A religionist (?) writes in

Here’s a provocative email I got this morning. Judging by its tone, I’m pretty sure it’s from a believer. These people never apologize for taking up your time, but rather demand an answer.

This person, named “Johnny Boy”, was commenting on  a 2014 article I wrote in The New Republic called “The ‘Best Arguments’ for God’s existence’ are actually terrible.”  If I do say so myself, it’s not a bad piece, and in particular goes after that slippery theologian David Bentley Hart.

Note as well that there’s no salutation: no “hello”, or “Dear Dr. Coyne” or the like. He’s “just asking questions”, known as “JAQ-ing off” in the trade. The email (indented):

You make some interesting points. Just wanted to ask you a few questions about your article:

1.) You quoted “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”. Do you think that any existence of God SHOULD be dismissed since there is no evidence? If so, do you believe that any claim that is without evidence should be dismissed?

2.) Couldn’t someone just claim that no God exists, and since there’s no evidence of that, this should now be dismissed? But that would mean that at least 1 God does exist…

3.) If you believe science and God are not compatible, why? At what point does science disprove a God’s existence?

4.) Were you born into any kind of religion?

5.) What would convince you that God DOES exist?

Sorry if this isn’t the best way to reach you… I just saw who wrote the article, looked you up, and found an email.

Well, at least there’s an a sort-of apology. But this is definitely from a believer, and I’m going to crowdsource the answer rather than answer Johnny Boy (these are almost invariably males). You don’t have to answer #4, and if you want to answer the first part of #3 as “Read Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact” (he clearly hasn’t), by all means do so.  But it does seem that this person doesn’t grasp the idea of accruing more and more confidence in a proposition when there’s more and more evidence for it (or, in this case, against it).

The only answer that I wanted to give was to #2, which was “Do you think that leprechauns exist because somebody says that there’s no evidence for leprechauns?” Oy gewalt! We have a new argument for God, which I’ll dub “The Argument for God from Denial.”

Have at it, and then I’ll tell “Johnny Boy” to read the thread.  Right now I have to head to Trader Joe’s for “senior shopping hour”—the only advantage of being old(er).

97 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    My wife never makes it to trader joe’s for senior time. Too early for her.

    I would answer number 4 by saying no one is born into any religion. When you are born, you are just like me, without religion. The only thing that brings religion to you are other people, primarily your parents. We call this propaganda.

    • alexander
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Since you don’t have a choice when you are only a few years old, I would call this brainwashing. Is brainwashing a crime? I think so.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        Brainwashing is probably a more proper term but unfortunately you don’t go to jail for that. I was using propaganda to be nicer about it. I wonder, when do the terms not just become interchangeable. Propaganda is generally something you pay for and that sure goes for religion.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      With great respect, I am far from sure that there is anything called ‘Indoctrination’ Some young people show a predeliction for religious belief and behaviour from an early age.
      It seems to me ( and R Dawkins) that the fundamental and inate assumption is that we live in an ‘Intenional Universe’ is the founding cause of religious belief. My researches suggest that such an assumption is hereditable… And, for me, there seems to be a lot of evidence for that. My hypothesis is called ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’ It suggests that human society is made up of Groups. We are all tribal. And these many groups are differentiated by their differing assumptions about the nature of reality.

      George

      • alexander
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Religious indoctrination happens usually at a very early age, around six, or earlier. At that age I don’t think that children worry about the concept of “intentionality” or understand it. Kids at that age absorb what is told to them. As my mother was an atheist, I never heard anything about a god or religion before school. My parents went one day to a funeral mass of the father of some good friends they had, and they took me to the event. I had no idea what was going on, I just knew that the old man I knew was inside that box. Smelling the incense, I thought that is how dead people smell.

        • Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think that young children wrestle with the concept of intentionality. It’s just that many children, even as young as three or four, behave and act as if there is a designed purpose with impositions on behaviour. They seem to have an extraordinary ability to recognise hierarchies of authority, and to recognise who has the power and who is to be obeyed.

          • alexander hellemans
            Posted May 18, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

            Yes, as a consequence, they believe without questioning what you tell them. And if you tell them biblical nonsense, they believe it, although I remember finding that biting an apple was enough to chase you from paradise was quite steep.

  2. Martin
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    #5
    Who was it that said “the clearest evidence that God does exist is that when I pull a tissure out of the box, another one inexplicably pops up right behind it.”?

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      In the same vein, here is one of those BIG existential questions that religionism is supposed to illuminate: When I close the refrigerator door, does the little light go off or stay on?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 20, 2020 at 3:50 am | Permalink

        Hence the old tagline,
        ‘Yes the light does go off. NOW LET ME OUT OF HERE.’

        CR

    • Roger
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      It’s because when people sneeze they say “bless you” and then another tissue appears for more sneezing.

  3. Colin
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I would first like this individual to kindly explain what he means by “god”. What he is likely unaware of, is that he has no clue what he means by “god”, and would experience a huge leap forward in maturation in realizing that this “god” of his is nothing more than his brain stuck in the mode of looking up to a parental figure.

    He would do well to listen to this (starts at 3:42)

    • phar84
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Interesting podcast, thanks.

  4. GBJames
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Before answering Johnny Boy I would want him to define exactly what he means when he uses the word “God”.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Hey, Johnny… If this is that you mean, then I’m totally on board that he exists!

  5. rickflick
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    1. Obviously yes to both questions.
    2. Yes, the claim that no God exists, can also be dismissed. There are levels of probability of course.
    And, no, that would not mean that at least 1 God does exist. Study syllogisms.
    3. Are science and God compatible? That would take a book. Short answer, one works and the other doesn’t. Disproof of some God isn’t quite the point (who’s burden of proof?)
    4.—-
    5. What would convince me of God’s existence? Perfect weather for every picnic.

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Exactly. At first I suspected someone decided to bring up the syllogisms of my long ago logic class.

  6. Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    No salutation.

    Well, it is a step up from “Dear Mr. Fraudster.”

  7. JezGrove
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Re #2, I’m puzzled by what the evidence for the proposition “No god exists” would look like. Would total absence of supernatural events suffice? In which case, we probably have it.

    Or would Johnny Boy only accept “total absence of claims that some events are supernatural”?

    • Dominic
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I seem to recall similar discussions on these pages many years ago many times!
      For me the most incoherent thing about religions is the idea of an “afterlife”.
      What does supernatural mean anyway? Surely if we see any process in the universe we should consider that process a part of the way the universe functions, & therefore natural, if you dig my drift…

  8. Janet
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I would like to ask Johnny Boy how he answers the following questions from Epicurus:”Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?  Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?”
    (These questions have remained unanswered for a while now…)

    • EdwardM
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Well, technically people have answered it. Though the answer is worthless, usually some form of “mysterious ways”, that won’t stop them from using it.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Yes! 😎
      However I dispute the idea of evil. The universe is indifferent to suffering. Things are neutral.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        While this universe may be, as you say, indifferent to suffering, some of its’ so-called intelligent creatures often think in those terms because they experience what they perceive/conceive as self-described good and evil, as well as that observed in, or projected onto, others. And, most of us have experienced, or seen enough, suffering to consider it evil. One doesn’t have to look beyond the planet for that. Insofar as I know, definitions of good and evil may vary from individual to individual, religion to religion, and culture to culture. Sometimes, if a preponderance of us in any grouping may just happen to agree on definitions of good vs. evil, perhaps, that may be thought of as a universal concept of good and evil. I tend not to view anything as universal because I have insufficient knowledge of this universe or however many others.

    • Roger
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

      They would say God is not willing to prevent evil (because Jeebus lurves us) but is not malevolent. They aren’t going to take the “then he is malevolent” part for granted like Epicurus did.

      • Roger
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        Of course they would still be pulling everything out of their collective you-know-whats so it’s worth about nothing.

  9. Bjørn Ove Sætre
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    When reading about what academics and teacher in countries like the USA must deal with (stupid questions from believers), I thank g**d (just kidding) that I am a teacher (of science) in a country like Norway. I have had my fair share of these discussions, but as religion is practically dead here I thankfully doesn’t have to spend time discussing with these people. The vast majority of my student ( and most other people too) consider religion just plain silly. I can even teach evolution and cosmology here without being bothered by religious nuts.
    In fact: during this Covid-19 pandemic, I haven’t seen one piece in our newspaper or other media mentioning g**d in this context. I grow up as a Pentecostal (never really a believer though) and I am so thankful that I live in a country where the vast majority of people now consider religion just plain silly

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Happy 17th of May (one day late)!

      • Bjørn Ove Sætre
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Thanks a lot. No grand celebration
        due to the virus

        • Jon Gallant
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          I like to tell Norwegian-Americans that syttende mai, honoring Norway’s independence from Sweden in 1905, is celebrated with particular enthusiasm by Swedes.

          • phoffman56
            Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            On the other hand, the saying, in one country at least, is that when a Norwegian decides to go live in Sweden, the average IQ increases in both countries.

            • Jon Gallant
              Posted May 18, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              Then there is the Norwegian joke about how to get a one-warmed Swede out of a tree: you wave at him. Or how to sink a Swedish navy submarine: swim down to it and knock on the hatch.

              • Jon Gallant
                Posted May 18, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                one-armed, that is.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 18, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                Thanks. I was having trouble figuring that one out!

        • phoffman56
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Too bad, but there’s always next year.

          We have 4 or 5 times witnessed, with our Norwegian friends, the parade, many children and bands (music). We stand quite near the Crown Prince’s palace in Asker (just 10 or 20 km. down the west side of Oslo Fjord from that city, for those not familiar–half way to Drammen).
          I’ve taken a few videos of friends’ children performing.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Let me just say that, even though I’ve never been to Norway, statements like yours leave me “pining for the fjords.”

  10. E.A. Blair
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    If you flip a coin, you expect one of two results: heads or tails. However, there is still an infinitesimal chance that it could come down on its edge – that’s not worth betting on, but just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. The overwhelming evidence is that an edge result is so small that it can be discounted; that any claim of such a result cannot be verified without a visual record that can be proved to be undoctored. The same goes for the existence of mythical creatures or deities.

    xkcd did a nice exposition on the frequency of miracles over time. I don’t recall the number of the drawing, but I was able to link to it elsewhere.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      This would be one of many many ways a God could prove its existence. “Here, flip a coin and I’ll call it in the air. Edge! Do another. Edge! (Etc, etc.) OK, what other demonstrations would you like? I knew you would ask that – now just look a little to your right…”

  11. Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Let me come to the defense—in part–of Johnny Boy, at least in principle. To start with my bona fides, which shouldn’t be necessary, but seems unavoidable these days, I am not religious or a believer. If you held a gun to my head I might admit that I could believe in Spinosa’s God and I confess I have always been intrigued with Tillich’s formulation of God as the ‘ground of being.” But I see little point in attacking anyone personally just because they are a believer. If they use the belief to be intolerant I’m all for calling them out on it and confronting them but in denying religion we have to be sure we don’t make our non-belief a religion. If we criticize religionists as extremist be sure we don’t implement the same approach to our non-belief. Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that there was little difference between the true believer and the ardent atheist and I concur. Both are looking for answers. to fill the “hole in being” as Sartre wrote or if you prefer “the God shaped hole” as Rushdie described it. For some of us the answer is found in an enlightenment rationalism,a scientific view point. For others they make a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith.” Some of us pursue Nietzsche’s idea to be the artist that creates ourselves and others follow Kiekegaard and try to surrender themselves. I’m inclined to go with James and be more pragmantic about whatever works and just like I would not want someone to tell me what I needed to believe I try not to tell others what they need to believe (failing often)But the flaw in the purely rationalistic argument is that if we are honest with ourselves we all engage in a bit of mysticism on occasion, though we dare not call it that. When my best friend died, one of the few true Christians I have ever met, I had to struggle with the thought that all her efforts believing were meaningless. That didn’t sit well with me so in my grief I decided there was a God for Caroline. Not for me mine you but for her because she believed so intensely and her belief was a beautiful thing. Completely irrational, I know. And I suggest we have all made such leaps into the mystic on occasion. I have countless debates and discussions with friends who believe over the years and we are usually able to argue over the ideas without making it a personal attack. When you make it personal you are forgetting Nietzsche’s admonition that “when you wrestle with a monster be careful you don’t become one.”

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Is there little difference between someone who believes in fairies or ghosts or ESP and someone who absolutely requires evidence before believing in them?

      This is the same difference as between a religious believer and a firm atheist.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I agree, Michael. I tend to favor Jerry’s side over Johnny Boy’s but I think Johnny Boy’s questions are fair questions, asked in good faith, and keeping such conversations open is better than just slamming the door shut.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        I’m not seeing anyone slamming the door shut. Are you?

      • GBJames
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        I disagree, Daedalus. These are rhetorical questions, not actual questions. Their intent is not to solicit answers but to instill doubt. It is bog-standard technique of religious apologetics.

        • Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          You could be right, GB. But like fellow non-believer michaelttusajr, I’ve had many late night discussions with friends who are believers — not because either expects to “convince” the other but because in investigating the byways of how we think we sometimes see something freshly — and these sorts of questions do come up. So I’m giving Johnny Boy the benefit of the doubt. If I’m wrong, at least I’m wrong by being overly generous 🙂

          • GBJames
            Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

            You have to consider the whole picture here… Johnny Boy writes PCC[E] these questions without even a salutation. They are canned questions. There isn’t anything here that suggests he’s a serious interlocutor.

            We’ll find out after our host points him to this page. How/if he responds will tell the tale.

          • Charles Minus
            Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            Daedalus Lex you are fortunate in being able to discuss these issues with someone. In my 81 years of life, 71 as an atheist, I have never met a religious person who was actually willing to discuss these issues. My experience has been that they either walk away immediately or start preaching – never discussing.

            • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              I can relate, Charles. I know some religious people like that too — the ones for whom religion is defined by the crust of superstition. But I’m lucky enough to have some friends who’ve studied a bit of comparative religions, have retained a religious sensibility in their overall world view, and can enjoy a little rough-and-tumble engagement with my more atheist mindset.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Sorry, but where did I slam the door shut? All I said was that this is a believer, most likely, and I decided to throw the questions out for discussion.

        • Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Perhaps I underestimate your willingness to have good faith discussion with believers, but your framing didn’t seem very inviting – “These people never apologize for taking up your time, but rather demand an answer … Note as well that there’s no salutation.” I admit that sometimes believers can be obnoxious and call for a response in kind, but Johnny Boy’s opening (You make some good points – just a few questions) didn’t seem all that impolite to me. Anyway, it’s good to hear that you are open to respectful discussion of the topic with the residual believers of the world. (I suspect some of your commenters are less generously inclined.)

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      “I’m inclined to go with James and be more pragmantic about whatever works and just like I would not want someone to tell me what I needed to believe I try not to tell others what they need to believe (failing often)But the flaw in the purely rationalistic argument is that if we are honest with ourselves we all engage in a bit of mysticism on occasion, though we dare not call it that.”

      Now I’m waiting for your recommended Sophisticated Theologian™ readings.

      Mystical feelings (like our other feelings) are not outside of a materialistic explanation. We can’t explain consciousness yet; but we’re making progress.

      You seem to feel the need to insert magic into the explanation for some reason. I do not.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Jblilie,
        Not inserting magic just suggesting that at times we all move outside of purely rationalistic explanations for things. Or maybe you don’t. But I think it is true for me on rare occasion.
        And I think the ESP/evidence requirement is a false comparison. There are many things we believe that we can’t prove by evidence.

        • alexander hellemans
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          Can you give some examples of things we believe without any evidence?

          • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            This can vary by person but as a general category I would say love.

            • GBJames
              Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              Love is an emotion for which there is plenty of evidence.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Completely irrational, I know.

      Well, as long as we can agree on that, we may proceed.

      And I suggest we have all made such leaps into the mystic on occasion.

      In my case, I sincerely hope not!

    • GBJames
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      “And I suggest we have all made such leaps into the mystic on occasion.”

      Speak for yourself.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        I guess I’m surprised—genuinely surprised—that there are folks in the exchange who think that everything they believe—or should I say Know—-is based solely on evidence. (Perhaps we need to define evidence) To GB, I’m happy to step into the mystic on occasion, especially if I can listen to Van Morrison while I do it (though it rarely works out that way). But you are right I’m speaking for myself and I hope with reference to having listened and observed others.

        • GBJames
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          Enjoying music/art is not “stepping into the mystic” in my book. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

          • Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            And you have evidence to prove it. Your own opinion.

            • Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

              Hahaha. I think you struck a nerve, michaelttusajr. It seems a lot of people have an intense need to believe that human thought and behavior – at least in their case – is entirely rational and evidence-based. One doesn’t have to be religious to find that a little naïve.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Nonsense. What “a lot of people” have is a tendency to confuse themselves (and sometimes others) with poorly chosen words. This is very common among the religious and those of religious bent.

                Let’s start with clearly defined words, shall we? Mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                Erf…. accidental click of the “return” key left off the end of my thought….

              • Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                GB, The exact definition I intended. I happen to like the song by Van Morrison though I have no evidence other than my own belief that its a good song.

              • Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                GB, The exact definition I intended. I happen to like the song by Van Morrison though I have no evidence other than my own belief that its a good song.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      michaelttusajr:

      Were I in the belief biz, I might start with a belief in the “Enter” key on my keyboard.

      My eyes are crying… 😉

    • EdwardM
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that there was little difference between the true believer and the ardent atheist and I concur. Both are looking for answers. to fill the “hole in being” as Sartre wrote or if you prefer “the God shaped hole” as Rushdie described it.

      I stopped right there. It wasn’t worth reading any further as I knew what was coming.

      My disbelief has absolutely nothing to do with any holes and your presumptions that I must share a desire with the religious to search for these alleged holes only made me lose interest in whatever else you had to say.

      Atheism is a belief like baldness is a hairstyle.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        Edward, I congratulate you on your omniscience. (“I knew what was coming”) and I applaud that you are one of the rare people who has no hole to fill. Truly remarkable.

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        Edward, I congratulate you on your omniscience. (“I knew what was coming”) and I applaud that you are one of the rare people who has no hole to fill. Truly remarkable.

  12. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I would like to direct Johnny Boy to an essay I wrote last year (and embedded in the second line of this essay is another essay):
    View at Medium.com

  13. Laurance
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Oh dear…#5 is a tough one. What would convince me? I think it would have to be something that cannot possibly be explained by any other thing.

    Years ago, March 8, 1975 in the wee small hours of the morning I had a powerful spontaneous “mystical” (for want of a better word) experience. It was totally, utterly “other” and completely unlike ordinary consciousness.

    I did NOT use drugs. I was not into LSD or pot or anything of that sort. This experience happened totally of of nowhere.

    And it was wonderful!

    If I were a god-believer I would have sworn that it was god who touched me. If I were even only lukewarm about god-belief I would have been unshakably convinced that I had gold-standard proof that god existed.

    But being something of a skeptic I reasoned that something very interesting could very well have happened in my brain. To me it seemed more likely that – lucky me – something momentarily went ‘blip’ in my brain and produced this stupendous “mystical” experience (for which I’m grateful, it was lovely).

    To me it’s a more plausible explanation than that god reached out and did this thing to me to convince me of his existence.

    (A psychiatrist, of course, would say that I was crazy and had a crazy experience…)

    So what would convince me? I don’t know! What could happen that was not explainable by natural events? “God” is supposedly supernatural. I can’t see outside nature! If something “supernatural” would happen, how would I know?

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I don’t know what would convince me that God was real, but it’s not up to me to think of something. If there really were a god that knew everything and could do anything and wanted me to know of its existence, surely that god would know! And would have done it by now!

      I don’t know what would convince me, but here’s what would impress me. I would be impressed if faith healers could do what they claimed, and instead of touring the country in auditoriums and tent shows, they worked in hospitals, instantly healing the sick and injured. I would be impressed if Covid-19 vanished tomorrow. I would be impressed if Appalachian snake-handling pastors didn’t die with depressing regularity. I would be impressed if Jesus, who supposedly defeated death, were still among us after 2,000 years. I would be impressed if instead of healing one leper and one paralytic and one blind man, if he had stopped smallpox and polio and tuberculosis back in the first century, instead of us having to wait nearly 2,000 for science (obstructed by religion at every turn) to do it.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Peter N: mirabile dictu.

      • JezGrove
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Very nicely put, Peter N.

    • Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      In Faith Versus Fact I lay out what would (provisionally) convince me that there was a god. Others would say that would just be evidence for aliens. To each their own.

  14. BJ
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    As others have said, we need to know the writer’s idea of “God” first. Is his conception of “God” simply a grand designer who, once he creates the universe, sits back and lets things play out? This is the most plausible form, and it precludes questions of stopping “evil” and mitigating suffering.

    Even Dawkins says he’s only 99% sure a god doesn’t exist. I’m with Dawkins: I can’t prove that a god doesn’t exist, and the existence of the universe is the best argument that one does. But I’m still in the “99% sure a god doesn’t exist” camp. The only thing that would move me is evidence of a god. The more salient quote here is “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    • BJ
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Furthermore, Ricky Gervais, in his discussion with Dawkins and an interviewer in a Center for Inquiry event, said that we often make a category error here, conflating knowledge and belief. None of us knows whether or not there is a god, but I believe there isn’t a god. The knowledge can never be resolved.

      I’d also note that the best way to interact with believers (especially the email writer here, who was very civil) is to engage them civilly and with respect, rather than disdain and ridicule. Atheists often get a bad rap for how they react to believers, and the reputation is far from unearned. I think we need to be more measured in how we speak to believers, so long as they come to us with an open mind and/or willingness to have a civil discussion.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        That was an excellent moment in an interesting and delightful conversation- everyone should check it out : https://youtu.be/b0BC3F0kqtw

        • BJ
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          I also liked what he said is his response when a child asks him whether or not god exists. Something to the effect of, “I don’t think so, but what do you think?” And then he went on to say that it’s not his place to tell other people’s children whether or not god is real, just as it isn’t a teacher’s. I’m inclined to agree with him.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted May 18, 2020 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            Yes

            I hope they do another one – I think there’s enough territory left

      • Posted May 18, 2020 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Well said, BJ. I feel like some(not all) believers want to engage in good faith with atheists to flesh out the issues, but they feel (with some justice) that atheist open the discussion with barrage of ridicule.

        • BJ
          Posted May 18, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          Yes, every time I’ve ever had a discussion with someone who believes in a god, it’s always been in good faith and completely civil. Usually it was just “for the fun of it,” where we both got to learn about the other’s perspective. And the longer such a conversation goes, the more you end up hitting on points neither of you would have thought about on your own. Even when you’re not trying to persuade someone, talking about something on which you disagree can just be good fun and intellectually stimulating.

          One of my good friends from grad school was well to the right of my politics, but we would often spend even an entire hockey game (in our seats at the arena!) discussing economic policy. Because it was just fun!

          • Posted May 18, 2020 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

            Agree 100%. When I talk to people who say they can’t have civil discussions with religious people, I suspect that maybe they start out with a posture of belligerence. I (probably like you) start out with a genuine interest in other person’s thoughts and the end result for me is as it is for you — lots of great talks with people of wholly different political and religious views than mine.

            • Posted May 19, 2020 at 7:26 am | Permalink

              BJ,
              Couldn’t agree more. My conversations over the years with friends who believe prompted me to do more research and study more. It didn’t change my ultimate opinion but, for example, taught me some wonderful biblical quotes that express universal truths. Like any discussion with anyone if you start out by attacking you are not likely to get very far or learn very much. Confirmation bias is the bane of our intellectual existence these days.

            • GBJames
              Posted May 19, 2020 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              I wonder how much genuine interest do you have, Daedalus, in someone’s thoughts that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse? How would a genuinely interested conversation with an LDS believer regarding whether Kolob is a star or a planet would be like. What, exactly, does “genuine interest” mean to you?

  15. Mark
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    The most obvious evidence that opposes god’s existence is that men have nipples.

  16. Mark
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    “If you spend your life looking in vain for the Loch Ness Monster, stalking the lake with a camera, sounding it with sonar, and sending submersibles into its depths, and yet still find nothing, what is the more sensible view: to conclude provisionally that the monster simply isn’t there, or to throw up your hands and say, “It might be there; I’m not sure”? Most people would give the first response—unless they’re talking about God.” – Jerry Coyne

    • Mark
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      The absence of evidence is evidence for absence—if that evidence should be there. And that applies to gods as much as it does to Bigfoot or Nessie.

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted May 18, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        But don’t you recall the explanation for the lack of evidence for the Loch Ness Monster?
        It is that Nessie moves in mysterious ways.
        By the way, speaking of Bigfoot, let me recommend that fine movie “The Abominable Snowman” (1957), the only intelligent film that Hammer Productions ever made. It is
        not a standard monster flick, but rather a version of Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” in sci-fi terms, done with an eerie atmosphere and fine mountain cinematography.

    • phoffman56
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Well, I’m being facetious, but as long as we’re talking about the Celtic part of the world, Loch Ness etc., I am tempted to ask:

      Johnny Boy, are the pipes also calling you? To heaven, not the other place, I trust.

  17. Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    #1: Sort of. Any positive claim without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, however a negative claim would by its nature not produce evidence.

    So for example, if you say Bigfoot exists, you need to evidence that claim because Bigfoot existing would produce some sort of evidence.

    If however you claim Bigfoot does not exist, then there wouldn’t be evidence that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, there would be an absence of evidence for Bigfoot.

    The trouble with god claims however is not simply that there isn’t the evidence to support them. The claims don’t even get that far, because all too often they don’t even pass muster as a defined claim.

    If you say “God exists, and God is unknowable”, that’s gibberish. You need a definition for the first part of that phrase to actually mean anything, and if God is unknowable you cannot define what God is.

    #2: That’s a negative claim, a lack of evidence would be consistent with the absence of a being.

    #3 It is a conflict of methods. With science if you find evidence that contradicts your beliefs, you drop the beliefs. With religion if you find evidence which contradicts your beliefs, you drop the evidence or try to find excuses for why it doesn’t actually discredit your beliefs.

    This is what the entire field of theology really is, a long and ancient study into why the world doesn’t work the way the old prophets or whatever said it should, and why that doesn’t make the old prophets wrong.

    #4: I was baptised Catholic. I wouldn’t say getting dunked as a baby meant I was born religious but take that as you will.

    #5: I don’t know. However if God did exist, God would know the answer to that question, and if said God gave a damn about me believing, then it would provide what evidence was required and I would believe.

    What I did with that belief would very much depend on what kind of a God we were talking about. If it was the Christian God, chances are I’d become a Satanist because that God is morally reprehensible. The Flying Spaghetti Monster sounds more fun.

  18. Roger
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    5.) What would convince you that God DOES exist?

    That one is a bit of a catch-22 since he would need to define what a god is and then corroborate with impossible evidence (how you gonna know if a god is omniscient? who you gonna call?) why it should be defined that way. And then the back-handed question begging that there is already enough to convince people is a bit annoying.

  19. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 18, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    • It’s no one’s fault if they’re victims of religion. Religion has had millennia to grow its roots, cultivated by its own swarm of victims – and with no resistance until recently. It is no easy task to loose the grip. If one needs to lash out at things, as a step towards breaking the spell then by all means get it out, but also find and give out help.

    • at some point, I have to say, one needs not be in love with science and analytical thinking or nature. There is not necessarily a dilemma to solve -either nature or religion. I do not subscribe to that, personally, but it’s not necessary. Someone can reject religion and still be uninterested in science but I personally think that’s a dismal position.

    • if once one succeeds in excising the tumor of religion, it is important to take care of the wound. Nationalism, ideologies will infect the wound.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 18, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      “Nationalism, ideologies will infect the wound.”

      Oh, and, astrology, etc. There are just so many interesting ways to get your magical thinking fix.

  20. Posted May 18, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    1. Not necessarily. I’m not sure if all claims without evidence should be dismissed, but they certainly can be dismissed as the Hitchens quote says.

    2. A claim that there is no god is a positive claim and yes it can be dismissed if there is no evidence for it put forward.

    However, there are two points to be made about this. Firstly most atheists do not assert there is no god, only that there is no evidence for god and therefore no point in believing in it.

    Secondly, I think there is evidence that makes the balance of probabilities swing in favour of no god, namely the complete failure of theists to find any evidence that a god does exist in spite of thousands of years trying. If I observe you searching for an elephant in your house for ten years without success in finding any, I’m going to say there is no elephant in your house.

    Another failure of point 2 is that the quote “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” does not mean you must assume the opposite. It does not mean that, if I assert “there is no god” without evidence that there must therefore be a god. It just means you don’t have to believe me.

    3. I don’t think science is necessarily incompatible with every imaginable god. I could imagine a god that started the Universe off and just left it. However, that’s not the kind of god most religions advocate. Science is very incompatible with most of their mythologies.

    4. Christianity

    5. If all human religions were the same in spite of being invented independently.

    • Posted May 21, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      I especially like point#5. The fact that all the human religions have a different answer to “what is God?’ make “God” less likely.

  21. Posted May 18, 2020 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I applaud your omniscience. (“I knew what was coming.”)


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