off the bat, and they are also far too certain in their presentation of the physical principles they are asserting. Many of Stenger’s arguments involve just explaining speculative possibilities, not definite truths about the universe. Again, the skeptical position is far easier to explain and far stronger in these sorts of questions. You don’t really need to understand physics at all to understand the logical flaws in fine tuning and first cause arguments.

    Also, the discussion of the ontological argument needs a lot of beefing up. The ontological argument is far trickier than we often give it credit for, especially in its new modal form, which even some atheist philosophers agree is logically sound (the problem is figuring out exactly what’s wrong the premises, and honestly, I don’t think there’s a really knock-down answer as of yet).

  8. #8 Bob Applebaum
    December 2, 2007

    I’d be cautious of the negative gravitational argument, in light of our lack of understanding of dark energy and dark matter. There is also no reason to conclude that god would have introduced positive energy. The first law of thermodynamics is a wonderful response.

  9. #9 j
    December 2, 2007

    I dislike reason #15. The corollary of “Some atheists are just incapable of belief; don’t blame them” is “Some theists just have to believe; don’t blame them.” It seems to me a negation of free will.

  10. #10 Kazim
    December 2, 2007

    Don’t forget that most or all of these arguments are also discussed in detail at Iron Chariots. :)

  11. #11 Bad
    December 2, 2007

    Hank, I’m not sure I understand you. Almost no one has ever disputed that there is a weak form of the term free will by which we mean that we are autonomous agents capable of being dropped down in a situation and making choices for ourselves.

    The only concept that’s ever really been in dispute IS the absolutist idea: the idea that free will means more than simply the ability to make a choice, but rather that our choices are unbounded by our natures. It’s hard to define exactly what this version of free will really means or implies, and of course, that’s it core weakness: it’s probably unintelligible. How can a chooser be free from their own nature? How can a will be free from itself, and yet still call its choices its own? Free Will is basically defined by negation (no, we are not bound by our natures, no God is not responsible for our choices, because we have this X that decides independently of who and what he made us), but never actually defined or explained directly.

    We can explain how a choice is made causally at least in theory, and through the study of the brain, we may someday be able to explain this specifically in humans. It’s not clear that advocates of Free Will (the strong version) can do anything like this: they can’t explain, even in theory, what Free Will is and what exact role it plays in choicemaking. If what they are talking about is a real concept, then they should be able to explain how choices are made without Free Will and then with Free Will, and what difference it made in the process. But they don’t seem able to do this, or even come close. And while Free Will is a favorite idea of many Dualists (who insist that a person is more than just the mechanistic operation of the brain), it’s actually just as much of a philosophical headache for them, because whatever they propose a person really IS, they still are stuck having to provide the same explanation, only in terms of souls or what have you. And there they are even worse off, because of course they have no way at all to examine what a soul is or how it makes choices in the same way we can examine what a brain is.

    It’s possible that even just asking the question of how choices get made “with” Free Will is deadly to the idea of “Free Will.” Once you start explaining the concept, you are committing yourself to some sort of causal chain of events… which is exactly what Free Will was denying or trying to escape responsibility for.

  12. #12 Adam Cuerden
    December 2, 2007

    Minor criticism:

    “Even today, it is probable that in England and France…”

    Surely this should read “In the UK and France” or, less accurately (but still more accurately than “England”) Great Britain and France.

  13. #13 Hank Fox
    December 2, 2007

    Bad: My point is that a discussion of “strong” free will — if that’s what it’s called — isn’t even worth having.

    We already know the answer. Believing that you can contravene natural laws by an act of will (or by appealing to a god) is really just another religion.

    Which is pretty much what you said, I guess. :D

    I don’t like it that the discussion leaps to the absolutist, and concludes no such thing can exist (or that only Jesus can give it to us), when there’s SO MUCH to gain from considering it in real terms.

    This guy made that same error. I’m an absolute atheist, but nothing in me thinks free will doesn’t exist.

    As to “weak” or “strong,” I think I’d much rather think of them as “realistic” free will as compared to “absolutist” or “mystical” free will. It isn’t strong if it’s impossible; it’s weak as hell.

  14. #14 Blake Stacey
    December 2, 2007

    I’m not particularly fond of calling altruism a selfish act (“People do good for others because it makes themselves feel good”). First, it robs the word “selfish” of predictive power: if you tell me, “John is a selfish man,” I should be able to predict something about John’s future actions. Will he help James change his car tire? No, he is too selfish to do that — but wait, yes, because helping James will make John feel warm and fuzzy.

    Second, I don’t think that model of altruism is well-founded in modern neuroscience.

    Third, it elides Dawkins’ key observation, that our kindness to total strangers may be a mis-firing or a byproduct of neural mechanisms crafted by natural selection in an age when all the people one met were close relatives or potential reciprocators. Altruism doesn’t necessarily increase the fitness of our genes today; it helped increase the fitness of our forgotten ancestors’ genes thousands or millions of years ago.

    Fourth, the idea that we make ethical judgments by calmly weighing each option in mind, dispassionately calculating a utility function and choosing the option of maximal goodness is completely absurd. That’s not the way people behave. We decide such matters emotionally, intuitively, instinctively, relying upon the truthiness in our gut. This often causes serious problems, but it’s the way our machinery works.

  15. #15 roger
    December 2, 2007

    From Argument (34): The fact that the universe started with maximum disorder means that a god could not have created it, because a purposeful creation would have had at least some order to it.

    Not so. It’s not trivial, but entirely possible to write a program who’s output is completely random. A stronger argument is that any sufficiently large collection of randomness is required to have some sort of ordering.

    Another argument that can be added to the list is the following:

    The Bible has the greatest copying fidelity of any known work. – The Bible has been published more times than any other work (actually, the IKEA catalog takes that prize) and its copying fidelity is unmatched. This is proof of God’s existence.

    Showing how the Bible has always had numerous copies present to check the fidelity against is trivially easy. Other works from that era have not had the benefit of mass production – the printing press is less than 600 years old. When there is only one or two copies of a work that would take you six months to acquire, checking for accuracy is difficult at best. When every parish, monastery and most homes have a copy, checking for accuracy is easy.

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 2, 2007

    This could be the longest Pharyngula post ever.

    I like the systematics, and sometime the specifics, but of course there are points that jumps out as less well argued or even curious. Perhaps a reference list had made it easier to parse those points – and the list is too long to argue that references is diluting the presentation.

    Gods as the ultimate free lunch (and as christians would have it, the ultimate false choice) is a good start.

    But the interesting list of leaps of faith describes some major religions anthropomorphic gods and finally focuses on abrahamic gods which detracts from it. Similarly later arguments reuse this conception of gods (to great effect, admittedly). I think it gives religions too much to focus on some specific religions delusions.

    Then we have the pure apologetics arguments at the end.

    Likable is Victor Stenger’s argument (#28) against non-existence (symmetry breaking), more so than Sean Carroll’s (IIRC that non-existence is outside the support of the knowable ensemble). I assume Stenger takes the observed fact that symmetries are broken (say CP invariance) then they don’t have to be preserved (say CPT invariance) and promotes it as a principle with some predictive power. [Stenger is now on my "must read" list.]

    But the point on the argument from first cause drops the ball – first cause isn’t a scientific description, and the very next argument on physical laws is part of a complete answer. Also, I can’t imagine what “the six physical constants of the universe” in point #31 refers to. Perhaps it is a partial list of the most important constants – more savvy religious persons use to include the Standard Model constants of the particle zoo for good reasons.

    Finally I have a minor quibble with point #34. Stenger’s argument, albeit excellent, isn’t necessarily valid in a larger multiverse setting. If I understand it correctly some models of eternal inflation speculates in a prespace where regions spontaneously started to inflate when they happened to exhibit low enough entropy with some small probability. (But I hasten to add, if religious people reads this, of course with high likelihood. :-P) IIRC Andrei Linde has a review article describing those models. But that is still no 2LOT violation.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 2, 2007

    This could be the longest Pharyngula post ever.

    I like the systematics, and sometime the specifics, but of course there are points that jumps out as less well argued or even curious. Perhaps a reference list had made it easier to parse those points – and the list is too long to argue that references is diluting the presentation.

    Gods as the ultimate free lunch (and as christians would have it, the ultimate false choice) is a good start.

    But the interesting list of leaps of faith describes some major religions anthropomorphic gods and finally focuses on abrahamic gods which detracts from it. Similarly later arguments reuse this conception of gods (to great effect, admittedly). I think it gives religions too much to focus on some specific religions delusions.

    Then we have the pure apologetics arguments at the end.

    Likable is Victor Stenger’s argument (#28) against non-existence (symmetry breaking), more so than Sean Carroll’s (IIRC that non-existence is outside the support of the knowable ensemble). I assume Stenger takes the observed fact that symmetries are broken (say CP invariance) then they don’t have to be preserved (say CPT invariance) and promotes it as a principle with some predictive power. [Stenger is now on my "must read" list.]

    But the point on the argument from first cause drops the ball – first cause isn’t a scientific description, and the very next argument on physical laws is part of a complete answer. Also, I can’t imagine what “the six physical constants of the universe” in point #31 refers to. Perhaps it is a partial list of the most important constants – more savvy religious persons use to include the Standard Model constants of the particle zoo for good reasons.

    Finally I have a minor quibble with point #34. Stenger’s argument, albeit excellent, isn’t necessarily valid in a larger multiverse setting. If I understand it correctly some models of eternal inflation speculates in a prespace where regions spontaneously started to inflate when they happened to exhibit low enough entropy with some small probability. (But I hasten to add, if religious people reads this, of course with high likelihood. :-P) IIRC Andrei Linde has a review article describing those models. But that is still no 2LOT violation.

  18. #18 katie
    December 2, 2007

    Another unconvincing argument for god I’ve heard a lot (I come from a very fundamentalist background) is that every culture in the world ever found has some kind of independent deity(ies).

    I have no idea if this is empirically true, but my usual counter to this is something along these lines:

    1. Perhaps that means the human brain is wired to have delusions about deities?

    2. Perhaps religion is a cultural virus (I put it this way because most fundamentalists haven’t heard of memes) that propagates itself quite nicely.

    3. Perhaps developing a religion is the best way of dealing with a difficult environment before people develop empirical science: enshrining certain behaviours into your religion is a better way of making sure they’re propagated.

  19. #19 andyo
    December 2, 2007

    I thought the argument of free will is more pragmatic than the philosophical semantics of choice. More like the deterministic or not nature of the universe, rather viewing it at the scale of us as humans.

    How can anything fundamental that we know not be subject to the laws of quantum mechanics? I mean, every particle has its probability wave, but for more than just a few particles, it is all but impossible to come up with a significant probability.

    So, fundamentally, we can say that every particle’s movement is pre-determined by probabilities, but in practice it is utterly unpredictable. Whatever our neurons lead us to act on, is a product of a practically unknowable chain of events.

    Sorry to sound like Deepak Chopra, I hope it was clear enough.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    December 2, 2007

    I presume the author of this piece has already read Sean Carroll’s “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists“. If he hasn’t, I recommend it.

  21. #21 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Several commenters have drawn a conclusion that I can support – the arguments are too technical (too much Stenger), and the more forceful general arguments becomes diluted. But one can argue at length how a text should be efficiently presented. There is also a value showing independent arguments that comes to the same conclusion.

    Btw, Hank Fox mentioned walking through walls, and that reminded me about an error in the list, of the sort that gnaw on you. Point #2 claims it is impossible to walk through walls. Quantum mechanically it isn’t impossible for even macroscopic “classical” objects to tunnel through a finite barrier, they too have (a minimally spread) wavefunction associated with them. But the likelihood of observing it during our universe lifetime is vanishingly small.

  22. #22 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Several commenters have drawn a conclusion that I can support – the arguments are too technical (too much Stenger), and the more forceful general arguments becomes diluted. But one can argue at length how a text should be efficiently presented. There is also a value showing independent arguments that comes to the same conclusion.

    Btw, Hank Fox mentioned walking through walls, and that reminded me about an error in the list, of the sort that gnaw on you. Point #2 claims it is impossible to walk through walls. Quantum mechanically it isn’t impossible for even macroscopic “classical” objects to tunnel through a finite barrier, they too have (a minimally spread) wavefunction associated with them. But the likelihood of observing it during our universe lifetime is vanishingly small.

  23. #23 Bobby
    December 2, 2007

    Free will is an illusion only if you define it in absolutist terms, to mean something like “the ability to defy all natural laws at will,” or “the ability to imagine something literally unthinkable and then to do it.”

    I’ve even heard people insist that if you can’t defy gravity, or simply DECIDE to walk through a wall, you don’t have free will. People who say it would invariably conclude that anybody in a wheelchair automatically doesn’t have free will, because they can’t walk, despite wanting to. Why even have a discussion about the phrase if you’re going to pop out with such stupid arguments?

    Yet most of what I hear about free will seems to demand such a definition.

    ISTM that this is the kind of free will that people actually believe in when they offer it as an argument for dualism, however much they may deny it. For example, if you say to them, “If God doesn’t want people to do x, then why didn’t He just make it impossible”, guess what answer you’re going to get back?

    But for some reason they don’t think things that really are impossible are relevant to the discussion. Our inability to teleport surely limits our opportunities for misbehavior, yet theologians don’t get their panties in a bunch over that.

    Free will is just another pick-and-choose belief for dualists. Before you try to refute it as an argument for something, you’ve got the bigger task of pinning them down on what they actually mean by it. Good luck on that.

  24. #24 katie
    December 2, 2007

    I also have a quibble with #8. Evolution does select for a superior competitor…but it’s entirely possible that the superior competitor is religion itself. When people use #8 against me, I usually reply there are lots of very adapted things that we try to eradicate: the common cold, rats, cockroaches… you get the point!

  25. #25 wintermute
    December 2, 2007
    Most atheists have no problem admitting that free will may be an illusion.

    Bullshit.

    Free will is an illusion only if you define it in absolutist terms, to mean something like “the ability to defy all natural laws at will,” or “the ability to imagine something literally unthinkable and then to do it.”

    Count me as an atheist that is unconvinced that we, as humans, make any choices at all. Was I free to choose to post this or not, or was my choice utterly constrained by the laws of physics as they apply to my brain? I honestly don’t know.

    I doubt that we have free will, even in the definition that you claim is incontrovertible and accepted by everyone.

  26. #26 Luis
    December 2, 2007

    There is one extra leap of faith necessary to make the list in the second point complete.

    #10: For this particular individual, simultaneous omnisciency and omnipotency are not a logical impossibility.

  27. #27 August Berkshire
    December 2, 2007

    It will take me a while to read and consider all of these comments, but I do appreciate them and will no doubt make some changes accordingly. It sounds like, at least in some cases, clarification is more necessary than alteration.

    But I wanted to address an early comment: that there is repetition, or at least overlap, in this list. Yes, there is. But I have listed them as separate arguments because, as someone pointed out, that’s how they are presented to me.

    So, for example, there is overlap between “Ethics/Morality” and “Altruism.” But I always hear them as separate questions: “If you don’t believe in God, where do you/we get morality from?” and “If there’s no God, how do you explain altruism when evolution requires us to be selfish?”

    The person who called this a “cheat sheet” for atheists has it right, though I hadn’t though of it that way before. Thanks, everyone, and keep those comments coming! Feel free to e-mail me directly as well: augustberkshire [at] gmail.com

  28. #28 tacitus
    December 2, 2007

    Free will does not help the cause of religion — well, Christianity, at least. An omniscient God already knows, before you are born, whether or not you are going to be “saved” or not. The only variable would be if God himself tweaks the initial conditions of your birth (DNA or environment) or intervenes (miracles) afterwards to change your fate.

    In such a scenario, any concept of free will, as Christians would have it, is merely an illusion.

  29. #29 BobC
    December 2, 2007

    (13) Fear of Hell – what a horrible belief! The insane people who believe it love to abuse their children with this disgusting nonsense. They love to threaten people with torture in hell when they don’t agree with their stupidity. Most of these nuts think only their religion can save them from the wrath of their loving god. It’s pure insanity and hell believers should be locked up before they harm somebody.

  30. #30 Bobby
    December 2, 2007

    Free will does not help the cause of religion — well, Christianity, at least.

    It doesn’t help any religion. Even if it were rigorously demonstrated the free will exists, what bearing would that have on the reality of divinities?

  31. #31 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 2, 2007

    However, a secular moral code existed before the Bible: the Code of Hammurabi.

    Wasn’t secular, or at least not marketed as such. The relief on top of the (uh…) pillar shows Hammurabi receiving plates with the laws written on them from the sun god (probably Shamash), and Wikipedia says

    Hammurabi (ruled ca. 1796 BC – 1750 BC) believed that he was chosen by the gods to deliver the law to his people. In the preface to the law code, he states, “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land.”

    At least one even older codes of law is known, written in Sumerian and dating from the Ur-III dynasty — the 21st century BC. The discussion page of the article mentions a few more.

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 2, 2007

    However, a secular moral code existed before the Bible: the Code of Hammurabi.

    Wasn’t secular, or at least not marketed as such. The relief on top of the (uh…) pillar shows Hammurabi receiving plates with the laws written on them from the sun god (probably Shamash), and Wikipedia says

    Hammurabi (ruled ca. 1796 BC – 1750 BC) believed that he was chosen by the gods to deliver the law to his people. In the preface to the law code, he states, “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land.”

    At least one even older codes of law is known, written in Sumerian and dating from the Ur-III dynasty — the 21st century BC. The discussion page of the article mentions a few more.

  33. #33 Mark Plus
    December 2, 2007

    Re: (12) “Heaven” (Fear of Death)

    “Going to heaven” doesn’t solve anything. What if you get to heaven, then decide to rebel against god?

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Strike “at least”. There are several minutes between the last sentence and the second-to-last sentence of my previous comment.

    On another note, Stenger’s interesting idea about symmetry-breaking shifts the problem rather than solving it: There is something rather than nothing because perfect symmetry is unstable. But why is it unstable? Maybe because of the 2LOT, but then why does the 2LOT exist, and so on. Still, however, this is progress.

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Strike “at least”. There are several minutes between the last sentence and the second-to-last sentence of my previous comment.

    On another note, Stenger’s interesting idea about symmetry-breaking shifts the problem rather than solving it: There is something rather than nothing because perfect symmetry is unstable. But why is it unstable? Maybe because of the 2LOT, but then why does the 2LOT exist, and so on. Still, however, this is progress.

  36. #36 Monty
    December 2, 2007

    On #33… I like the concept of Stupid Design- some structures are so retarted that evolution could never let them still exist, therefore, an incredibly incompetent Stupid Designer must have made them.

  37. #37 Peter
    December 2, 2007

    #2 is a little overly reflective of a monotheistic, mostly christian perspective, although I’m not even sure all christians think of their god as all-loving. However, there are polytheistic religions who believe in a spiritual realm populated by eternal beings, but it isn’t necessary that any of them be all-knowing or all-powerful. I really like this argument, I would probably just stop after #6, or explicitly acknowledge that continuing after #6 is positing additional leaps of faith more specific to monotheism.

  38. #38 Yes, It's Sarcasm
    December 2, 2007

    What? No Counter to the Argument from Bananas, as perfected by Kirk Cameron?
    Not to be outdone by the country’s greatest christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga:
    http://www.theapologiaproject.org/two-dozen.htm
    Let’s hear you refute Colors and Flavors!

  39. #39 Bad
    December 2, 2007

    Wow, check out the argument from Natural Numbers from that Plantinga link. I suppose you really have to be as intellectually sheltered as a theologian philosopher to think that argument has any merit. It’s basically saying that because numbers are concepts employed by minds, and because there are numbers human minds cannot count to, then there must be an infinite mind floating around somewhere that can, as if really really big numbers were something that just had to be constantly conceived of or they would evaporate, or something.

    Just think: these guys actually get TENURE for coming up with this batty stuff.

  40. #40 Sven DiMilo
    December 2, 2007

    Shouldn’t the Argument from Bananas be refuted by Alvin Plantain?

  41. #41 Sven DiMilo
    December 2, 2007

    or, for that matter, Simon or Theodore Plantain?

  42. #42 Spaulding
    December 2, 2007

    #22 – I don’t think your description of love is sufficient to nullify the concept of intangible ideas. There are intangible concepts which we constantly reference. Like love, we may at some point identify common brain functions that relate to ideas like “justice”, “charity”, “beauty”, etc., but the fact that a physical brain is used to process these thoughts does not rebut the conceptual existence of intangible thought.

    I think argument #22 needs no rebuttal. God is certainly something that can be imagined. The non-existence of god does not imply that the intangible concept of “god” must not exist. The trouble is that #22 isn’t intended as an honest argument. It generally takes the form of “intangible concepts can be said to exist -> therefore Jesus”. And that’s a non-sequitur.

    Or sometimes it’s the familiar two-step: worship a fire-and brimstone man in the sky who performs miracles and raises the dead, but if this belief is challenged then defend a god so abstract and meaningless as to be a tautology. Then return to the original belief when the mean old rational person goes away.

  43. #43 Rebecca
    December 2, 2007

    Here are two more “stupid designs” to add to #33:

    First, what idiot placed the uterus just above the bladder, so that a fetus would be able to kick or head butt you in the bladder for nine months? Not very smart. (On a related note, you’ve probably heard the joke that God is a civil engineer, because only a civil engineer would place a recreation area so close to a sewage treatment plant.)

    Second, what kind of imbicile would run a nerve just below the surface of the skin, right at your elbow? That is just plain moronic. Even my orthopedic surgeon, who is not (to the best of my knowledge) omniscient, figured out a better place for it to go — tucked behind a muscle, safe from cubital entrapment.

  44. #44 Spaulding
    December 2, 2007

    Argument #34 – most of the time I’ve heard the Argument from Misunderstanding Thermodynamics, it’s been in specific reference to life.

    Generally, it’s misinterpreted to mean that increase in order is impossible. Obviously, this interpretation is refuted by a kid and a Lego set.

    A closer interpretation would be that reducing entropy requires energy. And if you look really, really closely, you’ll find that living things do, in fact, consume energy in order to build and maintain body structure. On a larger scale, life on earth is maintained by energy input of the sun.

    So a theist using this thermodynamics argument takes the position that there is no such thing as “eating” or “the sun”. I’m not sure how to rebut such devastating claims.

  45. #45 pholidote
    December 2, 2007

    I can’t believe they missed my favorite counterargument to Pacsal’s wager: false dichotomy.

    Pascal starts with the premise: either there is no supernatural afterlife, or there is one, and it is roughly as believed by Sect A. Given the almost infinite benefits possible, the equities favor believing. But what happened to Sects B, C, and D, that say if you believe in what Sect A is pushing, you will life forever only to endure unspeakable ceaseless torture beyond the imaginings of the cruelist sadist? This changes the odds. Still want to bet on A, knowing that you have potential losses beyond imagining? Hey, I’m content to life a regular life and then die. I find the idea of an afterlife, which could be heaven or hell based on criteria that are rationally unknowable, not very comforting. Nobody ever wins this game but the house.

  46. #46 Spaulding
    December 2, 2007

    Argument #11 (Medical Miracles) – It’s also worth pointing out that our bodies have built-in systems for healing injury and fighting infection and cancer. The effectiveness of these systems is not an argument for god.

    If you really want to delve into the problem of evil, it’ll take more than a couple of token sentences to persuade someone who believes that humans were given enough freedom to screw up a perfect world.

  47. #47 Zeno
    December 2, 2007

    God started to intervene in my life yesterday with a personal message directed right at me, via the car radio. But he screwed it up with bad timing. It was not a persuasive demonstration of omnipotence, I’m telling you. He’s quite an underachiever.

    [Link]

  48. #48 Sastra, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Actually, Argument #(22) — “God is Intangible, Like Love” — is a formulation of one of the most powerful and basic intuitions theists use to convince themselves that there must be a God, so it’s not surprising to find it in apologetics, both popular and sophisticated (ie Plantinga)

    Human beings have problems making sense of abstractions. The fact that you can’t hold love (or numbers or liberty or emotions or thoughts) in your hand or see them under a microscope seems to nudge our brains into conceptualizing these things as different, higher kinds of substances — like air or light, only airer and lighter. Spirit-stuff. Life energy. When category errors are made by intellectuals, you can get Platonic forms.

    The idea then behind this particular argument seems to be that thoughts, emotions, values, and abstractions are not physical, material things, so they are spiritual things. Mind is a force. Love is a force, or a kind of energy, or a spirit. So atheism makes no sense. If you can believe that you have feelings and thoughts, then God is not much of a leap. They’re all the same kind of “thing that’s not a thing.”

    One of my own favorite rebuttals to this argument (when presented in simple form) is to turn it around on them and explain that “God is like Love” is really an atheist argument.

    Love is not an invisible substance, floating around and coming in through windows. Not really. Love is an emotion, and behaviors that express that emotion. It’s not Cupid or Aphrodite. If God is like love, then you’re telling me God is a word used for emotion. It’s just a way of feeling, and we symbolize it with a God-person the same way we symbolize romance with cupid.

    Is God just a feeling? No? Then stop arguing for atheism.

    Ok, this rebuttal doesn’t get to the category error at the heart of the issue — but it usually makes them drop this argument.

    And I think August did an excellent job with the list, given the scope of the task, the small space it was put into, and the fact that it is trying to address both the simple, popular arguments and the more complicated theological ones. Each one of these Arguments for God has had books written on it. No “cheat sheet” is going to finish the job. This is a good place to start.

  49. #49 Bad
    December 2, 2007

    “The Bible has the greatest copying fidelity of any known work”

    This is pretty much flat out false.

    The best claim version of this claim would refer to only the Old Testament, and the reason is simply because the Jews were a single people who kept their sacred documents extremely carefully protected. Of course, even this isn’t necessarily enough to make it “the greatest” since it all matters on what you count. Unless you tack on “any known ANCIENT work” then you’re already being silly. When does modernity start? Chinese scholars copies texts laboriously and carefully, are they in the running?

    Looking at the New Testament, on the other hand, the argument is simply crazypants. There exist hundreds and hundreds of different textual variations in copies of the NT: some minor, some major.

    Of course, the argument is pretty much irrelevant anyway. Of all the texts ever copied, one HAS to be the most accurately reproduced over the most length of time. If it were a race, it wold be Judaism, not Christianity, that would win, since the NT has nowhere near even the same class of fidelity.

    And what the heck does that have to do with whether what it says is true anyway? About the best it would show is that those who consider it sacred are obsessive about copying errors.

  50. #50 greg laden
    December 2, 2007

    I’d be careful on the banana argument. Lots of smart people have been slipped up by that one.

  51. #51 Sastra, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Argument #35:
    PYGMIES AND DWARFS!!!

  52. #52 Riley
    December 2, 2007

    The only thing that these arguments prove is that there is no proof that a God or gods do or even can exist. However, it does not prove that a God or gods cannot exist; I hope people are not trying to use these arguments for this purpose.

  53. #53 gbsuch
    December 2, 2007

    Only 34?

    Lets pull together another 18 and create a deck of cards of science and philosophy’s most wanted and reasoned arguments? Perhaps proceeds from sales could be contributed to further logic, reason and science education in the education system? Just think, the gift of reason (which keeps on giving) for that somebody special….and just in time for the holiday season!

  54. #54 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 2, 2007

    As arguments to convince others, all 34 may well fall short. Many are flatly contradicted by data from the natural world, and some of those which are not (such as #30, #31) are amenable to future falsification. And, taken as a whole, Berkshire’s conclusion is inescapable: “Religious people have a tough, if not impossible task to try to prove a god exists, let alone that their particular religion is true.”

    Quite right. You can’t probably can’t reason your way to faith, much less compel others purely through logic to faith. But one needn’t wade through a sea of arguments to reject that proposition. So why provide a list of 34, if not for polemical effect to the contrary? This reminds me of creationist links of things that (to their minds, at least) can’t be explained by evolution: they may or may not be relevant to the question of whether the claim can be accepted as credible.

    For example, it’s one thing to claim that a particular argument ‘proves’ God’s existence, and quite another to say that such-and-such is/is not a valid argument towards God’s existence. Taking #6 as illustrative, it is completely inadequate as a proof of God’s existence, obviously. However, #6 has not been refuted per se. Rather, it’s been shown to be inconclusive–which is trivial. As we all know, personal reports of religious experience are immune to objective examination. We can reject such claims based on the lack of consonance between the consequences and observed phenomena, or else on grounds of incoherence, but that’s not the same thing as falsifying the claim.

    With that in mind, in the mind of the believer many of the other 33 raised are likely to be seen through the filter of argument #6. If you find #6 compelling, you will tend to nod your head at arguments like #10 and #11: even though counter-explanations exist, you will tend to choose the explanation which is consonant with #6.

    It is an interesting question as to whether rejection of #6 might similarly bias one against accepting #10 or #11: my ‘hunch’ is that skeptics are less likely to do that, and more inclined to accept/reject such propositions independently of one another, but I don’t know of any evidence off-hand that would support my intuition. Does anyone here have any suggestions?

    #27 and #29: I am not impressed by the arguments made here against ontology or causality. The ‘perfect skyscraper’ has more in common with Plato’s world of Forms than the Perfect imputed by Anselm, and the possible non-existence of apparently ludicrous examples of ‘perfect forms’ is not an argument per se against the existence of the Perfect.
    I note in passing that rejection of #27 is potentially devastating to the multiverse scenarios that have been proposed to address the ‘fine tuning’ arguments…

    Similarly, the ‘fact’ that quantum particles pop into existence without an apparent cause can not be used to deny the possibility of causation. Arbitrarily defining ‘God’ as either an Uncaused Cause (the believer’s ‘cheat’) or (as Dawkins cleverly does) the ‘Ultimate 747′ says nothing about whether or not causation occurred.

    Finally, I observe that #28 is not so much an argument as it is an interesting question.

  55. #55 T_U_T
    December 2, 2007

    there was one great paper, that showed, that universe is not fine tuned at all – you could vary many parameters, ans still get one you can live in… But I lost it long ago… does anyone know anything similar ?

  56. #56 Crudely Wrott
    December 2, 2007

    The Nth Unconvincing Argument for God:

    The kids were driving me crazy with all their questions about ‘Why?’ and ‘From where?’ and ‘What makes that big noise that comes with the rain?’. So one day I just told them that there is a big ugly man in the air who does not like it when children pester their parents. That shut them up, I can tell you. They are now so much more easy to care for, and I am feeling rather clever.

  57. #57 poke
    December 2, 2007

    Scott Hatfield,

    personal reports of religious experience are immune to objective examination.

    I don’t see how they’re different from any other claim. Are you saying experience has a supernatural basis? Otherwise, how are claims of revelation different from any other situation where I claim supernatural intervention and then stubbornly persist in the face of material explanation? The laws of physics hold still hold for the brain.

  58. #58 woozy
    December 2, 2007

    Warning! Long comment with many points:

    === Joke responses to previous post =====

    #39

    Second, what kind of imbicile would run a nerve just below the surface of the skin, right at your elbow? That is just plain moronic. Even my orthopedic surgeon, who is not (to the best of my knowledge) omniscient, figured out a better place for it to go — tucked behind a muscle, safe from cubital entrapment.

    If you didn’t have the “funny bone” what would prevent your from shoving your elbow into rotating fan blades?

    First, what idiot placed the uterus just above the bladder, so that a fetus would be able to kick or head butt you in the bladder for nine months?

    That’s God’s way of keeping pregnant women in the home and out of the public eye where the sight of them would be indecent to virtuous men. (Meant to be sarcastic but scarily close to some actual attitudes I’ve run across.)

    ==== An argument for the existance of God which I’ve never heard =====

    A few years ago I came up with an argument for God. I’ve never seen other folks express it though which kind of surpises me:

    Argument 35: Human beings are sentient and conscious. (Well, *I* am and as the symmetry of simplicity and universality, I assume all others are rather than my perceived world is some complicated charade just for my consciousness.) Much has been specualated as to the nature of sentience and consciousness and the consensus seems to be it is a by product or result of complexity of brain biology. We can’t predict *why* or *how* a complex system such as a brain *would* result in a consciousness thus it seems likely any system of sufficient complexity should result in consciousness. Surely a galaxy of stars, gravity, viewed over eons is, if not as complex as a brain, as complex as a cell, and the universe as a collection of galaxies is as complex as a brain. Hence it is likely conciousness exists in “larger” complex systems. Wouldn’t this consiousness be accurately be called a “God”?

    Now bear in mind, that argument is provided as an excercise only. I came up with it a few years ago (long before The God Delusion and I had ever heard of the term “New Atheist”) while debating a liberal believer as to why I didn’t believe. This liberal believer was not a brain-dead young earther nor a “man in the sky with a white beard” believer and very quickly the discussion got to the “Well, what’s the definition of God” level and I was put to task for believing in Mathematics (I *do* believe pi is a transendental number with a precise constant value) and not believing in god which made me wonder what the hell she was talking about. I’m still not sure what she was talking about but it’s pretty sure if we’re going to debate the exsistance or non-existance of god we have to define our terms. This giant conscious “God” may or may not exist (galaxies and the universe are probably too orderly and not as “complex” as cells and brains to be concious) but if it does it’s clearly of no more concern to us or us to it than a blood cell is aware of me or I am aware of my individual blood cells and thus is a “useless god”.

    ===== Observations that some of these arguments can be seen as arguments against God ===
    I find many of these arguments to be applicable as arguments against God.

    1) God of the gaps: restricts god to a mechanics of unknown physics. This makes have an impersonal force. If god is collapsing quantuum waves or the gravitational force of dark matter or whatever other gap, “he” is no more personal or deserving of a personal pronoun than say, gravity or friction. Gravity and friction are both pretty darned important but it’d be bizarre to pray to the law of Gravity or to have a personal relationship to friction.

    7) Most people believe in God: this is actually the very first argument the convinced me to be an *atheist* when I was eight years old. Most people believe in God but they believe different things about him. Neolithic cave men (in my eight-year old mind these were figures in paint and religiously performing rites to animal and weather spirits) far predated any modern beliefs. If any human religious belief corresponds to a true religious reality, it’s impossible that humans that it was a lucky guess. (That is to say, if a family locked in one house make up stories about the people in the house next door whom they never see or have any evidence of, it’d be impossible for the locked family to guess the name, ages, proffessions, number, and biographies of the unknown house utterly by chance.) So if any religious belief reflects a true religious reality the religious reality had to show itself. (As I was 8 years old, I wasn’t familiar the story of the burning bush or other revelations. I believed people believed things, as I did, because people told them so.) As there was no reason to believe one account over another, religious belief as diverging folklore, i.e. fiction or mutation of an irrecoverable initial event, made more sense.

    8) Evolution wouldn’t allow false beliefs: If one begins think about beliefs in terms of evolution at all, it gets “interesting” to hypothesis how beliefs and evolution interact at all. Plants evolve and can’t think at all so have no beliefs. Cats and dogs can think but clearly can not think as we do at all. Jellyfish probably can’t think but insects function so … differently than we do. This forces one to question *why* (evolutionary thinking) do we think and to what degree is it *true* (reflective of reality). Cats and Dogs can not do math at all (or play backgammon; trust me, I tried once when I was desparate for a game partner) and we can. Why? “Clearly” we think so we can make beneficial (for our survival) decisions. But if simple math can yield simple solutions to common problems (“Did we get enough apples for everyone? Let’s count, do subtraction, and find out”) Complex and rare problems solving skills are *not* likely to come about through evolution. (“Light can be a particle *and* a wave?” “The earth is *round*?” “(A + B)^2 *isn’t A^2 + B^2?”) Likewise intuitive ideas applied outside the immediate world of survival are quite likely to be false. (“Things are either one thing or another and have well defined edges, so that should apply to sub-atomic particle”, “The geometry of the universe should be Euclidean”, “Measuring quantities, speeds, and most things are linear so population growth is linear as well”) Unless an idea has direct and immediate application it is unlikely to have evolved and is, unless otherwise proven likely to be false. God doesn’t come into our individual lives and guide us on a regular on a live or die and regular basis, so as an *evolutionary* belief, the belief in God is probably intuitive and false.

    9) The God part of the brain: We (maybe) have a lobe in the brain prone to giving us “religious experience”. Supposedly this lobe (or gland or whatever it is) is activated when we have a religious experience and if artificially activated results in a religious experience. Evolutionarily this lobe (or gland or whatever) serves a purpose (if it exists) but I’m not going to speculate what it might be. But we don’t have any “reality lobe” to percieve reality. Doesn’t this imply God and religious experiences are *not* part of an external reality but a reaction of an internal mental effect?

    12-13) Heaven and Hell: can historically be traced. One can historically follow the history of religious thought and see how it changes historically. This casts doubt as to religions objectivity and veracity. At least to me it does. This doesn’t *disprove* religion by any means but does force me to analyze belief and put it through empirical test.

    27) Perfect being must exist: Not only can this argument be shown to have logical falicies (begging the question, presupposing its conclussion, and abuse of ambiguity between ontological existance and real existance [by the way, there's a type in the arguement; it should read such an indestructable skyscraper must not exist.]) but a perfect being can ontologically be shown to be inconsistant. “Can God create a rock he can not lift” points out the inherant limitations of the concept of omnipotence. This is semantics but it points out the impossibility of our concepts of perfection and absolutes. A “perfect” being can not exist.

    ==== Frustration of the “First Cause/Something vs. Nothing” arguments (frustration whether one is for or against god) ===
    Sidebar:
    28) Why is there something rather than nothing?

    I think this question is the nub. However I can not concieve of there possibly being a satisfying answer. Whatever answer we can come up with, it seems we’d be able to direct the question to it. (God did it: Who made God? Big Bang: What caused Big Bang? Pre-universal physics render physical laws obsolete so questions of time and cause and effect are invalid: Okay, but what *happened?) Maybe I simply can’t concieve of a satisfying answer and there is one, but I doubt it. I think ultimately everyone will have to just accept it. *sigh*

    === invalidity of rebuttal to “Something vs. Nothing” argument =====

    According to physics and astronomy professor Victor Stenger, symmetrical systems tend to be unstable. They tend to decay into less symmetrical systems. Now, Nothing – the lack of anything – is perfectly symmetrical, and thus highly unstable.

    Um, is it just me, or is this gobbledeegook? Doesn’t the statement “symmetrical systems tend to be unstable” imply the symmetrical systems in question are non-empty. I mean the reason they are unstable is because the elements must be in balance and balance must be maintained. If there are no elements there is no balance to be maintained. Surely an empty (and therefore trivially symmetric) would be trivially stable (nothing to break down to).

    === applying similar logic as the rebuttal to “something vs. nothing” argument to prove preposterous result: All marbles are blue, and a pleasant reminisence to woozy’s salad days====
    Treating a trivial instance of a property as a non-trivial instance is the basis of many mathematical “joke” proofs. Example: Proof by induction that all marbles are blue.

    Proof:
    A) I have a blue marble.
    Lemma B) All marbles are the same color.
    Ergo: All marbles are blue.

    Proof of Lemma B) All marble are the same color.

    Given all the marbles in the world, you can pick two and put them into a bag together to have a bag of two marbles.
    Lemma C) Given a bag of marbles, all the marbles in the bag are the same color.
    Ergo the two marbles are the same color. As this is true of any two marbles picked and we can pick any possible pair of marbles (either via axiom of choice, or because there exist only finite marbles), all marbles must be the same color.

    Proof of Lemma C) Given a bag of marbles, all the marble in the bag are the same color.
    We will prove this via a proof by induction.
    A proof by induction requires to steps:
    Initial Step: Show proposition is true for the case n = 1.
    Induction Step: Show that if the proposition holds for some number n, then it must also hold for the number n + 1.

    If one can show these two steps, one can conclude the proposition is true for all positive integers. (Because it is true for 1. So it is true for 2 = 1 + 1. So it is true for 3 = 2 + 1. And so on ad infinitim.)

    Initial Step: All the marbles in any bag of 1 marble is the same color.
    Proof: Trivial. As there is only one marble in the bag, it must be the same color as itself.

    Inductive Step: If all the marbles in any bag of n marbles are the same color, then all the marbles in any bag of n + 1 marble are the same color.
    Proof: Take a bag of n + 1 marble. Take a marble out and call the removed marble “Barney”. The remaining marbles are now in a bag of n marbles. Therefore all the remaining marbles are the same color. Put “Barney” back in the bag and remove a different marble. “Barney” is now in a bag of n marbles so all the marbles are the same color so “Barney” is the same color as all the others. Thus all the marbles in a bag of n + 1 marbles (“Barney” and n other marbles all the same color) are the same color.

    QED.
    Possible problems with this proof:
    a)There are infinite number of marbles and axiom of choice is therefore demonstably false as not all marbles are blue.
    b)Marbles can and will change color when placed into or removed from bags– (Schroedinger’s marbles?).
    c)It’s fucking bullocks!
    d)Proof assumes the integer n in the inductive step is non-trivially greater than one whereas the initial step (the basis for the inductive step) *is* trivially equal to 1. (In the instance, 1 is “trivial” in the sense that all marbles in a bag of 1 marble are the same becase there are no other marbles for 1 marbe to differ from!)
    (Heh, Heh, In 1981 when I was a freshman in college, Professor Tony Tromba gave me a beer for pointing that assumption out.)

  59. #59 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    I just don’t see how this discussion helps the cause of keeping “intelligent design” out of science classrooms. People who believe in God or gods are typically firm in their beliefs, and the natural tendency that I’ve observed in my fellow humans when their closely-held principles are challenged is not to embark on an introspective reassessment of their worldviews, but instead to dig in their heels and also to do what they can to raise the stakes. Mayhaps we evolutionary biologists are also subject to the same instinctive reactions?

    I’d like to see more posting of rational arguments with the focus on why “Creation” or “intelligent design” has no place in science curriculum, and less “there is no evidence for a higher power and those who believe in one are morons”.

    The reality is that science curricula (at least in US public schools) will be constrained by the opinions of our legislators who will, in turn, be elected by the general public. Alienating large segments of the general public will not do our cause any favors.

  60. #60 Tulse
    December 2, 2007

    I’d like to see more posting of rational arguments with the focus on why “Creation” or “intelligent design” has no place in science curriculum, and less “there is no evidence for a higher power and those who believe in one are morons”.

    Well, that is a rational argument as to why creationism shouldn’t be taught in science class…

    In any event, different people have different motivations — you may be concerned with the short-term issue of ID in schools, but some other folks here, including our genial host, take the longer view that without a major secularization of US society, we will continually face this kind of idiocy in the culture.

  61. #61 Sastra, OM
    December 2, 2007

    28) Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Using this one to invoke God is strange. It seems to presume that the natural, normal thing one ought to expect to have is Nothing. No matter, no energy, no time, no extension, no empty space — no, not even a void. I have trouble even thinking of that as coherent, let alone Possibility #1.

    Still, assume it is a logical possibility, and the question still fails to impress me as an argument for God. Just take it rationally, as a thought experiment. How many possible permutations of reality could there be, conceptually? How many ways are there that “something” of some kind might exist?

    That number is astronomical, if not infinite. Take reality as we know it and start tweaking everything. Take a minute ago or a million years ago and tweak and tweak and tweak. We’ve got — for all intents and purposes — a virtually infinite library of possibilities, of possible worlds. Infinity to the infinity power.

    So, just as a matter of logical analysis, the odds of something over nothing are pretty much infinity to one. If those were my odds in winning a lottery even I would buy a ticket, and I’m pretty cautious (and cheap). Infinity:1 is not much of a gamble. How HIGH would the number of theoretical “somethings” have to get before it no longer seems like a miracle that there is — as it turns out –something rather than nothing?

  62. #62 Monado
    December 2, 2007

    I’d like to recommend “300 Proofs that God Exists.” Here are the first three:

    TRANSCENDENTAL ARGUMENT, a.k.a. PRESUPPOSITIONALIST (I)
    (1) If reason exists then God exists.
    (2) Reason exists.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
    (1) If I say something must have a cause, it has a cause.
    (2) I say the universe must have a cause.
    (3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (I)
    (1) I define God to be X.
    (2) Since I can conceive of X, X must exist.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

  63. #63 Sven DiMilo
    December 2, 2007

    I just don’t see how this discussion helps the cause of keeping “intelligent design” out of science classrooms.

    And I just don’t see why you assume that it’s supposed to do so.

    I’d like to see more posting of rational arguments with the focus on why “Creation” or “intelligent design” has no place in science curriculum

    Allow me to introduce you to the “search this blog” feature, up there at the upper left. Also to the Google.
    But other than demonstrating that “it ain’t science” (which has been done, in spades), what other rational arguments are necessary?

    …and less “there is no evidence for a higher power and those who believe in one are morons”.

    I’m sure Dr. Myers would join me in inviting you to feel free to skip blithely over any posts that are not what you’d like to see.

    Alienating large segments of the general public will not do our cause any favors.

    Your concern is duly noted.
    Again.

  64. #64 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    …different people have different motivations — you may be concerned with the short-term issue of ID in schools, but some other folks here, including our genial host, take the longer view that without a major secularization of US society, we will continually face this kind of idiocy in the culture.

    Regardless of one’s motivation, I stand behind my argument that offending and alienating large portions of the population does more harm than good.

    Many of us have mothers (or grandmothers) who at some point have stated that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. My stance is that we need to keep ID out of classrooms so we can focus on drawing students and the greater public into the fascinating world of evolutionary biology (and science, in general) and present them with all of the compelling evidence that has become foundational to our disciplines.

    And I know many religious people who embrace evolutionary theory (my parents included) and who have no desire to bring religious discussions into classrooms. I am deeply concerned that the anti-religion movement among many scientists is going to force people to decide that because they hold religious beliefs then they must vote against science at the polls. If that becomes reality, I’m afraid we’re in for quite a wild and unpleasant ride.

  65. #65 601
    December 2, 2007

    Free will is a delusion.

    This is one of the emotionally challenging aspects of Atheism, much like the purpose of life, or absolute morality.

    Given -ANY- initial conditions, there can be only one course for the future. This is one of the few axioms of the scientific method.

    Chaos provides that this future often unpredictable (and initial conditions are unmeasurable in detail), but there is NO choice in the process.

    For a theist, one could imagine sub-quantum miracles changing fate, but even this could hardly be considered an individual’s free will.

    Atheists (including PZ) seem to avoid this topic, as it can be so depressing.

    Everything is an emergent property of random collisions, sometimes ordered locally by a little energy. This is the essence of evolution.

  66. #66 Martin
    December 2, 2007

    Should we be looking for arguments?
    God exists or not withing any of us
    http://www.spymac.com/details/?2311958

  67. #67 Sastra, OM
    December 2, 2007

    PZ is not trying to get atheism taught in classrooms. He is not claiming that if you believe in evolution, then you need to be an atheist. He is not suggesting that arguments against the existence of God be used as the political strategy against Intelligent Design. Theistic evolutionists are welcome allies. That’s how I understand him. I could be wrong, but don’t think so.

    However, the claim that “evolution is consistent with religion” is only true if you compartmentalize, rationalize, draw lines, and refuse to take religion seriously, as beliefs about the way the universe really works. And I suspect the longterm failure to address this will lead to increasing pseudoscience, the continued denigration and marginalization of atheists, and the continued elevation of faith over reason. Atheism needs to be a “live option” in society, or you will see the same sorts of problems as in creationism pop up again and again (ie alternative medicine).

    I think that you may underestimate the religious. They don’t all need to be pandered and condescended to. Discussing the “unconvincing arguments for God” is taking the hypothesis seriously. And there are a lot of religious people who are serious enough about their beliefs that they are capable of regarding God as a hypothesis. They are not offended. They can recognize real respect when they see it.

  68. #68 efrique
    December 2, 2007

    Here’s an argument I discussed recently on my blog – the argument from extra belief. A believer will sometimes try to support their argument for their belief in God (or indeed, anything they desperately wish to be true, like that they are psychic) by stating (and re-stating) how strongly they feel their belief is true.

    This argument would seem to be so weak that it’s hardly worth even discussing, but many people that use this argument appear convinced that “But, I really, really believe it!” is in fact a strong and convincing, even unrefutable argument, so I guess it does require refutation.

    I have heard this one (in various guises, usually after an initial few arguments are countered in obvious ways) at least 5 or 6 times over the years.
    I am often tempted to respond “and I really, really believe you’re an idiot”, but I usually manage to refrain.

    There are several obvious replies. For example, that strength of belief is not strength of evidence, and may only reflect how badly they are mistaken. Victims of con artists, long after irrefutable evidence that they are victims has been presented to them, may continue to hold to the feeling that there is some other explanation, simply because the strongly believed the person was genuine. If I believe really strongly that I can fly, it won’t help me at all once I step off the roof (though unfortunately, people make money essentially selling books that would seem to tell you exactly the opposite – if you believe it enough it will become true).

    – –

    A further problem with Pascal’s Wager (and many of the other arguments) is simply that it is an argument for trying to believe in some god (one that offers the kind of deal proposed in the case of the wager), but they provide no indication that the believer’s particular preference is actually better than any option that’s around – or indeed that there aren’t infinitely better options that the believer is ignorant of. If I come across a God that promises that in return for my belief, not only will I get an infinite reward, so will all my descendants, then that’s a *better* deal than Pascal’s, and by Pascal’s argument I should take that deal instead. I guess this relates to argument #20 – these kind of arguments are always false dichotomies.

  69. #69 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    other than demonstrating that “it ain’t science” (which has been done, in spades), what other rational arguments are necessary?

    How about: “Many people hold true to the beliefs of their familial predecessors, and that is OK. We encourage discussion of these beliefs in History and Cultural Studies classes because they do have immense value historically and culturally. However, these issues are not relevant to scientific discussions” ?

    Or if, as Tulse suggests, the goal is a major national secularization, then consider: “Scientific inquiry is not contrary to your personal religious beliefs. In fact, science has revealed many facts that can serve to deepen your admiration for the cleverness of your higher power”.

    Any successful zealot (no matter their philosophical inclination) would surely agree that the way to win over the masses is to convince them that the new way of thinking simply complements and enhances their own long-held traditions.

  70. #70 Uber
    December 2, 2007

    Scott, Scott, Scott,

    personal reports of religious experience are immune to objective examination.

    Not necessarily. If a statue starts ‘bleeding’ it can be examined. Now if you are talking about insane ideas like people hearing voices and such by themselves,completely alone then you are likely correct.

    At which point we must just use some common sense and ask if this veru common and very contradictory idea is even remotely convincing and why it would be to someone not amazingly credulous.

  71. #71 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    I think that you may underestimate the religious. They don’t all need to be pandered and condescended to. Discussing the “unconvincing arguments for God” is taking the hypothesis seriously. And there are a lot of religious people who are serious enough about their beliefs that they are capable of regarding God as a hypothesis. They are not offended. They can recognize real respect when they see it.

    Really? Is this merely a demonstration of respect? It seems to me that discussing the “unconvincing arguments for God” simply serves to perpetuate the misconception that it is possible to conduct scientific examinations (hypothesis testing) of religious/supernatural beliefs.

    This would suggest that religion is, in fact, an appropriate topic for science classrooms. I strongly disagree, hence my inclination to post on this topic.

  72. #72 windy
    December 2, 2007

    “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
    Using this one to invoke God is strange. It seems to presume that the natural, normal thing one ought to expect to have is Nothing.

    Not to mention the disembodied spirit beings that are also supposed to have existed along with the “nothing”.

  73. #73 Sven DiMilo
    December 2, 2007

    Cassandra (#65), I don’t really disagree with you. But still, the only rational argument for keeping ID/C out of the science curriculum is that it’s not science. The rest is just softening the blow on those who don’t get it.
    And (as you know) PZ Myers’s personal blog is not where the fight to keep ID/C out of the science curriculum is being fought…it’s where PZ Myers posts stuff at his personal whim and the rest of us get to argue about and/or have fun with it.

  74. #74 cm
    December 2, 2007

    Hank Fox #6:

    It sounds like what you call “free will” I call “spunk”, “character”, “backbone”, etc. But this is surely not the “free will” August Burroughs is talking about; he’s talking about the philosophical concept. I am surprised to see you have found people to think free will has something to do with physical restraint of one’s bodily actions, as if a bound prisoner is a good example of not having free will. But that’s not what the philosophical matter of free will is about.

    As I understand it, free will means the ability of a person’s or conscious animal’s behaviors, unlike the behaviors of rocks and water droplets, to be, to any degree uncaused, that is “free” from a causal sequence, non-deterministic. And that doesn’t seem to be consistent with a materialist view of persons. We act because of our brain states, and our brain states are that way because of other circumstances. There is never a new causal force (an “I”) that enters into causality, though it can be handy to think of the “I”, the consciousness, as a thing, the source of this (erroneous) volition, and we often do in our folk conceptions of these things.

  75. #75 cm
    December 2, 2007

    (August Berkshire, not August Burroughs…confused him with Augusten Burroughs. Apology to Mr. Berkshire)

  76. #76 SEF
    December 2, 2007

    Many of us have mothers (or grandmothers) who at some point have stated that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”

    I’ve been waiting for someone to try that one. Argument from tradition and authority is never a good idea. Have you ever stopped to consider what an inappropriate saying it is – particularly for this situation?! The flies aren’t harmlessly caught by the honey to be converted into nicer, more useful members of the animal kingdom (in the opinion of the catcher). They’re being trapped to kill them.

    Scientists aren’t the ones trying to con victims. Nor are they trying to wipe them out (on the whole). Rather they’re (generally) trying to rescue them from the religious leaders who are conning them. The manipulative honey users are the televangelists, the preachers and the DI IDers. They’re the bad guys – in case you haven’t noticed. We shouldn’t be stooping to their level.

  77. #77 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    Sven(#68), internet blogs are becoming increasingly influential in regard to the voting public, and I recently read that Pharyngula is the third most popular blog in Minnesota (after two right-wing conservative ones). The discussions here undoubtedly present opportunities for fun arguments, but each post is online, and accessible to anyone with a computer and ISP.

    As always, the price of fame is a large audience. Some of whom may be religious, many of whom may be “on the fence” about ID/C in the science classroom, and most of whom are likely to be eligible voters. I posted my concerns because I’m worried about the ramifications come election time, not because I can’t appreciate a fun debate.

  78. #78 Pierce R. Butler
    December 2, 2007

    We need 632 more points… or maybe just 8!

  79. #79 PZ Myers
    December 2, 2007

    So, Cassandra, what do you propose that we do? Should we all simply stop criticizing religion altogether?

  80. #80 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I recently read that Pharyngula is the third most popular blog in Minnesota (after two right-wing conservative ones).

    damnit, PZ, work harder!

    :p

  81. #81 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I posted my concerns

    you did?

    I must have missed it.

    what were they again?

  82. #82 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    simply serves to perpetuate the misconception that it is possible to conduct scientific examinations (hypothesis testing) of religious/supernatural beliefs.

    is that one of your concerns? because if it is, you don’t need to worry.

    not only is it possible to conduct scientific examination of the foundations for religious belief, it already has been done several times using a couple of different approaches. Results were suggestive, not necessarily conclusive (lots more work to do yet), but it has been done.

    I can dig up a few references for you, if you like.

    would that alleviate your concerns?

  83. #83 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    Have you ever stopped to consider what an inappropriate saying it is – particularly for this situation?! The flies aren’t harmlessly caught by the honey to be converted into nicer, more useful members of the animal kingdom (in the opinion of the catcher). They’re being trapped to kill them.

    I’ve never heard of anyone trying to catch and reform flies, but I’d love to learn more about it!

    I always perceived the wisdom of the saying to lie in the fact that flies can be enticed by something that they find appealing, and not by something that they don’t. With this interpretation, I think the analogy does pertain to the discussion of how to increase secularization (or at least acceptance of evolution as an topic to be taught in public schools).

  84. #84 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    Ichthyic:

    Yes, I’d love to see the references! I’ll surely let you know whether or not they alleviate my concerns.

  85. #85 Monado
    December 2, 2007

    Actually, Cassandra, the first times that I heard that there was no real historical evidence that Christ ever existed, I felt cheated. And I was cheated. How could it be that every single media outlet and public speaker I had ever heard or read had soft-peddled, ignored, or concealed that fact? “Christ” was treated like a real person: “What did Jesus wear? Where did Jesus walk? What did Jesus eat? What would Jesus have seen? And all the time they were tippy-toeing around a sacred cow asleep in the middle of the road, so as not to offend “the natives.”

    and then later when I found that there was plenty of textual and circumstantial evidence that he was a muddled cross between “my inner power” and Greek Cynic ideals, with a large dash of the classic hero myth thrown in, I was relieved. There was a source for this idea and it’s a human and understandable source. The first generation says, “I know my Saviour wants this and that.” The next generation says, “Christ would have done so-and-so.” The next generation invents Mary and Joseph (first heard of about 107 AD). Then details accumulate, the way Paul Bunyan acquired Babe the Blue Ox and Buddha was found as a child formin little clay animals and breathing life into them.

    So let’s do our children a good turn. Let’s not cheat them of the truth. And let’s not give evil old men a cloak of sanctity to wrap themselves in.

  86. #86 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    Yes, I’d love to see the references! I’ll surely let you know whether or not they alleviate my concerns.

    give me a few minutes to dig through my links collection.

  87. #87 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    PZ,

    I listed my suggestions in post #65.

  88. #88 PZ Myers
    December 2, 2007

    So you do want us to stop criticizing religion.

    Who’s going to do it, then?

  89. #89 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    here’s a couple of fairly recent endeavors, Cassandra:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=589469&page=1 (popular news discussion of some recent research)

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/5827/996

  90. #90 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    I think that our job is to fill our classrooms with students who we can teach about science and evolution (without having to address any religious counter-arguments), and to do interesting research that gets picked up by the media. And whenever the subject of religion comes up, in my Utopian vision, all scientists would respond that it simply doesn’t pertain because faith is not subject to empirical testing (although I am eagerly awaiting some references that could possibly change my perspective).

    I don’t want to get banned from Pharyngula, I just wanted to express my concerns about alienating too many voting constituents (yes, those are the concerns I mentioned earlier). I’m glad that it sparked some discussion, and I don’t know what points contest Pierce R. Butler was referring to, but I hope we win!

  91. #91 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    oh, and here’s another related overview:

    http://www.atypon-link.com/AAP/doi/pdf/10.1375/twin.2.2.59

    “Transmission of Religion and Attitudes”

    enough work has been done in this area to warrant an entire issue of that journal being devoted to it.

  92. #92 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I think that our job is to fill our classrooms with students who we can teach about science and evolution (without having to address any religious counter-arguments),

    uh, then you don’t mind if we address those here, right?

    so, erm, what’s your beef with Pharyngula again?

    I don’t want to get banned from Pharyngula,

    well, you aren’t insipid or trolling or wanking, so I don’t see that happening.

    I hardly think you’ll be banned because you are confused about what this forum is about.

  93. #93 Steve_C
    December 2, 2007

    Wow. Why would you get banned for being completely tolerant of bullshit?

  94. #94 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    well, you aren’t insipid or trolling or wanking, so I don’t see that happening.

    Thanks, that’s a relief!

    Thanks also for sending the links! I haven’t been keeping up on the twin studies literature, so this is interesting. What these articles seem to address is that there is evidence that there may be a genetic predisposition toward religious faith/participation in religious activities. Unfortunately, this is not a good sign for those who strive to increase secularization.

    I’m not a person of faith but, as I admitted above, my parents are, so I may well carry the genes. I suppose I could choose sterilization, but I’d rather instill in my future children an enthusiasm for science and evolutionary studies, and a respect for people who hold different beliefs (maybe the latter is just the religion genes talking).

  95. #95 Steve_C
    December 2, 2007

    There is no gene for religion. That’s an oversimplification if the idea.

  96. #96 Cassandra
    December 2, 2007

    There is no gene for religion. That’s an oversimplification if the idea.

    Hey, I said “genes”! If the studies are on to something, then I am sure that the trait is at least oligogenic (if not polygenic).

  97. #97 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I suppose I could choose sterilization

    yikes! a bit drastic.

    having a predisposition towards something doesn’t mean it’s an unalterable conclusion, by any means. Let alone the fact that these are really preliminary findings, and not all potentially confounding variables have been addressed as yet.

    my point wasn’t to say the issue had been decided, but only that it was capable of being researched, and suggestive studies had already begun.

    even with areas of behavior, or physiology, that are much more heavily studied and found to have genetic components suggesting a predisposition, like schizophrenia for example; development and environment still play a large role in whether or not they are expressed.

    It just takes work, and like you say, “instill in my future children an enthusiasm for science” would likely more than counter any existing predispositions.

  98. #98 Kagehi
    December 2, 2007

    Fourth, the idea that we make ethical judgments by calmly weighing each option in mind, dispassionately calculating a utility function and choosing the option of maximal goodness is completely absurd. That’s not the way people behave.

    No, it happens more like this:

    1. Dozens of suboptimal utility functions derive possible actions.
    2. Filters combine and parse down those options, probably combined with making quick comparisons with social norms and other factors, which guide which ones get rejected.
    3. The remaining possibilities are further filtered, comparing them to more precise models of *correct* behavior.
    4. One final model is chosen and acted on.
    5. Post-hock associations are formed to substantiate and explain **why** it was the correct choice.
    6. We become aware that we are acting, and what the made up explanation is for why.

    Basically, the process by which a choice is made is like some flight computers in aircraft that won’t fly without them. Several **different** calculations are made, based on the same data, using different algorithms, and then a simple test is applied to determine which result came out on top. We just have hundreds, thousands? or something processes deriving different results, a smaller number of processes using those original results as input, and all of them collectively deriving a more complete concept of both a) what the response should be, and b) why it happened. But every level is using incomplete data, imperfect algorithms and possibly a sort of template system, which attempts to *fit* the situation into previously known and experienced conditions and responses. We only derive **new** templates when the dissonance between what did happen, and what we thought happens, is sufficient to produce a consensus about what took place. And then the new template gets built into the framework of the closest proximate similar template, with the result that even new information gets mixed up, to some extent, with data, templates, conditions and/or events that are **not** actually correctly associated with them. So, things can trigger data that are “not” correctly associated, causing minor issues, like smelling cookies and remembering you grandmother, or extreme and unreasonable reactions, like smelling chlorine and panicking, because you feel like you are drowning. That the associations do mean something is useful, usually. But they are **not** always rational associations, and they can drive a persons reactions in a direction they would never otherwise consider, like buying those cookies, due to the positive association, when you didn’t want or need them before.

    The airplane doesn’t *know* even in its vague way that it “chose” to trim one wing, instead of the other, to keep the aircraft flying. All it “knows” about its own choices is what to do. And if you added a system on top of that, which was intended to use “only” the final actions taken, and not the data going in, or all three sets of results, that “mind” on top of it wouldn’t be any more aware of how its computers came to the conclusion they did than we do, and would, like us, have to guess, based purely on the models it built to explain the actions of those parts of itself which it has no *awareness* of.

    Basically, its only non-deterministic because we lack any awareness of how the determinations where ***actually*** made, but are just building a “probable” explanation, based on incomplete understanding of most of the steps (if not all of them) in the process of reaching a conclusion.

    Or, so it would seem to me. There is nothing to imply its otherwise, and the only difference I can see is whether, at distinct points in the process of making a choice, the parts of the brain forming awareness are given “hints” about the process and results, or not, and how much they get. It doesn’t, to go back to the aircraft, do any good for the final process to be “aware” that there was an updraft and project, however reasonably, that this *must* have been a factor in the choices that where made by its subsystems, if it remains clueless about the exact methods used to conclude that what happens was the **correct** solution for that updraft. All it has is a post-hock projection, which presumes that the data it is aware of was responsible. And it could be just as wrong as we can be, if some other data point, response algorithm or more complex set of conditions gave rise to the result. All it has is a guess, albeit a really good one. Ours guesses might be better, depending on how much awareness comes from *our* subsystems, but its still a case of making a, hopefully, accurate guess. A guess which can be made, based on limited data, even if **we** where not the ones, as some experiments have shown, who initiated to action. We simply identify it as something “we” had to do, since our body is presumably doing it, and therefor *guess* as to what our motivation had to be, given that we *apparently* acted.

    Its rather hard to figure how this produces anything but an illusion of free will, but at the same time, the only way it loses that status is **if** you stumble on some way to become personally aware of how the results where derived. If you can’t determine how it happened, then to *you* its free will, even if logic, or even some future computer model, implies/proves it *is* predetermined.

  99. #99 Sastra, OM
    December 2, 2007

    Cassandra #67 wrote:

    It seems to me that discussing the “unconvincing arguments for God” simply serves to perpetuate the misconception that it is possible to conduct scientific examinations (hypothesis testing) of religious/supernatural beliefs.This would suggest that religion is, in fact, an appropriate topic for science classrooms.

    In US elementary and high school? No. There’s a legal separation of church and state, so God is technically “off limits” — and theists who are wise will keep it there. Atheists can’t and won’t touch it.

    But paranormal and supernatural claims can be examined for consistency and coherency with the discoveries of modern science — and that would include most concepts of God. There are philosophers and scientists arguing that science is not only consistent with the existence of God, but indicative of it. One can disagree with their conclusions, but it’s not a logical impossibility. The insistence that it is a “misperception” to put religious beliefs under scientific scrutiny is a misconception.

    Any successful zealot (no matter their philosophical inclination) would surely agree that the way to win over the masses is to convince them that the new way of thinking simply complements and enhances their own long-held traditions.

    But it doesn’t. Not really. Not if you don’t simply view spiritual claims as matters of personal therapy, or community bonding, or tastes and metaphors. And this is why I’m concerned that the lack of respect is really on the side of those who will smile and nod and pat the heads of the religious, so that they might be “won over.”

    They are not like us, you know. They can’t handle hard truths.They wouldn’t be able to adjust, or find meaning, or be ethical, or be strong. In other words, they’re not like us, who can do all those things, and then keep them safe from all that tough work. An “introspective reassessment of their worldviews?” Oh no, no. Poor things can and will only dig in their heels. Let’s be practical.

    Cassandra, I respect your argument. It’s a pragmatic one, and has a lot to recommend it. But I still see problems — ethical ones now, and pragmatic ones in the future. I don’t know if this Separate Magisteria two-step can — or should — be kept up.

  100. #100 Tulse
    December 2, 2007

    Cassandra:

    “Scientific inquiry is not contrary to your personal religious beliefs.”

    In a word, bullshit. The results of scientific inquiry are contrary to the religious belief that the world was created less that 10,000 years ago, and that the earth is the centre of the universe, and that there was a worldwide flood in human history that killed all but two of every land animal…shall I go on? It is pure delusion to think that there isn’t a foundational conflict between a rational understanding of the world and religion.

    (While I disagree violently with fundamentalist Christian beliefs, I at least respect that they have enough intellectual honesty to recognize that science does indeed conflict with their worldview, which is why they fight it so hard.)

  101. #101 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I don’t know if this Separate Magisteria two-step can — or should — be kept up.

    in a different thread (over on PT, which has become more an more a place where things like NOMA are looked on positively), I argued that it is impossible to rationalize NOMA (it’s very easy to tear down the logic behind it), but that it still might make a pragmatic temporary band-aid or crutch when dealing with the issue from a secondary educational level.

    I’m still unsure in the immediate sense if that is an accurate assessment though, and even less sure if a temporary band-aid won’t end up causing even MORE damage that needs to be fixed in the future.

    you might want to contribute your own thoughts on that thread:

    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/11/noma-is-alive-a.html

  102. #102 August Berkshire
    December 2, 2007

    I think you will notice that I don’t ultimately decide if we have free will or not. I do say: “Most atheists have no problem admitting that free will may be an illusion.” Can’t we admit that it might be? I think the jury is still out. I care to know what the answer is from the viewpoint of intellectual curiosity (I can’t help it), but I don’t personally care as I am having a great life and if it’s unalterable determinism that’s giving it to me, let the program continue!

    Sorry I skipped the Argument from Bananas: “The Banana: the Atheist’s Nightmare.” I actually DO have a rebuttal for it: “The Coconut: The Theist’s Nightmare.” Imagine you’re on a desert island with only coconut trees and sand. How are you going to open it? I suppose you could try bashing it against the tree itself, but then all the milk would spill, and you can’t drink seawater…

    I’m going to have to take a ream of paper and print all these responses out, then spend a week analyzing them. Thanks a lot (seriously)!

  103. #103 Cassandra
    December 3, 2007

    Tulse:

    Not all religious people are Christian fundamentalists. Those who are will likely never be swayed, no matter how much one rages against them. Those who are not include people that believe a Higher Power sparked the Big Bang and may interact with them on a personal level every day, but at the same time believe in evolution by natural selection and myriad other documented scientific phenomena. These are the people that I worry about alienating from science in general by telling them that they have to choose between their faith and our science.

    Sastra:

    I am not suggesting a patronizing (“pat and nod”) approach. I know many non-fundamentalist religious people who are aware of the differences between current scientific knowledge and literal biblical accounts and that they have reconciled these satisfactorily on their own. Demands that they align their worldviews with ours are not likely to be warmly received. That is my only point.

    I think that we should present as much compelling evidence as possible, as often as possible, for evolution by natural selection, and the age of our planet, and the orbital patterns in the universe, and the paucity of evidence for a world-wide flood, etc.

    I just think that it will be more effective if we take a less antagonistic approach. However it is becoming evident that the majority of contributors on this forum disagree. I appreciate having the opportunity to share and discuss my views, and I am grateful that no one suggested that I should, indeed, be sterilized (I was bracing myself for that one!).

  104. #104 Tulse
    December 3, 2007

    Cassandra:

    Those who are not include people that believe a Higher Power sparked the Big Bang and may interact with them on a personal level every day, but at the same time believe in evolution by natural selection and myriad other documented scientific phenomena. These are the people that I worry about alienating from science in general by telling them that they have to choose between their faith and our science.

    But they really do, Cassandra — if they believe in miracles, in the supernatural, in angels and the love of a Big Sky Fairy, then yes, they really are alienated from science already. There may be a pragmatic aspect to not pointing this out, to being dishonest and telling them that they can both believe in science and that some guy created bread and fish out of thin air, but do realize that you are actually lying. Religion by its very nature is ultimately incompatible with science and reason. Some religions may be more politically benign, or socially acceptable, or cause the practice of science less trouble, but don’t kid yourself that their foundational commitments aren’t antithetical to science and reason.

  105. #105 Cassandra
    December 3, 2007

    Tulse,

    I can agree to disagree on this, but I definitely disagree.

    Some Christians believe that “some guy” took a small amount of bread and fish (not thin air) and convinced a crowed that it was enough bread and fish to satisfy everyone. This might be achieved through hypnosis, or the power of suggestion, or maybe it is simply a parable (that is, a fable that illustrates a principle, which in my view of this case would be that a clever person can find a way to appease a surly crowd).

    This example is not incongruous with science, nor are any of the other biblical tales that I can think of so long as one is open to the fact that they need not be taken literally.

  106. #106 Sven DiMilo
    December 3, 2007

    By the way, if it’s flies you’re trying to catch, I recommend forgetting about vinegar and honey and using either some shit or a dead mouse.
    If it’s reasonable people you’re after then reason seems the way to go.
    Unreasonable people? I don’t know. Maybe some shit? Or a dead mouse?

  107. #107 Gregory Kusnick
    December 3, 2007

    #70:

    But that’s not what the philosophical matter of free will is about.

    A major part of the philosophical matter of free will is figuring out what the notion of free will could possibly be about. I highly recommend Dennett’s Freedom Evolves in this connection. Essentially his thesis is that free will is a product of natural selection acting on both genes and memes. We are more free than animals, because our brains have the power to override our instincts. And we are more free than our Stone-age ancestors, because our evolving culture creates ever more opportunities for meaningful choice.

    We act because of our brain states, and our brain states are that way because of other circumstances. There is never a new causal force (an “I”) that enters into causality…

    Dennett considers this argument a category error. The example he uses is that of a chess-playing computer. The computer’s operation may be absolutely determined by the succession of electronic states in its CPU, but if we seek an explanation of why it won or lost a particular game, an account of the deterministic interplay of bits and bytes (or electrons and holes) gets us nowhere. The reasons it did what it did are to be found in the choices it made at various points in the game. The notion of rationally governed choice is essential to making sense of its behavior, and it’s at this level that free will applies.

    Or to put it another way, the deterministic interplay of bits and bytes may in principle be part of the causal chain of the program’s behavior, but chaos theory prevents us from tracing the causal chain back that far. For all practical purposes, the causal chain stops at the level of reasoning about game states.

    By the same token, the causes of human behavior are for practical purposes rooted in reason and emotion, and in general it’s not possible to discern a deeper cause for any particular act. What makes us freer than our animal ancestors is that fact that our mental processes are sufficiently convoluted and self-referential to provide that sort of chaotic causal backstop. The buck stops at the level of psychology, not quantum physics, and that’s what it means to have free will.

    Dennett also discusses the Libet experiments alluded to in point 26 and shows why the standard interpretation (“our brain makes a ‘decision’ to take action before we become conscious of it!”) doesn’t hold water. In a nutshell, the implied distinctions between “us” and “our brain”, and between “deciding” and “becoming conscious of it” don’t exist in reality, and the measured discrepancy in timing between the readiness potential and the subject’s reported moment of decision is most likely an artifact of the sequencing of items in short-term memory.

  108. #108 woozy
    December 3, 2007

    28) Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Using this one to invoke God is strange. It seems to presume that the natural, normal thing one ought to expect to have is Nothing. No matter, no energy, no time, no extension, no empty space — no, not even a void. I have trouble even thinking of that as coherent, let alone Possibility #1.

    Really? Well, in my opinion, and what do any of us have in the end other than our opinions. Nothing seems *simpler* and more *basic* than something. Of course we know that that just *isn’t* how the universe is. Imagining the universe now with something in it is easy enough, and imagining it a bit in the future and/or a bit in the past to see the something in a previous or future form is okay but to imagine the universe infinitely into the past *always* with stuff existing is hard for me becuase that’d imply stuff is *eternal* and origin-less and my mind balks at anything bein eternal and origin-less. (I can imagine things having no end but things having no beginning… just seems … wrong … to me.) The other option is something springing from nothing and that’s weird too.

    Nontheless, I have to accept that the universe just doesn’t work in a way that *doesn’t* make my mind balk because mind balking or not, here it is!

    God, or any *other* answer is simply shifting the question circularly and is no answer at all. I can’t imagine any possible answer other than my premise that “nothing” is somehow more natural than “something” is simply not valid. (and it probably isn’t…)

    But, c’mon… isn’t the “symmetric systems are unstable, and nothing is the most symmetric system there is so we should expect it to be the most unstable” simply B.S. for “Fuck, Stop being a smart-ass asking meaningless and unanswerable questions”?

  109. #109 windy
    December 3, 2007

    But, c’mon… isn’t the “symmetric systems are unstable, and nothing is the most symmetric system there is so we should expect it to be the most unstable” simply B.S. for “Fuck, Stop being a smart-ass asking meaningless and unanswerable questions”?

    No, it’s physics. You might disagree with Stenger’s interpretation but there’s a lot more to the argument than your summary.

  110. #110 Ichthyic
    December 3, 2007

    I am grateful that no one suggested that I should, indeed, be sterilized (I was bracing myself for that one!).

    you’re kidding, right?

    for one, where on earth did you get the idea that that would be even a remote possibility,

    and two

    how do you “brace” yourself for that??

    again, uh, yikes.

    you must have been hanging out in some awfully seedy rhetorical bins before coming here.

  111. #111 woozy
    December 3, 2007

    But, c’mon… isn’t the “symmetric systems are unstable, and nothing is the most symmetric system there is so we should expect it to be the most unstable” simply B.S. for “Fuck, Stop being a smart-ass asking meaningless and unanswerable questions”?

    >>>>No, it’s physics. You might disagree with Stenger’s interpretation but there’s a lot more to the argument than your summary.

    I don’t disagree with Stenger’s physics but I do disagree with his interpretation with the spirit of the question “why is there something rather than nothing”. In light of this physics the real question is “Why are the laws of the universe such that nothing is a sum and thus less natural than something rather than being simpler laws such that nothing is an absence of stuff and thus nothing is more natural than something?”

    Ultimately, no matter how you word the question the answer has to be, it seems to me, it just is, okay.

    But, thank you. That article *does* answer that a system with no particles yet within the current laws of physics is not a trivial system as I had assumed. However it doesn’t answer the basic question as to why the laws of physics are such, rather than the far simpler laws that could be “nothing exists and there’s nothing acting upon it to be unstable and there’s nothing and no time and no laws except the simple law that there is nothing”. Surely that, even though it is clearly not the universe, would be “simpler”.

    Ultimately, the question by it’s nature is circular and unanswerable. But the physics, at least explain, how our current universe works which tossing a God into the mix doesn’t.

  112. #112 SEF
    December 3, 2007

    By the way, if it’s flies you’re trying to catch, I recommend forgetting about vinegar and honey and using either some shit or a dead mouse.

    The creationists already follow that plan too though. They keep producing and shovelling around lots of the former but tend to substitute dead (or lame) duck religions and arguments for the latter.

    Meanwhile, it’s only the elite/crack squad of scientists and atheists who are seriously trying to rescue the spineless from the clutches of the evil religionists and their combined honey and excrement traps. That’s done using vinegar or any other solution which comes to mind/hand – hopefully before the religionists squeeze or suck the life out of their victims.

    Ideally, the traps can also be cleaned up or sign-posted well enough in much the same way, so that more of the spineless don’t fall into them in the first place. Then any of the saved spineless with the relevant potential can fly away free, while the others can at least crawl off to a safer distance.

  113. #113 Tulse
    December 3, 2007

    Cassandra:

    Some Christians believe that “some guy” took a small amount of bread and fish (not thin air) and convinced a crowed that it was enough bread and fish to satisfy everyone. This might be achieved through hypnosis, or the power of suggestion, or maybe it is simply a parable (that is, a fable that illustrates a principle, which in my view of this case would be that a clever person can find a way to appease a surly crowd).

    If you want to denude the Bible of all supernatural acts by reinterpreting it as “allegorical” or “fables”, or try to find naturalistic explanations for the events described, that’s fine, but then how does the Bible differ from Aesop’s fables, or Little Women, or any other book of fiction that people have used as guides to life? It seems to me that the whole point of those seemingly supernatural events in the Bible is to demonstrate the supernatural power of god — if you strip that away by reinterpreting their literal meaning, you don’t really have a religion any more, just a mushy feel-good philosophy.

    That’s what I meant by saying that religion is foundationally opposed to science and reason — all religions believe in the supernatural, which is contrary to naturalism. If you want to re-interpret the main document of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms, then you’re right, it won’t be in conflict with science, but then it won’t be a religion.

  114. #114 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 3, 2007

    Given -ANY- initial conditions, there can be only one course for the future.

    Heisenberg.

    This is one of the few axioms of the scientific method.

    There are no axioms of the scientific method at all. The closest thing is the necessary assumption of methodological naturalism — but this is not an axiom! It is itself a testable hypothesis, and it is tested in every single observation (of an experiment or anything else).

  115. #115 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 3, 2007

    Given -ANY- initial conditions, there can be only one course for the future.

    Heisenberg.

    This is one of the few axioms of the scientific method.

    There are no axioms of the scientific method at all. The closest thing is the necessary assumption of methodological naturalism — but this is not an axiom! It is itself a testable hypothesis, and it is tested in every single observation (of an experiment or anything else).

  116. #116 Bob Henderson
    December 3, 2007

    (31) The “Fine-tuning” of the Universe : I may have missed this point in the previous comments (I ran out of steam on the Free Will discussion). The argument of improbable correspondence of physical constants has no weight at all. Improbable things happen all the time. Take a random number generator that can generate a 10 digit number. Turn it on and note the number generated. The probability of that number occurring is 1 in 10^10 – highly improbable but there it is staring at you.

  117. #117 Son of Priam
    December 3, 2007

    Sastra said: “I think that you may underestimate the religious. They don’t all need to be pandered and condescended to. Discussing the “unconvincing arguments for God” is taking the hypothesis seriously. And there are a lot of religious people who are serious enough about their beliefs that they are capable of regarding God as a hypothesis. They are not offended. They can recognize real respect when they see it.”

    I agree with Sastra.

    I also find that racism is actually respectful to blacks, and they should recognize the respect of racists — I don’t know how they can’t see it.

    I likewise find that anti-gay legislation is actually respectful to gays, and they should recognize the respect of homophobes — I don’t know how they can’t see it.

    I furthermore find that sexism is actually respectful to women, and they should recognize the respect of chauvinists — I don’t know how they can’t see it.

  118. #118 Tulse
    December 3, 2007

    The universe has a volume of perhaps 4 trillion cubic light years, with the vast majority of that space filled with vacuum just above absolute zero, and the remainder mostly occupied with spheres of hot gas several thousands of degrees, and it is billions of years old. Explain again how it is “fine tuned” for the existence of one bit of organic life that arose in just the most recent fraction of that time, and that can exist within a very narrow temperature band on the thinnest of shells around one infinitesimally small smidgen of matter tucked away in an unremarkable corner of the vastness of space.

    It is hubris of the highest order to think that universe exists to produce us. Heck, it would be hubris for the stars to think the universe exists to produce them. Just as God seems inordinately fond of beetles, he also seems inordinately fond of unimaginably vast tracks of cold vacuum.

  119. #119 MartinM
    December 3, 2007

    I also find that racism is actually respectful to blacks, and they should recognize the respect of racists — I don’t know how they can’t see it.

    Right, because discussing the validity of someone’s argument is exactly the same as bigotry.

    Moron.

  120. #120 Guy
    December 3, 2007

    I have great respect for PZ and I don’t want to get flamed for trolling. I do sometimes wonder how effective this type of approach is. Won’t it turn some students off of studying science if you constantly attack their beliefs? It might be better to just present them with the knowledge you have and let them make their own decisions.

  121. #121 Jason Failes
    December 3, 2007

    Adding to 32):

    From an evolutionary standpoint, the environment of the Earth is not fine-tuned to us, we are fine-tuned to the environment of the Earth.

  122. #122 Andrew
    December 3, 2007

    I loved it until point 34, which is “What the Bleep” level cosmological woo-woo. Sorry. >.<

  123. #123 MartinM
    December 3, 2007

    I loved it until point 34, which is “What the Bleep” level cosmological woo-woo. Sorry.

    Do you have any specific objections? I have my own concerns – ‘total net energy of the Universe’ is not necessarily a meaningful concept, for a start – but it hardly seems that bad.

  124. #124 Stevie_C
    December 3, 2007

    Cassandra is of the “That’s not what christians really believe” school.
    The vast majority do infact believe in miracles and that what’s in the bible actaully happened.

    Cassandra. Tell a Christian that miracles don’t happen… see how that goes over.

  125. #125 Son of Priam
    December 3, 2007

    MartinM said: “Right, because discussing the validity of someone’s argument is exactly the same as bigotry. Moron.”

    Sorry — I meant to say that discussing the validity of someone’s argument that blacks are equal to whites is actually respectful to blacks, and I can’t understand why anyone might be offended or consider that disrespectful. Why can’t we discuss a list of unconvincing arguments for the equality of blacks without people getting touchy? And people get touchy too every time I start listing unconvincing reasons that homosexuality is natural and isn’t a choice! I mean, I just can’t understand why that’s offensive, might turn people off, and add conflict to the discussion. Huh! I just don’t get it!

  126. #126 JimC
    December 3, 2007

    Huh! I just don’t get it

    Now your being sensisble.

  127. #127 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 3, 2007

    poke:

    #55 Are you saying experience has a supernatural basis? Otherwise, how are claims of revelation different from any other situation where I claim supernatural intervention and then stubbornly persist in the face of material explanation? The laws of physics hold still hold for the brain.

    No, I can’t say anything one way or the other about such claims. The gullible would argue that the fact of the experience ‘proves’ their point of view. The subtle would admit that, just because materialist accounts of the brain’s action are possible, doesn’t mean that this ‘disproves’ the gullible’s claim. And, if we simply invoke present-day understanding (‘the laws of physics’) without knowing how the regularities produce such experience, we are simply turning science into a succedaneum for belief. I think both of us would like to set the bar higher than that.

    Uber:

    #66 At which point we must just use some common sense and ask if this veru common and very contradictory idea is even remotely convincing and why it would be to someone not amazingly credulous.

    One can reject a claim without having disproved it. Creationists do it all the time, and they also presume (incorrectly) that having ‘shot holes’ in their misunderstanding of evolution that this somehow demonstrates creation. Hopefully, you and I set a higher standard regarding both proof and accepting/rejecting a given claim than they do. Consequences of claims along the lines of #6 are amenable to investigation, but the believer typically has ‘multiple outs’ available to him/her to place such claims beyond ‘disproof.’

    PZ:

    #84 So you do want us to stop criticizing religion. Who’s going to do it, then?

    Not me! As far as I can tell, there is no justification for privileging any particular belief/claim.

  128. #128 Uber
    December 3, 2007

    Scott-

    . Consequences of claims along the lines of #6 are amenable to investigation, but the believer typically has ‘multiple outs’ available to him/her to place such claims beyond ‘disproof

    No one would deny this but the mutually contradictory claims of these ‘experiences’ render them mute. One sees the smae type of experiences in individuals along all religions which is ample evidence they are material in origin.

  129. #129 windy
    December 3, 2007

    Why can’t we discuss a list of unconvincing arguments for the equality of blacks without people getting touchy? And people get touchy too every time I start listing unconvincing reasons that homosexuality is natural and isn’t a choice!

    So we shouldn’t discuss God’s possible non-existence, since it might hurt God’s feelings?

  130. #130 Andrew
    December 3, 2007

    MartinM: No, we’re obviously thinking along the same lines, but I’m just really picky about these things.

    “It also turns out that the negative gravitational energy in the universe exactly cancels the positive energy represented by matter, so that the total net energy of the universe is zero”

    I can see where you’d get something like this, but when you word it like that it’s basically just there to look impressive. “NEGATIVE GRAVITATIONAL ENERGY ZOMGZ”, etc.

  131. #131 Louise Van Court
    December 3, 2007

    To Guy at comment # 115. I presume that PZ is not advocating that anyone use this document in a science classroom to argue against a student’s philosophical beliefs. I agree with your statement: “It might be better to just present them with the knowledge you have and let them make their own decisions.”
    I think it is a good thing that people do not all think alike and that there are a variety of viewpoints on almost any subject. Students will come to their own philosophical conclusions about where the scientific facts lead.

  132. #132 Greg
    December 3, 2007

    Argument #14, Pascal’s Wager. It’s probably already been mentioned, but another major problem with it is the false presentation of a 50/50 choice. The truth is that it’s 1/n, where n is the number of ideologies making mutually conflicting claims about the afterlife. I can think of about 10 off the top of my head, in truth there are probably tens of thousands. The variable ‘n’ should be inclusive of all past, present, and future religions, since these things are decided by society after all.

  133. #133 Interrobang
    December 3, 2007

    I spent a long time around funnymentalist Christians when I was growing up, and those sorts of people who will one day be Church Ladies, but aren’t yet, on the grounds that they haven’t lived long enough. So I can actually think like them, if I work at it hard enough.

    I can imagine what a proto-Church Lady would say about the “What if Pascal’s Wager applies to some other god?” argument, which is, “The Christian god is the only real god,” or maybe “All gods are actually the Christian god, those other people just don’t/didn’t know it.” (I have actually heard both of these arguments used in other contexts.) I’m actually sort of stymied as to where to go from there (anywhere I can think of leads back to the “because it’s in the Bible” or other question-begging)…that is, aside from punching the smarmy ass in their smug little face and walking away… (NB for the humour-impaired — I have never punched a theist yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to.)

  134. #134 Tulse
    December 3, 2007

    , “The Christian god is the only real god,”

    The response being “Odd, that’s just what all those other religions say about their god(s). Why should they believe you?”

    “All gods are actually the Christian god, those other people just don’t/didn’t know it.”

    “So it’s OK if they continue to believe as they do, because the Christian god will sort it all out?” and/or “Funny, I thought the very First Commandment was about not worshipping other gods — you wouldn’t think the Christian god would mind if he was really all gods.”

  135. #135 woozy
    December 3, 2007

    “So it’s OK if they continue to believe as they do, because the Christian god will sort it all out?” and/or “Funny, I thought the very First Commandment was about not worshipping other gods — you wouldn’t think the Christian god would mind if he was really all gods.”

    and/or “then you shouldn’t mind converting to a non-christian religion as you’ll still be worshipping the same god”

  136. #136 Ichthyic
    December 3, 2007

    The variable ‘n’ should be inclusive of all past, present, and future religions, since these things are decided by society after all.

    *cough* ALLHAILDAGON *cough*

  137. #137 Pyre
    December 3, 2007

    Kagehi @ 94: More than once you use the term “post-hock”. Once would suffice to disprove free will, since after being hocked one is merely a pawn.

  138. #138 Pyre
    December 3, 2007

    Argument #14 (Pascal’s Wager), 1/n, and the implications thereof.

    Yes, by that logic, you should worship every god, goddess, pantheon, genius loci, fetish, or other worshippable concept that ever was or ever could be, thereby attaining n/n = 1 as your odds of worshipping the correct concept.

    But in all that crowd there are also the jealous sorts, who will reject you because you also worshipped the others; the idealistic sorts, who will reject you because you worshipped them for the wrong reason; and the anti-gamblers, who will reject you for having made this “wager”. (One popular view has YHVH fitting all three categories.)

    So then your odds of suffering divine wrath and eternal punishment may actually exceed those of the honest atheist.

    That seems like a poor reward for spending so much time and effort worshipping so many (albeit with selfish and insincere motives).

  139. #139 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 3, 2007

    Uber:

    One sees the smae type of experiences in individuals along all religions which is ample evidence they are material in origin.

    I’ll grant that same is evidence that some aspect of their experience is material in origin, but that is a trivial claim.

  140. #140 Sastra, OM
    December 3, 2007

    Son of Priam #112 wrote:

    I also find that racism is actually respectful to blacks, and they should recognize the respect of racists — I don’t know how they can’t see it.

    I don’t think racism (or homophobia or sexism) are good analogies to my saying that thoughtfully analyzing religion for its truth is respectful to both the religion, and the religious. There’s a difference between arguing “you’re inferior” and “you’re mistaken.”

    Just because disagreement adds “conflict to the discussion” doesn’t necessarily mean one person is being offensive and disrespecting the other person. Having a discussion in the first place assumes you take the other person’s views seriously enough to examine them carefully. Scientists who watch colleagues rip into their pet theory get upset, just as the religious get upset over atheist arguments or atheists get upset over apologetics — but being ignored, or deferred to, or treated like a child and avoiding any discussion at all seems more like racism or sexism to me. It denies the common ground.

    If “The 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God” had been “34 Reasons Why Religious People are Demented Fuckwits” I think your analogies would be closer. When being wrong means being hopelessly inferior that’s when any argument turns nasty.

    Elsewhere you said that gay people “get touchy too every time I start listing unconvincing reasons that homosexuality is natural and isn’t a choice.” That’s closer — because I agree that they shouldn’t get offended over an academic debate on the roots of homosexuality. I suspect they’re more upset over where else they think it’s going — that if it’s a ‘choice’ then they’re degenerate perverts.

  141. #141 campbeju
    December 4, 2007

    (6) “Revelations” of One’s Own (Personal Testimony, Feelings, “Open Heart”) – This is when you are personally having the revelation or feeling that a god exists. Though you may be sincere, and even if a god really does exist, a feeling is not proof, either for you or for someone else.

    Persons who have had personal experiences with Jesus that give them feelings of peace and assurance will have evidence in their actions as well, which makes the definition of faith mirror that listed for love in #22.

    It will do no good to ask atheists to “open our hearts and accept Jesus” (or any other deity). If we were to set aside our skepticism, we might indeed have an inspirational experience. But this would be an emotional experience and we’d have no way to verify if a god was really speaking to us or if we were just hallucinating.

    I feel so very sorry for the families of atheists, who have such low regard for feelings. How do you know if you should go home each night? Don’t you ‘feel’ drawn to your children and (perhaps) even your spouse? How do you know that is real if emotions are so meaningless? If atheists are enjoying their lives so much without faith in God and a relationship with Jesus, do they not feel that enjoyment? Is it just a rote, “well the ad said this should be fun, so I am having fun.” Or do you ever ‘feel,’ and have faith in the feelings, of pure relaxation and an understanding that you are loved, and will be forgiven for not being perfect?

    Many atheists have stories of how wonderful it felt to lose their belief in gods. As with religion, this is not proof that atheism is true.

    (22) “God is Intangible, Like Love” – Love is not intangible. We can define love both as a type of feeling and as demonstrated by certain types of actions.

    But feelings are NOT definitive in #6-how can they be here?

    Unlike “God,” love is a physical thing. We know the chemicals responsible for the feeling of love.

    So is love a feeling or a physical response? Has anyone looked for the chemicals that are responsible for faith? What if you LOVE God/Jesus? Does He then exist? If love is a physical response then love of God must be a response to God, or His angel at least, right? Something has to trigger those chemicals.

    I am in a PhD program where I am being trained as a scientist and can tell you assuredly that most of science is really faith. Every theory put forth comes from someone who believes they have THE answer. And then their students set about to collect evidence. There have been so many real truths debunked that most regular people have no faith in science any longer. And for many evidence-based truths, there is just as much evidence for the opposite ‘truth.’ An example of faith in science is beliveing that because there are bird/amphibian combinations in a pile of bones that one therafter evolved from the other. You have to make several “leaps of faith” to believe that. And the biggest is that the ‘scientist’ who made the discovery correctly and honorably presented it to the world, the same argument made in other posts that persons who recorded the Bible can’t be trusted, yet we are talking about scientists who have no feelings to guide their decisions and believe that lying is ok. What if the bird simply ate a large lizard before dying?

    One last question…Why would you put more faith in what you see than what you feel/love, if they are both real?

  142. #142 SEF
    December 4, 2007

    yet we are talking about scientists who have no feelings to guide their decisions and believe that lying is ok.

    Are you going to be able to name any of them (and provide evidence)? Or is that blanket defamation from you going to remain as being against any and all scientists – making you a (currently non-convicted) criminal because defamation, contrary to the beliefs of the ignorant, does not have to be specifically directed at one individual. Rather, the more general it is made, the more people have valid claims against you!

    At the moment, you seem to be the one lacking feelings (for all the people you are defaming) and believing that lying is OK (since you are most assuredly wrong and quite possibly already know this – depending on just how insane, stupid and ignorant you are).

  143. #143 windy
    December 4, 2007

    I am in a PhD program where I am being trained as a scientist and can tell you assuredly that most of science is really faith. Every theory put forth comes from someone who believes they have THE answer. And then their students set about to collect evidence. There have been so many real truths debunked that most regular people have no faith in science any longer.

    Science – you’re doing it wrong.

  144. #144 MartinM
    December 4, 2007

    MartinM: No, we’re obviously thinking along the same lines, but I’m just really picky about these things.

    Oh, I don’t think it’s overly picky. The statement they’re making is flatly wrong; what they should say is that for certain definitions of ‘energy,’ certain cosmological models have a total ‘energy’ of zero.

  145. #145 Tulse
    December 4, 2007

    An example of faith in science is beliveing that because there are bird/amphibian combinations in a pile of bones that one therafter evolved from the other. [...] What if the bird simply ate a large lizard before dying?

    Wow. Just…wow.

    What “scientist” graduate program are you allegedly in? I think you could probably sue them for misfeasance and get your tuition back.

  146. #146 Bob Henderson
    December 4, 2007

    Comment #139: If, windy, you are in a PhD program in the sciences then I truly fear for the future of science. I received my PhD many (many) years ago and my experience is that good science is never about faith. It makes progress by questioning everything, making hypotheses that can be falsified and doing careful observation and experimentation to confirm or – just as importantly deny – those hypotheses. Your phrase “so many real truths debunked” is meaningless in science since for a scientist there is no such thing as a “real truth”. There are observations (data) and theories formulated to explain those observations. Sometimes new technology allows more precise observation and sometimes new observations are made both of which can show that the current theory is inadequate or wrong. Ain’t no “truth” in science.

  147. #147 SEF
    December 4, 2007

    To Bob Henderson (#141):

    Don’t blame windy (NB post #138 not #139 according to the numbering currently being shown to me). The bit you are picking on was a quote (albeit using italics rather than the blockquote tag) of campbeju’s post #136, on which windy was commenting.

  148. #148 itchy
    December 4, 2007

    Sent this to August:

    I wanted to add an observation to #14, Pascal’s wager:

    You say:

    “Part of Pascal’s Wager states that you “lose nothing” by believing. But an atheist would disagree. By believing under these conditions, you’re acknowledging that you’re willing to accept some things on faith. In other words, you’re saying you’re willing to abandon evidence as your standard for judging reality. Faith doesn’t sound so appealing when it’s phrased that way, does it?”

    Good points, but to me, this is skirting around his main error, which can be refuted in one sentence:

    “It is equally likely that belief in God will send you to hell as send you to heaven.”

    Or send you to the grocery store. Or send you nowhere. Or put a dress and a clown hat on your brother-in-law. …

    Since we have no mathematical basis for any claim about God or any other supernatural possibility, ALL claims are equally likely (or, more accurately, equally unlikely), including converse claims.

    Pascal conveniently favors one possibility over others by linking the belief to the outcome. But the leap he makes there negates any mathematical foundation.

    I could also state: “It is equally likely that NOT believing in God will send you to heaven and all others to hell.”

    So I await my own final destination with as much hope and anticipation as I have for all the believers out there. Which is to say, not so much.

  149. #149 Sven DiMilo
    December 4, 2007

    I am in a PhD program where I am being trained as a scientist

    Please be lying. Please!

  150. #150 SEF
    December 4, 2007

    I wasn’t ruling out the possibility that campbeju might be in one of those creationist institutions where they pretend to train people as scientists and just hand out bogus qualifications anyway. If the DI was running a PhD program, it would seem exactly as described, viz: telling the people they are being trained as scientists, basing it all on faith, having “theories” put forth by people who believe they know THE answer and are just seeking excuses for that and ignoring all the evidence against it rather than genuinely exploring reality.

    Hence one reason why it’s so important that campbeju be forced to name names and back up those assertions.

  151. #151 Roman Kopac
    December 4, 2007

    @roger (comment #15) Actually, you cannot write a program that outputs random sequences. Unless you feed the program with some (supposedly) random seeds like atmospheric noise, it will always output only a pseudo-random sequence. A quote from John von Neumann is well-suited for this post: “Anyone who uses arithmetic methods to produce random numbers is in a state of sin.”

  152. #152 The Rational Fool
    December 4, 2007

    On point 21 regarding “meaning in life”, not everyone seeks a distinct meaning or purpose in life. Certain existentialists would argue (and I agree) that the only meaning of life is to live. We don’t seek a “meaning” for the existence of the Muon. Why should we seek a meaning for a macro organization of such particles? And, why assume that every conscious being seeks a meaning for its existence?

  153. #153 Keith Douglas
    December 5, 2007

    Any argument that says the universe “began” is wrong from the get go – no such thing occurred. At best our local hubble volume originated at the big bang, nothing more.

    Bad (#35): On Plantinga, read the entry in the Philosophical Lexicon on him. Remember also that this is not Dennett being malicious – he vets the entry with the individual himself if they are alive at the time of inclusion. So Plantinga himself considers himself a medieval philosopher …

    Spaulding (#40): To be fair, the theistic misinterpretation of SLoT is that decreases in entropy require “intelligence”. This is slightly (only slightly) less wrong, of course, but that counterexample doesn’t work any longer.

    woozy (#54): “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is answered – there could not have been nothing: “being nothing” is self contradictory. What the theist usually means is “why do the non-god parts of the universe exist?”, on the mistaken and archaic view of matter as inert and passive and hence only capable of doing anything with the concurrence of something outside. Not only is this false, it begs the question against a materialist.

  154. #154 campbeju
    December 7, 2007

    OK I see I touched a nerve and I apologize sincerely. I am not in a creationist program, but I like most scientists I know am in a situation where one’s ability to make a living is based on providing evidence for the theories they propose. No evidence–no publishing–no job-etc. And even though you may say you are unbiased, it seems obvious that NOONE is unbiased, including Christians and Atheists, scientists and non-scientists alike–we are all biased by on our ability to think and reason. I am not saying that scientists are maliciously mis-repesenting data at every turn–I am sure most are honorable; but if we can’t put faith in things written in the Bible-why can we put faith in scientists and their evidence? If it is reasonable that so many people who lived during the same time as Jesus got together and decided to ‘make their stories match’ and the resurrection is a hoax, why would we trust atheists who present evidence they’ve had time to manipulate to match their theories? My point is that belief in scientific theories also requires faith-as does atheism-faith that the evidence for God is wrong. The one person who talked about science is really supposed to be done said there are no truths–but in the reasons above the words ‘proof’ and ‘disprove’are used–most scientists were pretty CERTAIN based on all the evidence that alcohol and coffee were bad for you not so many years ago-now their healthy effects are reported more & more each day. Feelings, that are physiologically based as described above, are present in atheists and Christian alike, and when I feel the presence of God or His angels it is undeniable. So what if the Bible doesn’t match what science has found to be ‘true’ or ‘proven’ (like the images we see with Hubble)? I don’t propose that I am God and can understand the discrepancies that exist between religion and science. But I do believe one day they will be reconciled for all of us. My faith is in God, and all the rest takes second seat, simply pointing to His glory. I am looking forward to understanding it all one day, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as my feelings about God and His Son. I guess Jesus was right in saying that one day knowledge would be much increased and it would be difficult to believe in Him. I won’t be back to this site–it is much too distracting from my task at hand now with my studies–and I could easily get hooked–my son sent me a link to it is the only reason I knew of it–so you all can talk to each other about how stupid I am all you want. One last comment–everyone focused on my not-so-well-versed comments about science and noone answered regarding the discrepancies in the ‘reasons’–does that mean that your feelings about my comments on science obscured the other comments or that they were valid observations that couldn’t be easily refuted? Remember that when science fails you, God still loves all of you.

  155. #155 Stevie_C
    December 7, 2007

    Shhhhhh.

    God doesn’t love anyone. God doesn’t exist. Neither do angels, demons or unicorns.

    Logic. You’re doing it wrong.

  156. #156 Unintelligent Evolution
    December 19, 2007

    “2. The fact is, no one even knows if it’s possible for gods to exist.”

    No. It is testable, and uncontradicted, and useful for making predictions that: laws have lawmakers and law enforcers. Thus, it is logical that the laws of the universe have a Law Maker and Law Enforcer. And thus, it’s delusional to believe otherwise.

    Darwin said: “…we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator,” (Origin of Species, p. 462)

  157. #157 MAJeff
    December 19, 2007

    “2. The fact is, no one even knows if it’s possible for gods to exist.”
    No. It is testable, and uncontradicted, and useful for making predictions that: laws have lawmakers and law enforcers. Thus, it is logical that the laws of the universe have a Law Maker and Law Enforcer. And thus, it’s delusional to believe otherwise.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Please, my sides hurt!

  158. #158 Steve_C
    December 19, 2007

    Yeah and we all know you can’t have teeth without the Tooth Fairy.

  159. #159 PZ Myers
    December 19, 2007

    You must be joking. No evidence for a maker of natural laws has been found. No test for such a maker has been proposed or made. It is absolutely useless for making predictions: any result can be assigned to the whim of your imaginary designer.

  160. #160 Sastra, OM
    December 19, 2007

    …laws have lawmakers and law enforcers. Thus, it is logical that the laws of the universe have a Law Maker and Law Enforcer.

    Ahem. Political or legal laws are prescriptions and proscriptions on what people should or should not do. Natural laws are descriptions of what happens. If something appears to “break” a natural law we rewrite the law to accomodate the new observation. We don’t punish the quantum particle, or whatever.

    Different meanings of the term “law” — try not to confuse them.

  161. #161 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 30, 2007

    There is something rather than nothing because perfect symmetry is unstable. But why is it unstable?

    It is observable so, which is enough for me. Besides, in cases such as a mexican hat potential (a valley of symmetric minima develops around a center peak), it is theoretically so.

    But I see your point(s) re philosophy.

    Doesn’t the statement “symmetrical systems tend to be unstable” imply the symmetrical systems in question are non-empty.

    You are referring to what Sean Carroll has remarked about the problem of extrapolating our knowledge of observable ensembles onto an unobserved. But I believe Stenger is discussing systems on the basis of laws, not observations.

    Similarly, the ‘fact’ that quantum particles pop into existence without an apparent cause can not be used to deny the possibility of causation.

    QM theory shows, with data of impressive certainty (~ 15 sigma, IIRC), that there are no hidden local variables when you have a full description of the observables. So there isn’t much of a gap there.

  162. #162 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 30, 2007

    There is something rather than nothing because perfect symmetry is unstable. But why is it unstable?

    It is observable so, which is enough for me. Besides, in cases such as a mexican hat potential (a valley of symmetric minima develops around a center peak), it is theoretically so.

    But I see your point(s) re philosophy.

    Doesn’t the statement “symmetrical systems tend to be unstable” imply the symmetrical systems in question are non-empty.

    You are referring to what Sean Carroll has remarked about the problem of extrapolating our knowledge of observable ensembles onto an unobserved. But I believe Stenger is discussing systems on the basis of laws, not observations.

    Similarly, the ‘fact’ that quantum particles pop into existence without an apparent cause can not be used to deny the possibility of causation.

    QM theory shows, with data of impressive certainty (~ 15 sigma, IIRC), that there are no hidden local variables when you have a full description of the observables. So there isn’t much of a gap there.

  163. #163 henry
    March 1, 2008

    It is hard for me to believe I used these arguments, as a pastor, thinking they where so convincing that the person rejecting them was clearly blinded by satan.

    Now on the other hand, it like quiting smoking, the smell that was so sweet is not a vomit inducing bunch of rubbish.

  164. #164 Gordon Tippett
    April 3, 2008

    The Japanese exchange student whose deformed hand was turned to normal in a matter of seconds before everyone’s eyes in Don and Wendy Francisco’s living room had no doubt that God existed after it happened. He accepted Jesus Christ as His Saviour 45 seconds later.
    When I had the disease in my chest muscles healed and the pain disappeared at a Roxanne Brandt healing service and the pain has never returned to take my breath away convinces me of God’s existence.
    God is like the wind. You cannot see it but you know He/it exists by its results–what He/it does. But then He said He will not show Himself to one who does not believe in Him. I guess that leaves atheists in the cold. Sorry.

  165. #165 wazza
    April 3, 2008

    Got before-and-after x-rays on the hand healing?

    If so, then we’ll believe you.

  166. #166 John Morales
    April 3, 2008

    Gordon: Did you even read the post? You’ve just offered the 11th Unconvincing Argument for God. See the post for the response to it :)

    Wazza: I presume you mean we’d believe that this event had happened, not that a deity had done it.

  167. #167 wazza
    April 3, 2008

    Oh, yeah

    I mean, a lot of “healings” are just psychological effects

  168. #168 MartinM
    April 3, 2008

    laws have lawmakers and law enforcers

    One has to wonder if that’s a law.

  169. #169 Nick Gotts
    April 3, 2008

    On #25 (Altruism). Too much is conceded here. The answer gives some reasons for rejecting the claim that “evolution only rewards selfish behaviour” (reciprocal altruism, kin selection, hangover from the past when we lived in small groups, reputation), but misses several more. The most important may be the “handicap principle”, which is a refinement of the rather vague “reputation” argument: altruism is expensive, so being altruistic shows you are highly fit, and worth mating with / keeping on the right side of. Another, compatible possibility is “runaway sexual selection”: once a heritable trait becomes favoured by possible sexual (or more generally social) partners for whatever reason, this in itself becomes a selective advantage and the trait can be stabilised. Again, even in the small-group so-called “environment of evolutionary adaptation”, being nice to strangers could well have been advantageous: a stranger is likely to know things you don’t, so once our ancestors had language, a stranger was a potentially useful resource. All these possibilities have cultural as well as biological aspects. The real difficulty is deciding which of the many possible explanations for human altruism are most important.

    “However, it can be argued that there is no such thing as altruism, that people always do what they want to do.”

    There is absolutely no reason, as Blake Stacey has already noted, to go down this road. Interpreted in a common-sense way, it’s clearly false: I want to eat that last chocolate brownie, but it would be rude / make me fat, so I don’t do what I want to do. If interpreted as meaning there is some perfect “utility calculator” inside us that works everything out and chooses the action that “maximises expected utility” – that’s hooey, only taken seriously because of the quasi-religious status of neoclassical economics. It would require unlimited computational power, and complete knowledge of the probabilities of all possible futures. Most of the time we act on “simple heuristics that make us smart” (google that phrase for details), or by habit, or by case-based reasoning (what worked before in similar situations will probably work again), or by copying those of high social status. Moreover, recent studies in “neuroeconomics” shows specific regions of the brain used in making ethical decisions, indicating that the potential for altruism, at least, is hard-wired. Parenthetically, I think it’s a pity in retrospect that Dawkins called his first book “The Selfish Gene”. Easily misunderstood, and indeed in some places he seems to slip into the misunderstanding himself.

  170. #170 J Myers
    November 25, 2008

    Just posting to move the names on top…

  171. #171 Just an agnostic
    December 8, 2008

    I’ll never understand why people who are secure in their faith, be it that there is a higher power and he/she/it/they are a certain way, OR that there is nothing, try so hard to convince others that their belief is correct. The point of faith is that you don’t need (or can’t get) tangible proof.

    Staunch atheists and staunch theists (whatever their religion), are two sides of the same coin and seem to have an equal investment in being correct. I see very little difference between vocal believers and vocal nonbelievers. Both seem to be unduly concerned that others share their belief regarding religion or a higher power.

    An interesting read.

  172. #172 John Morales
    December 8, 2008

    Just an agnostic,

    I see very little difference between vocal believers and vocal nonbelievers. Both seem to be unduly concerned that others share their belief regarding religion or a higher power.

    By vocal, you mean those who post here and offer their opinion and reasoning? If so, you are a member of that set, too.
    Why do you assume that sustaining one’s opinion implies an undue concern for one’s interlocutor to share such?

    PS technically, I’m an agnostic, too – but functionally, I’m a strong atheist. I don’t consider this confused.

  173. #173 Walton
    December 8, 2008

    Interesting, and I think a lot of these points are good ones. Many of the conventional arguments for the existence of God are, indeed, unconvincing – particularly Lewis’ trilemma, which, as the author above points out, is a weak argument because it fails to take account of the possibility that the Gospel accounts are inaccurate and ascribe words to Jesus that he never said. It’s also true to point out that revelations and religious experiences, while convincing for the individual who experiences them, are so subjective as to be useless for purposes of general empirical evidence, since we can’t prove beyond doubt that they aren’t simply products of the mind.

    At the same time, I also find some of the rebuttals above unconvincing, particularly number 25 (altruism). In my personal experience, human altruism cannot all be ascribed to a desire, conscious or subconscious, to “improve one’s reputation”; indeed, I’ve known people who will do good things for others without any recognition, nor expectation of reward. Nor can it all be ascribed to the familial and child-raising instincts, since many people will be as altruistic, if not more so, towards their friends as towards their families. So I do think we have an inbuilt conscience, or sense of right and wrong, which is unrelated to the desire to survive and perpetuate the species. This isn’t, of course, “proof”, or even good evidence, for the existence of any particular God or gods. But it is, to me, a general indication that there may be something beyond the material universe, and that we are more than merely physical beings.

  174. #174 John Morales
    December 8, 2008

    Walton @167: Amazing Video: Hero Dog Rescues Injured Dog On Freeway – Real-Life Drama Plays Out On Busy Highway In Chile. Also on youtube.

  175. #175 Walton
    December 8, 2008

    Staunch atheists and staunch theists (whatever their religion), are two sides of the same coin and seem to have an equal investment in being correct. I see very little difference between vocal believers and vocal nonbelievers. Both seem to be unduly concerned that others share their belief regarding religion or a higher power.

    With staunch theists, this is easy to understand, since many religions teach that one cannot be saved without faith in a higher power, regardless of one’s virtue and good works; so they are being, from their standpoint, altruistic in attempting to convert people. (Remember this the next time a Mormon or JW knocks on your door at 9am on Saturday morning. From their perspective, they’re trying to save you.)

    But as to the atheist side, I think it depends what you mean by “vocal nonbelievers”. By far the majority of the people on this forum are atheist, agnostic, or otherwise non-religious, and are open and unequivocal about their lack of religious beliefs. I, as a liberal theist, am among the few exceptions. Yet I come here because I think it’s beneficial to have my ideas challenged on a daily basis. I accept that I’ll likely win some arguments and lose others; and hope that, in the process, I’ll learn something and refine my thinking. A worldview which is never challenged or disputed, and never subjected to critical analysis, is not likely to be an intellectually strong one. So I think it’s beneficial for atheists and agnostics, just as much as for religious people, to be prepared to share their opinions and discuss issues when it’s appropriate to do so; and it isn’t fair to brand them as “militant” or “strident” (as some do) just because they venture to express an opinion.

    On the other hand, there are a small minority of people here, like Holbach and BobC, who throw vicious rhetoric at the religious and seem to harbour genocidal fantasies. However, to the credit of everyone else here, they are generally reviled or ignored, as they should be.

    To draw parallels: Holbach and BobC are the atheist equivalents of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. They don’t contribute anything useful to the discussion, and simply throw hate at those they view as “subhuman”. In contrast, some of the other people here can be seen as atheist counterparts to, say, Rowan Williams, John Polkinghorne or Katharine Jefferts Schori. They are outspoken about their lack of beliefs – just as religious leaders are, legitimately, outspoken about their beliefs – but they are willing to have a serious and worthwhile discussion, without hurling abuse.

  176. #176 RickrOll
    December 9, 2008

    28) why is there something rather than nothing?

    “According to physics and astronomy professor Victor Stenger, symmetrical systems tend to be unstable. They tend to decay into less symmetrical systems. Now, Nothing – the lack of anything – is perfectly symmetrical, and thus highly unstable. Therefore, Something is more stable than Nothing. Thus we would expect there to be Something rather than Nothing.”

    The problem is, Nothing isn’t a system. And it isn’t symmetrical. Is a single point symmetrical? No, unless you insist that a point is merely a 1 dimensional circle. But a point is actually 0 dimensional as well. From that it can be seen that this system spontaneously emerges. Once we have a 1 dimensional construct, all it takes is simple addition to create more and more, adding more and more dimensions as well. Symmetric systems can be highly stable. We do not know how long the Planck era of cosmology even lasted. It could have been any length of time before inflation occurred. Calculations break down at 10^-43 seconds. Time becomes rather immaterial at that point. Inevitability drove the universes true birth through inflation.

    Nothing Existing also is impossible, for if it existed, that particular logical impossibility would exist as well. It would be impossible for impossibility to remain impossible, and that i think would be enough to spontaneously generate reality.

    The real interesting thing as this shows the dominance of impossibility, and we ought to see reality decaying into random mess and impossible things should occur to disrupt reality and destroy it. But that is an inevitability, so therefore it would be governed by logic, and impossible things and realities would have to remain beyond that boundary. It isn’t really as inevitable as all of that. Logic dictates that there would be a boundary there. Impossible things don’t occur because if they did, possibility would be impossible as well. It would do a double reversal and things would be back to normal.
    Just jabbering away here. My thoughts, feel free to comment or criticize.

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