On proving a negative

I saw a comment from a GRADY on my post the other day, in which he said my statement that we know people rising from the dead is impossible was begging the question. This is what we must deal with in battling religious people.  This attempt to draw a false equivalence of ideas is encapsulated by apologists in a number of ways.

“You can’t prove god doesn’t exist!”

“It takes more faith to be an atheist!”

Well GRADY, banking on someone’s inability to prove a negative is a really poor way attack a position.  I mean, how about that human beings can’t live without their heads?  Am I begging the question there just because I haven’t personally examined everybody without a head?  If you have evidence of someone rising from the dead, bring it forward.  Otherwise, it seems that all available evidence indicates that people do not rise from the dead, while people making contrary claims have nothing but anecdotal evidence from a third party that cannot be investigated (the worst kind of evidence) in their favor.

Still, the demand that we atheists prove a negative is so widespread that I guess I need to explain why it’s lame.  Here we go…

The nature of knowledge

For even our most certain claims, we must allow for the possibility we are somehow wrong.  Even something as simple as 1=1 might not be true (you may be dreaming this life, and in the real world this is not the case).  So what we do is we attach probabilities to truth claims based on the evidence on hand.  While I’m pretty sure that there are no purple, nine-legged bugs with heart shaped candy eyes and a radio dial on their forehead on this planet, we may one day turn over a rock and find a colony of such insects.  While this is highly unlikely, it would be wrong to deny it as a (very distant) possibility, and thus my claim that there are no such insects is not absolutely certain.  It is this possibility, one so distantly small that we all just ignore it in our daily lives, that people like GRADY are deferring to when they accuse us of question-begging.  Even so, the probability that someone rose from the dead is so small as to be meaningless, and it is contradicted by all available evidence.  That means anybody who believes it just because human beings haven’t scoured every inch of the cosmos for somewhere where a person has risen from the dead is not treating the accuracy of their beliefs as though it were important.

Iit should be noted that even god would be subject to these constraints.  What if he was wrong about being omniscient?  What if a demon is feeding god his every thought?  Such a demon could even make god feel omniscient and god would never be the wiser.  God would have to allow for this possibility, and so even he cannot have 100% certain knowledge.  The point is that what we’re after is not absolute certainty, we’re after reasonable certainty - ideas that are so likely to be true that they are as close as we can get.

“The evidence doesn’t disprove god”

What would that evidence look like?  I mean, if something doesn’t exist, what more evidence could we have than the lack of any evidence?  The evidence also doesn’t actively disprove the existence of smurfs.  Does it really take more ‘faith’ to believe smurfs don’t exist?  After all, what more evidence do you have that smurfs don’t exist than you do that god doesn’t exist?

Furthermore, what does this scenario tell us about god?  If a god exists who elected to use only natural means to create a universe and chose to mask any evidence of his existence, it can only be concluded that such a god does not want us to believe.  Additionally, that he would use a means to produce humans/biological order like evolution, which requires millions of years of a sick rewards system in which animals must often kill each other to survive, and in which the weak often die painfully, suggests a god indifferent to suffering (since a malicious god would start us in hell and a benevolent god would conceive a more compassionate system).  An indifferent god is hard (I’d say impossible) to discern from a pitiless universe that functions through unfeeling forces, and nothing more.  There are plenty more problems like this, and they all point to a god that virtually no human being believes in, and for which a godless universe is a better explanation.

But apart from simply pointing out that no evidence whatsoever exists to suggest a god was at work anywhere, we have plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that the universe is without god.

Evidence supports a godless universe

First, the universe produces order all by itself via mindless forces acting on inanimate objects.  So you cannot simply point to an instance of order and say, “There is complexity, hence it must have been designed!”  What’s more, thus far whenever humankind has explained a phenomenon, it has been shown to be the result of natural forces with no appeal to god being necessary.  All of them.  Now imagine you’ve watched two horses race hundreds of thousands of times, and every time the same horse wins.  They’re getting ready to run another race and you have to bet your life savings on one of them.  Which horse do you pick?  Do you need “just as much faith” to pick that horse?  Yes, we have other unknowns out there, but to say that it takes just as much faith for me to assume that we will continue to find natural explanations rather than supernatural explanations is simply wrong.

Second, life is very difficult to get started via natural means (go here and read the section “abiogenesis”).  A godless universe therefore predicts that we would find ourselves in a very large, very old universe, so that things that have a very low probability of occurring would become probable.  That is exactly where we find ourselves.

Third, the flaws in design don’t make any sense if a god created anything, since such a god would necessarily be more crafty than humans.  If that were the case, it’s incredibly odd that we could pick up mistakes that such a god would miss.  These are things like the existence of the appendix, babies’ heads being bigger than the birth canal, and the clunky nature of DNA.

Fourth, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that our universe had a beginning, and the existence of a god before there was any time or place to think is illogical.  Moreover, it is up to the theist to explain how a bodiless mind could both exist and accomplish anything.  So far as we know, minds only exist as machinery powered by tissues constructed of cells which, themselves, are made up of elements that took time to create within stars via r and s processes, which means that a mind could not exist before stars.  Also, if thought does not require a functional brain, why do we have them?

Fifth, as I said in the first part of this response, the existence of suffering is incompatible with an all-powerful being.  An evil god would have us suffer more, and a benevolent god would not allow suffering to continue.  That life is based on a system that requires millions of years of agony spread over millions of species of animals is inexplicable via the god hypothesis.

Sixth, if god existed there would not be so much confusion among the world as to which God existed or what he wants from us.  Often people say they have experienced god and that’s how they know one exists.  But god would not be giving everyone contradictory messages and experiences of the divine, nor would a god allow this confusion, since compassion would compel him to give us the best chance of being saved, not the worst.

Seventh, the universe is indescribably vast.  It is so large than the human brain cannot comprehend it without invoking logarithmic functions.  To give you some perspective, a particle of light will travel around the entire Earth seven and a half times in one second.  It would take that same particle 5.3 hours to reach Pluto, and four years to reach the closest star, and there are roughly 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and there are trillions of galaxies.  That same particle would take 93 billion years to go from one end of this universe to the other.  As I pointed out earlier, such a universe is precisely what we would expect to find if life arose from natural causation.  It makes absolutely no sense that such a universe was created for something so mind-numbingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things as humans.

There are many, many more, but you get the picture.  Any evidence to support a godless universe is evidence against god’s existence.  I will go further to assert that no evidence whatsoever exists to support the conclusion that god exists.  This makes a godless universe (far) more likely, and makes it difficult to contrive a more inaccurate statement than, “It takes just as much  faith to believe in a God or to believe there is no higher power” or “You can’t prove god doesn’t exist/people don’t rise from the dead.”

What we can say with as much certainty as humanly possible is that any person claiming to possess evidence that a god exists has not submitted it scientific scrutiny or, if they have, it has been shredded like any other unsupported idea.  Moreover, if you believe in god just because we haven’t combed our universe to the very edge to make sure there’s no place god might be hiding, thus ‘disproving’ his existence, then it’s curious why you don’t believe in smurfs, unicorns, leprechauns, and seventeen-legged insects with candy apple horns, since we can’t/haven’t disproven those things either.

To believe in something for which there is no evidence, that requires faith, and that’s not a good thing even though many religious people will throw that word out as though it absolves any shortcoming in reasoning.  In fact, it’s just another shortcoming.  Similarly, it is not a matter of faith for me to say that people don’t rise from the dead, that this universe appears to be godless, or that those saying otherwise do so for crummy reasons, if they even advance reasons at all.

  • Q

    GRADY,

    You clearly misread, as he never stated anything about his beliefs (or lack thereof) being unfalsifiable, or anything close to it. There is the far distance (very unlikely) chance that we could one day find evidence that points to a god. But for now, it doesn't exist – so it's near certainty. As for the people without heads bit, it's clearly just an example and not to be taken literally, as you can't prove anything there. Think of any absurd thing in the world, such as a child's imaginary friend, or the damn easter bunny. You can't prove they exist any more than your god. One day (probably never is more likely) evidence may be found that *falsify* those claims, but for now we stick with reason and not "omg lol you can't say that because the bible told me otherwise".

    An atheist, given proof that is able to be investigated and tested that any god exists (even Zues or Odin), would and should be interested in that proof and possibly change stance. However, all the evidence stacks against you, the theist.

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    Grady,

    "you have assumed at the outset the truth of what you are trying to show"

    The definition of a belief is that you assume it to be true. That's a far cry from unfalsifiable. Do I really need to point out all the evidence that people don't rise from the dead? Are you really unaware of it?

    "Futher, you made a defined claim, so you have assumed at least a partial burden."

    Once more, are you really saying that you need evidence that people don't rise from the dead?

    "Moreover, you have not only equivocated by made a false analogy to people living without their heads."

    How is that different, in terms of falsifiability (or accuracy) than the claim that people don't rise from the dead?

    "your atheism is not in any sense “scientific” since you assume that all existence, life, and mind itself can be explained by mindless processes"

    There was once a time when nothing was explained. Since that time, everything that has been explained has turned out to be the result of mindless processes acting on inanimate objects. Everything. Without exception. For what we do not know, is it such a stretch to say that it's far more likely that they will turn out in like kind? Conversely, who believes something because we haven't examined every case, even though all present evidence is against it?

    "Given that assumption, YOUR Beliefs are UNFALSIFIABLE."

    Thank you for the words in all caps – it conveys to me that you really mean business. I just arranged 20 of my DvDs in random order on my desk. Pray to god and recite that order to me (from right to left) and that would be sufficient evidence for me that a god exists and that he speaks to you. So there you have it: my beliefs are falsifiable. Now, assuming you believe that people can rise from the dead, can you envision anything that could possibly change your mind?

    "I will then show you that, given the assumptions that mindless processes can explain our present existence, that you are wrong."

    Go for it.

    JT

  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    Did he just type, “LOL”? And with the caps to boot? Make sure he has permission to stay up late on the computer…

  • Adam

    Oh, Grady, you have entered into a battle of wits, and you sir are severely lacking in the proper weapons. You have decided to take a belief that you use as a crutch and beat us over the head with it. We now reserve the right to smash it into tiny pieces.

    Here's your chance to win souls for christ… "prove" to us there is a god. With sufficient, logical, rational evidence, we ARE willing to change our minds.

  • jeremiah

    There is no proof of anything. All we can do is draw logical conclusions from the information we have available

  • Adam

    And logic leads to the conclusion that there is no god… which is why people are abandoning the church in record numbers.

  • Adam

    @ Grady: First of all, this original blog post and the long response were from JT, not me. But, yes, you have asked us to prove a negative… which is impossible. Proving that something is highly improbable (ie. God, Unicorns, Fairies, etc.) is possible, Proving that these things 100% DO NOT exist is impossible – ie. "proving a negative"

    And, that's where our biggest problem is with you, Grady. We keep the possibility of god's existence open, even if we believe it to be a very slim chance. You, however, seem to know for certain god DOES exist and don't give us any reason to believe that you could ever change your mind.

    You claim that "[we] have assumed at the outset the truth of what [we] are trying to show". Well, sure. You are guilty of the same thing. What's the point of having an opinion if you don't believe it to be the correct opinion. It would seem silly for people to right a blog and call it "Let's look at both sides of this debate and I will make up my mind when i am done writing". Of course we (both) come into this believing what we claim to be the truth.

    But that's the main difference, we can give you millions of examples of ways to prove us false and make us believe in your god… you can't seem to give us one example of how you could stop believing in god. Do you have one?

    I like JT's example of naming the DVD's, but you seem to think aliens did that (not a real strong proof for your god, but I digress). However, you ask for "example[s] of something you would accept as proof for the existence of God". I give you ten (although I'm sure our readers could come up with more):

    1) $1,000,000 cash shows up on my porch tomorrow with a note from god telling me to change my ways.

    2) An Elephant flies from Africa to America for a chance at a better life and is interviewed on Good Morning America.

    3) You pray for me to grow a third arm out of my back and it happens.

    4) A before and after picture of an amputee who has regrown an arm or a leg from prayer.

    5) Someone being dead for longer than a few hours, is prayed for, and rises from the dead (not anecdotal bible stories… real evidence).

    6)A massive tsunami is about to hit shore somewhere, rises up 30 feet, stops, and stays there for hours for people to take pictures.

    7) God parts the clouds and says hello to everyone during the next presidential inaugural address.

    8) The Cubs win the World Series (ok, that was a joke). But, how about this. The Cubs win the world series because they hit 60 homeruns in one game.

    9) The earth stops spinning but everything stays on it (the bible says he did it once, surely he could do it again).

    10) You tell me what color shirt I have on today and where I bought it.

    Do you see a thread of commonality here. ANYTHING that doesn't have a natural explanation and can be verified with proof could be attributed to god. But, it can't be after the fact or because we can't explain it yet with science. If you have another example, please offer it up. We could give you thousands of ways you could refute our claims… is there one that could refute yours, or are you 100% positive god exists? IF you can't budge on your beliefs and we can on ours, what the point of debating with you?

    Also, as to proving that the "god of the bible" doesn't exist, we feel pretty certain we can. Why? Well, although we can't prove the "non-existence" of god, if we can prove that the claims made about him are false, it stands to reason that he too is false (or else he wouldn't let those claims be made about him). For example.

    "The earth is 6,000 years old" – FALSE

    "He raises people from the dead" – FALSE

    "He answers prayers" – FALSE

    "He created man from nothing and woman from man's rib" – FALSE

    "The bible is the infallible word of god" – FALSE

    "The universe was intelligently designed" – FALSE

    If all these things are false, then so is the god associated with those claims. If I saw a woman and you said she was a ballerina. You claimed she was thin, danced mastefully, and only wore tutus. If I could then show you that she was fat, was missing one foot, and didn't own a single dance outfit… I couldn't PROVE that she WASN'T a ballerina, but it would be very safe to assume she wasn't.

    I don't know how to be more clear about our position. You are now more than welcome to "prove" to us god exists with any of the examples I have given you (or JT's) or any you come up with that show beyond a reasonable doubt that god has done something that can't be explained naturally.

    And, please, in an effort to appear fair, show us you are as willing to change as we are. Give me 10 examples of how and when you could believe god doesn't exist!

  • Robbie

    @Grady

    Grady, please read Adam’s “conditions” for proof of god carefully, for a religious person they border on “testing” god. You are asking for how an atheist can change his/her mind, only by “testing” god in religious speak.

    All 7 bln of people would have to experience the same phenomenon, it needs to be documented, photographed, measured and when there is NO OTHER NATURAL PHENOMENON THAT CAN EXPLAIN IT, then it is God or aliens.

    But surely, God can easily step in and provide proof. Those sneaky aliens can just screw with our brains – kind of like god does.

    Good luck on proving the negative!

  • Robbie

    @ Adam and @ Grady,

    I’d settle for god if someone told me

    1) how many visible holes I have in my underwear I am wearing today
    2) how many ice cubes I have in my fridge
    3) when was the last time I changed the water filter in the fridge
    4) how much I paid for the filter?
    5) how much were the taxes for the water filter?
    6) did I buy it in Overland Park or Olathe?
    7) did I buy it at Home Depot, Lowe’s, ACE Hardware?
    8) what brand is the filter?
    9) what is the serial number of the filter
    10) what is the time stamp on the filter receipt by the store?
    11) what lane number did I go through at check out?
    12) what is the name of the cashier (on reciept?)
    13) what is the name of the manager of the store (on receipt?)

  • Robbie

    @ Grady,

    If aliens come over and demonstrate EVERY MIRACLE and event in the Bible as well as produce a Jesus who can demonstrate he was the one depicted in the Bible, would that be satisfactory to you or any Christian? He can even come with a sword in his mouth and brass legs and on a white horse?

    Aliens can state they are material beings (indistinguishable from gods by 2,000 year old mythology of the Hebrews) and they were mistaken for god and the folklore, etc. took it over. Or they can be actual gods (we as Yahweh was referring to) – would this convince Christians that they are mistaken and there are multiple gods. There is only one god per Judeo/Christian mythology, so what would that mean? Where is the burden of proof for Christians when these gods come?

    You claim that atheists will not change their mind when aliens come. Would Christians change their mind?

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: If you answer for everything is ALIENS, then we might as well, as Robbie put it, call "GOD" and alien. I can give you a million examples of how I COULD believe in god. Yet, even after I do, you assume that if those things happened I would rationalize it away. How fucking dare you? You don't know me. I am flat out telling you that if those things happened, I WOULD believe in god. Sure, $1,000,000 cash could show up on my door someday, but if it actually happened the day after I put it on here (especially the minute after) I could only call it divine intervention.

    However, you say that I have to "demonstrate that all existence, life, and reason itself are the product of mindless forces", then you would "concede, at least, that [you] had a problem". WOW – I am telling you basic examples where I WOULD change my belief completely and you give me the ONE example that would make you "concede you have a problem" and it involves proving ALL life is from mindless forces. You arrogant prick. If that's your measure for debate… then debate over. No one can change your mind.

    We never said "ALL existence, life, and reason itself is the product of mindless forces" – YOU DID. Read it again, JT wrote, "the universe produces order all by itself via mindless forces acting on inanimate objects". That means the universe and natural forces occur without a being behind them making them happen. Of course, since then, many things happen because of human action and thought. Your strawman argument is ridiculous – and if you can't see that, we can't continue this conversation.

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    Morrison,

    Oh boy…

    On aliens: sure, it could be aliens, but a god is more likely. I too didn't like Adam's money example. Allow me to modify it: I find the design for a cure for cancer on my doorstep (or god could show up and hand it to me) with a note telling me to change my ways. Sure, it could be aliens, but god is a more likely answer, and all beliefs are the sum of going with what is more likely – hence why evidence is so important.

    (You will also note that neither you nor GRADY have suggested anything that could change your mind on Jesus – even the preponderance of evidence that people don't rise from the dead)

    Saying that we would not change our minds is just an ad hominem. As far as we know our minds are completely open, and we have provided you with examples that would change our minds. Just because there are less likely explanations doesn't mean we wouldn't go with the god answer.

    As for your four problems:

    1. We're all dealing with cognitive limitations. Doesn't mean we shouldn't do the best we're able within those limitations, and the available evidence points to a godless universe as far and away the most likely truth. Also, so what if we don't know anything? You bases their beliefs on information we don't have? We need to base our beliefs on the evidence we do have.

    2. Subjective experience can be cross-referenced, the way science does. We all subjectively experience gravity, but shared evidence makes it objective. That's the problem with god: all evidence seems to be subjective and indistinguishable from personal error. If god wanted to give us the best chance at salvation, rather than the worst, this makes no sense.

    3. Sure, they are limited. That's why we devise tools to get around them. Take a peek at this image. The tables are exactly the same size, but you will need a ruler or tracing paper to see this. These tools are how we go about deriving consistency, despite fallible senses. Science takes such tools to be mandatory, while religion/faith does not survive the application of such tools. Religious people count on fallible senses and actively avoid the tools that destroy the conclusions achieved that way. This is the product of faith.

    I mean, you're not suggesting that we should start believing that people rise from the dead because our senses are not perfect, are you? It seems like both you and GRADY are attempting, as I said, to draw a false equivalence of ideas that is obviously not there.

    4. Only applicable on the quantum level. On other levels observations are consistent.

    "Thus, you operate from assumptions you can’t demonstrate and that I, and I am supposing Grady does too, find to be inaccurate."

    The section about the nature of knowledge refutes this. All beliefs are sums of probabilities, and while there is a very small possibility that god exists, it is far more probable he doesn't and therefore that should be what we believe.

    "You assume much, acting like the oppostion is operating from some inferior position"

    If the question is "Do people rise from the dead?" (which it is if we're talking about Christianity), then yes, you are operating from an inferior position. This should embarrass you.

    "when in fact there are reasons to believe that intelligence is operative in the formation of the universe, not least because of the fact that it can only be"

    GRADY said he would provide evidence for this, and now so have you. I await both of you doing so with baited breath.

    JT

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: then explain yourself better. I don't see in any way how my examples "all fail". Your logic here seems vague. Is there any example of a miraculous nature that I could give that you could justify with a response other than ALIEN. It really doesn't make sense. I don't think it's just me. I think this circular reasoning you do makes sense only in your head.

    When I give an example of flying (speaking) elephant, a tsunami stopping in mid-crest, the clouds opening and god talking… are you saying those would be FROM aliens or are you saying that's how I would rationalize them?

    Either way, your argument fails. If the former, then aliens exist and there is again no need for god and nothing "divine" happened. If the latter is your explanation, then, again, you have wrongly judged me and assume I am not telling the truth about my requirements to change my belief. I am even willing to hear a counter example. What is something that you think could change my belief in god and what evidence is there for it? It's on you to prove his existence… not on me to prove otherwise. Your bible commands you to spread your faith. We have no such dogma. You came to my website – I didn't decide to troll yours.

  • Robbie

    @ Morrison,

    Your highly skilled and paid private investigator will know how many holes I have in my underwear that I wear today? OK, how about tomorrow? The day after tomorrow? What if I wear 5 pairs of underwear on me at any given time? At what point is your private detective will throw in the hat and say I cannot figure it out? But your god can, right? So can an advance enough alien (aka god).

    At what point is your private investigator going to get a bullet in his head from my 45 when he's going to try to undress me to find out how many holes I have?

  • Robbie

    @ Morrison,

    I dare you, my friend, to uncover the information on the receipt about the water filter I bought. I bought it with cash. I bought it sufficiently long ago, also add, Price Chopper, Hen House, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco and Sam's club to the list.

    Let's start with the basics – my fridge's brand name is KenMoore and it is 10 years old.

    Now, have at it. Please, if your highly paid private investigator can figure out the info on the receipt, there is lunch for you and your significant other for 1 year every day (not to exceed $20 per day – should be good enough lunch)

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: I retract any personal attack on you. I don't know you and only have your words and logic to judge you by. I felt personally attacked by your immediate refutation of my examples with the same response (aliens) and saw it as an insult to my honesty.

    Please continue the debate and provide evidence for your claims. As JT stated, I am looking forward to your response… with baited breath.

  • Robbie

    @ Morrison,

    Will your private investigator also be able to tell when was the last time I changed the filter in my fridge? Can he also be able to tell how many filters I went through in the 10 years of ownership of the fridge and information about every single filter?

    I will actually raise you – 3 years of lunches for you if this information can be revealed by a private investigator who doesn't possess "god" like foresight/hind sight or not an advance enough alien or has an invisible cloak and time machine to travel through time and conceal himself to see me do it X number of times in the privacy of my home.

    Can your private investigator also tell me how many plies of toilet paper I use in the privacy of my bathroom? Of course, without breaking the law and installing some sort of a video feed?

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    Morrison,

    "I would say, briefly, that regarding the fallibility of our sense the extension of those senses by instrumentation does not obviate their fallibility."

    So our senses are imperfect; does it now become reasonable to believe people rise from the dead? Of course not. This is an attempt at false equivalence. No bueno.

    JT

  • Robbie

    @JT,

    No Bueno? Don't use the word "bueno" in vain. There are very righteous "Taco Bueno" restaurants in Kansas City. Their cheese cakes are just heavenly.

    http://www.tacobueno.com/locations.php?address=ka…

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: Just curious… with all the "alien" comments, do you believe in life outside of this planet (if so, I assume you think god created it) and why? If not, do you really think god created a universe that tens of billions of light years wide just to make us (his only creation) feel more special? I would like to know your thoughts on this.

  • Robbie

    @Grady,

    So, your private investigator will use illegal means of monitoring in my bathroom too to see how many pieces of toilet paper I use? He'll have to go undercover to find out about holes in my underwear? Please, go on, I'd love to know more. This is getting interesting.

    Grady, are you a Christian or a deist or pantheist?

  • Robbie

    @Grady

    I know good and well you don't have a private investigator who will not use illigal means? I don't know, this is the thing, you made fuss about it, not me about how a good investigator can use small cameras and listening devices. Not me.

    So, you have given me examples of what you cannot really accomplish by legal means and I am supposed to be impressed by it? In short, you have given me examples of what can be accomplished by illegal means only to find out about the filter receipt and also my underwear. I am at a loss at your line of arguments. Next thing you'll tell me that it is not illegal and actually moral to lie on the witness stand if you are not caught?

    Libelous remarks about what? I asked you if you were a Christian, deist or pantheist, is this what you mean? Please, tell me there is something else behind the libelous remarks you percieve.

    KMA? LOL? – what is that?

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    GRADY,

    For much of what you said, see my response to Morrison (or Adam, feel free to copy/paste the relevant parts).

    If you're going with Stenger, that means smurfs must also exist, as well a version of your mother that likes to eat feces, as well as a better god than Yaweh. If everything exists, there would also be a god who is able to transcend universal boundaries and is giving me a back rub right now. I guess not everything exists somewhere, which means this little version of the ontological argument doesn't work. After all, you don't believe in these things, do you? (Feel free to admit you believe in smurfs)

    Even if we grant Stenger, you're still forming beliefs on what we don't know, which is a poor way to forge a world view. We've already conceded that there's a very distant possibility your god could exist (as well as a distant possibility that smurfs exist). So arguing for possibility is worthless at this point. It's now time for you to explain why your beliefs are plausible. Why should we believe people rise from the dead? You must have some good reason to believe this.

    I've noticed you like to argue with people other than the people you're presently arguing with. Not sure why.

    And you close with another ad hominem. Glorious. Christian morality at its finest.

    JT

  • Adam

    @ Grady: I truly hope Morrison answers my responses with more thought than you did. You broke the rules of the game that you set up. You told us to give you examples of how our belief could change. We did this. You then say that no matter what example we give you, we would rationalize it by saying, "Must have been aliens!"

    You presume too much about us and are in fact calling us liars by your disbelief in our integrity. You set up the rules… and you can't even follow them.

    Victor Stenger doesn't speak for all atheists. However, he IS indeed a brilliant man who has probably forgotten more about science than all of us on this thread know, combined. What he means is that in a vast number of universes, even a remote chance of something occurring, like the Big Bang, can and has happened. Even if the chance is one in a billion, with a billion universes, it will happen at least once.

    This doesn't, however, give you rationalization to say that anything can happen in this universe at any time. There are physical laws to which nature abides. In a universe where flying elephants are common, my example about that wouldn't seem divine. But, in this universe where a flying elephant has never been spotted, it would indeed seem miraculous if one did… and we wouldn't write it off as "aliens did it" either. Stenger doesn't mind being opposed. But, he doesn't like his opposition to use irrational arguments and "evidence" from a 2,000 year old story book to "refute" him.

    I would expect better arguments from Jim Christianson (spelling?) and "friends". You all have undoubtedly debated this topic before online and this is the best you can come up with. I am happy to leave your comments on here for future readers. When compared, I'm sure they will see which side of the debate logic and reason truly reside.

    Again, you have yet to provide us with one example of how you would change your belief in god or one shred of evidence to prove that god exists? Can we expect this soon, or am I supposed to just let you keep trudging on with nonsense? Please stick to the rules, play fair, and come up with something worth debating… or take your arguments back to church where everyone agrees with you and you don't have to think.

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    GRADY,

    "in this case supported by a self referential link to another atheist website"

    My website. Linking is just easier than re-typing. You may fact check anything therein.

    As for the universe itself, see my rebuttal to the cosmological argument. It's not circular reasoning at all, unless you want to play infinite regress. In that case, what made god?

    "Moreover, your subjective judgments about how long someting like, say, evolution should take are simply Philosophical Speculations, not Science in a demonstrable form"

    No it's not. We date fossils from different strata by various methods to produce a time line. For many species, we can calculate how quickly (or slowly) things change. For instance, we know how many centimeters per thousands of years a whale's blowhole has moved from the front of its face to the top of its skull. So this is not subjective judgment, it's based on evidence – something you should get around to proving for your position. I could concede that evolution is entirely false – doing so would not count as one iota of evidence for people rising from the dead. Of course, we have a mountain of evidence for evolution, only a fraction of which I discuss here.

    "After all, during all this time you don’t know what else has been happening and is happening in this vast universe. Moreover, you seem to be unaware of its potential for development…just because it does not SEEM to be being utilized now does not mean it never will be."

    If you are forging your own beliefs on this statement, you're making god of the gaps arguments which suck. You're basing your beliefs on information you don't have (and counting on us not having it). That's not very smart.

    Anyway, it makes sense to assume the forces in the universe are consistent for a number of reasons. For one, there's no evidence to the contrary. For another, the universe would not appear in its present configuration otherwise. The science on that is actually very basic and is explained very well by chemist Jonathan Hardin as a guest blogger on my personal blog.

    So let me explain what your use of this argument tells me.

    1. It tells me you don't know much about science. This is compounded by the fact that you're trying to argue as though you do. This tells me something else…

    2. You took your argument from somewhere that isn't a reliable source on science. Perhaps a pastor or an apologetics web site that isn't subject to review and bears no contribution from scientists. This tells me that you were interested in confirming what you think you know rather than learning what science says. This is intellectually dishonest. Please, for your sake, and to save my time, stop.

    "In addition, your key claim, that the universe produces order all by itself, does demonstrate, although it is itself undemonstrated, that there is in fact NO PROOF for the Existence of God that you would accept, even in principle."

    I've already told you there was and provided examples (which you elected to not take me up on). I cannot help it that you think you can reach inside my mind and discern that I was lying. Also, thanks again for the random all caps. You clearly mean business.

    "After all, whatever happens, you could always fall back on “Mindless Forces” even though though you admit that abstract mental concepts like higher order mathmatics are needed to even begin to apprehend this “mindless universe”."

    How does our use of mathematics to explain the workings of the universe have any relevance? I'm confused.

    Even though mindless forces have been the answer to everything humanity has explained, that doesn't mean that certain laws aren't in place that your god can presumably break at will. Besides, I gave you ways your religion could be established as true to my satisfaction that work within those laws.

    You can keep on droning on about how woefully close-minded I am, but you're ignoring the outs I gave you as you do. You've also not trotted out any evidence for people rising from the dead (as you said you would earlier). Were you going to defend your position or just take easily parried shots at mine and whine about how you know I wouldn't accept the evidence I said I would?

    JT

  • http://skepticon.org JT Eberhard

    I was responding to this comment from GRADY, which I no longer see for some reason…

    The claim that “The universe produces order all by itself.”, in this case supported by a self referential link to another atheist website, is undemonstrated as to the existence of the universe itself (i.e.,you have not shown that this universe was produced by mindless forces), the existence of life, or the existence of higher order abstract thought.

    Which derails your entire line of thought in this post…and no matter how long your post, that does not conceal the fact that it is thus arguing in a circle, although it may be a BIGGER circle.

    Moreover, your subjective judgments about how long someting like, say, evolution should take are simply Philosophical Speculations, not Science in a demonstrable form. (After all, during all this time you don’t know what else has been happening and is happening in this vast universe. Moreover, you seem to be unaware of its potential for development…just because it does not SEEM to be being utilized now does not mean it never will be.)

    In addition, your key claim, that the universe produces order all by itself, does demonstrate, although it is itself undemonstrated, that there is in fact NO PROOF for the Existence of God that you would accept, even in principle.

    After all, whatever happens, you could always fall back on “Mindless Forces” even though though you admit that abstract mental concepts like higher order mathmatics are needed to even begin to apprehend this “mindless universe”.

  • Adam

    I didn't delete Morrison's (Jim Christianson's) argument… I find it funny.

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: I only mentioned the name "Jim Christianson" because you seem to write a lot like him. If you say you are not him, I will take you at your word (since Christians are commanded not to lie). From your posts (and my knowledge of him on the Tammus blog) I had reason to believe you are him and just using a different name.

    This doesn't mean you have no obligation to answer our questions. We have played by your rules. Gave you examples. You give nothing back. I even apologized for calling you a prick (it was off-handed and I am sorry for that). You still give no evidence for your belief and continue to assume all of us would rationalize a divine act by giving credit to aliens… which you have ZERO proof that we would do.

    Please continue the discussion, as we have done, or end it without ever proving your point and forever let people who read this site think this is the best that Christians can come up with.

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: The term "mindless forces" has been used by lots of people. Scientists use it to refer to laws of nature that have no "being" behind them… they just are (gravity, inertia, electromagneticsm, etc.).

    Remember, I didn't write the original blog here… I didn't say "MINDLESS FORCES" about anything other than the evolution of the universe. It happened with no being behind it that we have any evidence of.

    Saying, "falling back on your own assumptions about the role of mindless forces in the formation of the universe and life, can be shown to fail" doesn't show anything. I have said repeatedly that there are numerous examples that could PROVE god to me. I DO believe "mindless force" like gravity hold us to the earth. So, if gravity changed one day for ten minutes and we all floated ten feet off the ground while god spoke to us from the clouds and then gently set us back down, I would not, I could not, claim that those were aliens or mindless forces. That would be a suspension of mindless forces and evidence of "mindful forces". A being would have to be behind that and I assure you, I would believe that to be "god" before I believed aliens. But, that has never happened and we see no reason to think it ever will.

    If you have links to this old "Tammus Blog" you refer to, I'd like to read it. Cole told me about it on the phone once, but still haven't seen it. If Iggy believes that the god of the OT was an alien, well, I guess that's his right. I never said I agree with that position. I just want proof for your claims and I still haven't seen them.

    Can you give me an example that proves god exists and show evidence for it other than something from the bible or from your own faith? Our minds can be changed… try.

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: There is NO PROOF for a god to my knowledge. If you are aware of some… please enlighten us. I don't claim to know everything. But, from all the evidence I have ever seem about the universe, science, life, psychology, sociology, religious history, literature, mythology, and natural forces, there doesn't seem to be anything that convinces me that there is a god. Show me otherwise.

    Remember, I used to be a devout Christian and trained to be a minister and a missionary. I know the bible well. I changed my mind once due to better evidence, so I show a history of having the ability to open-minded. I am offering you the opportunity to change it again.

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: I read a lot of his comments and those around his in context. He definitely has a different approach than I do. I don't know him, so I can't comment to his intent or true belief. Much of what he said seems to be based in humor, as it appears he really likes to screw with Christians. Again, he doesn't speak for all atheists, as you do not speak for all Christians. However, your beliefs are defined and readily shared by millions. The only belief that I can guarantee that Iggy and I share is that there is no god!

    Now that that is out of the way… can we get back to the real issue? Your proof for god or your example of how you could possibly stop believing in god?!?! Go ahead…

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  • Adam

    @ Morrison: Fine… no proof? How about evidence? Why do you believe in god? You are supposed to be able to share the gospel. Why won't you here? There has to be something other than the bible that you can point to that says, "Yep, there's a good reason to believe in god!" Come on… you have to do better than say, "Nope, you won't believe anything I say, so I wont' say anything."

    If that's truly your position, please let me know, so we can both stop wasting time on this and I can just stop approving your posts… since you aren't furthering this debate at all anymore.

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: And, for the last time, is there ANYTHING (an example) that could make you believe there isn't a god?

  • Adam

    You have to be able to back up a claim with some observable evidence. This is what science is. It isn't a dirty word. It's hypothesis that becomes a theory and then a fact based on lots of agreed upon, proven, repeatable observances and calculations.

    Remember, people used to think volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, disease, etc. were all caused by gods. Someone hypothesized that they weren't. They did the research, and through repeatable observations and calculations, we now know the real causes for all of those things.

    The most important part is that if a hypothesis is wrong, the calculations and observations will show that to be so and opinion changes. Yes, old "scientist" used to get things wrong… but modern science corrects those errors. Modern science hasn't had to correct many claims in the last 20 years – we just improve upon them – not show them to be completely wrong.

    But, old religions used to get things wrong all the time, but even when new calculations and observations (science) show a different answer, those old religions cling to their old beliefs… out of fear, tradition, loyalty (not sure why).

    We are willing to change based on new information… Christians don't seem to have that same willingness. They think god already blessed them with all the answers. I wonder what Christians 1,000 years ago would think if they could see how much of what they thought has now been proven wrong… would they still believe?

    Don't make science a dirty word just because it doesn't confirm your belief in an all-powerful deity. Many people on your side of the debate try and use science to prove god. Do you? Can you? WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?!?!?

  • JT

    Morrison,

    Saying we wouldn't accept the evidence we suggest is just an ad hominem. Also, you completely ignored my defense.

    If this phenomenon happened, god would, in my opinion, be a simpler explanation than aliens. And unless I saw good evidence that they were perpetrated by aliens, god would be the provisional conclusion I would come to. Pointing out a different possibility does not make it more likely, and beliefs are about going with the most likely explanation.

    And, as Adam said, were you going to defend your beliefs at any point or just come over here pretending you could see into our brains to know what we would or would not accept?

    JT

  • JT

    Morrison,

    "A demonstration that existence, life, and mind are the result of mindless processes."

    We have dozens of models that could result in the origin of life through purely natural means. I discuss this at length here.

    But even if we had no idea how self-replicating molecules assemble on their own, why is that evidence for god rather than a reason to say, 'I don't know'?

    "But the problem is not that the evidence is not complete, but that the evidence that we have (including the mathematical order of the observable universe and the information passing content of living cells, which you simply dismiss as nothing) is consistent with the existence of creative mind, not mindless processess."

    Please explain. This is news to the whole of peer-reviewed science.

    "On top of that, the life of Jesus Christ, the most important figure in human history. I don’t accept the “Christ Denial” trend of the history deniers. Even extreme liberal agnostics and atheists of the Jesus Seminar, and figures like Bart Ehrman and Bishop Spong acknowledge his historicity."

    I don't grant this, but even if I did, why is this evidence that he rose from the dead? (If he were that important, way more people would have taken notice)

    You, like GRADY, seem to want to argue with people that aren't myself or Adam. Go to their web sites and argue with them, if that's your flavor. All I'm asking is that you respond to what we say, and I'm not getting a lot of that from you guys. Also, you seem to throw out blanket statements and expect us to accept them at face value, such as your assertion that nature reveals intelligence. You didn't support it, you just said it. Compare to me who, at every turn, has supported my position with evidence and explanation. You can't possibly think that you're matching us in terms of evidence at this juncture.

    JT

  • Robbie

    @JT & Adam

    Time for Morrison and Grady to join Michael Behe and the Discovery Institute in reading the Intelligent Design Trial transcripts in Dover, PA case.

    Or better yet go to http://www.PBS.org and find the documentary "Intelligent Design On Trial" and spend the best 1.5 hours of your life on understanding what reality is.

    Go directly to a legitimate college for a legitimate degree appropriate to the field – do pass Liberty University, do not collect 30 pieces of silver, get a PhD and rock the world with peer reviewed papers on intelligent/mindful design and irreducible complexity.

    Get awarded Nobel Prize in the field after you fight it out like everybody else does.

    Duplicate this with others and the truth shall set you free.

  • http://www.volizden.xanga.com Volizden

    So this is just going and going like the GD Energizer Bunny… Well lets end it…

    Guys (Adam and JT) you have proven your position by sheer default as they (Grady and Morrison) both fail repeatedly. From a readers Perspective you have done awesomely.

    Grady and Morrison both have failed to answer questions posed, and instead tried to shift the focus and point away from topics relevant to the discussion at the time. So as a reader, separating myself from my bias as much as I can (anthropology training) I have to say the debate is won by you two hands down.

    Morrison and Grady, Some advice. In order to have a productive and convincing debate stick to the topic and answer the question(s) BEFORE you present other topics and/or questions, unless you are seeking clarifiers to topic/questions already posed. You break up the dialogue and cause a redirect when you fail to finish the line of reason first presented this IMMEDIATELY makes you look, well, impotent, or uneducated at the very least (sorry).

    On top of that you attack as an Example Morisson you did attack first in questioning Adam's integrity it was blatantly obvious. Adam did break protocol by firing back however it was justified in defense, though he let emotion rule instead of reason at that point. TEXT is a poor medium to convey clear thought especially if you don't take the time to respond properly, so this may be a case of poor writing on your part (just saying). Take a few moments in the future to clarify your statements.

    • Adam

      @ Volizden: Thanks… just wanted to make sure we covered the bases for future readers. I agree – no need to continue this debate unless they come back with actual evidence to support their claims. Thanks for reading.

  • http://Volizden.Xanga.com Volizden

    I have to say I hate that I cannot edit a post after it has been enter or delete it to replace it with a fix…

    Addendum:

    Adam and JT you have both answered question and then asked questions in return which supports your debate dialogue and supports a superior position.

    This was in my edit before I saved but disappeared when I hit Post comment

  • Adam

    @ Morrison: I'm getting tired of responding to your arguments when you present NO evidence for them… even bad evidence would give us something to talk about other than your opinion. So, I will let JT's answer suffice.

    As for why I was a believer… simple, I was born into a Christian family. Like you and every other American Christian, if I was born in the Middle East, I would have been Muslim. If I was born in India, I would have been Hindu. Do you really think you would have been a Christian if you were born in a country that had another major religion that dwarfed Christianity. I, however, abandoned tradition when I was old enough to reason and do my own research which led me to the conclusion that what I had been taught about the bible, creation, and salvation were simply myths. I was disappointed… but am much happier now as an atheist than I ever was as a believer. You still haven't told me why you believe and what evidence you have (other than the bible) to say that the earth is 6,000 years old, people rise from the dead, Jesus actually existed, or that you will go to heaven someday?

    BTW – As for the existence of Jesus, academia IS changing on this. As new analysis becomes more widespread, people like Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald are helping their peers see that it is more likely that the Jesus we read about in the bible was a story made up after the fact and inserted into history than it is that he was a real man. I like the writings of Bart Ehrman, but it would be hard for an author who's made tons of money off a book talking about things Jesus said to then come out and say he didn't exist. But, that's where the evidence points. But, again, as JT says, even if he was real, there is no proof of his miracles or his divinity. He never said one thing that was scientific or helped mankind in a real way (like disease is caused from bacteria and viruses… so wash your damn hands and build a sewer system). He could have told them the configuration of the universe and proved his divinity to future generations. But, of course, he (and the people that made him up) couldn't do any of that.

    Christianity is a great story with interesting lessons… but that's all it is, just like Greek Mythology. Jesus is just another Messiah/God in a long line of over 5,000 gods that mankind has created in our history. You don't believe in those others. Tell me why. I bet the same conditions of disbelief in those god easily apply to yours. So, unless you can provide some type of evidence for your claims (other than blind faith)… please stop making them.

  • Robbie

    @Grady

    ///Adam, your Dec 22 post about being born a Muslim etc, is just a Restatement of the Genetic Fallacy.////

    According to Rev Graham the Muslim seed passes through the father to son – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCqHiceDhuk

    So, if you were born to a Muslim father you'd been Muslim. Most likely if you were born in an Islamic country, your father would be Mulsim and you'd be born Muslim per Rev. Graham.

    Sounds like something that Yahweh or Jesus would say and per OT if you'd marry a Jew and try to move them away from Jewish faith, you'd have to be killed.

    Oh, I forget, the God said it!

  • http://www.baldwinsoftware.com tonybaldwin

    If Jesus showed up, like they've been saying he will for 2000 years, I think that would change my mind.

    There is also the classic example of a faith-healing of an amputee.

    That would certainly have me questioning my non-belief.

    I mean, sure 99.99% of what people claim as evidence of their god is either poor logic or subjective emotional responses to some stimulus or action (prayer, meditation, music. Heck, I can make myself have a religious experience, make myself FEEL as though I've experienced "God", with breathing techniques or drums or drugs, but it's been scientifically demonstrated that such experience is rooted in chemical and eletrical reactions in my brain, so I simply regard it as such), but, Jesus coming back, well; I couldn't really argue with that.

    I mean, you know, as described in the Revelation of the Apocalypse, and all.

    I'm not particularly attached to my non-belief. No. Sometimes I really wish I could find a good, solid reason to believe in some deity. That could be really useful, maybe comforting, and having the company of such a deity might be nice, really.

    But life seems so random and chaotic, and sometimes cruel, and all evidence, as stated here, seems to point to order being imposed only by "mindless" forces (gravity, magnetism, nuclear forces, etc.)

    I mean, when a guy as smart as Stephen Hawking says that an intelligent "creator" is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe, when so many of his other claims have been born out by reproduceable and carefully conducted scientific experimentation, I listen. When the opposition's best argument is that some book, written by stone-age shepherds who believed the earth stood still and illnesses were caused by evil spirits, says so, I try to keep an open mind, but, it's difficult. I try to be reasonable, of course. Like I said, seeing this Jesus fellow back, or an amputee healed (not by surgical means, of course), well, those would go a long way. The first would pretty well convince me once and for all.

  • Tris Stock

    Atheism isn't falsifiable? O rly? Well present evidence of a deity and atheism is proven false. Simples.

  • http://AddictingInfo.Org Matthew Desmond

    I can prove Zeus exists.

    Zeus creates lightning, lighting is real, therefore Zeus exists.

    Zeus is the one true god!! All hail Zeus!

  • Greg

    I really hate to put a fresh edge on an old posting especially one that has been so forcefully argued.

    You said:

    "Furthermore, what does this scenario tell us about god? If a god exists who elected to use only natural means to create a universe and chose to mask any evidence of his existence, it can only be concluded that such a god does not want us to believe."

    There are two points that can be drawn from this, first there is an assumption of the existence of natural means. If such a deity were to exist then the means would be his means, and all information derived from the world would already have him included in it. This is the problem with many arguments that use a scientific basis.

    Science is a logic based system and is usually well executed by highly intelligent people. It is beyond the scope of science to falsify science as a whole. Yet science presumes that its observations are intrinsically free of God. An equally valid and almost identical system arises when you presume God exists. Our observations then show us that generally he works in consistent ways, with any deviations occurring below the threshold of our detection. This does not invalidate any of the scientific concepts we hold true, in fact it results in a belief system that is indistinguishable from the scientific interpretation that leads to atheism. Yet believers in the non-theistic version hold that their system is proven or even provable. Perhaps that is the largest distinction between those who believe in God and those who don't: few deists would say they can prove the beliefs they hold to be true, while virtually all atheists believe their belief system not only provable but already proven. In the end it all rests on an equal leap of faith that forms the basis of all further logic.

    My second point is that many atheist assume that if God existed he would want us to have proof of his existence. This assumption has little basis in theistic traditions. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that if a God wanted to determine who would choose to embrace Him without conclusive evidence, he would want to limit his provability. This is the type of God suggested by several major theistic traditions, yet this argument is often presented as evidence for His lack of existence when this is what we should expect to see.

    • Adam

      @ Greg: And why do they say this about god? Because it's the only way to make it feel like he might exist! But, it simply isn't true. The bible says he revealed himself many times… and hasn't chosen to do so since then. Bullshit. Deal with it… man created god – not the other way around.

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