Francis Collins on science and faith

November 15, 2013 • 6:49 am

Over at The Big Think, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins has a 40-minute soliloquy on science, religion, and their interaction, but you can listen to bits of it by clicking on the separate segments (see screenshot at bottom). I’d recommend these two short segments:

“Why it’s so hard for scientists to believe in god” (4:36)


“How does religious belief affect scientific inquiry?” (4:20)

In the first segment, Collins decries the “war” between science and faith, and calls for scientists to admit that there are other ways of finding truth, for that would bring a truce in the “culture wars”.  He begins by decrying (shades of xkcd) the “shrill pronouncements from extreme views” (i.e., those of Biblical fundamentalists) that threaten scientists. But he also argues that some of his atheist colleagues use “science as a club over the head of believers.”  He observes that “the extremists have occupied the stage, but that “science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it’s not the whole story. . . We need something besides science to pursue some of the things that humans are curious about.”

This is, of course NOMA-ism, and he makes that explicit, arguing that science answers the “how” questions and religion the “why” questions. What are those pesky “why questions”? Collins gives a couple: “Why is there something instead of nothing?”; “Why are we all here”, and, of course, “Is there a God?”

He fails to note that while science has answered many of its questions (unraveling the human genome was one of his), religion has never answered any of those “why” questions, including, as you’ll see below, “Is there a God?”  I was surprised, for I thought the frozen waterfall had given him a strong affirmative answer that that one.

It is palpably true to anyone who’s not blinkered that religion does not have a reliable way to answer its “Why” questions. If it did, then all religions would agree on the answers. In contrast, there’s only one science, and  Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scientists will agree that a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, that the speed of light in a vacuum is 186,000 miles per second, and that the Universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  Oh, and that evolution happened, too. Science can answer its questions; religion cannot.  Why can’t religious people just admit that? They can “address” questions, but not answer them.

Reader Michael, who sent me the link to Collins’s video, had this to say about the “club over believers” wielded by scientists. I quote (Michael’s thoughts indented):

COLLINS:-“…some of my scientific colleagues, who are of atheist persuasion, are sometimes using science as a club over the head of believers basically, suggesting that anything that can’t be reduced to a scientific question isn’t important and it just represents superstition and should be gotten rid of…”

** He misrepresents scientists here. I don’t know any scientist who does this! Scientists, such as you, Jerry, rail against believers when they…
1] Use poor argumentation & rambling word salads to defend what can’t be defended
2] Demand that their faith deserves special treatment or exemptions
3] Interfere in the public square on moral issues because they believe morals came down from their god
4] Deny scientific inquiry because the conclusions of science clash with their holy book

Well, I would be glad to see religion go the way of the floppy disk, but I don’t think I’ve ever used science as a club over the head of believers. True, science does tend to dispel faith, and I see the two areas as incompatible methodologically, philosophically, and in what they take as “true,” But I don’t think I’ve ever said that science absolutely disproves God, or that nonscientific questions aren’t important.

Finally, Collins commits a faux pas here, for he brings up Natural Theology, in particular the fine-tuning argument—the idea that things “like gravitational constants” might have been adjusted by God.  He notes that this fine-tuning “does make you think that a Mind might have been involved in setting the stage.” Elsewhere he’s frequently argued that our “moral instincts”—the innate morality that people seem to have—could not have evolved, but must also represent evidence for a Mind (i.e., God and Jesus) that put those instincts in our soul. Here Collins does exactly what he decries in the next segment, “mixing the magisteria,” as Gould would have called it. Collins argues that one’s faith should not affect how one does science, but what else is he doing when he concludes from the data of physics and psychology that there is a God?  Here Collins is misusing his authority as NIH director in a dangerous way, implying that science gives evidence for God.

In the second segment, Collins, thank Ceiling Cat, admits that belief shouldn’t have anything to do with how scientists do their science—except, that is, for psychologists and cosmologists.  He also admits that both atheists and believers can be ethical people. Well, I’m glad he recognizes this obvious fact.

Nevertheless, Collins argues strongly that scientists should become accommodationists, for it would diminish society’s internecine “culture war” if “more scientists would stand up and state and religion need not to be conflict.”

Sorry, Dr. Collins, but I decline. The only way they can’t be in conflict is if religion stops making claims that God ever interceded in the universe.  I’ll shut up if every believer becomes a deist: a believer in a hands-off God.  But even Collins isn’t that kind of believer, for he thinks that God has not only fine-tuned the universe and given us The Moral Law, but gave him a personal message, in the form of that frozen waterfall and a timely evensong in England that told Collins he should accept the NIH directorship. He also believes in the Resurrection.

Collins gets in a few licks at science along the way, too:

“I would not want to live in a culture where faith lost, and where science, with all of its reductionism and its materialism became the sole source of truth. We need both kinds of truth; we need both kinds of worldviews. To the extent that scientists can help with that realization of a dual way of finding answer to the appropriate kind of questions that each kind of worldview can ask, then I think that would be a good thing.”

No it wouldn’t. How can we—since 60% of scientists at good universities are atheists, along with 93% of Collins’s colleagues in the National Academy of Science—pretend that religion can really answer its “big questions”? For one thing, that is a tacit admission that there is a God who could give us the answers.  We really don’t need to call a truce in this “culture war.” Rather, we need to fight harder to dispel superstition.  Collins conceives of it as a war between faith and science, but it’s really a war between reason and superstition.  We won’t achieve our goals by pretending that superstition has any credibility. That is condescending. Atheist scientists who practice accommodationism are, I think, hypocritical. They favor tactics over truth, comity over integrity. And accommodationism doesn’t work anyway.

Finally, Collins takes issue with the claim of anthropologists like Pascal Boyer that religion had a secular origin, piggybacking on evolved features of the human brain like our notion of agency. Addressing Boyer’s hypothesis, Collins says this:

“I think it’s too simple to basically say , well, ‘that does it.’ [the secular explanation for religion]. Either God is true or God is not true; either God is real or God is not real.  It’s not a matter of whether you can explain it away by a hypothesis. The question is ‘what’s the real answer?’  And I think far too few people have looked at the question from that perspective: what’s the evidence for the idea God exists or doesn’t exist? I think anyone who’s looked at that would conclude that the strong atheist position of saying ‘I know there is no God’ is not an easy one to sustain. It basically implies a certain degree of hubris and arrogance to say that I know so much that I can exclude any possibility of there being a is a God.  On the other hand,  the evidence will never draw people to the conclusion that  ‘I know confidently that there is a God’.  Maybe God didn’t intend it to be that easy. “

I love the last sentence, dripping with post facto rationalization for God’s hidden-ness.

Now not that many atheists say “I know there is no God.” I don’t. That’s not a scientific statement, for it presumes absolute knowledge. But I am 99.9% sure there is no God, just as I’m 99.9% sure that there’s no Loch Ness monster.  Is it a “strong a-Nessieist position” to say “I know there is no Nessie”? Is that hubris and arrogance, too? It is curious that for everything as unevidenced as God—except for God himself—people are willing to argue that it doesn’t exist.  God is the one exception, probably because belief in Nessie doesn’t come with an afterlife. I can’t say I’m 100% certain there’s no God, but I’d bet $10,000 there isn’t one—if somehow we could know for sure.  How many believers would bet their houses on their beliefs being true?

There are two kinds of “proof.” There is “proof beyond all doubt”—absolute proof.  I don’t have that kind of proof when it comes to my atheism. But there’s also “proof that you’d bet your money or house on”—that is, proof that comports completely with reason.  That’s the kind of “proof” I have when it comes to the proposition “there is no god.” It’s time people realized that there’s a difference between a logical or an absolute proof on one hand, and a “proof beyond reasonable doubt,” which is what we use to convict criminals. It’s the latter kind of proof that most atheists use when claiming there’s no God. If you say, “I know there are no fairies in my garden,” then you can say, with equal credibility, “I know there is no God.”

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246 thoughts on “Francis Collins on science and faith

  1. Jerry, you are spot on, as always, however your wording here …

    while science has answered many of its questions … religion has never answered any of those “why” questions

    … implies an acceptance of “why” questions as being outside science, even though religion cannot answer them.

    I’d argue that science can indeed answer any “why” question. As I wrote a while back:

    “It is simply wrong, and trivially so, to claim that science cannot address [why] questions. Why did the chimpanzee strip leaves from a twig? To use it as a probe to fish for termites. Why did the vervet monkey give an alarm call? To warn its fellow monkeys about a predator. Why does a squirrel store nuts? To eat in winter. Why did the Neanderthal make a stone tool? To chop up food. Anyone who thinks that answering such questions is not scientific is simply wrong.”

    1. Yes, I agree with you, and mention that in my anti-theology lecture. “Why are we here,” for instance, can be answered by “evolution.”
      And why do we die can be answered by “antagonistic pleiotropy” and other scientific responses.

      1. Correct that evolution can explain details of processes leading to inevitable death in organisms like us. Death for us come inevitably with the developmentally early division between germ line and soma, the inevitable processes contributing to senescence of the soma (such as antagonistic pleiotropy), and the unfortunate fact that our mind/consciousness is too closely linked to the soma, rather than the germ line.

        If our mind was tightly linked to our genes, we’d be potentially immortal, just like our genes.

        [which seems to point to another design flaw of humans, and which suggests that, as evolutionary biologists, we could advise the creator to impart on humans a less flawed development and less flawed life cycle, such as perhaps clonal reproduction].

      2. I’m mystified as to how: ‘and, of course, “Is there a God?”’is construed as a ‘Why’ question.

        As to whether Science can answer it, first it is necessary to pick a definition of ‘God’.

        An interventionist god probably can be confronted by Science, if not with evidence of its non-existence, then with the absence of evidence that its existence would necessarily require.

        As for an undetectable deist god, what difference does it make?

  2. “It is palpably true to anyone who’s not blinkered that religion does not have a reliable way to answer its “Why” questions. If it did, then all religions would agree on the answers.”

    I have said many times that I would take Christianity seriously when 95% of all Christians everywhere agreed with EACH OTHER on what “the truth” is.

    I recently got into an unfortunate discussion with David Marshall, during which I asked him a question I ask most of them: “If I do exactly what you do, and I get a different result, what does that tell you?”

    He didn’t even understand what I was asking him, and of course, he didn’t give me an answer.

    Clearly, having the right hocus-pocus is a big deal to them, otherwise there wouldn’t be all those denominations, each with a slightly different version of the hocus-pocus. If the hocus-pocus had any predictive validity, one version would emerge as “the truth”. Instead, you pretty much get one version per person.

    Sigh. L

    1. I like that you used “hocus pocus” since it came about from hoc est corpus meum when giving mass – it’s how the regular, non Latin speaking folk heard the Latin & associated it with magic. 🙂

    2. I walk by a corner where the Jehovah’s Witnesses are always out in force distributing their literature. One of their pamphlets is titled “What Does the Bible Really Say”. It seems that they have it all figured out but that the majority of Christians are doing it wrong. You would think that the all powerful creator would be clearer when communicating.

      1. Every notice how northern European the Jesus looks on their stuff? He’s got to be about 6’4″ with light hair & eyes. It seems his racial profile is hotly debated. *But come on, a European he wasn’t.

        *This doesn’t mean I accept the existence of Jesus, I’m just questioning his portrayal.

          1. Average height of a first century Judean man: 5 foot, apparently – I think the source is Crossan, from memory. Jesus, five foot nowt of sheer messiah.


            1. Incidentally, the fact that we have no indication whatsoever of even the most basic of physical characteristics of Jesus is exactly what you’d expect of a fictional character. Did he tower over the crowds as he preached, or did those at the back have to climb high to catch a glimpse of him? Was his body as strong as his words, or was he an unpretentious figure from whom you wouldn’t expect such forcefulness? As he went on his rampage in the Temple, did he put up a credible struggle, or was he easily subdued?

              We know exactly what each of the Caesars looked like, and we often have at least incidental physical descriptions of countless other people throughout history. Yet Jesus, when portrayed, invariably looks either exactly like one of the other Pagan demigods on whom he was modeled, or like the artist’s own ideal. Jesus is everything to everybody, and nothing to anybody.



              1. Ben,

                You have to picture first century Judaea as populated by several hundred thousand munchkins, extras from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and therefore there would be no need for stools at the back of the class during Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount; perhaps Luke was a stoolist because he has it taking place on a plain.

                In an iconic culture you would expect physical descriptions in fiction, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles in The Iliad, Dante, anyone from Dickens. It’s called prosopography.

                In an aniconic culture you‘d be less likely to encounter physical descriptions in fiction; many Jews objected to the depiction of animals, let alone humans, on Herod’s grands projets. Jewish coins minted in the CE 66-70 revolt carry no depictions of any animal, human or otherwise.

                There are obviously exceptions, Suleiman the Magnificent’s portraits, the Byzantine iconoclastic movement; but they are exceptions.


              2. I’m not just referring to portraits; I’m referring to incidental textual descriptions. Was he handsome or homely? Did he have any unusual physical traits that would have made him stand out in a crowd? Those sorts of things get mentioned even in passing when people write accounts of real people doing real things.

                And the whole of early Christian writings are supposed to be either eyewitness accounts or short-transmission oral histories of eyewitness accounts. Yet not only did nobody let slip a hint of what Jesus looked like, when the Christian iconography finally started to appear not all that long afterwards, there’s no consistency.

                Clearly, nobody had a clue what sort of a man he was. Hardly surprising for a mythical figure; incomprehensible for the central figure of the greatest story ever told.


              3. Well, Ben, take the example of Josephus, from the Jewish aniconic culture, commenting on his boss, Vespasian, from the Roman iconic culture, in ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’. At no time does he give a physical description of the future Emperor; he ascribes few human emotions to him – ‘exasperated’, I find, but little else. The story doesn’t jump off the page and speak to me in anything like as immediate a way as, say, the genial Herodotus does.

                Nevertheless, Josephus was a better writer than the Gospels authors; think how few adverbs and adjectives there are in the latter, and therefore how flat, and frankly, dull their style is. They tell a great story, badly.

                There is a story of the Greek language teacher marking his pupils’ work by writing ‘P’ in the margin; that is that the quality of their Greek was as poor as St. Paul’s. Better style, please!

                I don’t agree with your idea; that just because there is no mention of Jesus’ demeanour it is evidence of a fictional account; especially coming from the Biblical tradition – verbal phrase, noun, verbal phrase, noun, parallelism ad nauseam. Seems to me a weak argument. Cultural expectations, ability of writer…


  3. Scientists are not “reductionists.” It is theism that reduces everything – to the final simpleminded nostrum “God did it.” Science, by digging out the details, gives us an *expanded,* richer, more textured and satisfying picture of ourselves and our world. That a man like Collins can’t grasp this is tragic, but he has a God-shaped block in his head, impeding that otherwise excellent brain.

      1. The beautiful thing about it is that the less time you have to spend thinking really hard about stuff the more time you have to spend eating barbecue.

  4. The way I like to phrase it is that I am 100% certain there is no evidence for any god. Once you express knowledge in terms of evidence, god doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    At this point some bring up Natural Theology but that really is just a supposition that has been previously disproven in biology. There is no reason to think it will not be disproven also in cosmology. According to some physicists like Stenger and Krauss it already has.

    PS: I didn’t know you were an extreme creationist that thinks the universe is 13 y old. 🙂

    1. “The way I like to phrase it is that I am 100% certain there is no evidence for any god. Once you express knowledge in terms of evidence, god doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

      As an atheist it bugs me when people make terrible arguments for atheism. I don’t believe there are any gods or gods, and, like Jerry, I’d bet my house on it. But I’d never say what you just did. It is hubris on par with theists.

      1) You are asserting 100% certainty about evidence where you have no way to ascertain all the evidence there may or may not be. Making a universal absolute that you can’t prove is arguing certainty by unprovable assertion, just like theists do.

      2) There *is* evidence for god(s). The evidence I’ve seen is just *lousy* evidence, such as the bible, which doesn’t prove the god of the bible exists. You are confusing evidence with *sound* evidence, or proof of god. They aren’t the same thing.

      1. 1) You just don’t make an argument based on evidence that you might find in the future. You make a claim based only on evidence you have. Theists are the ones that make claims based on lack of evidence.

        2) Lousy evidence = no evidence.

        1. Scote is right in how he talks about certainty. Inductive arguments (i.e. arguments from observation) never lead to 100% certainty. Inductive conclusions are always tentatively held. Though in some case that ‘tentativeness’ is more ‘in principle’ than real.

          IMO it’s far better to describe your certainty about God in terms of being ‘as strong as’ other conclusions that people also hold empirically. That way, you still get your main point across quite well but neither theists nor atheist pedants (like us) can take you to task for claiming a certainty you don’t actually have. For instance, saying that you are as certain that there is no evidence for God as you are that there is no evidence for unicorns is much better than saying you are 100% certain that no evidence exists for either.

              1. Are you saying that we can not judge whether evidence is acceptable or not? Because science would disagree.

              2. When discussing evidence, one needs to include the error bars.

                In the case of superman-style gods, the supportive evidence is trivially insignificant, and the error bars practically invisibly small. You can be as confident in their non-existence as you are that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning, and you can be as dismissive of them as of comic book characters.

                But in the case of the “sophisticated” theological gods, they are all necessarily defined as self-contained contradictions. In such cases, no possible evidence could ever support their existence, any more than there could be evidence for the existence of married bachelors or a palace north of the North Pole. Any evidence offered would be evidence of something else entirely.



              3. I’m saying that equating poor evidence with no evidence is a cheap trick allowing you to disregard all imperfect evidence. “That’s not real evidence” is a dodge.

                Please note… I am not defending the pathetic evidence believers use to rationalize their delusions. But I won’t pretend that their imagined supports are nothing at all. They are just nothing useful.

            1. 100% certainty is not just about curreent evidence, its about whether future evidence could change your mind.

              I look briefly and superficially in my briefcase. I see no pen. If I now say I am “100% certain” there is no pen in my briefcase, do you think that 100% certainty is warranted?

              100% certainty is not a claim of ‘aren’t wrong given current evidence.’ Its a claim of ‘could never be wrong, even if new evidence arises.’

              1. Yes. Those are great examples, because you can use them to make your point about God without making a hyperbolic or technically false claim about certainty.

                I am as certain God doesn’t exist as I am that Santa doesn’t exist. The evidential case for God is as bad as the evidential case for werewolves. A belief in God is no more justified than belief in the fairies in my garden.

                There’s no hyperbole in those statements. There’s no unwarranted philosophical claim. Yet they make the point that a belief in such entities is irrational and unwarranted. Such comparisons force the theist to either show there is more evidence for god than there is werewolves (in which case, you ask for it), or admit that belief in both entities is on the same evidential grounds.

              2. Lack of evidence is the reason for my certainty – but I am not claiming “100% certain.”

                THAT is the claim you’re making that I (and others) are taking issue with. We’re not taking issue with your atheism. We’re not taking issue with the assertion that your atheism is well-supported. We’re taking issue with the fact that you are claiming 100% certainty for it…and your assertion that one can legimitately claim 100% certainty if a conclusion just aligns with every data point you’ve taken so far.

                You understand what that leads to, right? I collect one data point, then stick my head in a box and state that I am now 100% certain that that data point is correct. And according to the way you describe 100% certainty, that’s a legitimate claim.

                To which I say: no. Doesn’t fly. A claim of that 100% level of certainty is not merely about consistency to current data, its about consistency with any future data you could ever, in theory, collect. If some future data could overturn your conclusion, you can’t be 100% certain its correct.

              3. You realize it would only take the most minimal piece of evidence to render the claim of 100% certainty of no evidence untrue. Yet no one in this thread can offer it.

                Is it the number that bothers you? What if it’s phrased “I’m certain there is no evidence for any god” would that be better?

                The only thing this paralyzing pedantry achieves is allow the theists to say that because you can’t be completely certain there could be a god.

              4. “The only thing this paralyzing pedantry achieves is allow the theists to say that because you can’t be completely certain there could be a god.”

                You can’t be completely certain. And when you claim complete certainty, you give them an opening to legitimately attack your position. You are handing them ammunition, a target, and a philosophical gun.

                Instead of lying about or exaggerating your philosophical certainty, what you should be doing is comparing God to santa, werewolves, bigfoot, fairies, etc. The lesson is NOT “we are abosuletly certain these things don’t exist.” The lesson is “absolute certainty is not needed to rationally reject an unevidenced claim – and in fact even fundies reject as irrational unevidenced claims in other cases.”

              5. What theists will say is that they won’t take you seriously because you are contemplating the possibility of werewolves and pixies.

                If you are sure there is no god like you are sure about werewolves you might as well say you are certain – as certain as you can be about anything.

        2. It is an interesting question about whether “evidence” should be automatically regarded as “good” so that “good evidence” is redundant, etc.

          On the one hand, if one has to say “good evidence” then presumably anything goes as evidence (for example, that the sky is blue is evidence that promethium forms a permanganate).

          On the other hand, if “evidence” by itself is supposed to include the evaluative, then one quickly does run into the problem in the original remark in this thread. IMO, atheists and others should say that the evidence offered for theistic claims is very poor, and to provide relevant examples as needed. Moreover, this is correct as to the burden of proof, if “weak atheism” is all that is being discussed.

        3. “1) You just don’t make an argument based on evidence that you might find in the future. You make a claim based only on evidence you have. Theists are the ones that make claims based on lack of evidence.”

          Right. But that is exactly what you are doing. You are claiming with 100% certainty to know what evidence does not exist. It isn’t possible to know all the evidence that exists in the universe. That’s why proving an unrestricted negative is essentially impossible. Yet you are claiming to know an unrestricted negative with 100% certainty, to know that there is no evidence for god anywhere. Unless you are omniscient, you can’t know that.

          Your belief(and mine) is that theists have not proved there are any gods. It is up to theists to prove their claim, but your claim is a positive one, too. You claim to know with 100% certainty that no evidence exists for god, something that is impossible to know (since you can’t know everything, no human can, it isn’t a property of being human) for certain. You are arguing using the same argument by assertion and lack of logic that theists do.

          “2) Lousy evidence = no evidence

          Lousy evidence is lousy evidence. You are just playing the No True Scotsman fallacy with evidence, accepting that you like and rejecting that you don’t, and claiming only that you like is “evidence”. Evidence comes in degrees. Anecdotal evidence, for example, is, in fact, evidence. It just isn’t reliable evidence.

          1. You claim to know with 100% certainty that no evidence exists for god, something that is impossible to know (since you cant know everything, no human can, it isnt a property of being human) for certain.

            <ahem />

            We both know, with absolute certainty, that there are no married bachelors who live death in spartan mansions north of the North Pole.

            Every definition I’ve encountered for the term, “god,” is either trivial (the latest teen heartthrob) or equally incoherent.

            The type of agnosticism you describe can only apply to beings with godlike powers, such as advanced aliens. And, first, almost nobody is seriously proposing them, and almost everybody would consider them false gods even if real.



        4. That’s how I see it too. Why consider “lousy” or “bad” evidence? Seems that by definition, neither one is actually evidence at all.

  5. I think anyone who’s looked at that would conclude that the strong atheist position of saying ‘I know there is no God’ is not an easy one to sustain.

    The old canard of atheists are hybristic aside, this particular canard: atheists have to fight against the notion of the existence of god, drives me crazy. I’d grant that it’s easy to accept there is agency and comforting to give in to the self illusion or the free will illusion, but the lack of god, as we all know, is an easy one to dispel and the mental contortions required to force divinity into the material world demonstrate that the god delusion is the trickiest delusion to maintain.

    The great Mind theory Collins puts forth seems to carry on the god delusion by invoking the self illusion – the illusion everyone is familiar with and the illusion many haven’t broken free from. Nicely played Collins – a trick to persuade the deluded to accept a bigger delusion!

    I’m currently reading The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Hood. I have The Origins of Virtue by Ridley on my to reads shelf so after exposing my poor brain to Collins, I think I’ll read that next as a way to cleanse my brain from Collins’s toxic treatises!

    1. The Origins of Virtue is one of my all time favorites. I highly recommend it. It is the perfect answer to anyone (like Collins) who can’t understand how morality evolved. It goes a little off the rails at the very end, talking about capitalism (or something…I read it many years ago), but up until then it’s great.

  6. “Why is there something instead of nothing?”.

    I’ve never understood that question as I simply can’t imagine how nothing can exist, let alone why.

    If nothing existed then it wouldn’t be there… I think.

    Time for coffee.

      1. I consider the question nonsense, so my standard answer is “Because there has always been something, and nobody has figured out how to get rid of it.”

        1. I would put it that the philosophical definition of “nothing” in this context is indistinguishable from the region north of the North Pole: not merely ill-defined, but undefined and undefinable.

          Wondering how “something” came from “nothing” is like wondering how 1 + 1 = 2 if 1/0 + 1/0 != 2/0. It’s not even worng.


    1. It has a presupposition that one should not grant: namely, that there could have been nothing. Even most theists do not accept this premise; what they really mean is why is there anything in addition to god, and then one sees clearly that the question is question begging at best.

      (The “but without god the universe would lapse into non-being” move is popular here, but that’s *very* awkward for the theist to make, though it is apparently the orthodox position in branches of Islam and Catholic theology, even though it is morally even more horrendous than usual theisms.)

      1. The strange thing is that I can sort of follow where they’re comming from ( that something doesn’t come from nothing ), but at the same time I don’t presume to have any knowledge whatsoever about the conditions leading to the big bang and when I do think about that it’s a dark void.

        The concept of nothing, to me, is the ultimate oxymoron.

        1. I recommend you read Vic Stenger on “the other side of time” and Hawking on the “north of the north pole” stuff, as well as reflect on what conservation laws actually state. That might help, Jasper.

          1. Thanks, I’ve read some of stenger’s work and he is a great communicator.

            Right now I’m trying to wrap my head around different aspects of quantum mechanics, so no doubt I’ll be reading some Hawking sooner or later.

  7. In this context, don’t miss the episode with Dr. Francis Collins in Bill Maher’s Religulous (2008).

    The segment goes from 10:36 to 14:19. Here is the transcript of the interview:

    4. DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, Head of Human Genome Research Project

    So, Dr. Collins, you are a brilliant brilliant scientist, the head of the Human Genome Project. Now here’s what’s so puzzling is that you are the one scientist– the one famous scientist anyway–who’s also religious. Explain that to me.
    Collins: I would argue that if you look at the evidence, the historical evidence of Christ’s existence is overwhelming.
- What evidence?
    Collins: When I read the New Testament, it reads to me as the record of eyewitnesses who put down what they saw.
    – You know they weren’t eyewitnesses.
    Collins – They were close to that. Within a couple of decades of eyewitnesses.
    (In car) No gospel tells us what he was doing when he was a young man. You know, we see Jesus as an infant and then we kind of pick up the story when he’s 30.
    (Back with truckers) The records we have are all gospels. Gospels are not history.
    Gospel writers never met Jesus, neither did St. Paul. No one who wrote
    about Jesus ever met him.
    (trucker) How can you go back into the prophets and the prophets specifically specifies that certain things–
    – The New Testament came after the Old Testament. We agree to that? All it means is the people that wrote the New Testament read the Old Testament
    and then made the prophesies fit.
    (trucker) Then you’re saying the Bible is fictitious? – I am. – Can’t be.
    (Back to Collins) We do all know that those texts don’t match. I’m surprised that things that are very important to the story like the virgin birth isn’t in all four of them. But you’d think if you were one of Christ’s biographers, that would be sort
    of an important thing not to leave out. Oh, God, he was also born of a virgin.
    (Back to 5 truckers) I think being without faith is something that’s a luxury for people who were fortunate enough to have a fortunate life. You know, you go to prison and you hear a guy say, ”You know what, buddy? I got nothing but Jesus in here.” I completely understand that. I think not having faith is a luxury sometimes. If you’re in a foxhole, you probably have a lot of faith, right?
    But you guys aren’t dumb. You’re smart people. How can smart people–how can they believe in the talking snake, people living to 900 years old and the virgin birth? And you know, that’s my question. You guys have your own questions.
    Pray for me.
    (Burly trucker puts his big hand on Maher’s shoulder) Father, in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we ask right now, Lord, as we lift up Bill to You, Father, that You can answer his questions that we can’t answer. Father, we thank You right now for the opportunity that has come today, that we may voice our opinions and hear others. So we ask You, Lord, to touch and feel wisdom right now in the name of Jesus.
    – Thank you for being Christlike, and not just Christian. Okay. (Turns back with mock alarm) Hey, my wallet! No, I’m kidding.

  8. He notes that this fine-tuning “does make you think that a Mind might have been involved in setting the stage.”

    This is a very common linguistic mistake which in this case detracts from clear communication. What Collins should have said is that fine-tuning:
    “does make me think that a Mind might have been involved in setting the stage.”

    I.e. Francis Collins thinks that, not the reader or listener, who might perfectly reasonably not think the same thing.

  9. Jerry: “How many believers would bet their houses on their beliefs being true?”
    Me: cf Harold Camping’s followers, 2011; and of course, they will not be the last.

  10. It sounds to me like Collins wants to presume purpose (whose?) with his why questions. So what he is looking for is purpose in this universe and he believes that purpose is answered in his faith.

    For those of us who do not see evidence for purpose beyond that we (or society) construct for ourselves, such why questions do not make sense.

  11. I am going to address this article as a Catholic and defending no other religion. First of all, Catholicism supposes a 99.9% a “hands-off” God. There is absolutely no requirement made by the religion that doesn’t have a demonstrable empirical effect. In Catholicism, we are required to follow a moral code, confess our sins, pray, attend church, and be kind to others. Every atheist has a moral code as well, confessing sins is empirically an excellent way to force ourselves to admit that we’ve violated our own moral code. There is a demonstrable human tendency to ignore the faults of ourselves and this ritual addresses that problem head on. Attending church every week may seem like a waste of an hour and even I find it annoying – but you know what, it always forces me to take an hour of my week to focus not on myself, which I would argue empirically makes me more aware of the world around me and more prepared to survive and make that world a better place. Many atheists also think prayer is “wishing” but look at it from our point of view. If we really did believe that God was the end-all, be-all, when you sit down to pray, your mind is forced to whittle down to what is truly important in terms of meditation – what each individual needs to improve his or herself and their family, community each day. As for loving your God and your neighbor, which are our basic moral tenets, I would like to see how this affects the world in a negative way. The relationship between these two things are not separate, they are the same. If you love God, you’ll love your neighbor, and if you love your neighbor, you’ll love God. And when Catholics use love, we mean “willing the good of the other” so it seems to me that this could be all be traced back to simple evolutionary principles for group survival that you yourself would ascribe to.
    The point I am making here is that atheists like yourself, who argue for the demolition of religion or the forced binary of “deism-atheism”, are not being very scientific in your assessment of religion. In my case, my Catholicism does no harm to its adherents, or even cause them to do anything that is demonstrably destructive for their person or the society in which they live.
    Matter of fact, I am an adult convert and I think the prayer, the sacraments, and all of the “hullabaloo” has made me much more of a thoughtless and less self-centered person. Without religion, I think I would have continued to live for myself because in an atheistic world view, this is really the only option. The whole world existing while you do not is not helpful to you even .0001%. The goal of the world to every natural individual is really self-preservation. Even altruism is just a stab at the probabilities of self-preservation so as self-aware individuals we can understand when to discard or accept altruism to suit our own needs. I could argue that this idea is much more dangerous to our own survival than religion (maybe that’s why religion has evolved in humanity and atheism did not).
    Lastly, let me propose a way that you can think about Catholicism that is fully supported by Catholic theology and compatible with science. Let’s say God is the ultimate computer programmer. He can begin with a list of essential principles, form a ball of energy and WHAM. At any point in time, every single action has been predicted and prescribed and the creator of the program knows every nook and cranny of what will happen. Let’s say he programmed the program to buck the rules at one particular point in time to change the course of the flow of the code. Why is this not possible in your world view? If God was powerful enough to create the entire universe, can he not program one instance in which he breaks his own rules – what kind of ripple would that break cause on humanity? If someone died in the year 0 and then came back to life, how would you expect this event to be proved? What if you and 11 of your friends saw it and didn’t have a camera, didn’t think to take a sample, etcetera.
    Let’s say you were going to believe this story from this group of people who saw this extraordinary event – you would expect certain things in an empirical sense. You would expect that when you listened to their story, your life would change for the better. You would expect that their institution would last the rest of time like they said it would. How much more could you reasonably exist? I only need two pieces of evidence to continue to belief in the resurrection – the meaning of it would change my life everyday and the Church is still here after 2,000 years. Until I see other evidence, I will continue to believe.

    1. I’m glad you enjoy and it brings you solace but there is no evidence for any god. You suggest some hypothetical scenarios however there is no evidence for any of them.

      1. What kind of evidence for God would you accept? If you say “none” or that no evidence could ever be found, then you reveal yourself to be intellectually dishonest, and certainly not a reasonable scientist. It would be like saying you are 99.9% certain no life could exist on other planets.

    2. So do you actually believe in the existence and resurrection of a human/god 2000 years ago?

      Without religion, I think I would have continued to live for myself because in an atheistic world view, this is really the only option.

      What do you think atheists live for?

      1. Personally, I’m not living for myself, I’m living for a third century peasant named Tobias. Tobias doesn’t really appreciate it, what with being dead and all, but that does not diminish my sense of purpose.

            1. It seems to me that what counts as altruism often is a simple desire for otherworldly rewards….*coughmotherteresacough*.

      2. Yes I do believe in it.

        I don’t think atheists live for much of coherently anything – there wouldn’t be an inherent truth in anything else.

        1. Based on what evidence do you believe it?

          I don’t think atheists live for much of coherently anything – there wouldn’t be an inherent truth in anything else.

          Well, let me inform you then: Atheists live for all sorts of reasons and experience feelings like all other human beings.

          Got it?

            1. Nah, you just accused atheists of living incoherent lives.

              I suggest we leave our exchange at this and end it here.

        2. It isn’t as if religion, even specific religious sects, display coherent lives.

          But as it happens, humans are pretty much socially coherent, we have evolved that way. Atheists are no less coherent in their actions or views than other groups, and religious are no more coherent.

          1. There is at least a coherent code of right and wrong in which Catholics choose to live by. Atheism would say that there is no default moral code to look to, would it not?

            1. …a moral code that doesn’t have a good track record: inquisitions to suss out heretics which resulted in not just killing people but torturing them and there have been a good many of those. There were also the Crusades which resulted in terrible deaths.

              I don’t really need to be told how to be moral by such people as these. Evolution has given me a brain capable of empathy and I use that every day as I get along in a civilized society.

            2. ….& a moral code that doesn’t have a good track record: inquisitions to suss out heretics which resulted in not just killing people but torturing them and there have been a good many of those. There were also the Crusades which resulted in terrible deaths.

              I don’t really need to be told how to be moral by such people as these. Evolution has given me a brain capable of empathy and I use that every day as I get along in a civilized society.

            3. Indeed there is no default moral code. Just look at the words and actions of all the priests and popes you ever heard of: Wars, pogroms, the whole fascist movement including Hitler and his pope Pius XII; abuse of women and children, covering up those abuses and refusing cooperation with secular law and justice; promotion of poverty, helplessness, resource depletion and disease (e.g. lies about condom use in Africa); and innumerable fine speeches and quiet acts of ordinary human kindness as well. Plus the explicit denial of freedom of conscience.

              Coherent? Bullshit.

              Given its history, how can the church have any moral authority? Don’t be absurd! If you have a coherent code of right and wrong, it has nothing to do with catholicism or any other religion, and is equally available to atheists.

    3. “I only need two pieces of evidence to continue to belief in the resurrection – the meaning of it would change my life everyday and the Church is still here after 2,000 years. Until I see other evidence, I will continue to believe.”

      How exactly does believing in the resurrection “change your life eveyday”? From what you’ve written you sound like a decent, thoughtful, humane person. If archaeologists discovered the bones of Jesus tomorrow would you instantly transform into a serial-killing child abuser? The overwhelming majority of us atheists don’t do that stuff either, so it seems that belief in your god isn’t necessary to live a good life.

      And your church is still here after 2000 years? Not that impressive. The ancient Egyptians worshipped Ra, Isis, Osiris and the rest for much longer than that. Where are those gods now??

      1. The stupid is so big on this….2*10^3 years…ok, what about a sodium atom in drop of sea water…probably over 5×10^9 years. History tells us how old human organizations are, and science tells us how old atoms are or can be. Any beliefs reached about the metaphysical nature of our existence should remain in Collins private diary.

        To me, I am convinces of this: Collins does not think science is important and I have evidence for it in his writings. And that is maddening given where he is in our society.

      2. It gives a greater meaning to suffering in general and a million other consequences that would be contained in the whole of the Catholic faith. Demonstrably, I am more patient with other humans and empathize with them more and there are many things that logically follow from that.

        I didn’t say religion was necessary to live a good life, only in that there is no real inherent truth to the meanings of “good” and “bad” in atheism. The fact that by reason and self-awareness you claim to believe in no inherent moral truth means that you are much less likely to sacrifice for the group or at least you could choose not to and be philosophically alright with that. As atheists, you would have to admit that your philosophy doesn’t make sense from a species survival sense – species survival, once a species becomes self-aware would merely become an option.

        Look, I am just arguing that religion follows more in line with evolutionary principles than atheism does so it is silly to advocate for its elimination. You should advocate for the elimination of self-awareness if your main goal is group (and consequently) individual survival.

        1. That’s just the naturalistic fallacy. Parasitism follows more in line with evulotionary principles than non-kin altruism – that doesn’t mean it is silly to advocate for the elimination of smallpox. I absolutely will advocate for it, whether its “in line with evolutionary principles” or not.

        2. I am more patient with other humans and empathize with them more


          The fact that by reason and self-awareness you claim to believe in no inherent moral truth means that you are much less likely to sacrifice for the group or at least you could choose not to and be philosophically alright with that.

          Damn good thing I’m only using industrial irony meters.

          Let’s just cut to the chase.

          Your understanding of what atheism is and isn’t is a perverted caricature that has no bearing on reality whatsoever. When you try to tell atheists what they do and don’t believe, and especially when you accuse them of being amoral sociopaths, all you do is demonstrate yourself to be the typical self-righteous holier-than-thou Christian blowhard we’re all much too familiar with. And, yes, our instinctive reaction to such vitriol from the likes of you is to tell you to take your Christ and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

          If you’d like to understand what atheism is really about, we can perhaps have a conversation. But for you to come into Jerry’s living room and micturate on the carpet…well, if you think you’re doing anything other than massaging your own egoistical persecution complex, you’re even more deluded than most Christians.



            1. Ha!

              (And, since our newly-resident Catholic troll obviously doesn’t have a functioning irony meter: atheists are almost perfectly absent from prisons, even in proportion to the population.)


          1. I am just talking about the conclusion of what almost every Atheist philosophy has already decided – there is empirical good or bad. This isn’t about being self-righetous; I am well aware many Atheists lead moral lives and they cause no harm to society – but I’m saying that there is no empirical reason within their own philosophy to do so. I then say that I could argue that basically self-awareness in a purely material world could be harmful. Evolution succeeds because individuals don’t really think about their purpose, it is ingrained in them and they act toward survival. This is the first time that we know of where a species can be aware of its own actions and that could be harmful. That’s all I’m saying.

            Don’t take it so personally.

            1. “…almost every Atheist philosophy…”

              Why are religious people always compelled to capitalize the word “atheist”?

            2. Im saying that there is no empirical reason within their own philosophy to do so.

              Complete and utter bullocks.

              Within the fantastic context of Christianity, in which a phantasmagorical magic sprite is the ultimate fountain of all that is good and warm and fluffy, it might somewhat make sense if you close your eyes hard enough, squint, and ignore Euthyphro.

              Or, if you’re convinced that the only thing keeping you yourself and everybody else from going on a murderous raping pillaging rampage is the monster hiding under your bed, it might also might maybe make sense.

              But in the real world, there are overwhelming reasons why an individual should wish to live in and help to build an healthy, vibrant society.

              You cite evolution, and that’s, of course, a primary driver. People who don’t murder and rape and pillage and who instead cooperate and band together to protect each other from the murderers and rapists and thieves as well as build roads and sewers and digital wristwatches are more likely to live happy, successful, prosperous lives without the threat of imprisonment or worse. And successful people have healthier and more successful children than brutes living on the outskirts of civilization.

              Dont take it so personally.

              You accuse me of being a fundamentally amoral sociopath who just happens to not go on rampages even though I don’t have any good reason to do so, and you don’t think I should take it seriously?



              1. No I accuse the philosophy of being amoral and sociopathic, and every major Atheist philosopher would admit at much without feeling like it’s a personal attack.

              2. I accuse the philosophy

                Atheism is not a philosophy (like theology is).

                It is simply an observation that the world lacks magic.

                amoral and sociopathic

                An assertion made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

                Instead we have plenty of evidence that lack of religion is more moral and socially beneficial than militant abrahamism.

                Militant abrahamism is famous for promoting genocide, murder, torture, slavery and misogyny in their basic texts; for instigating many wars and supporting the spread of epidemics such as HIV; for the suppression of knowledge under Islam and Inquisition; and for sacking the libraries of Africa, Asia and Europe.

                Secular society has given us democracy and human rights and freedoms; as well as science and medicine which benefits society hugely.

              3. All of the worst mass murdering governments, which all have happened in the last 100 years, have been atheist ones. Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were all atheists and they killed more people than any religious government in all of history.

                Catholicism does not believe in magic either.

              4. Oh dear, Nicholas, you’re really going to cop it for this one. Others will take you up on Hitler and Stalin (don’t forget the Tiflis seminary story) and someone will introduce you to Steven Pinker’s ‘The better Angels of Our Nature’ thesis.

                I’ll take a different tack; one of your own, St. Hilary of Poitiers, declared, in the fourth century his horror at the empire-wide, decades-long intra-Christian blood-letting. Just after Constantine declared freedom of religion for all. Why the carnage? Because of the debate over the homoousion or homoiousion nature of Christ. Don’t understand it? Me, neither, and believe me, I’ve tried. Millions killed, for the want of a vowel. As a commenter, once punned, internicene murder.

                And St. Hilary was on the winning side; had he not been so honest, we might never have known about it: the fourth century, just after the birth of Christianity’s state power, one of the bloodiest in history.

                Btw. disappointing to see that your faith has not been shaken by rational argument. What’s the game?


              5. Hitler maybe held some sort of deist principles about a sense of purpose to the universe that supported his views, but for all practicality he hated Christianity and here is a quote, “Richard J. Evans wrote that “Hitler emphasised again and again his belief that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on modern science. Science, he declared, would easily destroy the last remaining vestiges of superstition [-] ‘In the long run’, [Hitler] concluded, ‘National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together'” ‘

                That sounds quite a bit like the rhetoric I hear from atheists today. I see many debates on the definition of atheism, but I would contend that what most atheists argue for, and Hitler believed in, would be Scientism – the natural world is the only one.

                And Stalin’s early association with the seminary is irrelevant. Laughable even.

                And the Arian heresy wars – millions? Where do you get this from? And wars where tribes are of one ilk and other tribes of another can be explained more by the need to conquer and destroy (with a good excuse) than they can to indict the religion. If one of the doctors of our church condemned such behavior, you can bet that what went on was against Church teaching.

    4. I have arguably been a Catholic longer than you, as I was raised in that religion before I discarded it. That is neither here nor there, but I know what I am saying when I say that your statement: “There is absolutely no requirement made by the religion that doesn’t have a demonstrable empirical effect” is just wrong.

      The Church requires that its members not only believe certain things for which there is zero empirical evidence (Virgin birth, Transubstantiation, Assumption, that the Crucifixion “saved” humanity, Holy Spirit) but also perform certain rituals called Sacraments and follow certain manifestly harmful rules (no effective contraception, no abortion under any circumstance). Failure to believe and perform these unproven things is regarded as a grave sin – in some cases an irredeemable grave sin. Those are the facts.

      If you say that your experience as a convert has made you a nicer, more thoughtful person; I believe you. But that has everything to do with you and your community, and exceedingly little to do with the truth-claims of the Catholic Church.

      1. It is your opinion that contraception is a good for society – this is definitely not an empirical “fact” like the speed of light. I think that each individual has a healthier brain if they stick to using their reproductive organs only for reproduction. It goes in line with the theme of this site, no? You would think that the healthiest our brain can be would be when we use it for its intended purpose – sex is just a subset of that. Regardless, you’re only arguing with a rule, not really proving that those supernatural beliefs cause obvious harm to the individual.

        1. No, the theme of this site is definitely not that we should model social rules after the tendencies nature gave us.

          If anything, most biologists (including probably JAC) completely reject that idea as hideous, and would support the ideological near-opposite idea – i.e., that human social rules should be built to counter the worst, baser instincts that evolution has provided us.

            1. WE are to say, because there is nobody else to do it. Who watches the watchers? We do. Who decides what is moral? We must. Is that an imperfect system which leaves deep questions unanswered? Does it mean that mistakes will be made? Does it generally suck? Yes, yes, and yes.

              But until someone else actively comes in a takes over the job (not in your mind, or in the Pope’s mind, but y’know, in physical testable form), we humans are stuck with the job.

    5. In my case, my Catholicism does no harm to its adherents, or even cause them to do anything that is demonstrably destructive for their person or the society in which they live.

      This is trivially demonstrated false. Your tithes pay for the shielding from prosecution of child rapists and for a massive genocide campaign in Africa waged with AIDS, for starters. Even if you yourself are an honorable person, the Church you support is one of the most evil organized crime syndicates in all of history — just look at the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Conquistadors….

      You might also wish to investigate the origins of Christianity. Specifically, not a single contemporary source — and there are many — even hinted at Jesus or any of his antics. Philo, for example, was related by marriage to Herod Agrippa and was an ambassador to Caligula to protest the Roman’s treatment of the Jews, including unjustifiable executions. He was also the Jewish philosopher to first incorporate the Hellenistic Logos (the “Word” of John 1:1) into Judaism, and in general invented the philosophy that Christians later adopted wholesale as their own. He lived through the whole period, wrote extensively of all facets of religious and messianic life at the time, and never mentioned Jesus or anybody like him.

      Also, read the earliest Christian apologetics. Justin Martyr, in particular, devoted chapter after chapter detailing all the ways in which Jesus was indistinguishable from all the other Pagan demigods (“Sons of Jupiter”) whom he and you and everybody else in the modern world would agree are fictional. His excuse? Evil demons with the power of foresight knew Jesus was coming and so copied Jesus’s biography beforehand so as to convince honest men that Jesus was yet another faery tale cast from the same old familiar mold.

      Last I heard, that’s still your Church’s official explanation for why Jesus’s story is identical to that of his Pagan forebears and contemporaries.



        1. Same here, but he did it better than I would have (as always).

          Re “does no harm to its adherents,” I was gonna also say something about what life’s like for a gay Catholic teen-ager…

      1. There is no evidence that sexual abuse is more common in religious organizations (specifically Catholic) than secular ones. If it’s so demonstrably false, can you point me to a body of evidence that would prove this? The Catholic church doesn’t condone sexual molestation – how they deal with the problem was poor and has been and is contuining to be addressed. Do you judge a medicine by those who take it or those who take it partially?

        1. The Catholic Church institutionalized the protection of pedophiles for generations, perhaps centuries. The Catholic Church institutionalized the theft of children from their mothers for generations.

          It takes a remarkably willful blindness to pretend this isn’t true. To say nothing of a systematic avoidance of newspapers for decades.

          1. Saying that X happened within an enormous organization like the Catholic church and therefore Catholic doctrine is harmful is just not very logical. I could say the same thing about the British government or government in general. Did Catholicism invent molestation? Point to some evidence that Catholicism is more likely to induce sexual crimes than humanism if your argument is such “empirical fact.”

        2. Sorry. “We’re not the most depraved sociopaths on the block” is not a convincing argument from an organization that claims to be the official mouthpiece for the ultimate moral authority in the universe.

          Jesus Christ, if being a priest isn’t enough to keep you from raping children, then what the fuck good is it?

          And that’s ignoring the Church’s ongoing official policy of shielding from prosecution its officials who’ve been running their private child rape racket. Unless Bernard Law has recently been surrendered to Interpol and I just haven’t heard about it…?

          Just for the record, what percentage of officials speaking and acting in the name of a deity are allowed to rape children before one concludes that said deity wants children to be raped? And how does official holy scripture, such as Numbers 31, which explicitly endorses child rape by the priestly classes, change the equation?

          I better shut up, now.


          1. We don’t believe that being a priest gives supernatural protection from sin. Sorry that we don’t believe that?

          2. “Just for the record, what percentage of officials speaking and acting in the name of a deity are allowed to rape children before one concludes that said deity wants children to be raped? And how does official holy scripture, such as Numbers 31, which explicitly endorses child rape by the priestly classes, change the equation? ”

            More than the general population – do you have any evidence this is true or just anecdotal evidence about the news? Christianity changed the covenant with the old testament law – it is not current Church teaching. The violence in the Old Testament is usually a response to a violent world. It is not inherently immoral to oppose violence with violence in the correct context.

            1. So you embrace moral relativism, and you would cheerily resort to violence when Jesus changes his mind yet again again and comes back with his flaming sword and tells you to kill all non-believers as is prophesied?

              And you have the nerve to accuse rationalists of lacking a coherent moral foundation?


              1. It is not moral relativism to have a progression of revelation. Is it logically incoherent to not let my 4 year old use power tools but then let her use them when she is 14? I don’t have to “change my mind” about the dangers of power tools – the audience is what changes.

                I don’t think that is a fair question. Let me turn the question back on you – if Jesus comes to Earth tomorrow, proving his existence and disproving your non-belief, then would you kill all of the non-believers with me?

              2. Wha?

                Are you seriously suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Moses and his merry men to kill all the Midianite adults, enslave all the boys, and rape all the girls because they weren’t as sophisticated as we are today, and that YHWH couldn’t think of any way to tell them that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all?


                Dude, the only redeeming feature of the Bible is its fictional nature. But then to defend it as some sort of moral progression from heinous war crimes to bring not peace but a sword through to KILL ZEM ALL…?

                And you think that shit is worth defending in the first place?


                Talk about moral relativism. If you think your imaginary friend wants you to do it, you’ll go ahead and have a smile on your lips and a song in your heart as you rip asunder the pregnant woman’s womb and dasheth the little ones against the stones.

                Sane, rational, civilized people condemn such atrocities no matter the context.

                You know? You might want to try on civilization and reason for a change. It’ll mean giving up your childish fantasies, but you damned well should have outgrown them ages ago.


        3. Its not just about number of incidents, its about whether they are handled in an ethical manner.

          Some organizations mandate, by rule, that their employees report suspicions of child abuse (by other employees) to the police. For example, public schools. Most other federal or state-run organizations that deal with children also have mandatory reporting reqirements.

          Other organizations say nothing about reporting one way or the other. This category would include the vast majority of private corporations, who generally only have incidental contact with children anyway.

          But there is one organization that tells its employees specifically, do not report suspected incidents to the police. Come to us first, and we will decide whether to report it to the police. That organization is the RCC.

          And that, to me, makes them highly unethical and immoral. Their method of handling suspected incidents is far, far less ethical than anyone else’s.

          1. Show me in the catechism or any of our teachings. Maybe in individual dioceses priests took it upon themselves to address these sins in this manner but this was the practice, but that was definitely not Church teaching.

            1. Here is a letter from the Vatican, telling Irish priests not to go to the police.

              It doesn’t have to be “church teaching” to be immoral. If its an institutional practice, its immoral. And it is an institutional practice. The home office sent letters out to the field offices telling them not to go to the police. That is (IMO) immoral and highly unethical conduct.

              Tell me, do you think that conduct is moral?

              1. Plus, the Pope — yes, even the new Pope, as well as the living ex-Pope — continues to refuse to deliver Bernard Law to Interpol.

                And then there’s Marcial Maciel, and all those priests whom the Church so obligingly delivered from parish to parish so they could have a fresh supply of victims whenever the current crop started to turn stale.

                Really, it’s painfully clear that one of the primary perks that the Church offers to its officers is ready participation in its private child prostitute ring. Considering the extent to which the Church actively promoted the activities of its child-raping officers and the extent to which it continues to shield them, no other conclusion is possible.

                And why should this surprise us? Nicholas right here is promoting his situational morality, in which, if a suitable authority, even an imaginary one, tells you to do something, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the Christian answer to Euthyphro: whatever Jesus or his agents says is good is good by definition, and to hell with any sort of objective analysis. And nobody but Jesus’s official agents — the Church — is permitted to define what is and isn’t good.

                What’s most amazing is how the Church manages to put forth a comic book caricature of evil that they themselves actually embody….


              2. That document doesn’t tell anyone not to go to the police. If you read the actual text and understand what is being said, it is saying this:

                The Irish Bishop council created a specific response to allegations of abuse.

                This “response” does not completely conform to canon law.

                If they don’t make it conform, then the accused priests will use that inconsistency through canonical channels to invalidate the Bishop response in the first place.

                This is a simple case of ignorant journalism not understanding the jargon of the Church.

                Read the text of the document and try to pull out the portion that says “don’t go to the police.”

                Look here, I will just say this in my last comment:

                I don’t mean to be a troll. I am not intending to be a troll. I just wanted to make a comment to the post about how science and religion is not compatible and I ended up having many many voices come at me with many different arguments about the Church and theology, and frankly in a really demeaning tone – many responses are laced with expletives and attack my intelligence as a person. Monsignor George Lemaitre seemed to figure out how to be a Catholic priest and come up with the Big Bang theory just fine (guess he did a great job separating two incompatible streams of thought in his head.)
                I will continue to intelligently debate on this blog, but I don’t have the time nor the space (I’ve been warned by the moderator about how replying to everyone is considered dominating the thread and very close to trolling) to address every nitpick you have. I was not a religious person at all for the vast majority of my life and the more I looked in to it, the more I realized how badly ignorant and stereotypical I was of true Catholic theology (much like the ridiculously ignorant misinterpretation of this “smoking gun” above.) It is not as simple as everyone makes it to be and I’m definitely not stupid, close-minded, or an ignorant person, and even if I am, repeating some version of it (or repeating pejorative terms for God) may make you feel good (yay, Christians are infantile and us atheists see the world so clearly, we did it – none of them ever thought of we have before!) but it in no way adds to a compelling or logical argument.

    6. “In my case, my Catholicism does no harm to its adherents, or even cause them to do anything that is demonstrably destructive for their person or the society in which they live.”

      Tell that to all the HIV infected Africans who have been told it is a sin to wear condoms. To the victims of the mass child rape campaigns which were covered up by church leadership. To the…I could go on all day.

      You are delusional if you think your religion does no harm to its adherents or the society in which they live.

      1. We also told them it was a sin to have sex outside of marriage. Why are the tenets of our faith judged on the one half of our teaching? Did catholicism cause AIDS in Africa or its spread? Again, like so many others, this is just an argument not with our supernatural beliefs but something else entirely.

        1. “Did catholicism cause AIDS in Africa or its spread?”

          Yes. The church teaches that condom use doesn’t prevent the spread of HIV. Condom use goes down. HIV spreads. People die.

          Pay attention to the news. This story has been going on for decades.

          1. Cite me some statistics. How lazy of an argument is it to say “Pay attention to the news.” The standard for science and evidence seems to drop precipitously when attacking religion doesn’t it?

        2. Who the fuck gave you the right to control people’s sex lives? Of what conceivable business is it of yours what consenting adults do in private?

          And, seriously? There’s an outbreak of a communicable disease that’s effectively preventable by simple and inexpensive measures, and your Church does everything in its power to block the use of that disease-prevention measure? Just because a bunch of play-pretend virginal child rapists who play dress-up think that sex is icky?

          Dude, you are so drunk on the kook-aid it’s not even funny.


          1. We don’t control anyone’s lives and it’s not in any of our teachings to force anyone to do anything.

            Do you think sex with animals is okay? How about sex between a mother and son? Is it not okay to teach anything about morality or else that means you’re trying to control people?

            1. The difference is that I think that sex between a mother and a son, or a father and a daughter, is wrong because of the inherent power imbalance (which is why “oh, he’s 18 now” doesn’t make it okay). Can you really see no difference between a man having consensual sex with another man, and raping a child?

              If someone asks “Why is this wrong?” there should be a better answer than “because someone said so a long time ago.” It doesn’t take a lot of brains to ask “OK, if I asked that person a long time ago why it was bad, what would they have said?” “Because I said so” is not convincing.

    7. I only need two pieces of evidence to continue nonbelief in the resurrection – the meaning of giving up belief in the resurrection changed by life and continues to do so and atheism has been around a lot longer that the Catholic church. Until I see other evidence, I will continue to not believe.

      So here we are. Who is right?

    8. “If you love God, you’ll love your neighbor*, and if you love your neighbor, you’ll love God.”

      * Or blow them up, as the case may be.

      “In my case, my Catholicism does no harm to its adherents, or even cause them to do anything that is demonstrably destructive for their person or the society in which they live.”

      In your case, possibly not. I don’t think I need to call attention to the suffering caused by religion in general, or yours in particular, at least not on this website. All the good things you mention sound like normal human compassion to me. Goodness doesn’t depend on religion, and it certainly doesn’t depend on God, since goodness is real and God is imaginary.

      1. Yeah but can you quantify how much human compassion religion has caused versus the people who have made abuses in its name? We are still standing today and the entire western culture believes in taking care of the poor and downtrodden – was this the case before Catholicism swept through Europe? In the long view, Christianity has imbibed a consciousness of good on an entire civilization. You can pretend that it just happened to arise in the secular culture at the same time but let’s all admit that would be disingenuous. Atheists can never look at religion objectively – they will never want to give it credit for anything like establishing a much more meaningful and coherent moral order or anything. Let me ask you, do you think you could give credit to Christianity as a philosophy for a positive in society? Not just, is it, but could you even envision yourself looking at it objectively?

    9. The website roolz preclude me from telling you what I really think of your unsubstantiated rantings. Though I will pose this question to you:

      In the area in which I live, I am the only atheist, everyone else is christian or similar to christian including a few catolickers too! So why is it then that no one else will drive the neighbors on day long trips to their doctors? I guarantee you that I get nothing out of it except that I don’t want them to suffer as your god would want them to. I know I’m the only one that will do it because the others get asked before me. So, why is that, Mr. self-righteous asshole?

      1. Might I ask what in my ranting made me so self-righteous?

        I will add that Jesus’ philosophy would have them give those rides to people, and that they do not should not be an indictment against Jesus or his philosophy.

        1. They are full of excuses just like you are. It seems to be an inherent trait of those infected with the belly of the Jebus.

          it always forces me to take an hour of my week to focus not on myself, which I would argue empirically makes me more aware of the world around me and more prepared to survive and make that world a better place.

          Your words are cheap Mr. self-righteous.

    10. “In my case, my Catholicism does no harm to its adherents, or even cause them to do anything that is demonstrably destructive for their person or the society in which they live.”


      You’re unfamiliar, I take it, with your church’s policy about the use and distribution of condoms to control HIV infection in Sub-Saharan Africa?

      Or the ability of a woman who is raped or the victim of incest to abort a resulting foetus?

      Or of consenting sexual partners to use birth control to avoid pregnancy?

      Of the refusal of your church to ordain women?

      Of the many children and teenagers molested, raped, or assaulted by Priests, Brothers, Bishops?

      You think that the church’s refusal to treat its members as though they were moral agents capable of making their own choices–like they were children–is not destructive to the individual or society?

    11. I’d like to ask you something I ask all my Catholic friends (and some family). What do you think about good people going to hell because they are not Catholic? All those good Jews and Buddhists who were unfamiliar with Church doctrine & never told of Jesus. All of them going to suffer damnation where their skin is burned off and then healed & burned again….for eternity – just because their culture was unaware of Jesus.

        1. Really? Because Pope Francis aside, the Church (consistently I think) says (according the Vatican) that those that do not believe in the Christian god or accept Jesus go to hell and Jesus said “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

          I know I’m a good person. I have so much empathy, I literally will not hurt a fly. I give to charity, I try to help those I can. But, at death, I will go to hell, according to the Vatican, because I am an atheist.

            1. I read the Catholic interpretation on the site you referenced but I didn’t see anything about the unbelievers not going to hell if they are good. Can you specifically quote the sedation? It may be I missed it.

              1. LOL! My tablet made a funny. My phone would never do that because it is religious and always capitalizes god.

                I Of course meant section.

              2. “”they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life” (Quanto Conficiamur Moerore).

                Inculpable ignorance is not a means of salvation.[14] But if by no fault of the individual ignorance cannot be overcome (if, that is, it is inculpable and invincible), it does not prevent the grace that comes from Christ, a grace that has a relationship with the Church, saving that person.”

    12. Re: Nicholas’ first post.

      I only need two pieces of evidence to continue to belief in the resurrection – the meaning of it would change my life everyday and the Church is still here after 2,000 years. Until I see other evidence, I will continue to believe.

      Here’s other evidence, Nicholas. Your argument applies equally to an even older religion, Judaism. In the OT, Elijah and Elisha resurrected two children. Enoch and Elijah bypassed death and experienced ascension without resurrection. Moses and Isaiah died, were resurrected and ascended. Judaism is at least 2,600 years old. Why aren’t you a Jew?

      Moreover, you could argue that Moses was more exalted than Jesus because at least when he was alive he got to look on God’s arse (Exodus 33:23).

      One problem with Jesus’ resurrection tale is the story of the tomb. If Jesus was condemned by the Romans, then it is highly unlikely that he would have been buried: the whole point of crucifixion was humiliation. It was normal practice to leave the corpse to rot on the cross as a public display of the power of the state. Only in a few cases of high-born victims were their relations allowed to inter the body. The entombment by Joseph and Nicodemus looks very much like explanation after the fact. And if all that is the case, then we don’t have a place from which the body disappeared in order for Jesus to be resurrected. Odd, that.

      If the Jews condemned Jesus, then they did it during their holiest week; and the trial took place then. Jews did not conduct trials just before the Sabbath. For religious reasons.

      On the Church, surely you know that Jesus expected the End Times in his own generation? Why therefore build a Church? The word ‘church’ is mentioned twice in the NT; it wasn’t that big a deal because early Christianity wasn’t in it for the long haul.


      1. Every Catholic is a Jew first – this is a popular saying because it is true to us. The truth of those statements and the history of the Jewish people is something that we believe in. We believe Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism.

        I am not a scholar, but it is my understanding that Jesus was tried in the morning/early afternoon on a Friday and that the Sabbath begins at sundown Friday.

        It is also my understanding that in conquered territories, burial of the crucified was common, especially in exchange for bribes. If Joseph was wealthy, he could easily have made this happen.

        I don’t know where you get the fact that Jesus expected the end times in his own generation.

        And not mentioning the Church is a judgment call in my opinion. If Jesus thought that the next step in human development was to emphasize human to human relations and not the law (as written by Moses), I wouldn’t think that recording hard and fast rules for the Church would be present. Where Christianity differs from Judaism and Islam is that the finite rules of Leviticus or the Quran just don’t exist and rules are not meant to really be thought of as these one line size-fits-all statements. They were appropriate for another time but no longer.

        But hey, I do appreciate thoughtful engagement and not being assumed an idiot for being Christian.

        1. As a cultural Catholic, Nicholas, I don’t recognise your phrase ‘every Catholic is a Jew first’. It could possibly derive from the proto-orthodox dismissal of the 2nd century theologian Marcion, who sought to abandon the OT God, the bloodthirsty general of Amalekite and Canaanite genocide (which, by the way, didn’t happen). And from the subsequent orthodox embracing of the OT as scripture.

          Re: Jesus’ death, the Synoptics have Jesus dying a day later than John’s Gospel; this is not good corroboration. Jewish trials did not start the day before the Sabbath because of the possibility that the court scribes might have to work on the Sabbath if the trial went into the next day.

          Your understanding re: burial of the crucified in conquered territories is wrong. See Goodman – ‘Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilisations’. Re: bribery to bury a body, it’s possible, of course; but why do only 2 Gospels mention Joseph and Nicodemus? It looks very much like some authors spotting a problem which other writers missed.

          Re: Jesus and End Times, the reference is Mark 9:1 and throughout the Synoptics, passim.

          Re: the Church, Jesus mentions it once; and probably a later interpolation when Christians realised the Parousia, the Second Coming, wasn’t coming. And the Petrine church required authority from The Small Man (average height of a Judaean man was then five foot).

          There’s the evidence and reasoning behind it; if, as you say, you believe in evidence, I would say that my explanations are far more likely than your supernatural explanation of the resurrection.

          And I note that you dodge the question of resurrection. If, as you say, Jesus is the fulfilment of Judaism, then you are still stuck with the problem of whose resurrection to privilege: Moses’, Isaiah’s, Elijah and Elisha’s two children – and why not them, they are the only two children in history alleged to have died twice – Lazarus’, Matthew’s walking dead? By what criteria, other than that you just feel like it?


          1. Well as a practicing Catholic, I can tell you that Catholicism fully accepts the Jewish people as the beginning of God’s conversation with man.

            Well, we’re really delving in to deep Biblical scholarship here. I am sure I don’t have the research to best answer your questions and it has already delved so far from the topic. I will tell you I have been a confirmed Catholic for only about a year so while I read, read, read, my scholarship is still not advanced. I think you could go on Catholic answers and find very good explanations to those questions by someone more knowledgeable than I. Every time I have ever seen any inconsistency, I have researched it and found an exceedingly great reason for it – every single time. Just because I don’t have the answer myself does not mean that it isn’t true.

            Mark 9:1 is not a literal statement, it has to do with the resurrection. When Jesus dies on the cross, it signals a conquering of evil and the arrival of the kingdom of God, or salvation for all. That’s why he says that those alive will see the “power of the kingdom of God,” i.e. the resurrection.

            Just being resurrected does not make someone God, and even the prophets who raised the dead earlier wouldn’t have made the claim. There was only one who claimed to be God and then raised himself from the dead, Jesus. The other ones did not make these claims.

            1. Apologies for the tardy reply; I’ve been out.

              Nicholas, since at least Gibbon, we have known of the calamity of Christianity’s takeover of the Roman Empire; it was born dripping in the blood of its co-religionist twin murdered in the womb.

              Here’s your St. Hilary, the ‘Hammer of the Arians’ of whom you so warmly approve:

              ”…Every year, nay, every moon, we make new creeds to describe invisible mysteries. We repent of what we have done, we defend those who repent, we anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other’s ruin.”

              Your slightly younger St. Gregory Nazianzen lamented that the kingdom of heaven was converted, by discord, into the image of chaos, of a nocturnal tempest, and of hell itself. Ammianus, the contemporary liberal pagan historian, considered that the enmity of Christians towards each other surpassed the fury of savage beasts against man.

              Here’s how the Christians butchered each other: under the Arian Emperor Valens, Arian priests led soldiers out to Nitria in Egypt to massacre the 5,000 monks who refused conscription.

              Theodosius, the first Emperor baptised in his prime, declared, glowing with the warm feelings of his regeneration,

              ”…We authorize the followers of this doctrine (i.e. of the Trinity) to assume the title of Catholic Christians; and as we judge that all others are extravagant madmen, we brand them with the infamous name of Heretics, and declare that their conventicles shall no longer usurp the respectable appellation of churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect to suffer the severe penalties, which our authority, guided by heavenly wisdom shall think proper to inflict upon them.”

              Penalties included exile and confiscation. The wrong sect lived in perpetual fear of denunciation. Of excommunication. Of hell-fire. Who could you trust? For Manichaeans the sentence was the death penalty; similarly for the Audians and the Quartodecimans. Never heard of them? Seems to have worked, doesn’t it?

              Where Theodosius pontificated, Emperor Maximius exterminated: the Priscillianists, for example. As if to outdo his imperial rival, Theodosius managed to murder 15,000 Thessalonikans at the Games – a dry run for the Dublin Croke Park atrocity in 1920.

              There’s the Arian Theodoric the Great who invaded Italy, the Eastern Empire, Burgundy, who settled 100,000 to 200,000 Ostrogoths in Italy: happy to do battle with the Catholic Clovis.

              I haven’t named the fourteen 4th century intra-Christian battles, the empire-wide torching of ancient libraries and the attendant riots and pogroms; the disappearance or removal of whole traditions of Christianity, Docetism, Marcionism, Patripassianism, Sabellianism, the Ophites, Nestorianism, Gnosticism, Ebionites; the ninth century Pope Formosus disinterred by a papal successor, tried, found guilty, relieved of the fingers he used to bless the faithful, stripped of his holy vestments and the corpse thrown into the Tiber; nor the delight of the Christian Emperor Valentinian whose idea of fun was to watch the two bears caged in his bedroom as they ripped apart his enemies.

              Which brings us to the Russian Bear, Stalin: who learned everything in the Russian Orthodox culture to which he was born, one generation after its abolition of serfdom; from the internal exiles, the denunciations to the secret police, from its demigod Emperor, from its literary censorship, from its worship of the Politburo icons paraded around Red Square as the bureaucrats themselves stared down, god-like and impassive, from their papal perch above the mausoleum of Lenin, a pseudo-Christ resurrected. To the rapprochement with the Church during WWII; to the icing of your ex-colleague.

              This is the sacred moral cesspit of the genesis of Christianity. If this is holy, modern Christianity bears the stamp of the holiness of its origins.


    13. First of all, Catholicism supposes a 99.9% a “hands-off” God. There is absolutely no requirement made by the religion that doesn’t have a demonstrable empirical effect.

      Yes, the only absolute requirement left is supposedly that there was a single human breeder pair, according to a 20th century leader. (Which name slips my mind as I write.)

      However, since 2011 we now know the smallest human population was ~ 4000 and at least larger than 1 200 breeder pairs.

      There is no current viable catholic magic, as it has been minimally defined.

      Let’s say God is the ultimate computer programmer. He can begin with a list of essential principles, form a ball of energy and WHAM.

      It remains to put a mechanism into the hand of the programmmer, before it can “form a ball”.

      More problematic for you:

      1) Universes are zero energy. That means no actor can make universes.

      Universes can only tunnel from previous universes or from a “quantum void”.

      2) Our universe never had a “WHAM” except as the reheating at the end of inflation. At that time, both the local end of inflation and the structure formation seed were results of quantum fluctuations. Famously, not even imaginary gods can act through quantum fluctuations.

      3) As I pointed out in my longish commentary, even if the overall idea happened it is now known to be another form of homeopathy. The initial inflationary volume has been diluted by a single physical mechanism beyond sensible claims of remaining action.

      The point I am making here is that atheists like yourself, who argue for the demolition of religion or the forced binary of “deism-atheism”, are not being very scientific in your assessment of religion.

      If a got a penny… Tish tosh.

      You would expect that their institution would last the rest of time like they said it would.

      Post facto rationalization. Also, there are many religions older than the specific christianism mentioned here. With that logic, one should pick the oldest one to join.

      And FWIW, christianism is only 1 800 years old according to historic sources. The written stories are decidedly not eye witness accounts of alleged 2000 years old events.

      1. First of all, Catholicism does not hold that we are all literal descendants of one pair of humans and it never did. Even Augustine in the 4th century recognized this.

        Secondly, the computer programming analogy is something simple i use for conceptualization. The Catholic view of God is that He is not a being or matter, he is extra-material so any beginning to the universe is possible to me. I don’t know enough about physics to have a debate on how God did it.

        Thirdly, there are no religions which have held the same hierarchy and concrete body for the length of Catholicism. Judaism doesn’t have one body of leadership and neither does Islam, Buddhism, or any other religion. Even as an atheist, is it not remarkable to you that there has been a cohesive institution called the Catholic church for 2,000 years (or even 1800 years even though the Catholic church has documented every Bishop of Rome since Peter)? Where else have you seen this?

        Fourthly, the documents of the Bible were written as early as the 40s, a decade after Jesus’ death. Philip Shenon just wrote what was maybe the best compilation of information about the Kennedy assassination, published 50 years after Kennedy’s death. He was able to still track down witnesses and read reports and so on. The last gospel was John written in the year 92 or so and the first around 70 AD. I appreciate your assumption that there was a group of men dedicated to fabricating an intricate story about Jesus – I had the same thoughts but after enough of my research ended in solid answers, I decided to trust them in their accuracy. Sue me.

        1. “Catholicism does not hold that we are all literal descendants of one pair of humans and it never did.”

          What, never? I think the opposite can easily be demonstrated, if you look into it.

          Where does church doctrine say that original sin can propagate laterally? And if the concept of original sin is incoherent and ahistorical, how can redemption by blood sacrifice work?

  12. It is extraordinary how purblind those like Collins are when it comes to NOMA. Collins laughs at idea of shaking a test tube in a laboratory and claiming supernatural goings on as the explanation for what is observed. He ought also to laugh at the idea of supernatural goings on behind “fine-tuning” and the origins of morality. These phenomena are not off-limits to science. God-of-the-gaps is creation theology in a dirt cheap tuxedo.

    The likes of Collins cannot make do with faith. They are compelled to make claims for evidence of God. They absolutely cannot adhere to NOMA. Let them confess that they believe because they need to believe and for no other reason. Then NOMA can work.

  13. I think anyone who’s looked at that would conclude that the strong atheist position of saying ‘I know there is no God’ is not an easy one to sustain. It basically implies a certain degree of hubris and arrogance to say that I know so much that I can exclude any possibility of there being a is a God.

    I wonder what Dr. Collins’s position is on the existence of Santa Clause and married bachelors?

    I would hope that he has, at a minimum, overwhelming confidence in the non-existence of the former, and absolute confidence in the non-existence of the latter. And what degree of hubris and arrogance is on display with such conclusions?

    Until he (or somebody else) can come up with a substantial difference between his favored gods and Santa the Married Bachelor, I’ll continue, hubristically arrogant, in insisting that gods are childish nonsense and that people like Dr. Collins should be ashamed of themselves for professing sincere belief in them.



    1. Dr. Collins should be ashamed. He is promulgating apologies for his faith and he is being illogical. It is neither hubris nor arrogance to insist that his critical thinking skills are silenced by faith.

    2. Yes, the double standard on how people interpret the word “know” is a pet peeve of mine. Theists insist on a much stricter standard of what counts as knowledge when someone challenges God-belief, vs. a much lower standard when talking about just about anything else.

      Say “I know there is no Santa” and everyone accepts you’re making a regular knowledge claim. You’re not claiming absolute philosophical certainty, just normal old ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ certainty.

      But say “I know there is no God” and practically every single theist you meet will interpret that as a claim of absolute philosophical certainty. The interpretation that was stupid a moment ago is now the go-to one they use.

      1. I don’t know why the pedantic unnecessary distinction is made only for the god question. But it is not only theists. Agnostic atheists and philo atheists do it too. It is maddeningly frustrating.

        1. Yeah, religion should not get a pass anymore. It never should have. The more times it can be pointed out that knowledge about Santa and god are equivalent, the better educated the public becomes and the more aware that some people are choosing to be ignorant.

        2. Fair enough. The double standard is linked most strongly to the subject of the claim (i.e., God), rather than the sort of person you’re talking to.

  14. In one of his lectures, astrophysicist Sean Carroll called the anthropic principle (the fine tuning of physical constants) the “least bad” of the science-based arguments for God. He then went on to explain why it is inconclusive in remarks about string theory and the multiverse.

    Francis Collins in so arguing would probably say here he was doing “philosophy of science” rather than science per se, but where exactly do you draw that line?

    1. Anthropic arguments cut both ways. If there is only one universe then we would like to know why the anthropic constants take the values which they do – if there is a reason why they do. The question arises as to whether there is only one universe. If many universes exist (with many different non-anthropic sets of values) then the question fizzles out.

      It is interesting that a number of independent lines of scientific inquiry have converged on the prediction of other universes. And very interesting that the observed value for the cosmological constant fits well with a multiverse assumption. So the scientific evidence is against the fine-tuning argument for God. Why then do so many religious scientists swarm lovingly around it? Because they lack faith, it seems to me. They want visible signs and wonders.

    2. Its still a very bad argument. We don’t know the dynamic range of the variables. If its large, this universe is improbable. If its small, this universe is more probable. But we don’t know what those ranges are, so we can’t say what the probability is. The anthropic argument requires you to assert that there is a very low probability to a roulette result when you don’t even know the number of slots on the wheel.

      But that’s not the counter I like most. Its this one: if the specificness of the conditions needed for life implies the universe is designed for life, then if we find some structure which requires even more specific conditions, the anthropic argument would mean we would have to abandon the ‘designed for life’ conclusion in favor of ‘designed for that structure’ conclusion. Right? Well first, I am skeptical any theist is really willing to do that. If the anthropic principle ever pointed towards something other than us being the goal, they’d abandon the principle before they’d abandon their theism. They’d decide that something else’s higher improbability is meaningless, a side-effect, or whatever.
      Second, take the smallpox virus as an example. It requires all the very specific conditions humans do…plus, it requires humans. We do not require a universe with it in it, but it requires a universe with us (a highly improbable event!) in it. Therfore, according to the anthropic argument, the universe was designed for smallpox. In fact, the general category of “nonliving things which require living things to form” trumps the general category of “living things.” So everything from skyscrapers to fossil trees has a stronger anthropic-principle claim to be the “purpose” of creation than we humans do.

  15. I guess I’m one of those rare birds, an atheist who is 100% certain there is no god. I don’t think that means “there is no possible evidence that would persuade me otherwise”, to me it means “with the evidence I have, there is no way this proposition can be true”.

    Let me compare this assertion to a more mundane one. I am 100% certain that I have a cat and not a dog. I did have a dog, but he died in 1979. Based on what I confidently believe about the world, I am certain that this dog is not still alive somewhere. It’s not that “no possible evidence would persuade me otherwise”, it’s just that until some really extraordinary evidence is presented, I can safely consider the question to be settled.

    If you asked me to bet $10,000 that I don’t own a dog, I’m not sure I would take the bet. You might have laid some kind of trap for me, trying to make an easy ten grand. I would only take the bet if we agreed that we would show all our evidence first.

    So, religionists, what is your evidence?

    Another reason I am 100% certain there is no god is that no one’s definition of god makes sense. It has a mind, but no brain? Just but also merciful? Exists outside of space and time? That’s just a confusing way of saying “does not exist”.

    1. In techincal usage, 100% certainty is reserved for claims for which no possible evidence could change your mind. It is absolute, unchanging-because-nothnig-could-change it certainty. In fact if you’re talking statistical measures of certainty for some emprical observation, its mathematically impossible to achieve 100%. All you can do is add more 9’s to that 99.9999%

      In vernacular usage, everyone will understand exactly what you are saying about your cat. That when you say 100%, you mean that there is no reasonable doubt in your mind. You’d bet your life savings on it, or act in other ways without hesitation as if it were true.

      The problem seems to me that there is a double standard in how people talk about God vs. other entities. When atheists challenge the existence of God, theists stop using or assuming the vernacular meaning. 100% certainty about unicorns? They get what you mean. Ghosts? They get it. Zeus, Cthluhu, dragons in your garage? They get it, get it, get it. They understand you’re using a vernacular expresssion and they’re fine with it. But say 100% certainty about Yahweh? Whoa there, mister, you can’t say that! Not only do they somehow completely miss the vernacular meaning, they are no longer fine with it even if you explain what you mean to them.

      1. @Somite
        You didn’t just claim you are 100% certain there is no god (which could be common usage) you claimed to know with 100% certainty that there is no *evidence* for god at all, none, which put you squarely in the realm of philosophical certainty, claiming to know an unrestricted negative about *evidence* with 100% certainty.

        Don’t blame others for your own unsupportable claims.

          1. I already have. The bible is evidence of god. Not good evidence, but evidence. Then you attempted to play the No True Scotsman fallacy with the concept of evidence.

            But, as you, yourself, pointed out, you have to prove a positive claim. Burden of proof: you. And your claim to know with 100% certainty that there is no evidence for god is a positive assertion, an unprovable one because it asserts to know an unrestricted negative with 100% certainty.

            (You can prove a restricted negative. I can prove, for instance, that there are dragons in my garage. I can’t prove that there are no dragons anywhere in the universe. I’d have to inspect *everywhere* in the *entire universe* to do that. Not possible. Same goes for your claim to know with 100% certainty that no evidence for god exists. You’d have to look everywhere to prove that. And you can’t. So you made a specious, unprovable assertion. And now when you refuse to awknowlege your error and make a new, better argument. You argue like a theist.)

            1. Bad evidence = no evidence. I’m still at 100% no evidence.

              Unless you count pedantic bloviating and then I am at 99.999%

              1. Regardless of your No True Scotsman fallacy, you are still claiming, like a theist, to know the unknowable with 100% certainty (to perfectly know an unrestricted negative) and refuse to modify your claim to make it rational. They claim to know that god exists. You claim to know with 100% certainty that there is no evidence for god anywhere. You can’t disprove god with such fallacious claim, and you aren’t one-upping theists with it, either. You are just aping their own flawed arguments rather than using sound and valid ones.

              2. Its not entirely pedantic bloviating. The reason the Higgs discovery experiment was run to 5 sigma certainty was because past particle physics experiments stopped at lesser certainty – and were shown to get the wrong result. Humans do a lot of observing and reporting the results. One-in-a-million chances of being wrong are found to be wrong with some regularity.

                The certainty you quoted yourself at is not even 5 sigma. IOW, if that reflected a real observational certainty about God and not just a conversational throw-away, your certainty about the non-existence of God would not even meet publication standards for high-end particle physics journals.

              3. And yet I have still not seen evidence that my claim is incorrect. Do you have an experiment or source with less then 5 sigma certainty that there is a god? Please don’t say the Bible.

              4. There is no evidence your claim about God is incorrect.

                Your claim about your certainty is incorrect because:
                P1. No inductive argument can yield 100% certainty. This is the classic problem of induction. See Hume. OTOH if you think Hume is wrong, I would love to see your argument about that.
                P2. Empirical claims are inductive.
                P3. You’re claim about God is an empirical one (‘show me evidence…’).
                C: Your claim about God is not 100% certain.

              5. P2. Empirical claims are inductive.

                I’m 100 % certain (well, 99.999…) that empirical claims doesn’t follow any philosophic ideas, especially not the one about induction.

                Observations and hypotheses can both be modeled by hypotheses testing as per measurement theory. Since hypothesis testing is derived within probability theory, its mechanism is axiomatic, i.e. “deductive”.

              6. [Since mathematics is heuristics, “deduction” is fubar too.

                We use these methods because they work. Not the other way around, the idea that these methods work because they were designed by “induction”, “deduction” or what have you.]

            2. “The bible is evidence of god.”

              No it’s not. It is something that is proffered as evidence but is demonstrably not.

              By your usage, homeopathy’s ineffectiveness is evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness. Just bad evidence.

              Calling disproven evidence evidence is a semantic non sequitur.

              1. The bible is evidence. Is it reliable evidence? I’d say not. When evidence is introduced in court, it is **all** evidence. It is up to a jury to decide which evidence to believe.

                Certainly, the bible is not proof of god. Nor is it extraordinary evidence. Nor is it physical evidence. Instead it is purported testimony. (In court, testimony is “direct evidence”.) Again, evidence, even if not very sound.

                But, all of that is peripheral, and an attempted diversion, as to whether Somite’s claim to know the unknowable, to know an unrestricted negative with 100% certainty, is a valid claim. It is not. It is the same kind of overbroad claim theists make. And to try to make it in favor of atheism just gives theists an easy target in which they will be correct in shooting down.

                We need to give our best arguments, hold them to the burden of proof, and not make the same mistakes in logic and reasoning they do. Claiming to know the unknowable with 100% certainty is just silly, and all the more silly when we are talking about evidence rather than a god itself. Evidence could be just about anything anywhere. To claim to know with 100% that it does not exist is just silly, and not helpful to arguing against theistic certainty.

              2. @ Scote

                The legal definition of “evidence” does not match the scientific sense of the word.

                (Do we really need yet another semantic go-around?)

              3. “I got better after taking this homeopathic remedy.”

                That’s evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy. It is very poor evidence, of course, for all the reasons we might list.

                It doesn’t work to insist that the word “evidence” means “convincing evidence”, or “conclusive evidence”, or something like that. That’s why we have all these adjectives available to use as modifiers.

              4. The feeling of health of one person does not constitute evidence for anything. In this case you would need a population and comparison groups. Bad evidence is not evidence.

              5. “I got better after taking this homeopathic remedy.”

                That’s not evidence, that’s uninformed association.

                Evidence = “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.”

              6. I had prepared a lengthy paragraph in response, Diane G. But I’ve erased it. My life is too short for this particular semantic back-and-forth between people who are in agreement about the actual conclusion.

              7. “My life is too short for this particular semantic back-and-forth between people who are in agreement about the actual conclusion.”

                Probably the most sensible thing any of us has said! 😀

  16. Like you, I think the issue is that religion is so fragmented in its beliefs that it’s quite silly to ask us to jump on a train that is moving in 10 different directions at once.

    I’ll gladly be accommodationist — just as soon as two burning questions are decided upon once and for all by all religions everywhere.

    1. The status of the bacon cheeseburger.
    2. The wearing of hats or other head coverings.

    Come up with pan-religious solutions to those issues, and then we can talk.

    1. 10 Directions. Let us say at least 5×109 people throughout history have had at least thought of god at least ten times in their lives. Ten percent of those equated god=love, nebulous, but discount those as the ‘same conception’. Still left with on the order billion trains to get on. gag.

      Of the hundreds of concepts I am aware, none is interesting to me to even think of wanting to be true…except maybe a sci-fi-fantasy version where I am god and control all known universes, alas, these events have not revealed themselves to me, but I am content, nonetheless. And bacon cheeseburgers rock (and I was even a vegan for several years!).

  17. I think religious people are not as upset by the idea that science can answer all questions, as they get most upset by the idea that science can question all answers.

    Francis Collins wants to answer the ‘why’ questions, but he does not want his answers to be questioned.

  18. Talking of nonsense, this rubbish about Robert Lanza‘s ideas on “quantum afterlife” have just shown up on a UK newspaper’s site. I used to like the Indy too, this is just bullpucky.

  19. God, like any other failed scientific experiment is sitting on the shelf where it will remain until some credible, empirical evidence rears it’s head. Until that moment god does not exist. That’s real proof.

  20. “…I only need two pieces of evidence to continue to belief in the resurrection – the meaning of it would change my life everyday and the Church is still here after 2,000 years. …”

    This has the same problem that Jerry pointed out in the original post with religion answering why questions. How do you distinguish between different religions? I have known many people who were devout Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists who could make comparable statements for their own religion. You can’t all be right!

    “…If God was powerful enough to create the entire universe, can he not program one instance in which he breaks his own rules – what kind of ripple would that break cause on humanity? If someone died in the year 0 and then came back to life, how would you expect this event to be proved?…”

    I agree that there is no way to be certain that one-off miracles have not occurred that were not convincingly documented. But that doesn’t make every claim true! My Muslim friend mentioned above would say the exact same thing to you about Muhammad rising into heaven on a winged horse. Do you believe that to be true? If not, then you yourself don’t even accept your own arguments.

    If you accept any claim at all on the basis that it cannot be proved false, I can make you a really good deal on an orbiting teapot. I accept PayPal.

    1. So because there are many versions of the same story, all are not true? We have a view different interpretations on the origin of the universe, does this mean none are true? or maybe some are partially true and one is totally true? This Dawkinsian “conundrum” is not very sound logic in my opinion.

      1. Okay Nicholas, you are trying to derail and dominate this thread. There is not an iota of evidence for your faith, so until you can adduce some real evidence beyond revelation, you’ve done enough posting here today.


            1. OK. Me, too. But I still want to know why these guys insist on capitalizing the word “atheist” in the middle of sentences.

  21. Great stuff! – wish I were your equal in ability to put my case thoughtfully and reasonably. Alas! – I’m far from being so, and tend to adopt a lofty expression while my brain buzzes uselessly.
    Gosh. All thos ADVERBS. 🙁

  22. “Well, I would be glad to see religion go the way of the floppy disk”

    Great. Another hour and a half to read this from the floppy disk I just saved this on. Maybe the laptop is a little old and slow.

  23. That a scientist like Collins is so intractably inflicted by a variety of the god virus indicates the severity of the god virus problem. The problem is discussed in Darell Ray’s book The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, but Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists proposes methods for combating the problem. On the question of Collins’ belief that the New Testament reads like a record of eye witnesses (discussed in the comment by ROO BOOKAROO), the book I am reading now shows how preposterous Collins’ view on the eye witness question really is.

  24. “admits that belief shouldn’t have anything to do with how scientists do their science”
    That also sounds like NOMAism. This time you thank Ceiling Cat for it.
    So much for consistency.

    1. The difference is subtle but important.

      NOMA sees two different methods or disciplines and tries to prevent conflict between them by delineating what subjects each will cover. Critically, it makes ‘thou shalt not study…’ types of recommendations to both science and religion.

      JAC’s statment sees two different methods or disciplines and says – we don’t care if they conflict or cover the same subject. We aren’t gonig to try and prevent conflict. We aren’t going to try and delineate what subjects science or theology can cover. So long as when a science-theist is wearing their science hat, they follow the science rules. In contrast to NOMA, JAC’s way makes ‘thou shalt feel free to study whatever the frak thy wants to study’ types of recommendations. As long as you when you study something under the aegis of science, you actually study it using science and not some corrupted mixed-methodology.

  25. “I would not want to live in a culture where faith lost, and where science, with all of its reductionism and its materialism became the sole source of truth.”

    Materialism. Pissing wishthinkers off since 450 BC.

  26. “Absolute proof” vs. “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is, respectively, deductive proof vs. inductive proof, the results of two different forms of reasoning.

    Deductive reasoning is syllogistic reasoning: accept the premises and the syllogistic proof is 100% certain. Inductive reasoning is never 100% certain; proof is statistically based – essentially the same as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Even the “law of gravity” may someday be shown to not hold in all cases – i.e. falsifiability.

    Inductive reasoning is equivalent to learning or conditioning, a product of evolution. Example: No African predator goes to the water hole or to the fringe of the wildebeest herd because it is 100% certain it will find food there; rather it has learned that the odds of finding a meal there are better than elsewhere. It cannot calculate those odds in the exacting manner we humans can, yet it knows them.

    Such induction is fundamental to evolution.
    Faulting science for its inability to produce deductive (100%) certainty amounts to a “bait and switch” tactic, and is fundamentally dishonest.

  27. “Now not that many atheists say “I know there is no God.” I don’t. That’s not a scientific statement, for it presumes absolute knowledge.”

    You don’t need absolute knowledge to be 100% certain that an incoherent and contradictory concept such god is BS.

  28. Oh, this is rich.

    “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

    I just held a short series of cosmology seminars to tie into astrobiology. Because cosmologists have had to go over black holes again (the recent “fire wall” spat), even I who have no studies in QFT or GR learned that Feynman’s and Hawking’s sum over histories approach is necessary to grok cosmology.

    It was but a short add on to go from Hawking’s quantum cosmology, which predicts why we see inflation, to the quantum void. If it makes sense to quantize the action is arguable, but people do that.

    And if you do that, the answer is that universes (realised physics) appears out of action (possible physics), since action embodies the physics of the environment as it enables a system to trace out a history. (E.g. Noether’s theorems.) Conversely, since for particle physicists the quantum vacuum allows everything happen that is not expressly forbidden, nothing forbade action. How would that work, what would forbid possible physics?

    This shows that religion got everything exactly backwards.

    It basically implies a certain degree of hubris and arrogance to say that I know so much that I can exclude any possibility of there being a is a God.

    It basically implies a certain degree of hubris and arrogance to use religious special pleading.

    No one would think that the observation that we aren’t the center of the universe is based on little knowledge. Besides the egocentricity, which is easily shot down, it was a meticulous and ardous task that was, perhaps, finished last week. Planck data gave enough to exclude so called “dark flows”, that we see the universe as we see it because we happen to be in a special location.

    Now not that many atheists say “I know there is no God.” I don’t. That’s not a scientific statement, for it presumes absolute knowledge. But I am 99.9% sure there is no God, just as I’m 99.9% sure that there’s no Loch Ness monster.

    But absolute proof is absolute absurd. Analogously we can say “I know there is no Signal That Go Faster Than Light. That is a scientific statement, and it doesn’t presume absolute knowledge.

    What a 3 or above sigma claim asserts (not presumes), is a precise and accurate enough knowledge to be “beyond reasonable doubt”. Precise, so it has small enough random error. And accurate, so it has small enough systematic error.

    The above is independent of the specific subject here. But on that I claim the following:

    We can be ~ 99.9999 % sure there is no gods, because the remaining uncertainty of inflationary behavior of the CMB temperature variance is so small. It is arguable, because cosmologists would like to see gravitational waves that were released after inflation, but the alternatives are more or less dying over time.

    And inflation as a pure physical mechanism takes any initial magically contrived spacetime and dilutes it to homeopathic concentrations, < 10^-150 parts of the current universe.

    Wed have known this for a year or so. (Or a decade, depending on what precision you require.) As a result I no longer consider myself an atheist. I am a skeptic; it is nature that is atheist.

  29. ‘ I think that each individual has a healthier brain if they stick to using their reproductive organs only for reproduction.’

    I am aware Nicholas got run yesterday, but if he is permitted to return today I’d be interested in his justification of the claim about a healthier brain he made.

    By the way, Nicholos, are you by chance bud’s with Nicky from N. Carolina?

  30. Thank you for your reply, Nicholas.

    In your original statement you did not merely hypothesize that sexual intercourse by humans for any reason other than procreation results in negative health outcomes for the brain, you instead clearly asserted such. Now that you have clarified what you meant to say, let’s take a fresh look at it.

    You hypothesize a direct relationship between non-procreative intercourse, masturbation, and brain health and suggest a ‘real world’ linkage. What facts establish this link? I am familiar with the assertion as included in ideological doctrine — in your instance obviously Catholic doctrine — but I confess I am completely ignorant of factual evidence that supports such a hypothesis.

    Do you have a hypothesis that provides a specific explanation for precisely how male non-procreative sexual congress/masturbation negatively impacts the brain? Is the process identical for females? When does this damage actually occur: upon mental commitment to initiate relations/masturbation fantasy? commencement of the act of sexual congress/masturbation? only upon completion? Does one instance of non-procreative sexual intercourse/masturbation inflict maximum brain health damage, is there a cumulative process, or is each person’s experience(s) unique?

    You proceed to equate any non-procreative sexual activity with ‘pervert'(ing) ‘commitment and family structure to promote the quality raising of offspring’ — thus less-than-optimum mental health. I’ve heard this claim asserted and read up on it for five decades, the notion precedes my conscious awareness of it by millennia, and yet I and the world still await the first instance where empirical evidence establishes the linkage you claim exists between non-procreative intercourse/masturbation and human brain health impairment.

    The johnny-come-lately claim you interject about commitment and family structure is a straw man. First establish whether your original “hypothesis” has merit, is testable and yields measurable results that permit sound conclusions, and then and only then add goalposts to the playing field.

    As for you masturbation remark: good luck proving masturbation is universally detrimental in any way to the human brain. I’ll concede that someone who masturbates more than 10 times a day may have issues. So what?

    Moving on to pornography: The kindest thing I can say about your sweeping generalization is that you are greatly (and seriously) misinformed. In cases where mental health and pornography actually may be fit into the same category, and these do exist, it is not impossible that some sort of controls re exposure to porn may be a factor in treating mental health issues which have deleterious impact on family relationships. This is a factually accurate statement, and it is also not quite what your statements convey. Those are at best a sort of kissin’ cousin to factual accuracy, while quite a rather inaccurate assessment of reality. And again, so what?

    ‘Old fashioned mores’, in my experience, can mean anything from documented examples of universal practices, all the way to one’s own personal comforting belief set derived from accepted immediate cultural practices and influences. I see no connection, in any case, to the above and documented evidence that non-procreative sexual intercourse/masturbation results in impaired brain health.

    Again, thanks for responding, but absolutely nothing you write establishes a ‘scientific basis for Catholic morality.’ Further, if you were to provide a list of items that comprise Catholic morality, it would be interesting to separate the list items that appear on the list universal to all human beings from those item’s specific only to Catholics. Interesting, and I would wager quite illuminating as well.

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