Arguing with Creationists: A Facebook Saga

So let me say this first: I don't have any real interest in converting people to atheism. If they are good people who just happen to believe in something a little funky - whatever. The only time I get really bothered is when people use religion to justify inexcusable behavior. If they're just living life, hanging out in church pews and eating cardboard wafers, I really don't mind (although in the spirit of intellectual honesty, I wish they'd stop.)

Intellectual honesty. That's what got me to where I am now. I don't want people to believe in things that aren't true. I don't want people to spread misinformation. And if they're religious, I don't want to let them get away with using weak arguments and logical fallacies to explain away hard questions. They need to learn that they can't get through life spouting stuff like "If humans evolved from apes, why are there still monkeys?" and have people take them and their faith seriously. Someone needs to correct their woeful lack of scientific education on basic things like high school physics and biology. Otherwise they'll never be able to present themselves as a respectable adult who is confident in their beliefs.

It started with this status:

Things were lighthearted at the moment, I responded:

Some time later I got a slew of notifications. Another atheist ("C") who often contributes to Mike's Facebook had started correcting some information and butting heads with a group of Christians. They throw lots of things at C and he's doing a very good job of staying calm in the face of their willful ignorance, answering their questions about carbon and radioactive dating, geology, the Flood, morality without religion, physical evidence of evolution, micro vs macro evolution. Overall the normal stuff that, if the Christians really cared to, could be easily understood if they made the slightest effort to research the topic on their own. Nothing new. They're doing that thing where they just throw any idea they can think of at you in the hopes that something catches you so they can yell "Ah-ha! Got you."

C is thrown off a bit, but keeps trucking with other subjects. I can't leave this be! (Quoting C)

From this point on I'm going to be rearranging the order of posts to make the flow more natural for readers. Blockquotes are them, normal text is my response. Bolded are quotes I am responding to directly. Bolded italics is my additional commentary.

Speaking in Tongues

Mike: My question is if God is not real and Evolution and science has proven everything wrong there is about God and the Bible why its still around and people are continually being saved by Jesus.
Ax: he's got a point, i mean explain tongues or healings which you really can't say aren't real
Mike: Speaking in tongues these tests were done by scientists and it was one on one them hooked up to their brain and what not.

Crazy people are crazy? Societal pressures have profound effects on the behaviors of people? People are very adept at fooling others and themselves? Humans are notoriously bad at distinguishing random noise from intelligence? People who are... taught something in childhood internalize it to a greater extent than others? The general masses are woefully uneducated? The very nature of religion is to encourage and prey on ignorance, specifically targeting individuals who don't know any better? The knowledge offered is vague enough and so open to interpretation that the individual can mold it to fit their life and experiences?

These are all plausible explanations for the continued pervasiveness of religion. You may as well ask why people continue to believe in horoscopes, the answers are (mostly) the same.

There was at least one study done where neuroimaging was obtained from subjects experiencing glossolalia. They found an altered brainstate - increased activity in the frontal lobe, for example. This proves... exactly nothing. We can alter our brain state at will through activities like meditation and concentration.

The brief review of the literature I performed revealed a division as to the cause of glossolalia: neuro vs sociological, with leanings to the latter. One study was successful in teaching participants how to speak in tongues, having no prior knowledge of the act. Another study of clergymen revealed a positive correlation with extroversion scores on a personality test and glossolalia. It is interesting that there are very few incidents of people speaking in tongues before first being exposed to the idea. I'll let leave you to consider the implications of the above findings.

Glossolalia is present in many cultures, several of which predate Christianity. It is part of many rituals as a form of chanting, sign of possession or divine words of power. There isn't anything particularity special about the Christian form, other than it's pervasiveness.

So that's the current state of speaking in tongues. I'm not sure what its mention was trying to prove, but I remain skeptical about its origins (as does the scientific community) and I would advise against using its existence in any sort of formalized debate.

Pascal's Wager

D: and on the atheism coment... i dont have all the answers... but i know i serve a god that loves me and provides for me... and i ask you when faced with matters of eternity.... wouldnt you rather be safe then sorry?

That's a disgusting position to take. Intellectually AND spiritually.

Pascal's Wager is pure garbage and easily defeated. For example, how do you know you've picked the correct god to worship? You ca...n't worship them all, and yet each religion is equally convinced that THEY are correct. Secondly, wouldn't an all-knowing, all-seeing god be able to see through your ruse? What is the use of faith if you do not really believe it with your heart and soul and are simply going through the motions "just in case"?

I've chosen my position carefully because I believe it is the most honest position both scientifically and spiritually and I firmly believe that a creator who gave me the ability to think rationally and the ability to choose my morality would not fault me for questioning their existence given the level of evidence, and would appreciate the choices I have made given the flaws they purposefully instated into my being. And if there is a creator and they do NOT do those things? They are not a god deserving of my worship.

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Is god loving and just?

And a whole chunk of philosophy that compley wooshes over their heads:

What I'm getting at here is this: There are two possibilities for the problem of unbelievers. Either they automatically go to hell for not believing god, even though they have never been exposed to the idea of god OR they are accepted into heaven by default. Either situation calls into question the justness and the love of the biblical god.

D:have you ever thought that God doesnt want us to be puppets? [...] would he be a loving God if he made us do everything he wanted?

Would a loving god give its creations the opportunity to be in endless agony for a literal eternity? I think not.

What of those people who don't even have a chance to do the steps necessary to ensure they are accepted into heaven? What of the millions of people (Billions?) today who never have and never will hear about Jesus? Or the even larger numbers who have already died? Say, in the timeframe between when the commandments were given and when Jesus was born; How many hundreds of thousands of people lived and died...? Frankly, one soul being unfairly sent to hell is too many for a "just and loving" god.

What about unbaptized babies? What about all the people who existed before god laid down the laws? Because of original sin they cannot be accepted into heaven, right? And purgatory no longer exists soo...

Following that idea to its logical conclusion, the most moral position someone could take would be to baptize newborn infants and then immediately kill them, sacrificing their eternal soul so countless others can be accepted into heaven, since their earthly lives would be short compared to an eternity in Heaven.

And if god is a bit more lenient to people who have never heard of Jesus and lets them all into heaven by default because they can't know any better... then the most moral thing would be to not tell anyone about the Christain faith, would it not?

Ax:to start, babies until they learn to know better will aways go to heaven if they die, and take the story of noahs ark for example, the earth started out a perfect place, but man corrupted it, so the flood was their own doing. a person uneducated about the bible may go to heaven. there is something inside everyone that longs for an explanation, meaning that anyone could come to the conclusion that there is a god that loves them, there's always a way for everyone to learn.

There's some tricky issues here - you could say if someone lives their life with ...the christian spirit, not doing harm to others, etc they will go to heaven. But then I would say "what of Commandments 1, 2 and 4? Sometime BC, of course" Do nonjews get an exception here? If they do get an exception, that's not really.... fair is it? And then we've returned to the idea posted above, where one is better off just not knowing about christianity. The little details bog us down...
No wonder people can make an entire career about theology!

D: are u to judge whats fair and unfair?
Ax: if there is a god, and he's greater, kinder and wiser than you, wouldn't you think he has a better sense of what's right and wrong or fair and unfair?

"are u to judge whats fair and unfair?"
I don't see why not. I mean, you can go that route but it's not a particularly strong position. Since we're discussing my personal philosophy I get to evaluate what is fair and unfair; you can disagree with my evaluation if you want. But given my evaluation of the situation I find no compelling evidence that the christian god is either loving or just.

"it wasn't impossible to go to heaven before jesus was born if that's what you are trying to say"
I'm saying the requirements to get to heaven were different - arguably more strict - and that an ignorant individual knowing nothing of the faith simply due to, say, geographic location would be less likely to just stumble upon the magic formula that would get them into heaven. Mostly in response to:
"there is something inside everyone that longs for an explanation, meaning that anyone could come to the conclusion that there is a god that loves them, there's always a way for everyone to learn."

And following from my train of thought several posts above, if individuals who had no opportunity to learn the correct ways of worship went to hell (which they'd have to, since they didn't perform the rituals that would get them to heaven - or else god would be more lenient on them, in which case: why so strict for the Jews?) that would be unfair.

"if there is a god, and he's greater, kinder and wiser than you, wouldn't you think he has a better sense of what's right and wrong or fair and unfair?"
You seem content to take it at face value that the god you worship is, indeed, "greater, kinder and wiser." I cannot. I need evidence of this before I will simply accept it as fact. There is very little evidence to be had! In fact, an overwhelming amount of god's actions are unethical, unfair and hurtful - at least, those transcribed in the bible! At this point we're on the verge of arguing Relative Morality, which I don't believe in. There exist far more succinct and accurate disproofs of Relative Morality than I could provide here.

God is self-evident

Mike:Also God made so everyone would know he exists some choose not to like look at the world we live in for example, its way to beautiful and the wayh it works simply cannot be by "chance"

"Is it not enough to look upon the beauty of a garden without having to believe there are fairies living in it too?"

I see the world as fantastically wonderful and beautiful. I also admire many principles of biology and physics to be... stunningly beautiful in their simplicity and eloquence. The theory of Natural Selection is breathtaking in its simplicity, especially given the diversity of life. That is enough for me. It is more wondrous to me to see that everything in the universe came to be because of a handful of physical laws rather than to imagine an intelligence behind it.

Attempted proof by contradiction using the bible

Ax: to say that there is no god is to say that the bible is completely wrong, which isn't true at all, every person mentioned in the bible was real, as were all the miracles done. you'd also be saying that cars don't exist and that the universe had no beginning, you'd be going against everything the bible says, true or not

"every person mentioned in the bible was real, as were all the miracles done."
You made the claim; the onus is on you to prove it. So far they haven't provided any evidence...

"you'd be going against everything the bible says"
Yes, exactly. The bible is nothing more than a collection of writings collected from a certain geographical area over a span of time. You can tell by just reading the damn thing - creation stories, law books, books of poetry, letters, one book that's written by some poor sod on hallucinogens, it's just a big disorganized, hand-selected mishmash of writing. Ever wonder what the books that didn't make the cut contain? Ever wonder just how far removed some of the writers were from the action? How much was simply local gossip and war tales someone wrote down? Taking everything in the bible as 100% truth is dangerous at worst and naive at best.


Ac: (Quoting C) "No, the universe will always be existing. No beginning or end. The Earth had a beginning and will end shortly after our sun explodes into a supernova. But the universe will keep on expanding."

I was going to comment on this earlier [...] This would imply that there is a possibility that the earth has been formed and reformed many possibly even thousands or more times... so... how is it that this time around the mass we stand on had the right conditions to create an atmosphere, cells to evolve into animals, and the right conditions(for thousands of years) for the cells to become the animals?

And what is the one thing that every scientist tries to avoid no matter what they study? variables... there are too many variables that would stop these cells from evolving, that is, if the earth had all the variables right so that it could even produce the environment... and what created the cells? and how can the universe just be... how can all the mass in the universe just simply be there? as for the variables(one) in creation theories... so what if we can't see our God?... we can't see air either but we all know it's there.

How would the above imply that [the earth had been reformed]? Yes, planets are formed and destroyed all the time. Necessarily, the same matter is often reused to form a new planet. But it isn't the "same" planet, probably wouldn't be in the same orbit and almost definitely would have the same chemical makeup.

"how is it that this time around the mass we stand on had the right conditions to create an atmosphere..."
You're looking at it from the wrong angle. Our form of life is possible because life adapted to the conditions on our planet. The "mass we stand on" necessarily had to be able to support our style of life because we are here. Do you understand? The planets that cannot support our form of life do not support our form of life and therefore no lifeforms similar to ours exist on them.

[...] Earth sustains us not because Earth was "made" for us, but because the conditions of the earth made us who we are biologically. We were made to fit the Earth by the process of natural selection. Any organism that couldn't survive on Earth doesn't survive on Earth. It's almost a tautology!
Douglas Adams' puddle metaphor

"there are too many variables that would stop these cells from evolving"
I think something creationists fail to grasp about evolution is that over 98% of species that have ever come into existence are extinct. With simple self-replicating organisms, all you need is one, the necessary building blocks and a lot of time.

"and what created the cells?"
That's what abiogenesis attempts to explain, and several theories do it very well, backed by experimental evidence.

"how can all the mass in the universe just simply be there?"
Ahhh, the infamous "argument from personal incredulity." I return with another question: how can god "just be there"? If you can conceive of an infinite god, you can conceive of an infinite universe.

"we can't see air either but we all know it's there."
We can empirically verify the existence of air. We can feel it. We can observe its effects. We can capture it and weigh it. We can create air through various processes. In fact, we can render gasses into a more tangible form given enough pressure. We cannot do any of these things with god. The existence of a god is untestable - unfalsifiable. You have to have "faith" in a god - you do not become convinced that a god exists, as you do with scientific theories.

Ac:"You're looking at it from the wrong angle. Our form of life is possible because life adapted to the conditions on our planet.[...]"

I may be looking at it from the wrong angle but your avoiding the meaning of the question... since everyone seems to avoid most of my questions I'll just run through something of a story to illustrate it for all the atheists...

the universe and our galaxy and solar system are just taking shape(after the big bang) we have our sun and the planets rotating around the sun(care to explain why the planets themselves don't all spin the exact same way?... put marbles on an old record and turn it on... they spin the same way... our planets revolve around the sun bot don't rotate the same) the mass that is earth(explain the atmosphere from an evolutionist point of view) and cells are starting to turn into animals(how did the cells come to be?) the earth is soon populated with thousands of animals and ape-like men(how did we survive when nearly everything is bigger?) that, over the course of thousands of years suddenly learn how to create fire, build weapons, house, roads, and reap the bounty of the land...

the are thousands of things that need to go right for this to happen and only one thing needs to go wrong to prevent it... same as simply one variable can completely and utterly RUIN a scientists research... the reason I am no longer an evolutionist is because I not only found a God that forgives my sins but I also realized that evolution is an unreliable theory... over the course of thousands of years EVERYTHING would have had to have gone right... it would probably be more likely for someone to go through say 50 years of life without being injured or something going wrong ONCE.

"The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God'!" (Psalms.14:1)
"Atheism is insanity." an insanity that WILL be cured.

Don't you hate it when people pull the line "I used to be an evolutionist" and then go on to demonstrate that they never actually know what the theory of natural selection actually is? Yeah, I hate that too.

"care to explain why the planets themselves don't all spin the exact same way?"
Some planets spin in "reverse" from the majority. The most plausible explanation is a massive impact while the planet was forming made it spin the other way. Impacts like this can also change the rotation speed of a planet or other body. Basic physics stuff. You can test it out yourself by spinning balls. Did you know that several planets are "winding down," including Earth?

"explain the atmosphere from an evolutionist point of view"
Uhhh, I'm not sure what you're getting at? The atmosphere is simply because of gravity. Gasses actually have a weight and are affected by gravity in the same way that everything else on earth is affected by gravity. That's why our atmosphere doesn't drift off into space. Is that what you were talking about?

"how did we survive when nearly everything is bigger?"
Size isn't everything. Tools/intelligence, speed, agility, staying in groups, etc are all ways our ancestors could have avoided or scared off predators. I mean, you may as well ask how mice still exist - the answer is they have adapted to their niche: they are small, fast, can eat almost anything and they breed in incredible numbers. They also get slaughtered in huge numbers. But they still survive.

"the are thousands of things that need to go right for this to happen"
Not really. And, as I said above - 98% of species go extinct because something goes wrong, as you would expect. Something about being human gave us an advantage and saved us from the fate of the majority - most likely, tool usage/intelligence. It's not that extraordinary. It seems impossible if you stand from where we are and look backward, but that's not the most appropriate viewpoint. It is easy to get very, very complex things from very, very simple parts (I need only point to computers) given enough time. There certainly HAS been enough time. And the changes are cumulative.

Given your questions, I would almost hazard to say that you don't actually understand natural selection at all.

Weird derail about planets colliding

Ax: now my question is if the planets collided, wouldn't there be significant damage?
But the formation of a star system is a very violent affair anyway, with great big clouds of matter swirling about and primitive planets, moons and other celestial bodies rocketing around, crashing into each other. We're talking about t...he formation of planets, here. There's going to be some collateral damage.

Our solar system is very, very old compared to the timescale humans have been around. It took over a billion years for a bunch of gasses swirling around the sun to coalesce into a stable planet with a crust. For comparison, primitive humans appeared on the scene around 4 million years ago - three orders of magnitude shorter of a time span.

Ax:but i mean say our planet hit another planet, wouldn't there be a huge crater?

Yes, there would. That's how moons and rings for several planets formed - chunks of matter got blown off but stayed in orbit. (It's even possible that at the time of collision the planet was less a planet and more a dense cloud that absorbed the rotational force of another colliding cloud.)
This happened so long ago that the simple rotation of our planet smoothed out the rough edges. When planets form they aren't nice near-spheres like we can see today - they're basically giant asteroids. This would have happened so long ago that the earth didn't have a crust - the continents and oceans wouldn't have been formed.

Their own rotation, due to the laws of physics, flatten and mold them into the planetary shapes we're familiar with today. This rotation is also why planets are fatter around their equator than they are on a circumference that goes through the poles - shaped like a squished sphere.

Ax:think of what one asteroid did to our planet, you'd think another planet would do permanent damage

I.. you don't seem to get it... Our "planet" didn't exist as it does today. It was a hunk of stuff lumped together by gravity. Yeah, tons of matter would have been blown off it in a collision. Nothing would have been able to live - there wo...uldn't have been an atmosphere or an ocean or.. anything. Life was only able to come about when the formation of the solar system was "complete." Formation of a planet from bits of dust and gasses takes billions of years. *Billions*. Multicellular life "only" appeared about 600 million years ago. The continents weren't arranged as we see them today until about 5 million years ago... we're talking huge time scales here.

Evolution, Statistics, and Darwin was a Christian!

Ac: "Something about being human gave us an advantage and saved us from the fate of the majority - most likely, tool usage/intelligence. It's not that extraordinary. It seems impossible if you stand from where we are and look backward, but's not the most appropriate viewpoint."

I am not looking at that from my computer... I am looking through the eyes I had as an evolutionist... what NATURAL defenses did humans have?... our hair rises to make us look an inch or two taller, we wet ourselves... the problem with that theory is the fact that we weren't INSTANTLY intelligent... thus why evolutionists have to make it look like everything has been happening for thousands of years... one thing I would like to ask is who here is an actual scientist or working to become one... because if you are a scientist you know that variables screw people over... if you aren't a scientist... you need to learn how badly variables screw people over...
and adding to Ax's question... where is the rock? did it just bounce back into space? that would be silly at best... and back to Sam... you keep referring to physics yet ignore the fact that many of the principals in physics are based from information received from the bible... that is quite simply ignorance.
one other thing... seeing as you are debating against creation... instead of using the term Abiogenesis you should be using the term Biopoesis... seeing as Genesis is the first book of the bible(waddaya know... creation)
and with 98% of the species going extinct before today... you'd think that the weak links would've gone... yet here we are... still being battered away by natural disasters, animals, and other humans.

"what NATURAL defenses did humans have?"

Adaptation to an environment is about more than a predator prey relationship. It is about more than having stronger jaws and bigger claws. There are many, many ways to be successful in a certain envi...ronment. We need only to look at other apes to see how they differ from, say, tigers. They have both adapted to fit a different niche in the environment. Tigers are lone hunters and are opportunistic. Normally, they cannot catch prey - they have to either catch it by surprise or find prey that is sick, injured or old. That is hat tigers do.

Now, apes are completely different. They form complex social groups and are omnivores. They can kill for meat or they can eat plant life. They are also tool users. They are agile and can maneuver in treetops. It's a completely different style of living. They have a completely different set of skills and weaknesses compared to tigers. You cannot say one is "better" than the other. We cannot say a bacteria is better at living than a tiger because the envirnments they adapted to are so different. If we want to measure by sheer numbers, bacteria have the best way of life!

There is no "end product" of natural selection. There is no final goal. It is in a constant state of change.

"who here is an actual scientist"
I am a computer scientist. Because of that, I *love* variables. (/pun) I'm not sure what you mean by variables - variables are fine in science. They make things flexible!

"you keep referring to physics yet ignore the fact that many of the principals in physics are based from information received from the bible"
LOL I have no answer to that, but thanks for the laugh. :3

"instead of using the term Abiogenesis you should be using the term Biopoesis... seeing as Genesis is the first book of the bible"

The word "genesis" is greek for origin or birth, from the hebrew for in the beginning.
"Abio" (greek, latin) means not living - similar form to asymmetric.
So: "Origin from non life." It has nothing to do with the bible.
Here's an argument for I haven't encountered before... "argument from etymology."

"you'd think that the weak links would've gone"
See: "There is no "end product" of natural selection. There is no final goal. It is in a constant state of change."

Ac:alright... if you are a scientist then you DO know how a variable could completely wipe out the human race at its supposed early evolutionary stages... and I am sure you would also know that the earth would ...have had to have acted as an incubator for billions of years... and if you know anything about the animal kingdom you know that everything has a threat to it's survival... whether we were originally adapted for tundra, jungle, desert or whatever... there would have ALWAYS been a predator capable of ending us... there would have been many...

and here's a fun fact for you... Charles Darwin was a CHRISTIAN... he believed there IS a god... he was skeptical about it towards the end of his life, yes, but he was still a CHRISTIAN... he doubted the bible only because the pen(or quill... whatever) was in the hands of man. He used the bible for his work as well... he even reverted back to a Christian on his sickbed. What do you have to say about the man who started your theory now?

"if you are a scientist then you DO know how a variable could completely wipe out the human race at its supposed early evolutionary stages..."

Have you ever considered that perhaps creatures other than apes ...had potential to develop sentience, but were wiped out early in their development? Or even more interesting, that sentient life arose and then died out at some point in Earth's history? It is entirely possible. It's possible that some dinosaurs were sentient, for example.
This is what i was getting at in my post about selection bias. It's like the lottery: the chances of any individual person winning the lottery are very, very small. But the chances of *someone* winning the lottery are pretty much one in one. The chances of humans evolving is slim - but the chances of something evolving are nearly guaranteed. ANY SPECIFIC life will look extremely unlikely, but life in general is very likely.

If you roll 6 dice, what are your chances of rolling six ones? It is 1/46656. That's pretty unlikely. However, there's nothing special about 6 ones; this is the same as the chances of rolling any combination. What happens when you roll six dice? Does the universe explode because something unlikely is about to happen? No. You get a value. That configuration of dice - say you ended up with 1 through 6 - only had a 1/466756 chance of turning up. Someone who came along after and saw what you had done might remark at how lucky the roll was - but there was no luck about it. You had a probability of 1 that some combination would happen - it just happened to be that combination.

Does that help clarify what I mean? You're looking at it from the perspective of the casual observer who remarks on the "lucky" roll. All you see is the slim chances of something *specific* happening. You fail to see the very HIGH chances of something general happening and it having to be *some specific way*

"What do you have to say about the man who started your theory now?"

Nothing. It's a sound theory, regardless of the leanings of the originator - be they true or false. I don't have any particular attachment to the idea of the man being an ...atheist, especially considering the social environment that was pervasive when he was alive.

There haven't been any responses after I posted the last ones. I must have tired them out. Part 2 here

You can feel the willful ignorance just emanating off of these guys - they don't or can't understand what you're saying to them. It's like the visual equivalent of in one ear and out the other. They also have this odd habit of just throwing arguments up in the air. It's like this weird formula: "If argument A doesn't work, try B..." I can only assume that they're just reciting arguments that they've been taught at some point that they assume are sound, without having verified for themselves. They don't seem particularly phased when you prove their argument is flawed.

The main reason I do this is for the benefit of anyone who may be reading, and to expose them to thought processes that aren't similar to their own. Their faith becomes soft if they do not think of the hard questions. I want them to be able to defend their world view to even the toughest opponents. They shouldn't be getting hung up and confused on stuff like colliding planets and adaptation. I can only hope I helped them hone their critical thinking skills that little bit more.

9 things about

Arguing with Creationists: A Facebook Saga
  1. Excellent.

    Some of my comments:

    "the are thousands of things that need to go right for this to happen"

    Along with billions of things that need to go wrong.

    "D: and on the atheism coment... i dont have all the answers... but i know i serve a god that loves me and provides for me... and i ask you when faced with matters of eternity.... wouldnt you rather be safe then sorry?"

    Pascal's Wager is one of the worst "reasons" to be a theist.

    - Pascal might not have stated specifically that a deity exists, but he still asserted an ontological position of a deity (the deity either exists or it does not) as if it were a given.

    - An atheist does not believe in the deity in the first place, so why should he or she accept the "rules" of the Wager? It seems that theists who trot out Pascal's Wager just don't understand this simple concept.

    - Why should belief be the operating concept? Why not disbelief? Why not cutting up three oranges every day at 3 PM? Standing on our heads and clucking like chickens?

    - It does not tell us what deity to follow. How about deities who are not known yet? Or will never be known? And cannot be known by us?

    - It does not tell us whether we ought to follow a deity, outside of its saying so.

    - What if there is a test, but it is completely of a naturalistic nature? And the only way to win is to embrace rationality, the complete opposite of Pascal's Wager?

    - The atheist who is right about the lack of a deity does gain something out for not believing. The atheist who is right has been right. He or she has discovered truth. He or she has spent his or her time doing useful things instead of worshipping an imaginary friend. If the world is a better place for the fact that he or she has lived, then that person has all the gain he or she can wish for.

    - The theist who is wrong loses a lot for not believing. He or she has lost a lot of time in worship and devotion to a mythical being. The person has wasted years serving a lie. That is a huge loss.

    - It is one great big "Believe... OR ELSE." An nice-sounding threat is still a threat.

    - Finally, who is to say that believing just to "be safe" is actually going to make one be safe? How can we tell that a deity would not punish believers who accept Pascal's Wager? Does the deity really want his followers to come to him out of fear or desire for reward, and no other reason? Does there not seem to be something wrong with a system that can be exploited by believing for the sake of personal safety rather than for the sake of really believing it?

  2. Great points, Ian.

    Pascal's Wager is wrong over and over and over again; but we still hear it all the time! I think a lot of it is that the arguments against it are a bit more nuanced than the person who trots it out can pick up on. They just can't understand *not believing in a god* at all, so any arguments that come from that position are confusing to them.

    See: the weird nonsense about planets colliding; it's like they couldn't even imagine planets not being as they are today because their beliefs say the planets were created just as we see them.

    Our... debate/argument actually got revived briefly and I'll be making another post as soon as I get time.

  3. One thing that I would point out right away is that planetary physics and related subfields of astronomy are not relevant to biological evolution, since Darwin's theory addresses the latter, not the former, and at no point does it, or other forms of science, try to conflate the two groups. Instead, it is the creationist who conflates them all.

    What these creationist types always want to do is frame the discussion in terms of their Creationist Worldview versus the opposing Evolutionist Worldview, and so while the proponent of Darwin's theory rightly points out that it applies to biology, he or she is going to be asked by the creationist to provide an "evolutionary account" of geology, astronomy, cosmology, and abiogenesis. So, basically, the creationist won't allow the Darwinian to confine the Theory of Evolution to biology, since the creationist has it in his or her head that some sort of so-called "naturalistic account" is necessary, and needs to be put in place, before biological evolution can apply. The Darwinian is expected to provide a counter-creation "account" that is basically a mirror image of the creation "account" -- True Design without a True Designer ("Evolutionism") versus True Design with a True Designer ("Creationism").

    One problem with this is that you could do that with any theory in science: General Relativity, germ theory, and plate techtonics can't apply until you give a "naturalistic account" in the first place. And that is ridiculous.

    Another problem is that this false representation of the discussion is depedent on the assertion that 1) an ontological position of a deity has been settled upon, and 2) the Creationist conception of theology can be somehow shown to be the most veridical among all the others. The first one is still called into question (nonbelievers don't accept it), and the second one is just wrong because we lack the litmus test to determine what is "true" theology (and defining "true" theology as politically correct does not work, since it is an argument for secularism, not for theology). The creationist can claim that a theological worldview that allows Darwin's theory to be right is "problematic" for whatever reason, but he or she cannot force his or her own worldview's standards on the other, since doing so would be begging the question. And trying to argue one theory of theology against another isn't really going to get the arguers very far, since in the realm of the supernatural anything is a go.

  4. Firstly, you're obviously very intelligent so I don't want to question any of the studies or rational arguments you've flagged up. I'm an atheist, so I agree with you when it comes to all scientific points.

    However, you speak of religion with such coldness, it may appear a load of rubbish, but who prays to science when their loved one is about to die? Very few, if any.

    A lot of people use religion to excuse a lot of terrible acts, such as wars. Nuclear weapons (science) has a similar effect on the modern world however.

    "The very nature of religion is to encourage and prey on ignorance, specifically targeting individuals who don't know any better?"

    I think the very nature of religion is to provide comfort and answers to questions which most people, even scientists, don't know the answer to. People do a lot more good things in the name of religion, than they do in science.

  5. "However, you speak of religion with such coldness, it may appear a load of rubbish, but who prays to science when their loved one is about to die? Very few, if any. "

    Science is a tool, not a belief system. People who don't have a god to pray to choose to do other things, such as rely on support from other people, meditation or immersing themselves in a hobby.

    Where people get comfort is a personal issue that I don't feel is right for someone to judge. Personally, I turn to loved ones for support and to rationality to solve my problems. I recognize many people have different strategies and this accounts for all the variation in spirituality - thing like meditation, prayer, confession and religious rituals are all ways people have developed as tools to soothe the soul (so to speak).

    I do speak coldly of religion simply because I think organized religion has been corrupted by people into something that more often hurts than harms. The hurt it inflicts may subtle and work on a large scale, so few people seem to be aware of it. The good religion does can be replaced (Many secular cultures do just fine without god, and people that follow a different spiritual path than the one typically espoused by organized religion are also well-adjusted.); the bad it does will be removed from the shelter of protected beliefs and finally allowed to be flushed out of our society (I'm talking things like discrimination here)

    I don't like how religion is a special case. I don't like how we're not "allowed" to be critical of claims and beliefs that come from a religion. I apply the same rationality and standards of evidence and ethics to religious claims and beliefs that I do to all other claims and beliefs. I see no reason to treat religion differently. This is probably why I sound blunt and cold when speaking of religion... it's because I am not giving religion any brownie points simply because it's religion.

  6. Haha brilliant. It's always easy enough to win this debate against theists because you can use science, empiricism, logic and reason which they can't

    That being said, you played each hand with a sharp wit drawing on all the right stuff. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

    You might be interested in reading my post on fundamental atheism too: a reminder that it's not just the theists who can get it wrong. We atheists must stay vigilant too :)

  7. Thanks for the link, I'll check it out now!

  8. Hi, just found your blog, and found it very intellectually stimulating...
    I'm a Christian, however I am also a scientific thinker in the sense that I have researched and thought about very hard many of the questions addressed above. I will never take anything at face value. And I most definitely agree with the point that Pascal's 'better safe than sorry' argument is a very dangerous route to follow. There are too many Christians who are unable to defend their faith. I don't claim to know all the answers, and maybe I never will, but I am all for questioning and discovery, even if it takes me in a direction I hadn't originally intended.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog :) I might also try (although maybe not as eloquently as above) to address some of these questions myself at some point in the future (I'm new to the blogosphere...)

  9. RJ: I'm glad I gave you some things to think about! I'll be watching your blog for anything you have to say on these questions. :D


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