Tuesday, May 04, 2010

An example of the e-mails I tend to spend time on...

As I've said on the shows, I spend a great deal of time answering e-mails. Some only take a moment to respond to, others take hours. It's been suggested that I post some of them here so that people can see, learn, laugh or sigh along with me. As I spent over 3 hours on this e-mail last night, I thought I'd go ahead and post it to see if this is something that suits the blog. I probably got a few things wrong...c'est la vie.

It's long (I've only edited it to protect the anonymity of the questioner), so if long posts aren't your cup of tea, move along. My comments are in the boxes.


Thanks for writing me back. Sorry I didn't mention, but I'm a Christian. To be more exact I'm Roman Catholic.

I have a number of Catholics in my family and I've spent some time studying Catholicism, but I was raised Protestant and I'm sure that it will color some of my commentary. What it won't affect, though, are the broad statements about truth, evidence, reason and belief.

I'll be turning 21 in a couple of months. I find the notion of God to be a very interesting topic because God is such a controversial figure.

I find it interesting, not because of the controversy but because of the lack of controversy.

You've started off using the word 'God' without really defining it. Yes, you've stated that you're a Roman Catholic, so I'm reasonably safe in assuming that you hold to many, if not all, of the doctrines of that church...but what I meant by "lack of controversy" is that despite the controversies over the specifics of "God" there's a (largely ignored) lack of controversy on the question of the existence of this ill-defined "God". The majority of people believe that some god exists, despite the seeming inability to agree on what the word even means. It may be the case that the word means something different to nearly everyone - which would mean that no real information is being conveyed by its usage. That's intriguing.

What's more intriguing is that when we actually discuss the reasons people have for accepting this foundational belief, many different reasons are offered and none of the reasons involve a sound argument supported by evidence - which is, I would argue, the only reliable path to truth.

Growing up, I was raised Catholic, I went through most of the Sacraments because I was forced to by my parents. Being in my teens hardly anything made since in my faith. As a teenager I wasn't really a believer, God or no God I didn't care. I do however recall anything associated with Church was boring. Growing up with a lot of my friends in the Church, about half aren't even Catholic anymore, and quite a few don't even believe in God. The number one reason is because none of it made any sense. It was when I was around 18 did I start to take an interest.

It is important to ask questions about God, if God is real then why doesn't he manifest himself to us?

Am I safe in assuming that you agree that your God does not manifest himself? Because later you seem to imply that he does.

If so, then that should be the end of the conversation. That which does not manifest is absolutely indistinguishable from that which does not exist and, therefore, sufficient justification for belief is impossible. This is something that confuses people, though I think it should be instantly recognizable. You reject other god-concepts that don't manifest, don't you? If I told you that there was an alternate universe in which your analog was Emperor of the Earth's analog, yet this reality was utterly separate from ours (did not manifest in our reality in any way) could there ever be any reasonable justification for accepting that claim?

Until something has manifested in reality, there cannot be sufficient evidence for believing that it exists. Indeed, how could one even begin to define it? It is beyond detection or examination.

Who created God? What exactly is God? How does God function? What does an infinite being do with his time?

If you haven't answered your second question, "What exactly is God?" then what justification do you for any of the other questions? If you don't know what it is, you can't assert that it was created, has a function, is infinite, etc.... you're blithely skipping over the most important question in order to ask other questions that are spawned from mere speculation and assertion.

Running a finite universe cannot be the complete work of a infinite being? What is exactly is a spirit? What is the Spirit of God? Why would an all powerful loving God allow evil? Why is the God in the Bible all about sacrifice? Why do I have to die in order to go to heaven and hell? What is heaven and hell? Why would God create the universe? How did God create the universe? Why would God create Man? Why would God become Man? Why would God die for Man?

Can a god die? Did a god die? Did a god ever manifest in any way? You're questioning doctrine, and that's fine...but you have to start questioning the foundations. These questions make sense to you because they're within the framework of the religion you were raised in. Why not ask questions like; Why would there be a cosmic mechanism for justice, like Karma?

You don't ask those questions because you haven't already surrendered your mind to the presuppositions of Buddhism...you've surrendered them to the presuppositions of Roman Catholicism. You haven't completely surrendered, though, or you wouldn't be questioning doctrine.

My point is simple; you think you're asking the right questions, when you're really not. Don't get me wrong, you're asking questions that may eventually lead to the right questions and I applaud you for questioning at all, but you won't get very far until you question the very assumptions these questions are based on:
- What does "god" mean?
- Is there sufficient reason to accept the claim that this "god", once defined, actually exists?

The rest of the questions are distractions. They're questions that you feel safe in asking because your particular church absolutely loves to write it all off as "mystery". (The next time you're at a funeral or mass, keep a running total of how many times the word "mystery" is used.) These questions allow you to feel like you're being intellectually honest, without any great risk of you actually investigating the presuppositions that serve as their foundation.

That's like me dying for a worm. Why would Christ command me to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Why is it that everybody tries to prove Christ in the Scriptures when Christ himself didn't write anything nor did he tell anybody to write anything? Those are extremely tough questions to answer, some may be repulsive, but its questions like these that have helped me.

Going back to the subject of asking the right questions; what reason do we have for thinking Jesus existed at all? I happen to think that it's very likely that there was a real man at the center of these stories, but my point is that there's a grand assumption being made and one that may not be justified.

What does it mean to say "person X" existed? If I say George Washington existed, what am I saying? Am I saying that there was a boy who refuse to lie about cutting down a cherry tree? Of course not. I'm saying that we have as much or more evidence to support the existence of George Washington as we do for many other historical figures. We have independent accounts, records, things reportedly written by him, paintings, accounts of friends and relatives that are all verifiable to differing degrees. The various claims about his life are judged as reliable and likely true or unreliable and unlikely to be true based on how the various reports agree, whether there's any discernible bias, whether something has the hallmark qualities of myth-building and many other criteria.

Eventually, we conclude that there's very good reason to accept that George Washington existed, was the first President of the United States and that he most probably did not refuse to lie about chopping down a cherry tree.

The farther removed we are from an event and the fewer sources we have, the less reliable things become...

Did Socrates really exist, or was he merely an invention of Plato? I have no idea, and it doesn't matter. The words attributed to Socrates are either sound or unsound whether they came from Socrates, Plato or Plato's next door neighbor. The words stand and fall on their own merits. (Note that this is not true in the case of Jesus where the truth of his words is inextricably tied to his existence...)

What about Jesus? We have a few accounts, by anonymous authors, written decades (or more) after the events supposedly occurred. We have no extra-Biblical, contemporary evidence to confirm any event specific to his life. We have, from these four Gospels, reports that either explicitly or implicitly conflict (was he born while Herod reigned or during Quirinius' census?) and we have many outlandish, mythic-hero claims. We have no good reason to think that any of these are eye-witness accounts and even if they were, we have no way to verify their reliability.

If we make a list of claims about this individual and rank their likelihood and credibility, we wind up acknowledging that it's likely that there was a person at the center of these myths...but we can't confirm anything about this individual's life. There's not sufficient evidence to assert that the Jesus character was entirely fabricated but after conceding the possibility that an itinerant rabbi existed, there's really not much else to say.

You could, if you wanted to, interview people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. They'll tell you stories that contain remarkable similarities, they'll seem honest and sincere and there will be many of them that agree. Will you believe their claims? If not, why not? Their claims are far better supported than the ancient writings of anonymous authors and less far-fetched (many of the stories don't actually involve physics-defying miracles). You'll be getting eye-witness testimony, directly from the source - but I'm betting you wouldn't believe and it confuses me as to how one can do that, and then believe ancient, unsupported claims of miracles.

If God doesn't exist then do I really have to live up to morals? Can I just pick and choose the mores I want live by? If God doesn't exist does that give me the "okay" to do evil? Who's to say I'm wrong? Society can, but in the long run I don't have a consequence, but who's to say society is right anyway?

There are consequences, and we both know it. Saying "in the long run" is just a red herring. Your line of reasoning ignores the only consequences that are likely to matter...the ones that happen while we're alive. It does no good to appeal to hypothetical post-life consequences.

If God doesn't exist is murdering an unborn innocent developing human wrong then?

I'd say God's existence is irrelevant to whether or not it's wrong. Does genocide or child rape become morally correct simply because a God declares it so?

The Euthyphro dilemma is an ancient treatment of this subject. An updated take on it might look like this:

Is something moral because a god commands it or does a god command it because it's moral?

If it's the former, then there are no moral absolutes, morality is simply a fiat declaration that can be changed on whim (and the fiat declaration of this god is no more moral than my own declaration - the only difference is one of power; a might-makes-right mentality which has no ties to morality). If it's the latter, then the god is simply a messenger boy and is irrelevant to whether or not an act is moral.

What would happen if the "notion of God" disappeared? Would the world become a better place or would the world become horrifically barbaric? The world is barbaric with the notion of God already, so how much more barbaric could it be without the notion of God? Without God their are no limits of what man can do. People develop prejudices, intolerance's, slander. For all kinds of reasons, "he looked at me funny." If God doesn't exist than its best to live life right now to the fullest in any way that suits you. What are your thoughts on this?

I think you answered it. Without the god concept, we are free. Would the world become a better place? I think it has and I'm optimistic that it'll continue. Secular morality is superior to religious morality in every way except one - religious morality is simple and easy; it is an unthinking, uninvolved system that requires no effort on the part of the participants. Moreover, religious people already recognize and accept this and there are a few ways in which this is obvious. Here's one:

The Bible clearly and explicitly advocates slavery. It gives instructions on who to enslave, how long you can enslave them, how much you can beat them, how much to pay for them. It explicitly advocates owning another human being as property, including passing them on to your offspring. This Old Testament advocation is not reversed in the New Testament, it's supported with specific instructions for servants/slaves to obey even cruel masters.

This is morally repugnant. Even most Christians recognize that this is morally repugnant. It wasn't their religious views that ended slavery in the United States, it was the influence of secular ethics that encouraged softer interpretations of their religious views.

If slavery is immoral, why doesn't the Bible say so? Is god so inept in his communication that he inspired men to get this simple issue exactly backward? If so, how many other things are backward? How many subtle doctrinal points that have divided Jews and Christians are the result of this God's inability to communicate? Why hasn't God cleared this up? If God did inspire the Old and New Testaments, why not inspire a New New Testament correcting the mistakes? Why did it take the influence of secular progressives to change the moral views of Christians?

Is it more likely that this god is inept, or that he simply doesn't exist? Is it more likely that the Bible represents the best thinking of its authors at the times it was written or that it reflects the best thinking of an omniscient moral lawgiver and creator?

How hard would it have been to say "Thou shalt not own another human being as property"? Instead, the Bible specifically states that your slaves are your property and they can be passed on to your descendants.
How hard would it have been to say "Slaves, do not succumb to masters, cruel or otherwise, but throw off the yoke of oppression and be free"? Instead the Bible orders servants to obey their masters, even the cruel ones.

The Bible is simply wrong about slavery. Apologists will attempt to cover for this with a thousand excuses, but the Bible is simply wrong.

Bottom line is either God exist or not, you either see him or don't. But we both can't be right.

You're making a mistake here and I don't want to harp on it too much, but it needs to be clarified.

"Some god exists." That is a claim and those who accept that claim are labeled theists and those who do not accept that claim are atheists.
"No gods exist." That's a different claim. There really isn't a label for those who accept that claim, but anti-theist will probably do.

The point is that rejecting the first claim does not mean you necessarily accept the second claim.

Yes, it is a fact... either some god exists, or no gods exist. Those are the only two possibilities. However, what you BELIEVE about those two possibilities is not limited to simply two options. Rather than going into great detail, I'll recommend that you watch my lecture on belief.

When we die we are either just going to obliterate into nonexistence which sounds nice, or we are going to see ourselves the way God sees us.

Whoa, cowboy! How did you come to the conclusion that those are the only options?

It's worth noting that some Christians believe that non-believers will be annihilated instead of sent to an actual hell - so even within the scope of Christian doctrine your dichotomy fails. But there's no reason to accept the false dichotomy that implies that either your particular take on Roman Catholicism is correct or the anti-theistic view is correct. What about the theological claims of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Zoroastrians? There are many different competing views and they can't all be right...but they can all be wrong.

You're proposing a modified version of Pascal's wager here and it's the last gasping breath of someone who has already admitted defeat.

Which doesn't sound to pleasing, because nobody knows where he or she stands with God that's why we have faith. Unless you "presume I'm Saved" I can say I'm saved all I want but that doesn't mean one iota, that's my opinion. God isn't limited to what a finite creature thinks of him. God can do anything and everything, there are no limits with God.

You seem to be defining this God more specifically, as we go along. Despite your claims of uncertainty, the god you're describing is sounding more and more Roman Catholic. Do you see what you're doing? Do you see how you've skipped past the truly relevant questions and made assumptions that support your presuppositions?

If God allows evil in the world, then God allows evil in the world, if God allows goodness in the world, then he allows it. Only God is good. But he allows it.

By what standard are you determining that God is good? If God is only good by his own standards, then couldn't the Devil be considered good by his own standards? How are you accepting one set of standards over the other?

Either you are judging them by your own standards (in which case you are the author of your own morality) or you're choosing one of them with no regard to any objective standard. As a mere mortal, how can you be sure that you haven't backed the wrong horse? After all, yours supposedly sanctioned slavery and threatens people with hell. Exactly what has the Devil sanctioned?

Please realize, I don't believe in either and I'm not supporting either. We could substitute any two fictional rivals and the questions are still valid.

You can say "what is the problem with righteousness in the world?" People typically don't question beliefs that are comfortable to them. If God doesn't exist then what is there to atheate?

First of all, atheate isn't a word...and while I initially thought I liked it, I really don't. It represents a flawed perspective that I partially outlined in my comments about belief. Despite that, let's look at what you wrote next:

Nobody atheates unicorns cause nobody believes their real. If God wasn't real their would be no believers.

You've committed a rather obvious logical fallacy here which would invalidate any syllogism you attempted to construct. I'm not even sure I can put those two sentences in a syllogism in order to clearly show the error.

First of all, if no one believes unicorns are real then everyone 'atheates' unicorns. Because the only way that your non-word means anything is if it means "rejects claims of the existence of". So your first sentence is absolutely backward - everyone atheates unicorns (provided we ignore the views of children, for the sake of argument).
The real problem, though, is in your second sentence, "If God wasn't real there would be no believers." Rather than constructing a syllogism, let me just retype that sentence replacing one word...hopefully you'll begin to understand how horribly flawed that sentence is:

"If Allah wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Brahma wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Karma wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Homeopathy wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If Astrology wasn't real there would be no believers."
"If alien abductions weren't real there would be no believers."
"If bigfoot wasn't real there would be no believers."

You're trying to claim that the existence of atheists somehow confirms the existence of god and you tried so hard to do it that you made up a new word, got the usage of that word completely backward in the first sentence and then wrote a second sentence that is so invalid that I'm pretty sure you'll be a little embarrassed. You should be, but don't beat yourself up over it. We've all made stupid mistakes like that...it's learning from the mistakes that matters.

Nobody typically submits themselves to something that they know doesn't exist.

This is the "no one would knowingly die for a lie" claim that we dealt with over the summer. First of all, it's not true. People have knowingly died for a lie when they thought they were protecting others or serving a greater good. Second of all, it's irrelevant because we need not claim that martyrs died for something they knew to be untrue. We need only note that whether or not they believed sincerely is irrelevant to whether or not the claim IS true.

There have been many martyrs for many religions. I'd reckon that the overwhelming majority of them sincerely believed that they were dying for the truth. I'd also point out that you and I would agree, I presume, that all non-Christian martyrs died for something that we do not believe to be true which means that we agree that people do die for things that aren't true, they just may not realize that they aren't true.

The sincerity of one's convictions has no bearing on the truth of those beliefs.

If God wants to manifest himself into bread, so be it, whether I understand or not. If God wanted to make me non existent he could. You start putting limits and boundaries on a being with no limits or boundaries you set yourself up for doom. You can't force God to be on your own your own time at your convenience, he plays by his own rules whether we agree with those rules or not, that's besides the point. If God wanted evolution to exist, then so be it. If God made the natural ;aws of order for people to discover so be it. If God allowed man to figure out E=MC2, So be it.

And if those things are true irrespective of a god, so be it.

Every man and woman desires to be independent from God, the only problem is everybody is dependent on him, I exist because he allows me to exist whether I acknowledge him or not.

Please demonstrate that God allows you to exist.

God doesn't force anybody to believe in him, but he does ask for us to believe and that we follow his commandments,

Please demonstrate that God has ever asked us anything or ever provided us with any commands to follow.

God is the one trying to save our butt he wants us to believe in him,

What is God saving us from or to? Why is belief relevant? Is God powerless to act without our belief?

only God can save us from what we think we want,

Why do we need to be saved from what we think we want? Isn't what we think we want simply what we want? Do I want something and think I want something else? How do you know?

but God knows the outcome and warns us, "that's not what you want, I know you better than you know yourself."

I've never received this warning. How is it delivered? Wouldn't that count as a manifestation?

I don't believe in God to save my butt from hell. I believe in God because I love God

What an absurd statement, "I believe in God because I love God". I love time travel, but that doesn't make it real or believable. If I said "I believe in time travel because I love time travel", I'd be laughed off the air...and deservedly so.

The time to believe something is after you have an understanding of it and after it's been reasonably demonstrated to be true.

It seems that you care more for comfort than truth. It's called a 'comforting delusion'.

we can never attain maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God.

OK, now you're just tossing out nonsensical preaching terms. You started off well; asking questions, considering possibilities and now you're just trying to say things that sound deep when they're really not.

I love my parents even though they grounded me, and spanked me but they also raised me and took care of me. You come to love your parents more by realizing how much they have sacrificed on their behalf for you.

You come to love/admire/respect/hate people by knowing them and seeing qualities that you consider worthy of love/admiration/respect/hatred. You can love/hate real or fictional characters...but how you feel about them has no effect on whether or not they exist.

The god character in the Bible is not worthy of respect or admiration. Whenever someone explains why they love or revere god, it's never that Biblical character it's the fictional character they've invented in their own mind that is only loosely modeled upon that Biblical character.

Even if they were ruthless people they still gave you life, not to many unborn babies can make that claim.

Yes, I understand that you're opposed to abortion and it's obviously a major issue for you, as you keep hinting at it. Just for your own education, there are atheists who oppose abortion.

However, here we simply disagree. If you were raised by ruthless people, I don't think you should love them simply because they didn't abort you. That's the type of thing battered housewives - and religionists - say and it just drives me nuts. Saying someone is worthy of love simply because they didn't kill you is moronic.

And, I'll also point out that "not [too] many unborn babies can make that claim" is silly. No unborn baby can make that (or any) claim. It does, however apply to all of them.

God didn't make us to die, he made us to live, just like our parents.

First you need to demonstrate that God made us. Only then you can begin to demonstrate that he didn't make us to die.

But since God knew man would sin and therefore die, he had already conquered sin and death, before anything came into being.

Now you're just starting to get boring. I don't mean that to be rude, but it's the truth. Instead of a discussion, you've simply moved on to a sermon...and one that is not only uninformative, it's not even Biblically accurate. He couldn't have conquered sin and death before anything came into being, because sin hadn't come into being yet, from both a philosophical and a theological perspective.

Just like how my parents planned a head before I came into being. Not a moment has passed with God. Their is no past or future with God, everything is in the now with him. God lives in an eternal moment. God doesn't jump in and out of eternity but he does come into time.

More rambling definitions about what God is, just moments after asking all sorts of questions that implied that you didn't know what God is. Can you demonstrate that any of this is true? If you can, why didn't you do that instead of simply preaching it? If you can't, then why do you believe it?

We have no concept of eternity, because we have never existed for all eternity,

More bad arguments. "We have no concept of 2000 years because we have never existed for 2000 years." See the flaw yet? What you mean is that we cannot accurately conceptualize infinities. Despite that, we can have some understanding of it.

That aside, the point is still irrelevant - because you're still just preaching rather than demonstrating. How does our ability to accurately conceptualize eternity have any bearing on claims of the existence of gods?

we have no clue what that looks like because were not in eternity were stuck in time, our senses have never came across it. Because we don't know what the human mind looks like that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The same with God, although we cannot see God, we see a natural order of laws, which can presume us to believer there is something out there. If there was no natural order of laws everything would be chaotic and about a 100% chance nothing would exist.

There are mathematicians out there that will find that sentence very amusing.

What you just said was that if there was no order, there would be chaos. Yes, that's true. It's called a tautology. How is it relevant? You think it's relevant because you think there can't be order without a god...that's an argument from ignorance until you actually present the argument and evidence that demonstrates that it's actually true.

I'm not against Science or Reason, I just happen to incorporate science and reason with faith.

Then you don't understand science or reason...or faith. Faith is the excuse people give when they don't have a good reason. Science is the method by which we discover good reasons. What you're doing is accepting some science and reason, as long as it doesn't make you too uncomfortable and as long as you can still find a way to shoehorn your irrational god beliefs into the gaps in our understanding.

While that's not anti-science in the sense of being opposed to scientific inquiry, it is anti-science in the sense of retarding progress and polluting scientific inquiry with the unnecessary baggage of irrational beliefs.

Science, when properly performed, holds nothing sacred. Where exactly does the sacred fit into that paradigm?

Truth is truth and nothing can alter truth, my opinions don't mean one iota. I just believe people have misunderstandings. Their seems to be a lot of ambiguity with God. I also believe people develop their own personal agendas. I look at the universe and see how small we are in the large scheme of things you almost have to wonder if we exist, does God even see us so to speak? The universe is deep and full of mystery beyond limits but to God the universe is a simple structure.

How do you know? You're all over the map... 'God isn't understood, people misunderstand, but I'm sure that God exists and that the universe is a simple structure to him.' It's absolutely ridiculous that you can hold such contradictory views in your head.

I don't believe in just "freak" accidents, a building doesn't just one day appear. The universe didn't just one day appear in eternity,

How do you know? I thought you said you weren't anti-science...the big bang happened, it's been confirmed by science. Are you rejecting it, or are you just saying that it couldn't have happened without a god? If it's the latter, how do you know? What justification do you have for making such an assertion? Have you studied other universes and other possible universes and come to this conclusion because the evidence lead you there...or did you start with the belief that God exists and find a way to plug it into the equation...or did you simply give up and decide that because you can't figure out how it could have happened without a god, that it must require a god?

because the universe is made up of finite material.

Says who? If you mean a finite quantity, you're correct. If you mean finite in a temporal sense (and I'm sure you do, based on comments you'll make in a moment), then there's no reason to think you're correct.

Finite materials cannot give being to infinite structures. Its one thing to believe God was born of a virgin, but its another to believe, all existence came about by just simply coming about.

Yes, one of them is supported by science and the other isn't. Unfortunately for you, it's virgin births in humans that aren't scientifically supported.

Talk about the virgin births of all virgin births that we just came about by a "freak accident" nothing comes about by just a "freak accident"

Nothing? There's never been a freak accident? There's never been an astronomically unlikely occurrence?

Are you just exaggerating for effect or you on your way to collect a Nobel prize?

the universe isn't a "freak accident" because there is a such a thing called natural laws.

Clearly you're not in line for a Nobel prize. Those laws are part of the universe. They would, then, be part of the "freak accident" that you say didn't happen. You can't use them as an argument against the accident...they're the very thing you're trying to explain.

If it were a "freak accident" there would be no laws or the laws would be constantly changing at a rapid pace faster than the speed of light.

OK, now you're just making shit up. The first clue was the very unscientific term "freak accident" being used 5 times in rapid succession. The second clue was when you started making grand assertions about what can or can't happen - questions that some of the greatest minds are still working on.

You've gone from questioner to zealot rather quickly and I wonder how your God would look upon those who pretend to know stuff that they really don't know.

But the earth sits on an axis of 23 1/2 degrees if it were off by a degree all life would become extinct.

Life, as you know it, would not exist...but you're beginning with the assumption that we were the goal. You need to read up on quite a few subjects...beginning with the anthropic principle, and then I'd focus on evolution.

What you're doing is looking at a hand of cards and saying "If the deck had been shuffled just one card heavier, I wouldn't have these cards." Correct...but so what? In that analogy you'd have different cards. In your example, you cannot say what would happen. Maybe there would be no life. Maybe there would be different life. Maybe that different life would be sending messages to another different life form claiming that if the angle wasn't 21.75 degrees, all life would become extinct.

If the universe was always here then what is causing the universe to change?

If the answer is "we don't know", then the answer is "we don't know". It doesn't mean you get to make stuff up or claim that our lack of knowledge means that some god must be involved.

Why is the universe at an incredible speed expanding? Planets don't make the universe go. Stars and just random spontaneous molecular motions don't cause the universe to just go.

You've asked a question and then made two silly observations...do you think you accomplished something there? If your conclusion is, as I'm sure it is, that God is the answer: that's an argument from ignorance. Here's an example of what you're doing:

You asked a legitimate scientific question and then basically said "well, peanut butter isn't the answer and neither is a coin toss...so I'm gonna say God is the answer". 2+2 doesn't equal 13, so does that mean it equals "God"?

Would anybody really believe that I existed from all eternity? No that's nonsense.

Agreed. Especially since we have a rough estimate of when you started to exist (hint: it's probably listed on your driver's license).

I'm a structure, I am a mini universe inside myself, I have organs and physical features, and you can break those down into even smaller components with cells, the Gobi apparatus, the ribosomes, the nucleus, break that down even smaller to an atom. Do protons and neutrons and electrons if they had a mind of their own say "whatever we are in has that always been there?" Cells come and go, but I still exist, but I didn't always exist, something higher brought me into being, that I had the potential to become.

You are the result of millions of years of evolution, which was the result of billions of years of stars converting elements into new elements and spewing them out in explosions.

I will soon come to an end just as the universe will come to an end because its made up of finite material.

You don't know that the universe will end, and there's good reason to think that it won't. It's called the First Law of Thermodynamics. The universe will suffer heat death (via the 2nd law), but all indications support the idea that the matter will exist, forever.

This, though, is entirely irrelevant to any of your points. You still haven't bothered to address the question of the existence of gods...and despite skipping over that unknown, you've somehow settled on not only a particular category of god but a very specific doctrinal view of a god...and you've done it all without any justification.

Just as we cannot give ourselves being, abiotic or biotic, there is always a being that gives us being.

My parents.

Right now the earths being gives existence to all life form, the second the earth doesn't exist then we don't.

Unless we figure out how to survive away from the Earth and leave it, you're correct (though we'll more likely cease to exist long before the Earth does...it takes a lot more to destroy a planet than a species).

If the universe was an infinite structure then we would all be of infinite structure

That may be the dumbest thing you've said. Not only are you using 'infinite' as an actual quantity, but you're also conflating infinities.

You cannot distribute qualities to subcategories. It's like saying "If mankind is made up of men and women then I am made up of men and women"...

This is the problem with theistic discussions. People don't have a good idea of what they believe or why and instead of actually considering evidence and reasoned argument, they attempt to defend it at all costs. It results in muddled thinking and tons of logical fallacies.

Everything finite thing runs its course, the universe too will run its coarse as well which could be in another kazillion years x a kazillion years. We know what a finite structure looks like, take a human but what does an infinite structure look like? Nobody has a clue.

It'd look like everything. :)

Even if the universe was an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past then everything finite in structure could be made actually and would exist even though their cause or previous parent might not exist. But even this from a logical standpoint you can determine thats not true, then that would mean once I come into being I don't need anything else to give me being, nothing could ever be a contingential being,

OK, I'm glad we're almost to the end because I couldn't take much more of this. Contingential isn't a word. I'm not saying that just to pick on insignificant spelling and grammar errors; there are plenty that I ignored and I'm sure I've also made some. I point it out because you've clearly done quite a bit of reading and only partly understood what you've read and now you're trying to use words that you don't have a proper grasp of. This usually means one of two things... either you're trying to sound smarter than you are because you know you're not completely comprehending or you're doing it because you honestly have no grasp of how much you have no grasp of.

You don't have to do that. You don't have to write me a lengthy dissertation made up of fake words and half-understood concepts. We can just talk.

The problem here is that you're doing it while making one unsupported claim after another, all in defense of your beliefs when none of them actually succeed at defending your beliefs.

it would all have to be by mere chance, but who knows how many outside factors give me my being even outside my original cause. If they don't exist then neither do I. Imagine an infinite amount of beings coming into being, if that were possible we are simply expanding the set of beings met from within the imagined set. But it has been met, since contingent beings has been met. There is some soure of being on which our material unvierse right now depends.

What are your reasons for not believing?

I don't believe because I have not been presented with a logically sound argument or sufficient evidence to justify the claim. Additionally, I haven't been presented with any argument or evidence that would make me think that there's any value in proposing supernatural answers to questions, and a rock solid argument that demonstrates the opposite:

Supernatural appeals are not explanations. They have no explanatory power. You gain nothing by pretending that you solved a mystery by appealing to another mystery. You have, in fact, lost the opportunity to find the truth.

I don't believe because no supernatural claim has ever withstood the rigors of scientific investigation. The truth has nothing to fear from inquiry...inquiry is the light that leads to truth. It is far more honorable to admit that you don't know than to pretend that you do.

I don't believe because the various god claims are absurd, in the highest order. They don't pass the "sniff" test. For that, I'll give you one single example that pertains to your religion (though I think I've already given an example in questioning why your God never corrected his books take on slavery)...

Imagine you're in a foreign country with your pregnant friend. You don't speak the language and she goes into labor. You're standing on the sidewalk pleading for help, but no one understands or cares. In desperation, you drop to your knees and pray to God for help. When you finish, a ball of light appears before you, you have an intense feeling of calmness and it starts leading you to a car. You get in the car, find the keys in the ignition and pull out into traffic. The ball of light leads you down the road and every car pulls off to side, allowing you to safely travel at incredible speed. It leads you to the hospital and your friend delivers her baby.

Is there anything that could EVER happen that could possibly make you worship another god?

Most people would say "no". I'd argue that the answer could be "yes" but it would have to be exceptional circumstances, like the baby dying or some other god doing something even nicer...but generally, the answer would be "no".

Yet your Bible tells the story of huge nation of slaves that watched a sea part, so they could walk across dry land. They were lead by a pillar of light at night and a pillar of cloud by day and they were fed manna from the heavens. And yet, when Moses had left them for 40 days, these people - led by Moses' brother - decided to just up and start worshiping another god...because the old god wasn't working out.

That's absurd. I don't believe for one second that it happened. What it tells us is that these people were in the habit of worshiping whatever god suited their fancy and that they didn't actually witness those miracles, because there's no way they'd have thrown in the towel after 40 days...especially the brother of the leader.

But keep reading. What happens? These people are punished - except for Aaron, Moses' brother. He gets to be God's head priest.

Does that remotely make sense? Is that remotely the act of a wise and just god? The guy who led people astray gets to be the top dog? Isn't it more likely that Moses simply hooked his brother up?

It doesn't pass the sniff test. It's bullshit, start to finish. It's the poorly thought out revisionist history of a roving band of people who wanted to feel more important than they were.

That's just one of many reasons that I reject Christianity and there are similar examples in other religions...but the big reason is this:

No religion has successfully met the burden of proof.


  1. Great post. I really enjoyed reading his logic and then your deconstruction of his fallacies. I hope he actually reads what you wrote as opposed to just ignoring it and really think about it!


  2. "What you just said was that if there was no order, there would be chaos."

    A tongue in cheek paradox refuting this was a plot point in an online comic. The argument was that a universe entirely of chaos (entropy) would be uniformly chaotic and thus have an order. That chaos can only exist with random variances of order. If everything was at an order level of 0 that's not chaotic it's incredibly uniform.

    potentially bullshit, but amusing enough to bring up and it reminded me of Singer's explanation on how "nothing" is unstable.

  3. Thanks for sharing that. I was amazed at how the author of the correspondence originally came across as open-minded and inquisitive (even if they weren't always asking the right questions), then doing a complete 180 and writing an "e-sermon", then going into the realm of the absolutely absurd and illogical. Are you sure that wasn't an e-mail written by three different people? Maybe the author has dissociative identity disorder? >_<

  4. As someone who loves the "We get e-mail" posts, thank you for this. Unfortunately I only made it half-way through before becoming too frustrated with the usual insipd Christian catchphrases repeated again and again. I'll finish reading the rest later.

    You were dead on to point out how he keeps avoiding the existence question... only to make bland statements about God. The sheer brazenness of that approach is surprising - since Christians would be astonished if they were expected to seriously contemplate deep questions about Loki, without first having his existence proven.

    "only God can save us from what we think we want,"

    I can just imagine him turning his face from you as he says that; staring soulfully into middle distance.

  5. Nice. I think the blog could benefit from periodic postings like this that have excerpts of email conversations, with the author's permission or anonymity of course.

    Might help fill in the gaps and keep the blog from going an entire week without being updated too ;)

  6. I like this. I would love to see more. Thanks for posting this, Matt

  7. Wow, I made it about halfway through. The author dives into lala land fairly quickly. I'll regain my strength and try to pick up where I left off.

  8. I felt like we were on a roller coaster of logical fallacy after logical fallacy of this guy. I'm glad you took the time to read his post and hopefully, your replies can help get his critical thinking skills going.

  9. Excellent post! It takes a lot of work and patience to do what you did here, but it is the only way to move the conversation forward. At every step you clearly explain your disagreement and the logical fallacies of his arguments. I think a lot of people would gain a great deal by reading this. Thanks!

  10. I haven't finished reading), but so far it's a great post and it is fascinating, especially as I am a former Catholic who used to be spoon fed intellectual junk food like this one.

  11. Thanks Matt for an interesting post. I assume this was a single opus from this believer that you deconstructed. I would be interested if there were to be any followup response to your deconstruction. I would expect just more unsupported assertions. The piling on of assertions seems to be what passes for considered argument among believers.

  12. Speaking as a mathematician I must point out that we CAN describe and comprehend "infinite structures"! See Wikipedia's article on cardinality.

    That was a really excellent discussion. It's an excellent illustration of the point that one can behave in a perfectly respectful way toward a person while showing no respect to that person's beliefs.

  13. "
    "only God can save us from what we think we want,"

    The problem is that theists don't think back far enough. If god is perfect and created everything, then everything is his responsibility and fault. Unnecessary suffering and evil in general is his fault for choosing not to make a better reality. By making humanity what it is, even if we have desires that are self destructive that he feels he has to protect us from...those desires are still his fault. Putting a warning sticker on a product doesn't excuse a manufacturer for criminally poor performance. Hell, if the number of people injured by Prius design flaws are enough to warrant a recall than the harm done by errant human free will MORE than qualifies as a clusterfuck failure of engineering.

  14. I love these. I worry (well, I'm not REALLY worried), though, that it's too well-written for this person to understand. As you mentioned s/he seems to not quite understand a lot of what s/he's read and I doubt it'll be much different reading this response. You've used a few $10 words! ;-) haha

    Unfortunately, I often think this might be the case. Not to say all theists are idiots, but the ones that prattle on with nonsense catchphrases and made-up words definitely don't seem to be the SMARTEST of the bunch...

  15. Reading this I can't help but wonder whether the author wrote the first half of the letter Saturday afternoon and the second half on Sunday after a sermon. It could almost be a different person at times.

  16. The last long paragraph Matt quoted (just above "What are your reasons for not believing?") is one of the most incomprehensible things I've ever seen. I'd almost say that it is indicative of psychosis.

    It would be interesting place that paragraph in front of a group of people to ask, "What was the author trying to demonstrate here?"

    RC Cola came out of my nose when the person said "Gobi apparatus". I'm sure that "Golgi apparatus" was meant, or maybe it was supposed to be dry humor.

  17. I think the most bogus thing about the Mosses story is that only Mosses talked to "God" and saw him make the tablets while everyone else just saw lightening effects up in the mountian... makes me think that Mosses found something up in the mountian.. lol

  18. Catholic: I don't believe in God to save my butt from hell. I believe in God because I love God

    Matt: What an absurd statement, "I believe in God because I love God". I love time travel, but that doesn't make it real or believable. If I said "I believe in time travel because I love time travel", I'd be laughed off the air...and deservedly so.

    Beyond being absurd isnt this also the equivocation fallacy?

    "I believe in X" can mean
    1) I am convinced to some degree that X exists.
    2) I support/trust/root for X.
    (hereinafter believe1 and believe2)

    This is a great example for what happens in so many atheist/theist dialogues.

    atheist: Why do you believe1 in God?
    theist: Well I believe2 in God because I love him.

    What interests me at this point is:
    Are they genuinely unaware that belief1 is not belief2? Or do they think that our disbelief1 is actually disbelief2?

  19. I agree that the e-mail appears to be written by three different people. There is definitely a transition from general inquiry to full-out conjecture and transcendent thought. My theory is that the author started smoking something as he began the e-mail, then was under its major effects towards the middle, and then it wore off towards the end. Notice how the grammar, spelling, and punctuation practically disappear and the sentences become smaller and simpler in the middle. I think it's a fair explanation and makes its reading much more amusing.

  20. I love reading emails like this. While they get repetitive, since these people all tend to appeal to the same fallacies, that helps me keep in practice with recognizing and refuting them. I've learned a lot from Matt D. in terms of counterapologetics.

    A couple points though:

    The term that is most typically used for someone who accepts the claim "No gods exist" seems to be "strong atheist" (I don't like the term, since it implies that people who don't actively accept the negative claim are "weak" atheists, but I didn't create it).

    I think of "Anti-theist" more as someone who takes the stance that religion/theism is a negative human trait and should be eliminated.

    I myself am both, though I know that "No god exists" is a claim that shifts the burden of proof and so I never argue from that position, but only from the position that theistic claims have not themselves met an acceptable burden of proof. Likewise I want to see religion eliminated but I would oppose any attempt to do so via laws or other forms of oppression.

    Next time you get the false dichotomy of Pascal's Wager coming at you, consider sending the wager-er to the "QualiaTrees" video Betting on Infinity. It might save you some emailing time.

    Last thing, just a personal thing, I'm more used to seeing quotations in the boxes and responses outside of them, the reverse of how you've done it here. It's just a brain-training thing but seeing it the other way kept confusing me at a glance.

  21. That was entertaining. You guys should start a blog with just emails and their responses. You're typing them out anyway, right?


  22. JJ,

    The smart theists are far more depressing.

    In college, on the way out from faith, I had any number of interventions (as it were) from believers who were sharp as tacks.

    I have come to the (provisional) stance that theism is, even with the best minds at work on it, untenable for lack of evidence.

    As such those who advocate it are arguing for something they WISH to be true rather than something they KNOW to be so.

    This is why religious apologia are so uniformly poor. They start with the conclusion ("God" does / must / should exist) and work their way backwards, reaching for anything to hand for support.

    Richard Carrier touches on this here...


    when he talks about how random and haphazard apologetics has become.

  23. "The smart theists are far more depressing.

    In college, on the way out from faith, I had any number of interventions (as it were) from believers who were sharp as tacks. "

    My tongue-in-cheek motto on this is "I'm fine with Theists as long as they act like Atheists"

  24. As one who considers religions too silly for words I would say the original article contains a superabundance of words.
    And will the indoctrinated read, reason and absorb? I have my doubts. The expression "pissing in the wind " springs to mind.
    However, with regard to the notion of the anthropic principle. the question of the "Wow" numbers is not so easily dismissed.
    My book "Unusual Perspectives" deals with this largely within the context of a special version of teleology which is fully compatible with, and complementary to, the accepted mechanistic descriptions of both biological and non-biological evolutionary processes.
    To summarize my approach:
    The evolution of species is certainly not a random process.
    It is driven by random events which produce mutations.
    Most importantly these mutations are then filtered by the prevailing environment.
    This is the process of natural selection which gives the development of life its direction. Which, in a limited sense, can be equated to "purpose"
    In Palin's example of the watch, both theists and atheists fall into exactly the same trap of anthropocentrism whereby any phenomenon that exhibits what can be called "design" or "purpose" must involve a reflection of our own particular mental processes.
    As discussed further in chapter 10 of "Unusual Perspectives", this is a logical error of the "package deal" variety. Both the watch and the eye can be considered to have design or purpose within this model.
    In actuality, watches have evolved! Albeit by a non-genetic mechanism.
    They are products of nature and we merely the vehicles for their evolutionary progress.(Very recently, Wasserman & Blumberg have independently expressed similar conclusions. These are developed in their article "Designing Minds", which is largely inspired by the many examples noted by Henry Petroski)
    There is absolutely no need to invoke a "designer". Or for that matter a "creator" of what is quite conceivably a continuous automatic process.
    Neither is a moment of creation or a final goal implied.

    In chapter 11 of "Unusual Perspectives"this kind of analysis is extended "downstream" to provide, within the context of the unique properties and timely abundances of the chemical elements, very compelling evidence of further "fine tuning" that not only allows, but essentially makes inevitable, the observed exponential development of technology for which our particular species has been the vehicle.
    A number of ways to account for this indisputable "fine tuning" have been proposed.
    1. Creationists have seized upon the evidence to support the idea of a deity or "higher intelligence". Adding any kind of "higher intelligence", of course, makes for a very extravagant hypothesis. But it is not disprovable.
    2. The existence of a multiplicity of universes, perhaps infinite, each with a different set of physical properties. Again, it cannot be disproved but is even more extravagant.
    3. The "anthropic cosmological principle", the non-superstitious version of which seems to boil down to "we're here, because we're here, because we're here...
    This self-selection interpretation roughly corresponds to the Douglas Adams tongue in cheek "puddle parable".
    It is tautologous.
    4. The Everett "many worlds" model, inspired by the "Schrodinger's cat" kind of dilemma that arises from quantum mechanics. With the multiplicity of parallel universes, again, very extravagant.
    5. Stephen Hawking's "sum over histories" approach, an interesting , if questionable, extension of the interpretation of QM developed by Richard Feynman.
    6. A far more economical and empirical model, derived from consideration of the gross evolutionary patterns that we observe in biology and, more recently, technology, is presented in "Unusual Perspectives" the electronic edition of which is available for free download from the eponymous website.

  26. This is what I was thinking part of the post...hear me out and correct me if I'm wrong: On the whole, "wouldn't die for a lie" issue: Didn't Jesus die for a lie? He was charged with blasphemy and trying to encourage an uprising (claiming to be king of the Jews). Wouldn't god incarnate be incapable of blasphemy? Therefore he was put to death for reasons he knew to be untrue.

    And, in a much cornier sense, if Jesus died for sins, and lies are sins, didn't Jesus die for many lies?

  27. CT,

    The believers' answer is that the charges against Jesus came from corrupt, illegitimate and unjust sources.

    Much like Fred Phelps calling you a "godless homo pervert" or some such - it's a badge of honor.

    Jesus was "blaspheming," sure, but against a false god (Caesar) in favor of the true one.

    As for preaching insurrection... Jesus made it plain the entire world was going to be magically transformed very soon, making human government a moot point.

  28. "Jesus was "blaspheming," sure, but against a false god (Caesar) in favor of the true one."

    I think his hissy fit at the temple and backhanding jewish tradition had a lot to do with it too...and supposedly that god was a true god.

  29. I get the impression that at least the latter half was written by a high schooler. The whole bit on the "little universe" inside him, with the "Gobi apparatus" screams "9th grade biology class C-student" to me. He/She's apparently grasping at straws to sound intelligent, and reaching for half-remembered complicated terms from first semester.

  30. Really nice post. I was pretty surprised by some of the stuff the guy was saying in the beginning. But, as most people said, he dove off the deep end into every possible justification he could think of to save his faith.

    Thanks for the effort.


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