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Atheism, Evidence, and the “God-of-the-Gaps”

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Filed under Atheism

Mind the Gap

Many atheists say that all arguments for the existence of God are just fallacious “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning. They claim that any evidence offered for the existence of God, such as the beginning, contingency, and fine-tuning of the universe, are nothing more than appeals to ignorance. These arguments are supposedly on par with primitive explanations of natural events (such as lightning) that erroneously included God as a direct cause. Modern arguments for theism are likewise lampooned as primitive “God did it” explanations that will be usurped by modern science.

The problem with the "God-of-the-gaps" objection is that it can have unintended consequences for atheism. Specifically, it makes atheism impossible to falsify, in the same way that most religious beliefs cannot be falsified. Rather than rely on science, "God-of-the-gaps" pushes atheism far away from being a scientific belief.

Why is that the case?

A claim is falsifiable if evidence can be presented that can disprove it (Karl Popper argued that this was a necessary condition for a claim to be scientific). For example, evolutionary theory could be falsified by the discovery of modern animals that were fossilized in ancient rock layers, or what J.B.S. Haldane called “a Precambrian rabbit.” Likewise, the discovery of manuscript P52 of the Gospel of John, which is dated to the early second century, falsified the theory that the Gospel of John was not written until the year 150 A.D. or even later.

So, can atheism be falsified? An atheist might say, “Of course atheism can be falsified—just prove that God exists!”

But how exactly is the theist supposed to do this? Usually atheists demand some kind of over-the-top display of power to confirm God's existence. The late N.R. Hanson gave one such piece of evidence that would convince him:
 

Suppose...that on next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear-shattering thunderclap...the heavens open—the clouds pull apart—revealing an unbelievably immense and Zeus-like figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests. He frowns darkly as lightning plays across the features of his Michaelangeloid face. He then points down—at me!—and exclaims, for every man, woman and child to hear "I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and word-watching in matters of theology. Be assured, N.R. Hanson, that I do most certainly exist. (N.R. Hanson. What I Do Not Believe and Other Essays. Springer, 1971)

 
If God did this, then surely we would know he existed, right? Well, why wouldn’t this kind of evidence also be subject to the “God-of-the-gaps” objection? Just because we don’t know how a giant man can appear in the sky doesn’t mean there is no natural explanation for him. Maybe aliens or time-travelers are at work, deceiving us?

Even “low-key” evidence is vulnerable to the “God-of-the-gaps” objection. Some atheists say that if Christian preachers could heal amputated limbs, that would convince them God existed. But once again, aren’t we just taking a gap in our knowledge (“I don’t know how these limbs are being healed”) and filling it with, “Therefore, God did it?”

Atheists have two options. First, they could admit that no amount of evidence could satisfy the “God-of-the gaps-objection” and show God exists. This would leave atheism behind the safe veil of protection that cloaks other unfalsifiable beliefs, such as the belief the entire world is a computer simulation.

If atheists say that atheism does not claim "There is no God," only that some people lack a belief in God, then atheism can't be true at all. A belief can only be true (in a non-trivial sense) when it makes a claim about the world and not just about someone's state of mind. Saying "I lack a belief in God" no more informs us about reality than saying "I lack a belief in aliens" informs us about the facts related to extraterrestrial life.

If these options proved unsatisfactory, atheists could instead put forward strict standards of what kind of evidence would falsify atheism and prove God exists. Although, if those standards included extremely improbable events or something coming from nothing (such as perfect prophecy or healing an amputee) then the traditional arguments for God come back into play, since they include similar phenomena about the universe (such as cosmic fine-tuning and the origin of the universe in the finite past) in order to show God exists.

Rather than argue from what we don’t know (or “God-of-the-gaps”), good arguments for theism take what we do know and show how it logically leads to the transcendent creator of the universe.
 
 
Originally posted at Catholic.com. Used with author's permission.  
(Image credit: Reasons.org)

Trent Horn

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Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Mark Hunter

    Theists have an advantage over atheists in the shortcomings of science. Science constantly says what it doesn't know, what it needs to investigate and what theories haven't been supported with evidence. Theism offers certainty, no change, absolute truth, And where science offers no explanation, yet, theists jump in to claim a need for a God.

    The same thing occurred in the years BC, Before Charles (Darwin). Science could offer no explanation for the multitude number of species and their diversity. It's why many Enlightenment thinkers were deists,not atheists. Now we know that reason, and many more but not all. But while religions never change their teachings they change their reasons and point to new areas where science can't explain things, yet. But at no point in this process does science proving what previously could only be explained by God cause the religionists to change their position, only to move further out on the cutting edge of science. At least you're keeping the scientists company.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Thanks Mark, for the "only to move further out." I usually phrase it as retreat and retrenchment. We have backed them all the way to the early moments of the Universe, but that does not seem to mean much to them.

      • Benjamin O’Donnell

        Well, we've backed some of them all the way into the numinous nullity of God as "the ground of all being", which as Sidney Hooke noted, is really just atheism pretending to be theism...

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          Indeed. Now, does "the ground of all being" want condoms in Africa, or not?

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            To be fair, I'm not sure the "ground of all being" is Catholic orthodoxy.

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            Benjamin - I've heard Paul Tillich, who popularized the notion of God as "ground of Being," was often charged with an atheistic slant (I haven't read him so I can't say), but I don't see how that notion is secretly post-Christian, or something the faithful have been "backed into," rather than an offshoot of the development of doctrine and the flowering of tradition. It might seem like a "numinous nullity" for those who resort to thumping their hands on (or thumbing their noses at) the Bible; but Tillich drew from Aquinas' "ipsum esse," rooted in Augustine, rooted in the "I Am Who Am" of Judaism. Fr. Robert Barron, who contributes here at SN, wrote his thesis on Tillich and Aquinas; and one look at the "Catholicism" series shows that there's nothing "pretend" about his theism. Also, the Catechism (#34), which emphasizes man's participation in "Being itself," seems to confirm the continued orthodoxy of this understanding of God. Peace!

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            The problem with "ground of all being" theology is that it doesn't actually mean anything. It all begins to seem like a dodge, where the idea of God becomes more and more hazy and non-specific - almost as if theologians are trying to make God the smallest target possible in the hopes he won't be further shrunk by the advance of science...

            But even more important is the epistemic basis of this woolly theology: How do you know there is a God and how do you know he's the ground of all being? How do you know "being" needs a "ground" at all?

          • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

            It all begins to seem like a dodge, where the idea of God becomes more and more hazy and non-specific - almost as if theologians are trying to make God the smallest target possible in the hopes he won't be further shrunk by the advance of science...

            Hey Benjamin - Again, philosophers and theologians have long used this language tying God to "ipsum esse" or "being itself," from Aquinas and medieval Jewish & Islamic thinkers (12th/13th century - drawing from Aristotle), down to Augustine (4th century - drawing from Plato), down to the "ehyeh asher ehyeh" of Exodus. We can argue about whether it's a true or even a sound definition; but this understanding of God is simply not a 21st century (or even 16th century) novelty in reaction to modern science. The "God of Being" is what E. Gilson calls "the cornerstone of Christian philosophy." Our understanding has grown in stature and complexity, as we'd expect - but the difference is in degree, not kind. Peace!

          • TheodoreSeeber

            How can the idea of the natural being a subset of the supernatural make God small? The "ground of all being and animator of all that exists" theology makes God very large indeed- and gives science the ground of being based on a *rational*, *knowable*, and *discoverable* God (as opposed to the God of say, Islamic Fundamentalism, who with exactly the same powers might turn you into a grain of sand tomorrow for no reason whatsoever- Allah of the Muwahiddun is insane!)

          • TheodoreSeeber

            By statistics and the type of condoms first world rich people send to Africa, not.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      With the scientists- the true scientists- is where a rational religion should be.

      http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/05/fundamentalist-atheism.html

  • Mark Hunter

    As for proof for God, I don't want some 900 foot Jesus (a la Oral Roberts) or sun dancing in the sky (Fatima). Show us in a double blind clinical trial that prayer is efficacious. That would get our attention.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000651744387 Jim Russell

      How does one measure the efficacy of prayer?

      • Mark Hunter
        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Mark, they did not "do it" if by "do it" you mean show that prayer is not efficacious or that God doesn't exist. First, Catholics don't measure the efficacy of prayer by whether we get precisely what we prayed for. That's not the proper end of prayer. The goal is union with God, not results. Whether God grants us exactly what we ask for, in the way we ask for it, does not determine the prayer's effectiveness.

          Second, prayer results do not offer conclusive evidence for or against God's existence. A thousand people could pray for a thousand dollars and whether they receive any money says nothing about God. Maybe God has good reasons for granting them what they ask for, maybe he has good reasons not to. Maybe he knows that a prayer for money is really a prayer for joy and joy would be actually threatened by tons of cash (as most lottery winners attest.) The prayer results simply say nothing definitive about God or his character.

          • Mark Hunter

            The Templeton study showed that, at least in their study, there was no evidence that prayer influenced the outcome. If Catholics don't get what they prayed for then why at every shrine (Fatima, Lourdes, Ste. Anne de Beaupre, etc.) are there piles of canes, crutches and braces to show how God answers prayers. Why do Saints need two miracles that attest to their intervention in a positive way. No one ever becomes a Saint because God didn't answer the prayer in the way that was asked.

            Right now as I type this there is a little child praying to God that his or her mother will live and that mother will die today. That's the prayer that's not answered, not some crass demand for money.

          • AshleyWDC

            This site could really use some terminology to distinguish types of Catholics. When Brandon talks about Catholics, he usually seems to be referring to the sliver of western Catholics who know or care about their theology. I don't have any data on the subject, but my impression is that if you asked the average American Catholic what Natural Law is, the majority would think it's a legal firm that represents environmentalists.

            I suggest we call the Brandon-style Catholic TICs, for Theologically Interested Catholics, and the others TOCs for Theologically Oblivious Catholics. Might be confusing, though, since you usually don't have ninety-nine TOCs for every TIC.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000651744387 Jim Russell

            But prayer is not designed to "influence the outcome." The little child praying for his mother is not the equivalent of dropping a coin in the divine slot machine.
            Prayer is basically talking to God--either in thanksgiving, in praise of who God is, or in "petition" (in which we acknowledge that God is control--not us--of something we may desire).
            E.g.: Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was a prayer that was answered by His loving Father, despite the fact that "this cup" did not pass from Jesus. "Thy will be done" is the prayer of trust offered to God--a prayer that is always answered.

          • Bob

            you forget that when we pray we are asking god to do something we are not telling him what to do, and also when our prayers do not get answered that is god just saying "no" which is a valid answer. to the child's prayer, I would say that we do not know what impact this would have on the future seeing as only God knows what will happen in the past present and future, so the child's parents dying could make the child stronger and give her the drive to do something great which has a good impact on the whole world or she could be so sad that she kills herself. We simply do not know how the present events will affect the future, so do not claim that as an argument against God.

          • stanz2reason

            First, Catholics don't measure the efficacy of prayer by whether we get precisely what we prayed for. That's not the proper end of prayer. The goal is union with God, not results.

            So is it fair to say that if you're praying with the intention to better something or someone, you're wasting your efforts?

            Second, prayer results do not offer conclusive evidence for or against God's existence.

            I don't think the experiment was designed to prove or disprove gods existence, though I'll venture a guess to say that had the results been that all or most of the people being prayed for showed dramatic recoveries you wouldn't be as dismissive. The experiment was designed to show whether or not prayer had any real world measurable demonstrable effect. It was successful in showing so. Frankly, there should be one of these done every year, and funded by Templeton would be all the better.

            -Steve

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            I would say the proper end of prayer is to psychologically bind the person who prays to the deity or deities addressed. This is and investment in trust that causes people to look for something they can interpret as a positive result. Catholics are just as unlikely to recognize the fulfillment of prayers to Krishna as Jews are to those offered to Jesus, although all religious people attest to the fulfillment (subjectively) of their own.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            That's not the proper end of prayer. The goal is union with God, not results.

            A reasonable answer. But it seems that in that case you would have to forfeit any claims that miraculous cures (at Lourdes and other sites) are in any way the result of prayer.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ NoahLuck

            > The goal is union with God, not results.

            Does "union with God" have any consequences in a person's earthly life? Are any of them potentially observable?

            If Yes to both, then the results of prayer are still a valid object of scientific study, and the lack of findings is evidence against God.

            If No to either, then the extra complexity of a theory indistinguishable from "prayer does nothing" means "prayer does nothing" would always be the better theory.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Mark, I'm curious how you could even design a double-blind clinical trial to measure or detect something supernatural. Perhaps you can clarify what you have in mind?

      • Mark Hunter

        See the comment below on how the Templeton Foundation did it.

      • Mark Hunter

        Here's an additional list of studies ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer )

        • StacyTrasancos

          I remember these studies. If I remember right, they were inconclusive either way. To put it in non-religious terms, it's kind of like devising a study to see if "science" works. If you get what you want out of it, it does. If you don't, it doesn't. You have to be careful philosophically with a claim like that because anyone who's done research can tell you that 99% of it is failure. But why is that? It's because we are searching for a truth beyond us, and when we fail, it's not science that fails, but our own lack of understanding.

    • Thomas Wicklund

      I can't see how a double blind proof of prayer would make a difference. It just means that there is some unknown, naturally explainable reason why people wanting something (expressed as a prayer to a deity) alters reality. I guaranty that for any "proof" of God's existence, there will be atheists who give a natural explanation, the same as for any "proof" that God does not exist there are those who argue why the evidence still supports God's existence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Baylis/1185954799 Paul Baylis

      Problem is that an apparent answer to prayer could easily be assigned to psychology.

  • Andre Boillot

    "Even “low-key” evidence is vulnerable to the “God-of-the-gaps” objection. Some atheists say that if Christian preachers could heal amputated limbs, that would convince them God existed. But once again, aren’t we just taking a gap in our knowledge (“I don’t know how these limbs are being healed”) and filling it with, “Therefore, God did it?”"

    Such are the disadvantages of skepticism. Also, the context of when atheists mention this - Christians using instances where diseases were "cured" through divine intercession as proof of God - is conveniently left out.

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter

    Interesting objection to raise, but of course it immediately raises the corresponding question for theists: What would you take as falsifying the existence of God?

    I think this is a much harder question for the theist than for the atheist.

    BTW, thanks for starting this site. I hope it leads to much fruitful discussion.

    • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

      I think the point he's making is that religion does have unfalsifiable claims, but the tradeoff is that we don't appeal to science as the overriding factor for our epistemology of the supernatural.

      If atheism wanted to have unfalsifiable claims, then it just becomes a religion of no-religion, epistemologically, and loses it's scientific basis.

      • Mark Hunter

        But on a practical level why accept any assertion that can not be falsified? Doesn't it leave one open to accepting anything?

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          Well, now we're getting into epistemology of faith. The reason people believe a religion isn't (or shouldn't) be that they were raised with it, it gives them stuff, or they picked it randomly. In his Grammar of Assent, Newman talks about the epistemology of faith at length, in great style, and explains that the idea of assenting to a proposition means that you heard the proposition, and it corresponded with your very being.

          Science isn't the only measure of knowledge we have as humans. We have intuition, we have math, we have logic. None of these things fit within the limits of science (theory-hypothesis relationship) at all.

          If a religion makes claims about the supernatural, its untestable by science, but it's still very testable through logic. If a logical system, such as contained in Catholicism, is entirely logically consistent, then you have to grant that, given the premise, the religion is true.

          The issue is raised because the first premise of Catholicism is unverifiable scientifically. Religion can be falsified if you demonstrate that the logical system it claims to be built upon is inconsistent, even if you can't falsify the first premise.

          • primenumbers

            "If a religion makes claims about the supernatural, its untestable by science," - I don't see that. If the supernatural is to be anything more than a concept, it has to interact in some way with us. That interaction is applicable to scientific enquiry. If there's no interaction, how is the supernatural in any way falsifiable?

      • JDM

        The definition of anything "supernatural" is that it is unknowable. Since you say that your God is supernatural, how, then, do you know what it wants of you? How can you engage in anthropomorphism by ascribing human characteristics such as love, mercy, compassion and knowledge to a supernatural non-human being? Only Christianity does this. The other two believers in the Abrahamic god are Islam and Judaism. They acknowledge that the God is unknowable and do not ascribe human charateristics to it.

        • http://backroomcatholic.com/ EpicusMontaigne

          I don't think that it's unknowable, it's simply unobservable. Those two things are not equivalent.

          • primenumbers

            If it's unobservable, by what reliable method do you come to know it?

          • Joji

            When you ask the really hard-hitting questions, they run away

      • primenumbers

        It's not that the claims of the existence of God are unfalsifiable, but that the definition of God as used by theists is so nebulous that it's practically impossible to figure a good method of falsifying it. What we do know though is that faith is not a good method of getting to the answer.

    • Mark Hunter

      That's true. I can think of lots of reasons that would cause me to doubt my atheism and even come back to belief, but I've never had a believer suggest any evidence that would cause them to stop believing.

  • AshleyWDC

    "They claim that any evidence offered for the existence of God, such as the beginning, contingency, and fine-tuning of the universe, are nothing more than appeals to ignorance."

    Yes, because that is exactly what they are. The lack of an explanation for some phenomenon cannot be used as evidence for a god or for anything else. The only honest answer to unexplained things is "I don't know". Take fine-tuning, for example. Let's ignore the grotesque scientific and mathematical errors that religious purveyors of fine-tuning always make and admit that it's an interesting question. Why does the universe have the exact physical properties it has? On a more fundamental level, why is the universe apparently consistent and not capricious?

    The answer, the only true answer we have, is that nobody has a clue! No one who has ever lived has had a clue. We don't have any data or observations we could use to answer those questions. At the present time we don't have much of an idea of how we would even approach answering them (especially the latter, which to me seems intractable). And because we don't have any data, no sequence of logical steps you take can tell you what the answer is, whether you arrive at gods or multiverses or the Cosmic Pancake.

    As to your complaint that, essentially, demands for actual evidence make it very difficult for theists to prove the existence of their god, my blunt answer is tough. If evangelism is important to you, stow your baby tears and work harder. You chose this job, so stop whining that the universe isn't making it easy for you.

    By the way, "the world is a computer simulation" isn't necessarily unfalsifiable. For example, we could look for approximations in the algorithms used to simulate our universe or detect the precision of the computer's floating-point arithmetic. You'd have to make a boatload of assumptions to start with, but at least in principle you could make progress.

  • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

    A fantastic piece, but I would approach it from a slightly different angle. I think it's important atheists see that this mentality doesn't really correspond to Catholic thinking (particularly Thomistic) on the question of God's relationship with nature. We agree that a "god of the gaps" view of divine agency is ill-fated; it narrows and relegates the author of creation to proofreader, the inventor of the natural order to a line worker. The amicable synergy throughout history between the Church and science (Copernicus, Mendel, LeMaitre) and the skepticism that leading Catholics have for capital-C Creationism and the ID movement is evidence that we tend to work from a different premise, one that makes God and nature a both/and, not an either/or: that God designed nature, infused it with teleological ends, and wills and sustains all processes as Cause. (As for the closing of gaps by science that were once widely attributed to God, I would agree with atheists that this is a good thing - and I would agree with John Lennox that they were always "bad gaps" that needed filling.)

    These two articles are must-reads: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/aquinas-vs-intelligent-design
    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otc.cfm?id=120

    (And for a recent philosophical argument for a naturalistic teleology by an atheist philosopher, check out Thomas Nagel's "Mind & Cosmos.")

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter

    Wow, the discussion moves on fast here.

    "Saying "I lack a belief in God" no more informs us about reality than
    saying "I lack a belief in aliens" informs us about the facts related to
    extraterrestrial life."

    But this is exactly what that atheist is saying - the disbelief in aliens is just like our disbelief in God. There is no convincing evidence for either, so we choose not to believe in them. And of course (in both cases) saying that I lack in belief in X DOES say something about the state of the evidence for X - namely, that it's insufficient for belief.

    At any rate, the atheist simply says that when the preponderance of the evidence favors a God hypothesis then they will believe. This is the same attitude we take towards aliens, electrons, yetis, or anything else someone claims to exist.

    • Randy Gritter

      You miss the point. What he is saying is that "I don't believe in God" is not a statement about the universe. It is a statement about your mind. You say it is a statement about the evidence. Really it is a statement about how your mind judges the evidence. What is more likely to change, your mind or the evidence?

      • primenumbers

        The statement that I lack belief in something is just shorthand for saying that there lacks sufficient available evidence to justify a belief, which is certainly saying something about the state of the universe.

  • Paul Campbell

    Regarding the incontrovertibe proof for God often demanded by atheists, it must be remembered that what the God of Christianity desires of us is not merely belief, but love, and love is given freely, never coerced. What they are demanding is, "your God of Free Will must leave me no choice but to believe in Him!" In their marriage ceremonies, do atheists demand overwhelming scientific and mathematical proofs of their soon-to-be spouses' future faithfulness before giving their vows? Of course not; they put their faith and trust in their future spouse, and that is the same thing God desires of us. Proof so overwhelming that it coerces belief would defy the very properties of a God who gives his creatures Free Will.

    As for double-blind clinical trials on the efficacy of prayer, these can never work, since they presuppose the absence of a third participant who can never be blind: God! If God does indeed exist, then He will know that He is being put to the test, and if He values faith above incontrovertible proof (see above), then it is entirely within His purview to refuse an outcome that would coerce belief. So these trials can never be conclusive; if one can conclude from a lack of prayer efficacy that God does not exist, he can just as easily conclude that the God who DOES exist opted not to answer these particular prayers in the conclusive way we would have wanted. One cannot go into a trial presupposing the absence of the very thing whose presence or absence one is attempting to demonstrate.

    • Andre Boillot

      Paul,

      " In their marriage ceremonies, do atheists demand overwhelming scientific and mathematical proofs of their soon-to-be spouses' future faithfulness before giving their vows? Of course not; they put their faith and trust in their future spouse, and that is the same thing God desires of us."

      Sure, but our spouses can only torment us so long if we fail to love them. I believe the same isn't said of your God.

      "Regarding the incontrovertibe (sic) proof for God often demanded by atheists"

      Something about great claims requiring great evidence comes to mind. If belief (or non-belief) in God had trivial consequences, I don't think you'd see the demands for evidence. That it has very real impacts on the way people interact with society is why those demands are made.

      • Paul Campbell

        Neither can our spouses offer us eternal joy even when we do love them, which, given the options between torment and joy, would make one wonder why wouldn't choose joy proceeding from faith, over torment proceeding from demands for proof that can never be satisfied (Pascal's wager - crude, but worth considering nonetheless).

        The Christian is a Christian (one hopes) because he concludes that it takes even more faith to be an atheist than to believe. "Great claims requiring great evidence" may be a nice aphorism by Carl Sagan, but as such it is simply another human demand upon God as to how high we set the bar for Him to prove Himself. If there is a God, why would we expect Him to meet our demands? And if we use this standard, it needs to be applied equally; where's the great evidence for the great claim that God does not exist?

        • Andre Boillot

          Paul,

          "Pascal's wager - crude, but worth considering nonetheless"

          Also worth considering: you've chosen the wrong god, and go to hell; you've chosen the right god, but he finds you lacking in faith, and go to hell; you've believe in a god that doesn't exist, failing to live up to his demands, and think you're going to hell.

          "[I]t is simply another human demand upon God as to how high we set the bar for Him to prove Himself. If there is a God, why would we expect Him to meet our demands?"

          Because I'd rather eat meat on Fridays, and it seems silly that the creator of the known universe cares whether or not I do. Seriously, I really like steak. It's delicious.

          "And if we use this standard, it needs to be applied equally; where's the great evidence for the great claim that God does not exist?"

          Why stop there? From now on, let's take every myth we can't disprove and live as if it were true. The point is that when there's little or no evidence for something, discounting that thing is no great claim at all.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          The most concise objection to Pascal's wager is that given by that well known philosopher, Homer Simpson:

          "Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we're just making Him madder and madder!!"

    • severalspeciesof

      "Proof so overwhelming that it coerces belief would defy the very properties of a God who gives his creatures Free Will."

      This would then mean there is no freewill in heaven, would it not?

    • brianmacker

      I believe in the existence of wasps but don't love them. Knowing something exists is not equivalent with loving it. The god of the bible is a pretty vile creature, far worse than wasps, and I doubt I'd love such a thing.

  • Randy Gritter

    A useful analogy for me is fingerprints. A defendant at a murder trial can always object that just because you can't think of an innocent explanation for my fingerprints at the crime scene does not prove anything. I am just a murderer of the gaps. One day we might come up with a plausible explanation. For now the only course is to admit we don't know.

    This is always going to be the case when we reason from the effect back to the cause. The possibility of another cause can never be totally ruled out. Yet when the effect looks enough like God and not just like a generic gap then reasoning back to a cause is perfectly rational.

    Look at the Shroud or Turin or the Fatima Miracle. A very high percentage of scientists who investigate these things become Christians. On some level the fact that they are doing the investigation means they have opened a door.People who look for evidence actually wanting to find it do find it.

    • Andre Boillot

      Randy,

      "Look at the Shroud or Turin or the Fatima Miracle. A very high percentage of scientists who investigate these things become Christians."

      I hadn't realized that these things were made freely available for modern scientists to study. I'm curious: How many scientists have been allowed to investigate these? What's the percentage of conversion? What do you make of Church never formally declaring the Shroud genuine?

    • AshleyWDC

      "Yet when the effect looks enough like God and not just like a generic gap then reasoning back to a cause is perfectly rational."

      Mother of all question begging! Your conclusion - that your god exists because of there's this gap that looks like the kind of thing it would do - is contained in your premise - that your god is the kind of fellow who would make that sort of gap.

      Study the history of gap reasoning. You'll find it's a disaster that has tripped up some of our greatest minds.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      But Randy, we know that there *are* some murderers and that they *do* sometimes leave fingerprints. Prior study of cases provides the justification to have reasonable expectations for fingerprints as evidence (conclusive or not). Gap arguments provide no such reasonable expectations.

  • Scott McPherson

    Wow, I hardly know where to begin.

    The author is trying to shift the burden of proof. It is not up to atheists to disprove God. It is up to theists to prove God. Period.

    The author states that atheism is impossible to falsify. Atheists don’t have to falsify anything – they didn’t make the claim. Atheism is not a positive assertion. It is not a belief. It is the rejection of a belief.

    The author states that any proof that God exists is subject to the same God of the gaps argument and atheists would reject it. Well, many probably would reject minor evidence. That is why atheists keep using the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” And yes, I am certain you would get certain atheists that wouldn’t believe anything. You have people today that still insist the earth is flat regardless of evidence to the contrary.

    The author states that “If atheists say that atheism does not claim ‘There is not God’, only that some people lack a belief in God, then atheism can’t be true at all.” Let’s rephrase that to show this is nonsense. “If [people that don’t believe in Invisible Pink Unicorns] say that [their belief that invisible pink unicorns don’t exist does not claim [‘There are no Invisible Pink Unicorns’], only that some people lack a belief in [Invisible Pink Unicorns], then [lack of belief in Invisible Pink Unicorns] can’t be true at all. The problem here of course is that you are looking for a deductive proof. As I stated yesterday in a different article, atheism can’t provide a deductive proof of something that doesn’t exist (as it is logically impossible), only inductive proofs.

    Finally, many atheists have put forward standards of what evidence they would accept to believe God. Google can help you with that; there has been a lot of discussion on this topic. Usually when this comes up I ask the converse – what evidence would theists accept that would make them believe God doesn’t exist? If they state nothing would make them not believe, I point out that really shows who the dogmatic person is here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000651744387 Jim Russell

      Hi, Scott--I find it confusing to characterize atheism as "not a positive assertion" and "not a belief." Does your mind hold as true that God does not exist? When asked about what your mind holds as true, do you positively assert the truth held in your mind? I mean, on one level I think I understand the point that a distinction must be made between a belief and the rejection of a belief, but the use of reason requires us to hold things as true or not, and the thing held as true can rightly be called one's belief or assertion, correct?

      • Scott McPherson

        The first definition for belief that comes up in google when searching for "definition belief" is "an acceptance that a statement. Is true or something exists" I don't accept the premise that God exists is true. I don't know that for a fact however. So I can't say "God does not exist" is true. Like most atheists, I am an agnostic atheist.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000651744387 Jim Russell

          But isn't it fair to say that your thoughts and actions are based upon certain principles that you accept as sufficiently probable enough as to think/act according to them? That is, while you do not discount the possibility of God's existence, your thoughts and actions would seem to indicate clearly that you..."believe"...in the truth of the statement that "it is more probable that God does not exist" despite not knowing for sure. By claiming to be an atheist--even an agnostic atheist--you implicitly acknowledge that you "believe" that it's more likely that God does not exist, right?

          • Scott McPherson

            See above. Given the evidence, I act as though God doesn't exist, as a provisional conclusion.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I thought Pascal proved that provisional conclusion was not viable.

          • Scott McPherson

            Are you kidding? Provisional conclusions are part of the basic tenets of the scientific method, and Pascal was a huge proponent of that.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            The basic tenet of the scientific method is make a hypothesis, test it with observation, and modify that hypothesis.

            I fail to see how provisional conclusions, especially ones that are stuck to with all of the anti-Catholicism of a Jack Chick fundamentalist, apply to science.

          • Scott McPherson

            All conclusions in science are provisional.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            It is the word conclusions I have a problem with, not the word provisional.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Pascal's wager is a sucker's bet. Believing without evidence compromises your intellectual integrity (and has the potential to render you gullible and vulnerable to falsehoods). Belief is also only beneficial if you pick the *right* God (or the God that actually exists is forgiving of people who chose the wrong God and just rewards belief of any kind).

          • TheodoreSeeber

            There are no falsehoods in observation.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          Penn Jillette has phrased this very nicely (quoting approximately)

          "Do I absolutely -know- that at this moment there is not an elephant in my upstairs bathroom? Of course, I honestly have to answer that no, I do not know that. But if asked, is there an elephant in the upstairs bathroom?, I have no reservations whatever about answering in the negative."

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Jim, do you believe in leprechauns? If not, do you have a positive case for that?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000651744387 Jim Russell

          I believe in the non-existence of leprechauns, based upon a generally accepted definition of "leprechaun" coupled with the absence of evidence for their existence...

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            So, you don't have a positive case, just the same lack of evidence case that most non-believers have for all supernatural beings?

      • Scott McPherson

        No, I don't "positively assert the truth" of atheism in my mind. Similar to science, it has nothing to do with being true or false. It is a provisional conclusion.

      • Scott McPherson

        Let's put it another way. Say I define atheism as not believing in God. The statement "I believe in not believing in God" is nonsensical.

      • physicistdave

        Jim,

        If you have had any significant interaction with atheists, you should know that many (nearly all, in my experience) use “atheism” to refer not to a positive belief that God does not exist but merely to a lack of belief that any god(s) exists.

        So, no, many atheists (myself included) hold no belief one way or the other about the existence of god(s). I admit that I think it a bit unlikely that a god exists, but to say I believe that none exists would be too strong of a statement.

        Perhaps you would prefer to refer to most atheists as “agnostics,” but the coiner of the term “agnostic” specified some conditions that fail to apply to many of us.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • physicistdave

        Jim,

        An additional point of information: In my experience, most of the real passion that Western atheists have against beliefs in God is directed against Christianity in particular and, more broadly, organized religions in general (Islam, Hinduism, etc.).

        There are fairly obvious reasons for this: many Westerners have had encounters with Christianity in which they found something to be really annoying. Furthermore, Christianity (and other organized religions in other societies) has real social power that can be used to discriminate against or persecute non-believers. And, Christianity makes very forceful and detailed claims that strike most non-Christians, not only atheists, as quite bizarre.

        A mere philosophical belief in a deity that is not part of any religion, on the other hand, has very little power and is unlikely to offend many people. And, people who have such a belief but are part of no religious movement have usually not tied their belief in God to more detailed claims that are patently absurd or offensive.

        Dave

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

      Scott, I think that many believers would claim as extraordinary evidence the fact that the universe exists. The universe does not explain its own existence therefore God. Many atheists counter that the universe exists because it is eternal. But atheists do not know this, they simply suppose it. At the heart of the atheist claim that God is unnecessary is an act of atheistic faith.

      • AshleyWDC

        Perhaps you should let an atheist answer this question rather than making up one for them. Personally I find you get better results when a real person provides an answer instead of the made version of that person in your head.

        Here, I'll answer it for you. Why does the universe exist? I don't know, and to the best of my knowledge we have no evidence that would allow us to answer the question rationally.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          I think you mean empirical evidence. No one was there to see it happen. But it is not irrational. Its a very modest, reasonable claim. The universe has a cause, we call this cause God. For the sake of this question, that's all you would need to admit.

          • Octavo

            How do you resolve the contradiction inherent in claiming that a mind, which in all known cases is made of matter, is responsible for the existence of all matter?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            The creator of matter would have to transcend matter. Just as an author is outside of the book that he/she writes.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Folks at the LHC create matter, but they are not transcendent (though some of them might fancy themselves so).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Do they create it or do they cause it to appear? Big difference.

          • Octavo

            Or the origination of all matter could end up being a non-sentient process, such as vacuum fluctuations.

          • Michael Murray

            How can you talk about matter and creation of matter when you seem to know nothing about physics. Have you done any physics at postgraduate or research level ?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Creation of matter?

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I misread creator. My point stands. If you want to discuss things like whether the Universe had a cause you need to do physics. Where is your evidence that the Universe had a cause ? You can't get there from the fact that most things you have seen have a cause. Particle decay doesn't have a cause.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Physics can only explain how things operate as they already exist. Physics doesn't explain its own existence. It doesn't explain where its laws came from. We are discussing something that physics doesn't cover.

          • Michael Murray

            Again where is your evidence that the universe had a cause.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Logic. Cause and effect. The Cause is greater than the effect. The laws of physics had to come from a mind greater, certainly, than any complexity which we can observe right now.

          • Michael Murray

            Logic doesn't help you. Your logic is: "everything effect has a cause" therefore ... But the first statement is not correct. It should be "everything effect I am aware of has a cause ...". Then your logic doesn't apply. I'm sure I mentioned before that some things don't causes like elementary particle decay.

          • physicistdave

            David La May wrote:

            > Logic. Cause and effect. The Cause is greater than the effect. The laws of physics had to come from a mind greater, certainly, than any complexity which we can observe right now.

            Ummmm, David, young chap, you are aware I trust that what you have labeled “logic” is what is usually labeled “metaphysics,” in your case unsubstantiated and very iffy metaphysical assertions?

            “Logic” usually denotes things such as modus ponens, excluded middle, syllogisms, etc.

            Dave Miller in Sacramento

          • Michael Murray

            The universe has a cause, we call this cause God.

            How do you know it has a cause ? We don't know what happens back before the Planck Epoch.

      • Scott McPherson

        Funny, Brandon was just telling me yesterday that theists "don't say "Hey we don't understand something, ergo God!" Thanks for proving me right. By the way, your argument is a false dilemma.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          I haven't based my argument on what I don't understand. I base it on what I do understand. I understand that effects have causes. God is the cause, the effect is the universe. It seems very reasonable to me.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            But quantum theory has shown us that in many circumstances (indeed, at the most fundamental level of existence) it is not true to say that "effects have causes". And quantum theory is one of the empirically successful theories in scientific history...

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            If I drop a water glass and it shatters on the ground...quantum mechanics would prove that the broken glass had nothing to do with my hand releasing it?

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Cause and effect works at the "middle-world" level of glasses or cars. But quantum theory has shown that at the sub-atomic level cause and effect doesn't work. Matter and energy spontaneously pop in and out of existence. Actions don't have well defined effects but instead can only be predicted as probabilities, if at all. What we perceive at the level we call the "real world" is just an aggregate of the sum of a number of sub-atomic probabilities...

            So we know cause and effect doesn't work at the level of the very small. That means cause and effect are not universal. If it doesn't operate at the level of the very small, where else might it break down? Moreover, we know that the whole of the universe was once squished into something the size of this "very small" scale where cause and effect break down...

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            This doesn't really touch upon the original point. Whether or not cause and effect can describe the quantum level doesn't address the fact that the universe exists, at all levels. There is no cause and effect at the quantum level, Okay, then who caused it to be that way?

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            But, logically, if cause and effect does not operate at the quantum level then there doesn't need to be anything to have caused it to be that way.

          • DAVID

            You imply that things do operate in a certain way at the quantum level, even if its operation does not include cause and effect. Who cased it to operate in any way at all?

          • Michael Murray

            But if you knew a bit more about the real world you would know that what seems reasonable to you is a very poor guide to what is true. Our notion of reasonable is based on our experience at a very limited range of energies, speeds and time and distance scales. Quantum mechanics and relativity are well known for seeming unreasonable when they are first encountered by physics students and the former even seems unreasonable after one has studied it for many years.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Quantum mechanics does not contradict anything I've said. But I'm supposing you had a different point.

          • Michael Murray

            It was really a comment on your phrase "It seems very reasonable to me." The last hundred years of physics has taught us that human comfort with an idea is a really bad measure of its correctness.

            Indeed some things don't have causes in quantum mechanics. Particles decay without apparent cause and you can't predict when only that half will decay in a certain period of time. My point is that the statement "effects have causes" is philosophy not physics. If you want to discuss the real world you need to physics. Otherwise its angels on pinheads.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Physics, and science in general, can only predict, test, and describe. Once you have a working description, then you can apply it to technology. It does nothing else. If you want to discuss what the real world is, then you need a philosophy. In your case, a philosophy in which physics seems to play a big role.

      • Benjamin O’Donnell

        Surely the argument that "the universe does not explain its own existence therefore God" is logically invalid? Why does the explanation have to be "God"?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          An effect cannot be greater than its cause. To cause an universe, or multiverse, to exist, it would require something greater than it.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            I'm afraid that evolution by natural selection has shown that simple things can, by a simple iterative process given enough time to operate, produce things of stunning complexity. Less things can cause greater things.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Moreover, if you take that position (which I think you shouldn't) doesn't the argument from design end up backfiring on you? Complex things are highly unlikely to just exist, they require an explanation. But if God has to be more complex than the universe, than the existence of God is actually even more unlikely than the existence of the universe?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            God is the basis for existence, itself. God is the stability by which all things might progress in complexity. Without God, you just have an infinite regression of relatively stable entities relying on the stability of other, more relatively stable entities. An infinite regression has the downside of explaining nothing.

          • Michael Murray

            And people complain about the lack of evidence for a multiverse.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            But how do you know that "God is the basis for existence, itself"? How do you know that "God is the stability by which all things might progress in complexity"?

            How do you know that "Without God, you just have an infinite regression of relatively stable entities relying on the stability of other, more relatively stable entities"? There are numerous things that might conceivably stop an infinite regress and not all of them are intelligent super-beings. It could just be a law of nature or an equation.

            Yes, "An infinite regression has the downside of explaining nothing" but that isn't evidence for an alternate theory. The fact that possible explanation A is unsatisfactory doesn't make possible explanation B true.

          • Andrew G.

            How do I measure the "size" of an effect or a cause?

          • Michael Murray

            Clearly an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Think cause = press of President's finger and effect = destruction of life on earth. Uhm hang on ...

          • DAVID

            That's a misinterpretation of cause. The ultimate cause of the "destruction of life on earth" is the mind of man which invented the nuclear warhead. Mind is greater than matter. The cause is greater than the effect.

          • Michael Murray

            "Mind is greater than matter". I don't want to cause offence but in the interests of the aims of this website I have to say I have no idea about what that statement means ? Mind is software running on a computer made of matter. What does greater than mean ? Do you mean that mind must come after the matter in time ?

          • DAVID

            The "computer made of matter" is a computer, not a human. A computer is a very impressive calculator but it understands nothing, much less does it have self-awareness. One way to put it: matter obeys the laws of physics without understanding physics. It takes a mind which transcends physics to understand physics.

          • Michael Murray

            The brain is made of matter. We know all the constituent parts. We understand all the particles and forces that act on them. This really is true -- dark matter and dark energy are not relevant at the energy levels the brain works at. I see no reason to believe that reductionism doesn't apply. Of course it's a problem we haven't solved yet but that's not reason to assume we won't ever solve it.

            Because we are minds we have a desire to regard them as special but the history of science suggests that this kind of special pleading for humans being "different" is highly suspect and usually turns out to be wrong.

          • Andrew G.

            So if mind is greater than matter, and the cause greater than the effect, how come a small amount of physical damage to a selected area of your brain would make you believe that all your friends and loved ones had been replaced by identical duplicates, possibly resulting in your sawing their heads open to get at the microchips inside?

            Because that sure as hell looks like a mental effect with a material cause to me. (If you want to look up the references, this is known as the Capgras delusion)

          • DAVID

            I would not say that mind is completely divorced from the brain. You need both to think correctly. I would say mind > brain.

          • Andrew G.

            The statement that mind > brain is not compatible with the statement that causes must be greater than effects. Which one are you abandoning?

            I can produce a much longer list of cases of large mental effects (up to and including the essentially complete removal of free will) resulting from small physical causes if you like.

            (In fact, of course, neither statement is true; there is no metric other than the spacetime causal-past relation that distinguishes causes and effects, and there is no rational reason to believe that nonphysical minds exist at all much less that they are in any sense "greater" than anything physical. Both positions are simply dogmas of pre-scientific philosophy; with all available evidence now against them, it is irrational not to abandon them.)

          • DAVID

            Whether I were to say mind > brain or mind > matter, I would still be saying the same thing.

            From what I understand, it is actually physical minds which are harder to prove than nonphysical minds. If a mind were purely matter it would obey the laws of physics without understanding the laws of physics. Matter is concrete and particular: it does not explain how human minds can generalize and abstract.

          • Andrew G.

            You're still evading the issue of causes and effects. The unquestionable evidence for large mental effects resulting from small physical causes implies that either the effect can be greater than the cause, or that minds are not greater than matter. (Or both.)

            Physicalism is the dominant position of philosophers of mind (source: the PhilPapers survey; 61% accept or lean toward physicalism, 22% accept or lean toward non-physicalism, 17% other). This is a fairly high level of agreement by philosophical standards.

          • DAVID

            While its true that the mind and brain work together for the proper functioning of the human, brain damage does not cause mind damage. We're talking about the impairment of a lower function which impedes the expression of higher function.

          • Andrew G.

            "brain damage does not cause mind damage" -- because you said so? evidence?

          • DAVID

            Its true by definition. Mind is immaterial. It cannot be damaged by the destruction of matter.

          • Michael Murray

            Evidence. He was asking for evidence not silly games with definitions.

          • Michael Murray

            We are not proving anything. It's all about evidence. Show me a mind that doesn't appear to be working in some physical context. Show me a mind that doesn't change when you change that physical context. If you have been blessed enough in your life not to have yourself or have a relative with brain degeneration then talk to someone who has. Is my father firing on all cylinders again now he is in heaven ? He had the full RCC requiem mass so I guess he must be.

          • DAVID

            But minds are supposed to work in physical contexts. The mind and brain are supposed to function together. In any unified system, the higher functions express themselves best when the lower functions are working well. Catholics believe that the spirit and body, while distinct, do not constitute two different entities but one person.

          • mally el

            David, this is an interesting discussion with Michael. I do agree with you that the mind and body (of which the brain is a part) are two distinct entities normally working in harmony to create that oneness. This is why, when the body is dead, the person could be aware of what has been happening looking down from all different angles. Those who have returned have confirmed this.
            There is a good relationship between a person's mind and the biological brain for obvious reasons. If the mind decides that a person should help a stranger it has to work in and through the mind because this organ controls our movements.
            It does it in the same way as electricity that is generated outside a house enters through a junction box which has a number of fuses. When electricity enters this box it is distributed as needed and while it does it activates a meter reader. Thus we know that it is active. The more complex the building, the more complex is the junction box. If there is short circuit then one part of the house does not receive power. If a bulb is fused then no amount of electricity would make it work. I can go on, but I think you get the comparison.

          • Michael Murray

            Do you have any evidence that minds can live independent of bodies mally el ? I know you won't take up my suggestion but for anyone else reading this I highly recommend this talk by Sean Carroll

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            which explains why we now know everything that can interfere with what is happening in the brain and why there is no "gap" to sneak in a non-material mind.

          • Michael Murray

            Of course perhaps your mind plugs in to your brain via the silver cord

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_cord

            Why god would use silver I have no idea I would have thought fibre optics would be state of the art.

          • mally el

            Just because you cannot fathom out how things are done does not mean that we should ignore it or reject it. We may never know the nature of the field in which one's mental activity operates but that does not mean it does not exist. Can you define gravity or show it to me?
            I have known people who have had out of body experiences. Their minds have been active (they remember their experiences) even though they have been given up for dead. This is sufficient for me.

          • Michael Murray

            Can you define gravity or show it to me?

            I can show you it's effects. Pick up your computer and raise it a metre above the desk and let go ....

            I have known people who have had out of body experiences. Their minds have been active (they remember their experiences) even though they have been given up for dead.

            Actually you don't know this. Think about what you are saying. What you really know is people who have ben "given up for dead" and recovered. On recovering they tell you they had an experience which they believe happened during the "given up for dead" period. That's the precise statement.

            Feynman's first principle of science is: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."

          • mally el

            Why should I not trust people who have had these experiences from above their bodies and even observed things outside the room.
            You are showing me the effects of gravity - not gravity. It is like me saying that I could show you the works of God, but not Gog.

          • Michael Murray

            If you can really demonstrate that people can see things while having an OBE or NDE that they couldn't possibly now about that other than by leaving their bodies that would be revolutionary. But nobody has done this yet. There are experiments of this kind going on in hospitals.

          • mally el

            How can you demonstrate what the mind experiences? You can talk about it but you cannot show it. Just as I cannot show you what I was my present thoughts.

          • Michael Murray

            You don't have to demonstrate what the mind experiences (although I think you can -- FMRI and similar are getting close). The experiments Dr Sam Parnia is running involve putting random pictures out of sight in operating theatres. Then if someone reports an NDE or OBE you can ask if they saw one of these pictures and if they can identify it. He was meant to publish results a year or so ago so I'm not sure what is going on. He's a reputable guy though.

          • mally el

            During her NDE, a woman saw a baby's shoe or sock on a ledge that could not be seen from anywhere in the hospital. The item was seen later from another angle. There was no way she could have seen it from her room or just outside it.
            One lady's mother saw her own operation from above as she lay on the table. These people were aware of things - somehow conscious of them. These are natural events (shall I say supernatural) that cannot be fabricated in a laboratory.

          • Susan

            Citations, please.

          • Michael Murray

            Have you got references for these ?

            Here is my difficulty with this kind of thing. If your report is correct this women has obtained information by some method which we don't understand. That means that information has got into brain by some method we don't understand. But physics understands the forces that act inside the brain very well. That isn't to say we understand everything about how the brain works but at the basic level of what forces can act we understand. So if these reports are correct there is something seriously wrong with things we understand really well. Maybe reductionism fails. This means we have to apply a very high standard to the evidence. But my experience of these reports is that when they are investigated either they turn out to be false or more often they just turn out to be difficult to actually verify. It's the same with alien sightings, esp, bigfoot, etc.

            Don't assume in any of this that I have any kind of "ideological" objection to these things being true. I'd actually be really excited to have physics overturned. I'd also be excited to find scientifically verifiable suggestions that "I" might survive beyond my physical decay.

            But I'll save my excitement for some verifiable results which might be obtainable from Dr Sam Parnia's AWARE study

            http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_page.php?cat_id=38

            Actually I just checked and in the latest report from January this year it seems that one shouldn't hold one's breath (unless you want to have an NDE) for any results soon

            The AWARE investigators have explained that owing to the exploratory nature of this study they do not anticipate there to be an end in the near future. Instead the study is likely to evolve into further research projects downstream with time. They are pleased to report the study is progressing well but have indicated that the results so far suggest more data and larger scale studies may be required. At this time, they anticipate being able to release the preliminary results obtained during the first five years of the study in September or October 2013 to mark the fifth anniversary of the launch of the study. This will be done through the appropriate scientific channels such as publications in scientific journals and possibly by means of a lecture, symposium or conference at a suitable venue if there is sufficient public interest. This would allow the data and results to be discussed in further detail.

          • mally el

            Read Dr. Raymond Moody's Interview with Paul Perry
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvNDrZv8HwE
            There are many more studies done.
            I read about the woman who saw the sock a long time ago. A good friend of mine told me about his experience - it was not a good one.

          • Michael Murray

            So are these SDEs tied only to NDEs or supposed to happen to people who are in the presence of someone who really does die.

          • Andrew G.

            The shoe-on-ledge story was debunked long ago.

          • mally el

            It was not debunked. This is simply an opinion of how it might have happened.

          • Andrew G.

            You said yourself: "could not be seen from anywhere in the hospital" and "no way she could have seen it from her room" - these claims were explicitly found to be false and that the shoe was highly visible from both outside the hospital at ground level and from within the patient's room. Accordingly the claim that she could not have seen it is debunked.

          • mally el

            At that time conditions were different from what they were many years later when this person tried to come up with a possible explanation. It could have been this or might have been that is not real science.

          • Susan

            Did you read Andrew G's link? Conditions at the the time made it more likely that the shoe was visible to people inside and outside the building.

          • mally el

            That is what he surmises.

          • Ararxos
          • Michael Murray

            That's not evidence that minds can live independently of bodies. You need micro-tubules which are part of the body.

          • Ararxos

            The Scientist that made the discovery thinks otherwise

            http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/

          • Michael Murray

            Which part of that page are you interested in ? Please don't say the bit with Deepak Chopra :-)

          • Ararxos

            Hameroff and Penrose are well respected scientists and Penrose is an atheist, i don't care about Chopra (but i also won't characterize him as woo hoo). They approach the issue more rationally than Chopra that's why they got results (that make atheists like you really uncomfortable because obviously you hold beliefs in Materialism). Tell me something if everything is materialism then how do you separate life from non life? I mean everything breaks down to materials so there is no difference between something dead or alive.

          • Michael Murray

            Actually I find the idea that consciousness or some proto-consciousness is a kind of fundamental property of reality interesting. More Buddhist than Christian I think. I don't see why it would be a problem for me as a materialist. If that's the way the world is that's the way the world is.

            What is the difference between your phone when it's working and your phone after you've driven over it? The arrangement of the particles and fields I would have thought. What else ?

          • Ararxos

            So if we arrange the particles in a rock the rock will obtain Consciousness?

          • Michael Murray

            I was replying to

            I mean everything breaks down to materials so there is no difference between something dead or alive.

            not talking about consciousness when I discussed the phone example. You would have to ask Penrose and Hameroff if their theories tell us rocks are conscious. I think David Chalmers believes that rocks are conscious.

          • Ararxos

            You made a flawed claim, you said that what we consider as life is just a healthy organism (a working machine), materialism doesn't separate life from non life, it says that everything is made of materials therefor everything belongs in the same state.

          • Michael Murray

            You made a flawed claim, you said that what we consider as life is just a healthy organism (a working machine), materialism doesn't separate life from non life, it says that everything is made of materials therefor everything belongs in the same state.

            The mistake is yours in thinking that the only important thing is what something is made of not how those parts are arranged and how they behave dynamically over time.

          • Ararxos

            The arranged parts can create Consciousness? And what arranges these parts infallibly to create conscious creatures? If that was the case why the Internet hasn't obtain Consciousness yet but mindless creatures have?

          • DAVID

            Something to think about. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous

      Hello Scott,

      Anyone looking to have their opinion accepted by others should offer some evidence that it is true. Therefore, if a theist wishes to prove that God exists, evidence should be offered. Likewise, an atheist wishing to disprove the existence of God should offer proof. The "burden of proof" is the responsibility of whomever is trying to prove his/her point to another. (Yes, I realize this paragraph is a bit hypocritical.)

      In my experience, any self-declared atheist making your point (that it is not his/her responsibility to disprove God) nonetheless goes on to try to disprove the existence of God, or at least attacks the assertions made in the article in question, which (because those assertions generally support the existence of God) is tantamount to attacking the idea of God's existence itself. You are no exception. You seem to be trying to tear down the idea of God's existence by worrying away at the pilings supporting it (the assertions in the article). You're doing something that you've already said you don't need to do. Are you really that insecure?

      You imply that Christians/theists are dogmatic. Well, duh. That comes with any dogma-based religion. Dogma, ipso facto, is not something that can be compromised about for those who espouse it.

      Finally, you miss a point that Mr. Horn made in his essay. God will probably not give you "concrete" proof of Himself, because that would take away your free will in deciding for yourself whether He was real or not. That is the primary reason why He is a "God of the gaps" in the first place. One must take a leap of faith across the gap to believe in Him, and if one is not willing, one will not believe. If you don't want to believe, no one who understands and reveres free will is going to force you. That's a personal decision. These kind of forums are great places for those who don't know of your decision yet to try to convince you to make the leap. If you still don't see enough evidence to believe in God, just tell people so.

      It was good talking to you.

      Thanks,
      Anonymous

      • Scott McPherson

        Well, it's always a good sign when someone uses an ad hominem attack on me ("Are you really that insecure?") and stays anonymous. I think you broke a few rules of this board.

        Anyway,in regards to "an atheist wishing to disprove the existence of God should offer proof", um, no. First of all, I can't offer a deductive proof because it is impossible to deductively prove a negative. For inductive evidence, I am glad to offer some even though I don't need to. By the way, did you know that by demanding that the critics of the "God hypothesis" (for lack of a better term) provide proof you are committing a logical fallacy by arguing from ignorance? That is the reason the burden of proof is the way it is - it isn't just some gentleman's agreement that is only kept up by tradition.

        In regards to "God will probably not give you "concrete" proof of Himself, because that would take away your free will in deciding for yourself whether He was real or not.", well that is strange, because He was just fine giving concrete proof in the past, either as God or Jesus. I guess it doesn't count if God takes away free will if you lived in the bronze age.

        • Anonymous

          Scott,

          That's the beauty of staying anonymous.

          I did say that I realized my first paragraph was hypocritical. It's my opinion, and opinions are liable to be biased, no?

          You are also arguing from ignorance, because, as you admit above, you do not know that God does not exist. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that neither of us can argue from anything besides ignorance, because we are arguing about the metaphysical.

          God will probably not give you concrete proof now because it would impair your free will. Also, if you think that he has given concrete proof in the past, why don't you accept the accounts of that proof as your "proof" of His existence? Must you be a primary source for His deeds before you believe?

          Which leads me back to my original point. If you don't want to believe, just don't. You don't have to spend time trying to convince me or anyone else that God is not real. You're still trying to take out God by hacking at His stilts (the arguments of myself and others).

          Nice Bronze Age barb, by the way. I'm still pulling it out of my knee.

          Thanks for the talk.

          Anonymous

          • Scott McPherson

            You might want to look up the argument from ignorance. I am admitting I don't know, which rules me out from that particular fallacy. Saying I don't know is the only honest answer (from both sides).

            Hey, I played Skyrim too! Or maybe you just learned the meme. I can't really make assumptions now, can I?

          • mally el

            Show me a meme - whatever it really is.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            The words you are using are each memes. They have existed for centuries as patterns that live in the brains of people who passed them down through the generations (with mutations) to you.

          • mally el

            It is a piece of fiction. You cannot show it to me.

          • Michael Murray
          • mally el

            Memes do not exist.

  • ZenDruid

    Arguments are not evidence of anything other than the fact that the proponent of the argument has a vested interest in the argument.

    There is no evidence that gods and demons exist anywhere beyond the imaginations of believers. Power of suggestion and confirmation bias are sufficient to explain why people believe in any immaterial entities.

  • stanz2reason

    Much of this if just very silly.

    Many atheists say that all arguments for the existence of God are just fallacious “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning.

    Not all arguments, just many.

    Specifically, it makes atheism impossible to falsify, in the same way that most religious beliefs cannot be falsified.

    I think just due to the nature of language, there is a misunderstanding of the atheist position. I doubt many atheists are 100% certain of gods non-existence in a technical sense, the same way that we aren't 100% certain of the non-existence of dragons or the tooth fairy. After weighting religious claims against observations, we find it entirely unreasonable to accept such claims at face value, similar to if you were to claim the existence of garden gnomes. We attribute the unlikeliness of such a thing being true to be very high, in the high 99+%, beyond any standard of reasonable doubt you'd hold in any other aspect of your life. While in a technical sense this makes everyone varying shades of agnostic, for practical purposes our language has differentiated between 'atheist' & 'agnostic'. When an atheist is convinced there isn't a god, it should be understood to be equivalent to us being convinced there isn't santa clause.

    So, can atheism be falsified? An atheist might say, “Of course atheism can be falsified—just prove that God exists!”But how exactly is the theist supposed to do this? Usually atheists demand some kind of over-the-top display of power to confirm God's existence.

    You're claiming existence of an omnipotent being. Is a 100 foot tall Jesus at the NBA all star game hitting jump shot after jump shot after jump shot so hard to ask for? It need not be an absurd demonstration, but it would have to be convincing enough to eliminate any and all plausible alternative explanations. If god has infinite power, this would by definition require 0% of his effort and would go a long way to clarifying things.

    If God did this, then surely we would know he existed, right? Well, why wouldn’t this kind of evidence also be subject to the “God-of-the-gaps” objection?

    No, it would not automatically fall into a 'god of the gaps' situation, but this event would have to stand up to extraordinary scrutiny. Perhaps you'll never have 100% agreement here, but an effective demonstration that holds up would convince the overwhelming majority beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the person is or was an atheist. Reasonable people admit when the evidence (or lack of evidence) supports (or doesn't support) certain claims. [hint hint]

    Atheists have two options. First, they could admit that no amount of evidence could satisfy the “God-of-the gaps-objection” and show God exists.

    Again, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and must undergo extraordinary scrutiny. You're talking about god, so I'm sure he could pass any test we could conceive. You won't convince everybody, as some people still believe the world is flat and others believe it to be merely thousands of years old regardless of the (literally) mountain of evidence to the contrary, but I'm confident that you'd convert a large number of atheists with a proper evidence.

    If atheists say that atheism does not claim "There is no God," only that some people lack a belief in God, then atheism can't be true at all.

    This doesn't make any sense. I can say 'There are no dragons' or I can say 'some people lack the belief in dragons'. This seems like something a good venn diagram could show to be silly, still by pointing out that some people do not believe in dragons does not speak to my a-dragonist conclusion that there are no dragons.

    Atheists claim our observations of the world do not support your religious claims. There are plausible natural explanations for every instance of the supernatural being invoked. It seems unlikely that any sort of god by any common definition exists in the manner you claim he does. Feel free to define us as you wish.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

      Stanz2reason, if someone were to rise from the dead, the third day after being killed, would that be reasonable proof of God's existence? Christianity already offers such proofs. Atheists don't take it seriously. And its not because the event doesn't hold up under scrutiny, its because atheists dismiss out-of-hand the possibility of someone rising from the dead, and conclude that it was made up by early Christians. In short, God did the impossible, atheist say "that's impossible and so it didn't happen." One can conclude that atheists are not willing to accept evidence for God's existence.

      • stanz2reason

        Your proofs are 2000 year old hearsay from varying questionable sources compiled decades, even centuries after such events were said to have occurred. I don't find this level of proof to be compelling in the slightest.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          It is hearsay and the sources are questionable and therefore the proof is not compelling. I doubt you could prove that. I think you find comfort in assuming that.

          • stanz2reason

            What?? What can't I prove??

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            I won't answer why can't you. I will ask: can you?

          • stanz2reason

            Seriously dude, I have no idea what you're asking. I don't mean to be rude, but is english your first language? I feel like something might be getting lost in translation.

            Lets sum up the last few posts and see if we can figure this out...

            I said your 'proof' is unconvincing hearsay.

            You reiterated what I said:

            It is hearsay and the sources are questionable and therefore the proof is not compelling.

            OK... seems clear you understood what I was saying... but then:

            I doubt you could prove that. I think you find comfort in assuming that.

            ...which doesn't make any sense or follow your previous sentence. Can I prove what? What do I take comfort in?

            I ask for clarification and you respond with:

            I won't answer why can't you. I will ask: can you?

            ... which again, doesn't make a lick of sense or follow any portion of the previous conversation. You won't answer what? Why can't I answer what? Can I what?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Sorry, I went back and edited that comment. Do you have proof that the gospel accounts are hearsay? Do you have proof that sources are questionable?

          • Michael Murray

            hearsay = "Unverified information heard or received from another; rumor."

            Are you seriously suggesting that it is known that the people who wrote the gospels for the first time actually saw the events in question ?

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Michael, in the interest of keeping the conversation on track, let's agree to table this discussion for now. We're planning several articles on the historical reliability of the Gospels within the next few weeks. Thanks!

          • Michael Murray

            Sure Brandon. No problem. As a complete off-topic remark apparently "table" means the complete opposite in the US to what it does in the UK/Australia but I know what you mean.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            Two of them, Matthew and John are eye-witness accounts. Mark was written by someone close to an eye-witness. Luke, also, written from the testimony of eye-witnesses.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I'm deferring this until later at Brandon's request.

          • mally el

            Michael, just a question. If your father or mother told you something that happened in their past would you accept what they told you? I would, and did.
            If billions of people have accepted the accounts in the bible - some of which are now being proved by excavators - I am glad to be one of them. If someone would prove that the commandments were not given or that Jesus did not tell his followers to love one another I will change my mind. I will not listen to committed atheists who are creators of this new 'hearsay' which you are swallowing.

          • Andre Boillot

            "If billions of people have accepted the accounts in the bible - some of which are now being proved by excavators - I am glad to be one of them."

            Did they finally find proof of the Exodus? What's now being uncovered?

          • mally el

            Ignorance or denial of what the wise old people have known - about Moses and David - or heard from reliable people, and written down is not proof that these events did not happen. I will not go by the myths (that these events are myths) that have been recently created by certain people - whom I do not trust.

          • Michael Murray

            mally el. If it was before my father got Alzheimers I would probably believe them. Depends how likely an event it was or how it fitted in with other things I know. The memory is a tricky thing and the brain very good at manufacturing them. I'm sure we have all had the experience of discovering something we thought we remembered happening couldn't have possibly happened.

            But my parents are hear, I can talk to them now. The link between the text in the bible you hold in your hand and any events that may or may have happened 2000 years ago is amazingly tenuous. There is probably 100 years before second hand accounts were written down anywhere. Then they are rewritten by scribes who could only copy but not read themselves. Then translated. Then altered and added to often by committees of Christians with political agendas. It's a mess.

            If someone would prove that the commandments were not given or that Jesus did not tell his followers to love one another I will change my mind.

            Well said. I don't have a problem with Jesus saying either of these things. Just a problem with the divinity.

          • mally el

            So, just because people experienced or heard of things long ago and so written long ago does not mean that they should be rejected. If you have any evidence that this was all made up I will reconsider my stand. In the meantime, I will not go by some hearsay invented relatively recently by people I do not trust..

          • Michael Murray

            Fine. I'm just going on what I read is the consensus of biblical scholars who treat the bible like any other historical document.

          • Scott McPherson

            Can you prove the Koran is hearsay and has questionable sources? Probably not, because the burdon of proof is on them. For the Bible, it is up to you to prove it is not hearsay.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine
          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            When Hume says things like, "We ought not to make an exception for human testimony which itself has no necessary connection with any event," it makes it impossible for me to follow his line of reasoning any farther. Hume sees cause and effect as being merely mental habits and as having no grounding in reality. My reply is: of course human testimony is connected with an event!

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            >" My reply is: of course human testimony is connected with an event!"

            David, you left out the critical word "necessary." Hume is stating that testimony can be other than what actually happened in the event. That is key to the whole argument.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            I'll grant what you say.

            Hume goes on: "If his falsehood would be more miraculous than the event he relates, only then could he pretend to persuade me in belief." I disagree with this as well. Relating a miraculous event requires the same degree of honesty that would be required for relating anything else. Either it happened or it didn't. Either the person saw it or the person didn't. A person need not be any less "barbarous and ignorant" than anyone else for me to believe him. I trust the perceptions of a reasonably sane, reasonably honest person. Whether Hume knew it or not, miracles were occurring in his day and they still occur in ours.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            >" A person need not be any less "barbarous and ignorant" than anyone else for me to believe him."

            The problem is that people also report things that are not true even though they think they are reporting accurately. We see this today in court testimony when people are shocked to see the surveillance video show them something different that what they remember.

            Hume's point is even more true today when we understand the laws of nature so much better and thus what it would take for something to actually be miraculous. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and Hume is saying that it is unreasonable to believe reports when the chance that they are wrong is higher than the chance that the miracle actually happened. He is factoring in lying, but not depending on it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            I take what you say to be true in many cases in which you aren't really paying much attention to what you're doing, or when you are called upon to give an accurate description of an event, down to the detail. Down to the detail is the key phrase. Even the gospels diverge when it comes to details. But they all tell the same basic story. As I see it, no one would get all the details right, but the basic story? Sure, you'd remember it, especially if it were highly unusual.

          • stanz2reason

            The proofs you speak of (ie. the hearsay you call 'The Bible') are 2000 years old. This is fact, one so widely recognized that it doesn't require any additional support.

            Labeling such sources are questionable again isn't something that requires proof per se, as that is an opinion. That there were opportunities for embellishments to be made, claims exaggerated and altered, plausible motives for doing so in a time period so long ago from a human perspective where the average person had the scientific knowledge a step or two removed from a caveman, in a book already wrought with countless factual errors, it is in my opinion fair to cite the source of your claims as questionable. I'm not sure what sort of proof you're looking for other than common sense.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            I have heard that there are copies of the books of the Bible which go way back. Very little embellishment has been observed.

            How would a lack of scientific knowledge cause claims to be exaggerated? The Bible does not venture any scientific claims at all. It simply chronicles events without any reference to science.

            The factual errors aren't surprising: different eye-witness accounts often diverge in details. It would actually be cause for suspicion if the 4 gospels said exactly the same thing. It would cause one to wonder if the different authors had spent a lot of time "getting the story straight" before writing it down.

          • stanz2reason

            I have heard that there are copies of the books of the Bible which go way back. Very little embellishment has been observed.

            Embellishment of a story can happen the moment pen hits the pages, assuming all who are supposedly responsible for witnessing such events were even able to write.

            How would a lack of scientific knowledge cause claims to be exaggerated?

            Perhaps they described an event through the eyes of someone who wasn't able to differentiate magic & a natural explanation.

            The Bible does not venture any scientific claims at all.

            As soon as you make claims that are in direct opposition to those of science (ie. re-attaching an ear that's been cut off by just putting it back on) you're treading into scientific waters and should be prepared to defend your claim with more than 'well, that's what some guy might have said 2000 years ago'.

            The factual errors aren't surprising: different eye-witness accounts often diverge in details. It would actually be cause for suspicion if the 4 gospels said exactly the same thing.

            Claiming unreliability to show reliability. My head almost imploded in an outward direction.

          • DAVID

            I'll take your last two points because they are less speculative.

            No claims which I am making are in direct opposition to science. Science hypothesizes, tests, measures, and reports. It makes no judgments on miracles. If you were to say that miracles are directly opposed to your philosophy of reality, then I'd simply have to agree with you. But science, itself, is mute on miracles.

            On your second point: when I "claim unreliability to show reliability," I am claiming something which historians claim all the time: reliable eye-witnesses get the facts straight but often fudge on the details. The factual errors in the gospels which you've heard about are details. They don't add up to much and they certainly do not prove the unreliability of the gospel writers.

          • stanz2reason

            But science, itself, is mute on miracles.

            Which just isn't true. Miracles in general are things that are in direct violation of sound scientific principle. That's not a philosophy of reality, but that's actual reality.

            I am claiming something which historians claim all the time: reliable eye-witnesses get the facts straight but often fudge on the details.

            No you're not.

            The factual errors aren't surprising... It would actually be cause for suspicion if the 4 gospels said exactly the same thing.

            You're claiming a HIGHER level of consistency between differing accounts to be LESS likely to be accurate.

            If you're looking for smoking gun proof for the Bible, or the Iliad or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon are untrue, you're unlikely to find it. In my opinion the truth of such things are so unlikely and unverifiable, they're all worthless in that regard.

          • DAVID

            When you speak of scientific principle, are invoking a particular law of physics, biology, chemistry? Which law are you invoking? Show me which law specifically denies the possibility of a miracle.

            You're claiming a HIGHER level of consistency between differing accounts to be LESS likely to be accurate.

            What I'm really doing is making a distinction between relevant facts and trivial details.

          • stanz2reason

            Are you serious??

            Matthew 14:25 "Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake."

            Can't walk on water. Violation of physics with a side of chem & bio.

            Mark 8:22-25 "... some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

            Can't fix blind people by simply touching them. That's not how eyes work.

            Matthew 9:6-7 "So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home."

            Can't fix cripples by talking to them.

            John 2:7-9 "Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.

            Can't do that. Chemistry violation.

            Mark 4: 37-39 "A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."

            Can't stop the weather by yelling at it.

            Mark 11: 12-20 "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.... In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

            Can't kill fig tree by yelling at it. Seems like a jerk move too especially since figs weren't even in season.

            I can go on... and on... and on... pointing out how no sane person would find these stories convincing let alone even plausible had they been told about a guy named Ralph from down the block who did the same thing last week.

          • DAVID

            You've evaded my question. Which scientific law specifically denies the possibility of miracles?

          • stanz2reason

            With regards to Christ's supposed walking on water I offer as a response- Archimedes Principle: Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. & Newtons Law of Gravity "Every point mass attracts every single other point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points."
            In order for Christ to walk on water he would have to had weighted nothing, or at the most had been light enough not to break the surface tension of the water. Had Christ weighted any more than that, the gravitational force that the entirety of the mass of the earth would have pulled his feet, knees, legs, torso, arms and finally head into the water, at which time his ability to remain afloat would depend on his overall density and ability to tread water. In any case walking would be impossible.

            With regards to Christ's supposed quelling of the squall I offer as a response Newtons First Law of Motion: "An object in motion remains in motion, and at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force."
            The inertial forces of a high winds would require an equal amount of opposing force to stop them outright. The force generated by yelling at said wind would have had a negligible effect on the storm.

            If you'd like any more examples, I suggest picking up a science textbook.

          • DAVID

            I understand what you've been saying in your past 2 posts. But science is empirical. It doesn't make sweeping claims about what is and is not possible. It only reports what it measures through observation and controlled experiments. Science could not make a judgment on a miracle unless it were possible to reproduce one in a controlled environment and measure it. But since miracles are exceptional phenomena, you can't do that. Now, to say that nothing exceptional ever happens in the universe-that is not science. That is philosophy.

          • stanz2reason

            But science is empirical.

            Yes, good scientific conclusions are based on good examination of good empirical data.

            It doesn't make sweeping claims about what is and is not possible.

            By a standard of what is commonly understood to be 'possible vs. impossible' (ie. things falling up, faster than light, etc.) science does making sweeping claims. If you're looking for some sort of unreasonable Humeian level certainty, you're wasting your time as you'd never say anything about anything.

            It only reports what it measures through observation and controlled experiments.

            ... and then used that observed data to form a picture of the world, which includes observed laws for how that picture is expected to look in the future.

            Now, to say that nothing exceptional ever happens in the universe-that is not science.

            That of course depends on how you'd define exceptional. General Relativity is exceptional. Were exceptional to mean there was a temporary magical suspension of the laws of the universe, then no, science does not comment on imaginary things.

          • DAVID

            What it boils down to is this: science measures matter. It builds a picture of the material world. Science has nothing to say about the immaterial or the supernatural because it cannot measure it. If you're going to claim that the supernatural does not exist, then you are making a metaphysical claim, a philosophical claim. Not a scientific claim.

          • stanz2reason

            Granted, scientific and religious thought speak with equal authority on imaginary things. Science can not comment on magic. Science can not debunk fairy tales outside of a material framework.

          • josh

            This is false. Science does not make a distinction between material and immaterial, natural and supernatural etc. These are not prerequisites of a scientific approach. Science is about what it is reasonable to believe. I can make up an infinite number of things, call them material, immaterial, numinous, transcendent, what you will, with no evidence. Science gives the same verdict: there is no reason to believe in such things.

            Historically, people have tried to advance evidence for all manner of supernatural claims, and were taken quite seriously by scientists and thinkers of the time. But in the end, none of them panned out.

          • DAVID

            Josh,

            There are a good number of scientists, living today, who believe in the supernatural. You can be a good scientist, even a great scientist, and still believe in God. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

          • josh

            This is like arguing that you can be a good doctor and a serial killer. It's true and it misses the point completely. Being a scientist and being religious are not exclusive. Being scientific while being religious is an impossibility.

          • StacyTrasancos
          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            Do these catholic scientists practice catholic science? What's uniquely catholic about their science? Nobody disputes that a catholic can also be a scientist.

          • StacyTrasancos

            Josh did. You'll have to ask him what he meant.

            What's uniquely "Catholic" about a Catholic doing science? That's like asking what's uniquely female about a female doing science. However if I try to understand what you mean to ask, I'd say that a Catholic believes he/she can know and recognize truth in an ordered world, and trust in his/her power of intellect and will, free thought and free will, to search for it.

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            Josh did not say catholics cannot also be scientists, what he said was that you can't practice science *while* practicing catholicism. I agree with him. People who are both catholics and scientists are alternating between two very different (and in many ways opposite) activities.

            Take the difference between a religious ritual and a scientific experiment. There is no such thing as a catholic experiment or a scientific ritual. It is not that you are permanently rendered un-catholic for doing scientific experiments, so much as that when doing a scientific experiment you are not performing an act of catholicism but of science.

            Likewise, one cannot coherently categorize a catholic sacrament like communion as a scientific experiment -- it is an expression of religious faith, an attempt to trigger certain kinds of mental processes, not a way of seeking objective evidence about the nature of reality. One could perform experiments upon the bread and wine (e.g. determine its chemical composition, whether it is turned to blood or flesh), but this would not be a catholic act, rather a scientific one.

          • mally el

            There is no such thing as a Catholic or atheistic science. There are scientists who are Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, new age or atheistic

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            What is meant by "are" -- religion, if it is to be compared to science, is something you do, not a property of a person. Nobody simply is a scientist, rather they follow scientific methodology. Nobody simply is a religionist, rather they follow a given set of religious teachings. Josh's point was that scientific methodology (empiricism, etc.) is not directly compatible with religious teachings (faith, etc.) People who both practice science and religion are either alternating between them or assigning only part of their brainpower to either task. Since both are ways of attempting to learn truth about the environment, this produces some real conflicts and cognitive dissonance. The fact that some people are able to "make it work" in their own minds does not make the incompatibility go away.

          • mally el

            Scientific methodology has nothing to do with ones belief or disbelief in God. Throughout history there have been great scientists who have believed in God. Science deals with creation; religion deals with the Creator and our relationships with God, neighbour and the environment.

          • Michael Murray

            The beliefs of the great scientists of the past are not relevant. Great scientists of the past believed in alchemy and astrology. Scientific knowledge improves and accumulates. The relevant question is what do great scientists believe now based on that accumulation of knowledge ? Predominantly they do not believe in any gods.

          • mally el

            Yes, some did. And some did not believe in God. But many did believe. Even today!

          • Michael Murray

            Not many.

          • mally el

            Oh, there are many. Not only in Italy, the USA, France and other western countries but also in India, Iran, Russia and so on.

          • Michael Murray

            You should read this excellent post by physicistdave

            http://www.strangenotions.com/einstein-god/#comment-896869034

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            It has plenty to do with my own disbelief in God. In particular, the lack of evidence for a creator or miracle-working deity.

          • Michael Murray

            What's uniquely catholic about their science?

            I think you will find less of them researching how to produce thinner and stronger latex and more of them working in protein enhanced flours.

          • mally el

            Leave the latex to those who are interested in it. Better to work on health and wellbeing.

          • josh

            Did you even bother to read what I wrote?

          • StacyTrasancos

            Yes.

          • josh

            So you didn't understand. I'll expand. People are capable of mutually contradicting beliefs and inconsistent behaviors. We are a collection of many interacting systems, so we aren't strictly rational all the time, or always irrational, etc. A person can be a good mathematician and still screw up their taxes or have a gambling addiction. Kurt Godel, one of the greatest logicians of all time, suffered from paranoia which eventually caused him to starve himself to death. So making a list of people who are both scientists and religious tells us nothing about whether the ideas or methodology of science and religion are compatible. C.f.- the doctor/serial killer analogy above.

          • StacyTrasancos

            How do you account for this?

            "And since space is divisible in infinitum and matter is not necessarily in all places, it may be also allowed that God is able to create particles of matter of several sizes and figures, and in several proportions to space, and perhaps of different densities and forces, and thereby to vary the laws of nature, and make worlds of several sorts in several parts of the universe. At least, I see nothing of contradiction in all this." -Sir Isaac Newton on Atomic Theory

            http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/newton-optics.asp

          • josh

            Account for the fact that Newton got a couple things wrong about matter and space, and that he could also imagine that God created different particles? What's to explain? Newton also spent much of his time on alchemy and petty feuds, how does this not simply enforce my point?

          • StacyTrasancos

            It shows that you can in fact be religious and scientific at the same time (something you said was impossible). Are you familiar with the writing of Blaise Pascal? His probability calculus was based on the Divine plan of salvation and the need for grace, at a religious level he knew that the human mind grappled with probability.

          • josh

            No, 'God could create particles' is errant speculation then and remains so now, it is not science. Believing that God created particles, based on no sound evidence, is explicitly anti-science. Please try to understand the point I am making: people can be inconsistent, holding contradictory ideas in your head does not make the ideas themselves compatible.

            Pascal developed his mathematics of probability to deal with gambling. His theological Wager however, has been debunked many times over.

          • mally el

            He said 'it may also be'.

          • josh

            Hmm, I had a reply to Stacy that got eaten somewhere. I'm addressing here and mally el now. 'God could create particles' is errant speculation, not science. But more importantly, believing God created particles is irrational based on the available evidence and thus explicitly anti-science.

          • mally el

            What available evidence are you talking about? If you can present it, I will definitely reconsider my views.

          • josh

            Well, there is no evidence of God or God-like things creating particles. God is one of the infinite number of things for which we have no evidence and it's not rational to believe in any of them without sufficient reason.

            Beyond that, we have a pretty good idea of where the concept of God comes from and why people do believe in it, so believing God is a real thing (other than an idea) is going against the evidence. (I'm thinking here of the historical evolution of various religions, psychology studies that reveal the biases and gullibilities that religion exploits, neurological studies that show, for instance, the 'mystical' experiences that can be engendered by drugs, magnetic fields, etc.)

            On top of that, for specific conceptions of God, which are what religious people actually believe in, there are the various incompatibilities of God's supposed attributes, like the problem of evil, simplicity vs. mind-like or person-like characteristics, omniscience vs. free will, etc.

          • mally el

            Reason tells me there is a God. There is no reason to believe otherwise.

          • DAVID

            Here is an impressive list of scientific thinkers who not only believe in God, but are also Christian:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_thinkers_in_science

            Among them are: George Lamaitre who came up with the Big Bang theory (he was not only Christian, but a priest), Max Planck who is considered the father of quantum physics, Gregor Mendel who is the father of modern genetics (he was a Catholic monk), and Joseph Murray who pioneered transplant surgery. Also Isaac Newton, Kepler, and Copernicus.

            Here are scientists who are more contemporary: Sir John Bertrand Gurdon who pioneered stem cell research, Gerhardt Ertl who won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, William Daniel Phillips who is the 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Francis Collins who headed the Human Genome Project, and Brian Kolbika who received the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

          • mally el

            Scientists who are religious will not agree with that. One is a study of the material world; the other is about our relationships. One great scientist said that one teaches you about how the heavens go, the other about how to go to heaven.

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            The claim that "all reported miracles are actually delusion, fraud, and other kinds of natural events" is a scientific one. It could be disproved by a single exception that holds up to scrutiny.

            Most religions are content to assume natural explanations for competing religions' claims, but are more than willing to suspend disbelief for their own specific notion of the supernatural.

          • DAVID

            The claim that "all reported miracles are actually delusion, fraud, and other kinds of natural events" is a scientific one. It could be disproved by a single exception that holds up to scrutiny.

            There are plenty of exceptions which hold up to scrutiny. But scientists don't claim that these exceptions are miracles. Instead, they claim that they are "inexplicable," or "without scientific explanation."

            One example of this is a lady recovering from Parkinson's Disease: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/report_john_paul_miracle_could_attributed_fB9jJEqccTjsu40h01KPUK

            It wouldn't be the business of a scientist to say whether its a miracle or not. That's for theologians to do work out.

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            For something to live up to the claim that it is a miracle, there must be 1) a direct causal link between prayer and healing, and 2) it must be supernatural. Science can help us establish direct causal links between things, given sufficient evidence. In the absence of such a link, you have not falsified the hypothesis that miracle claims are all natural occurrences.

            Such a causal link could exist in a possible world where nanotechnology is programmed to respond to prayer. This would falsify the hypothesis without proving that the supernatural exists. It is not clear to me how one would go about proving that the supernatural, if it appears to exist, is actually authentic and not simply an advanced form of technology or some other aspect of nature.

          • DAVID

            Science can help us establish direct causal links between things, given sufficient evidence.

            This is true at the natural level, in other words, at the level of matter. If matter/energy were to somehow "go out" from the one who prays and heal a sick person, then perhaps science could measure it. But the Church denies that prayer is primarily a natural event. It is communication with God who is outside of space/time. If God were to listen to someone's prayer, and heal a person, you would have to look for the source of the healing outside of space/time, which is something which we cannot do.

          • Susan

            >If God were to listen to someone's prayer, and heal a person, you would have to look for the source of the healing outside of space/time, which is something which we cannot do.

            Yet you can make assertions about "outside of space/time". Why are you able to do that?
            What do you mean by "space/time"? How do you know its "limits" so that you can speak so freely about that which lies "outside" it?
            Explain how "outside" means anything without space. Please show your work.

          • DAVID

            I don't have to personally know the limits of space/time, I just have to understand that a Creator would necessarily have to be outside of it. The Creator, upon whom everything depends for existence, depends on nothing. The Creator is pure existence, pure being, and therefore exists outside of all created realities, including space/time. Being an infinite Being, the Creator is also inside of space/time, but in an immaterial way. That's because God does not have a body.

          • Susan

            >I don't have to personally know the limits of space/time, I just have to understand that a Creator would necessarily have to be outside of it.

            But without understanding space/time and its limits, how could you know what "outside" of it means and if you don't know what "outside" of it means, how can you posit a necessary Creator outside of space/time? I'm asking for clarification.

            >The Creator, upon whom everything depends for existence,

            You have not supported this. Everything that exists exists. We both know that. You have no evidence for this "creator" or even the need for this "creator". You can't stick fairies at the bottom of the garden without justifying it.
            I can't address the rest as its just more assertions and the semantics aren't worth the effort to drill down to see if there's a bottom until you respond to the first part.

          • DAVID

            But without understanding space/time and its limits, how could you know what "outside" of it means and if you don't know what "outside" of it means, how can you posit a necessary Creator outside of space/time?

            If the Creator was inside space/time, then He couldn't have created it. It would be like a character in a book writing the book in which he is a character. The person who wrote the book would have to be outside the book to write it. So God must necessarily be outside of the universe, or multiverse.

            Everything that exists exists. We both know that. You have no evidence for this "creator" or even the need for this "creator".

            What I know for certain is that everything in this universe changes. Everything had a beginning and will someday have an end (including the universe). Its very easy to see that this universe needs a foundation, something that doesn't change; something that had no beginning and has no end. It provides the stability to keep all of these unstable things going. It provides the universe, and therefore everything within it, with a beginning because it, itself, needs no beginning. This would be God.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry but these are basically content free statements. "pure existence", "pure being". What does it mean ? What evidence do you have for any of it ?

          • DAVID

            Pure actuality is another term. Everything in this universe changes. It changes from non-existence to existence, grows and decays, and then goes back again to non-existence. A purely actual being cannot change and cannot Not exist. Being purely actual, it has no potential to be anything else. It is pure existence because it contains all of existence within itself. It just Is. And since it is so stable, it makes a great deal of sense that it would be the foundation on top of this very unstable universe. It would be the one thing which causes existence because its the only thing that doesn't need something else to cause it.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Got evidence?

          • DAVID

            If its true that the universe, and everything in it, is unstable and goes in and out of existence; then that is pretty good evidence for God. If everything in the universe is unstable, then there has to be some ultimate principle of stability on which everything can depend. If everything in the universe comes into existence as the effect of some cause, and eventually goes out of existence, then there must be some ultimate cause which transcends this process; a cause that neither comes into existence nor goes out of it.

          • Michael Murray

            Everything in this universe changes. It changes from non-existence to existence, grows and decays, and then goes back again to non-existence.

            Everything in the universe is built from quantum fields. If you want to understand the universe you have to do physics. Ideas like "actuality" "pure being" etc are no more useful to understanding the universe than "chakras", "astral planes", "arithmancy", "the force" etc.

            A purely actual being cannot change and cannot Not exist.

            The capital letter on Not here does not stop this being complete dingo's kidneys. You can't lift a pure being into being by some bunch of words.

            Evidence for your pure being please ?

          • DAVID

            Everything in the universe is built from quantum fields. If you want to understand the universe you have to do physics. Ideas like "actuality" "pure being" etc are no more useful to understanding the universe than "chakras", "astral planes", "arithmancy", "the force" etc.

            Before we can go further, I first need to know, do you object to what I've said: "Everything in this universe changes. It changes from non-existence to existence, grows and decays, and then goes back again to non-existence"? If this is not something that you feel comfortable assuming, then I'm pretty sure that you will not accept any evidence which I might give.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi David. Good point. No I'm not comfortable with any of these kinds of things in this context. For me these are descriptions of how large scale things behave. Our understanding of physics is that at the fundamental level, that is at the level of the constituent parts of these large scale things, the behaviour is different. So I think it's not possible to make deductions, particularly these kinds of word deductions from macro sort of behaviour such as the observation that all things come and go etc.

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            > If God were to listen to someone's prayer, and heal a person, you would have to look for the source of the healing outside of space/time, which is something which we cannot do.

            The causal link would still be visible with enough measurements, even if no energy field goes out, and even if God's actions are not dependent on time. The only thing that needs to be visible is the very thing we need to know whether miracles are real or not: that people who pray get well more than people that don't. If that's not the case, prayer is a waste of their time and energy (aside from any psychological or social benefits it may bring). Because it does not in *reality* influence your chances of being healed.

            There are some interesting thought experiments about acausal trades, or Newcomb's Box. But they do not veer into the realm of fundamental unreality where things happen for no reason at all.

          • DAVID
          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            The usual post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy at the base of most "miracle" claims.

          • DAVID

            Luke, I should add that God is also within space/time, but He is not some material manifestation which can be measured by scientific equipment.

          • Susan

            1) What does that mean?
            2) How do you know this?

          • mally el

            Faith in science and faith in revealed truths.

          • Susan

            That doesn't answer either of my questions and now I have a new one.
            What do you mean by "faith"?

          • mally el

            I trust the laws of science. All engineers do. They place their faith in something that they trust.

          • Michael Murray

            I should add that God is also within space/time

            Huh ? Usually we are told that God is outside of space and time. Can we get his cleared up please ? The torture of our souls for all eternity is at stake.

            He is not some material manifestation which can be measured by scientific equipment.

            Ah I see. The old "my esp doesn't work when there are doubters in the room" trick. Got it.

          • DAVID

            Perhaps you've heard the terms "transcendent" and "immanent". God is both of those. He transcends creations but he is also immanent within it. Being an infinite Being, he is everywhere. But of course, God doesn't have a body. Its not like you could find him sitting somewhere in the corner of the universe.

          • Michael Murray

            I have heard of them. I've never heard of a satisfactory definition of them.

          • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

            > Luke, I should add that God is also within space/time, but He is not some material manifestation which can be measured by scientific equipment.

            We aren't discussing what God is, rather what he does. One thing (among many) that he apparently does not do is miracles -- at least if they are defined as the act of causally linking religious event (such as prayer) with a positive occurrence (such as healing). We aren't talking about measuring an electron field, we're talking about cause and effect, the most basic part of reality.

          • DAVID

            One thing (among many) that he apparently does not do is miracles -- at least if they are defined as the act of causally linking religious event (such as prayer) with a positive occurrence (such as healing).

            But miracles are reported quite often. I know a friend whose brother was healed in that fashion. I've heard a few other testimonies from people. Now, if I've heard about a few, then there must be many others like me who have heard about a few. That adds up to a lot of miracles.

            I think that these events mostly go unreported. Often, the people whose prayers have been answered thank God, live with greater faith, and then get on with their lives. They tell people from time to time, but, in general, they don't talk about it much. They probably don't want to draw attention to themselves.

          • DAVID

            In fact, stanz2reason, I can even tell you more or less what your metaphysical conviction is: you're a naturalist, a materialist. You are something like that.

          • stanz2reason

            I'm surprised you were able to deduce that from a dozen posts supporting scientific authority and criticizing evidence-free claims for the immaterial. That's snappy detective work. Everyone's worldview is unique, though mine shares most of those views.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Huh? Even Catholic scholars acknowledge that the Gospels were written decades after the events they describe were supposed to have occurred. I'm also pretty sure that even Catholic Biblical scholars recognise that the authors of the Gospels were not by eye-witnesses themselves, but were recorders of an oral tradition of what those eye-witnesses had reported.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            People alive at the time of the events could easily have lived for decades afterwards. They could possibly have lived until the end of the century.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Two points. First "decades" is a minimum. Some scholars (including some Catholic scholars) say that it was the better part of a century or more before the fist gospels were written.

            Second, if there were eye witnesses, why didn't they write it down earlier? And why no contemporary letters or reports? You'd think someone would write home about the dead walking the streets of Jerusalem, etc...

      • AshleyWDC

        You seem to really enjoy speaking for atheists. I'll do you the service of correcting your misunderstandings again. I don't dismiss out of hand the possibility of the dead arising, but I don't see any good evidence that it has ever happened.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          You don't believe eye-witness testimony. That's what the gospel accounts claim to be. You must think it is a either an hallucination or a fabrication. And so you dismiss it.

          • Octavo

            Why shouldn't we dismiss rumors of resurrections?

            Empirical analysis of the brain strongly indicates that our memories, our emotions, and our other mental functions are physical, biological processes that end irrevocably with death and decomposition.

            To overcome that strong evidence, we're going to need far more than rumors. We need repeatable demonstrations that decomposed corpses can be restored to life with full function and memory the way that the stories claim the corpses of Lazarus and Jesus were restored.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            If you need a repeatable demonstration then you don't need a miracle. If you dismiss miracles then you have ruled out the possibility of God who performs them. That's actually the point I'm making. God cannot prove His existence to you. There's nothing He can do. He can't even bring someone back from the dead to convince you. You will dismiss it as a rumor.

          • ZenDruid

            It appears that you have ruled out the possibility that the metaphysics your religion has given you is a complete fabrication.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I don't know about David, but yes I have, because I'm not a bigot.

            Nostra Aetate teaches us that NO religion or philosophy is a "complete fabrication". None. Not even the most primitive paganism.

            All are based on observation, and thus, are not fabrications.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            But surely any fabrication that hopes to be plausible *is* based on observation? Isn't observation how a successful fabricator achieves verisimilitude?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Only to somebody who isn't skeptical enough about their own skepticism.

          • Octavo

            "If you need a repeatable demonstration then you don't need a miracle."

            According to your own legends in Judges 6, Gideon asked for the evidence of repeatable demonstrations, and the angel of the Lord provided the evidence without berating him about how dismissing miracles rules out the possibility of God.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • TheodoreSeeber

            "Empirical analysis of the brain strongly indicates that our memories, our emotions, and our other mental functions are physical, biological processes that end irrevocably with death and decomposition."

            The Bardo of the Tibetan Buddhists, the largest scientific study of near death experience in any religion or philosophy, suggests otherwise.

            But of course, that sort of empirical analysis you are not open to, because you are bigoted against cultures other than scientific.

          • Octavo

            "...you are bigoted against cultures other than scientific."
            This isn't civil dialogue. I don't think this is what was intended by the people who designed this site.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • TheodoreSeeber

            To point out bigotry and bias in a system isn't civil?

            In that case, I'm done with this site, as there is no hope at all of coming to any understanding. The atheists will merely continue to be bigoted against any evidence the Catholics represent, the Catholics will continue to pray for the miraculous conversion of the atheists, and nothing will be accomplished at all.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Ok, proven, atheists can't be bothered to dialogue.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            You are correct. I was wondering what they intended at that point in the discussion. I still do to some extent- it seems to me that discussing religion with atheists is about as fruitful as discussing religion with Jack Chick.

            Then I realized, thanks to a post in another thread, that is indeed the point. The one thing Atheists and Catholics have in common is respect for rationality and reason (I think, I'm still not convinced that atheists *have* rationality), and due to that, we are both attacked by superstitious fundamentalists, of every stripe.

          • AshleyWB

            Again, you're telling me what I believe. That is a very foolish thing to do. The better approach is to ask people what they think, then listen to them.

            In this case, I have never been presented with eye-witness testimony. I'm aware that the gospels purport to be based on other people's eye-witness testimony, but for the remarkable claims they make, that's just not good enough. I wouldn't convict a person of littering based on that, much less accept events like resurrection and fish-multiplying. I also don't accept the truth of the Koran, even though its history is more directly connected to Islam's founder.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            I apologize.

            Here's my reasoning. The more believable and reliable the sources, the more likely I am to believe their testimony, even if I find their accounts implausible. In the course of history, people have constantly had to relearn what is and is not possible. Based on this, I see no reason to dismiss out of hand that someone came back from the dead 2000 years ago. There are too many unknowns and hidden possibilities in life to make this claim beyond belief.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I completely accept the truth of the Qu'ran.

            I just disagree with it's theology, for the same reason I disagree with subjective moral relativism.

            I need to leave. This conversation is never going to go anywhere.

          • AshleyWB

            No "conversation" involving you ever goes anywhere. All you do is throw slurs around and run away.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Only in response to the slurs started.

            But I just read something in another thread that renewed my faith in this project- Atheism and Catholicism have ONE BIG THING IN COMMON: The fundamentalists hate us.

          • articulett

            I'm with Ashley-- and let me add that I don't think the Mormon gold plates existed either.

            Presents under the tree are not evidence that Santa is real if he may have been based on someone who actually lived once.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable - and that's when it's first hand. Court-room lawyers have known this for decades. We even have the contemporary example of dozens of Ivy League educated westerners who testify to having seen the Indian "God-Man" Satha Sai Baba raise the dead and perform other miracles and, as Sam Harris says, he doesn't even rate an hour on the Discovery Channel.

            However what you're talking about is not first hand eye-witness evidence but multiple levels of hearsay evidence - copies of copies of copies of reports of an oral tradition first written down decades after the alleged events were supposed to have occurred. Add to that the lack of any contemporary evidence or corroboration and you have some very thin "evidence" indeed...

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            There are extra-biblical sources, very early sources, which report the original books being written either by eye-witnesses or people close to the eye-witnesses. We have very early copies of the New Testament books, the variations in the copies, as they come down to us, are negligible.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            The earliest written evidence we have is *decades* after the events were supposed to have happened. And we have *no* contemporary written reports of some events in Jerusalem you would expect to have been written about, if they'd actually happened...

          • DAVID

            Josephus the Jewish chronicler/historian is pretty contemporary with the time. He wrote of Jesus and the resurrection.

          • Andrew G.

            Josephus wrote Antiquities in the 90's AD, and said nothing about any resurrection. His text was tampered with by later Christians (this is not in dispute; the only debate is about how much it was changed) and is therefore worthless as evidence.

            There are several other more contemporary documents which do not survive but which we know from ancient commentators made no mention of Jesus; there are others which do not survive where we do not know the content, but have excellent reasons to believe that they would have been preserved or referenced had they made even the slightest relevant claim.

          • DAVID

            I have read about the quote of Josephus in question. The fact that he mentioned the resurrection is not doubted. It is only doubted that he stated the resurrection as a fact instead of as something which Christians claim.

          • Andrew G.

            "The fact that he mentioned the resurrection is not doubted" -- that'd be news to Van Voorst, or Meier, or Geza Vermes, or Grabbe, or any number of others.

            The idea that Josephus wrote that Christians claimed the resurrection is mainly based on the Arabic version of Agapius, which has "They had reported that he had appeared to them three days after..." in place of "for he appeared to them alive again the third day...". But the Arabic text is not likely to be closer to the original, see Whealey in New Testament Studies 54 (2008); it seems clear that the Syriac version it derives from had the same text as the other Greek sources, with the same Christian edits.

            Given the religious significance of this text it is possible that there will never be a reliable scholarly consensus on it. But right now the majority view seems to be that the TF is a Christian corruption of a passage that mentioned Jesus without any reference to a resurrection, with a minority view that regards the whole passage as an insertion. Accordingly its value as evidence remains essentially zero, since the reconstructed "original" texts are all speculative.

          • DAVID

            The idea that Josephus wrote that Christians claimed the resurrection is mainly based on the Arabic version of Agapius, which has "They had reported that he had appeared to them three days after..." in place of "for he appeared to them alive again the third day...". But the Arabic text is not likely to be closer to the original, see Whealey inNew Testament Studies 54 (2008); it seems clear that the Syriac version it derives from had the same text as the other Greek sources, with the same Christian edits.

            It makes little sense to me that Josephus would not mention the resurrection in reference to Christians. After all, its true: Christians were reporting Jesus' appearance to them. Paul writes about the resurrection as early as 51AD, decades before Josephus' earliest work (c. 71AD).

          • Andrew G.

            Why would Josephus care about Christians? At that time their numbers were negligible (no more than around 10,000 in the entire Roman Empire, from all available data). If, as is quite possible, both the TF and the reference to "Christ" in AJ 20.200 are later additions, then Josephus may not even have known about Christians at all; he certainly never mentions them when discussing religious issues.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Josephus wrote extensively about completely boring events re Jerusalem. If zombies had walked out of tombs in mass, and strolled the streets after Passover, Josephus would have cared, and written about it.

          • Andrew G.

            He wouldn't have been the only one, either.

            ETA: perhaps you missed that I was responding to a specific comment from David?

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Yes, I know you were answering David; I was just piling on.

          • DAVID

            Why would Josephus care about Christians? At that time their numbers were negligible (no more than around 10,000 in the entire Roman Empire, from all available data).

            I think that Josephus would've mentioned Christianity because it falls under a category which was of great interest to him: messianic groups that arose before the destruction of Jerusalem. Plus, keep in mind, most of the Christians in the early decades were centered in Jerusalem itself.

          • Andrew G.

            That makes it remarkable that Josephus does not mention Christianity except in the passage known to be at least tampered with, and possibly interpolated in its entirety; it does not entitle you to assume that Josephus wrote something other than what he did.

            Remember that before Eusebius, we have a significant number of early Christian writers who quote Josephus or demonstrate knowledge of him, and none of them thought that Josephus had anything interesting to say about Jesus.

          • DAVID

            Fine. I will agree with you that I shouldn't assume to know what Josephus wrote. I can claim no significant knowledge on the subject.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        If some person (whose religious beliefs were unknown to you) came up to you on a street corner and said....

        "David, my Uncle Louie died unexpectedly a couple of days ago. My family was so bereft by their loss that they prayed ceaselessly for God to restore him to life. And lo and behold, He did just that! This morning we visited our family crypt and Uncle Louie was sitting outside, smiling and whistling a happy tune."

        .......would you be inclined to believe, or not???

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

          If I knew this person well, I would at least verify to see what was going on. To up the stakes, if this person has proven, time and again, to be right when I was wrong, then it will be easy to trust this person, even when the claim seems strange to me. By and large, the Christians that I have known have been "those people." The people who are more trustworthy than myself. The more I read the works of early Christians, going back the beginning, the more I perceive that they were trustworthy also.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            Human beings are incredibly gullible, and the easiest person in the world to fool is yourself. Eye witness evidence is notoriously unreliable, especially when the remembered facts are comforting or fit into pre-existing prejudices. You don't have to be a conman like Joseph Smith to fool millions into believing a falsehood, you just have to first believe it yourself.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-La-May/1261359806 David La May

            The gospels, by and large, do not portray the resurrection as comforting. The first impression of most of them was shock, fear, and disbelief. It took a little while before they were happy.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            But we don't have their first impressions. We have accounts, written decades later, of what they allegedly told the Gospel authors of what they remember of their first reactions...

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            The telling of stories causes memories to change. When this happens over time it gets even worse. The more important point is that the Gospels were written by Greek speakers decades later (as you mentioned) from stories that were circulating in an oral tradition that had as many variations as there were geographically separated groups of followers.

            Doesn't look so good compared to Egyptian deities who had their religious texts carved or painted on stone walls in tombs that you can read, today, in the original, no copies, no copy errors.

          • Benjamin O’Donnell

            The colonel says to the first messenger, "Send reinforcements, we are going to advance." By the time it reaches HQ, passed by word of moth through multiple messengers, it has become, "Send three and four-pence, we are going to a dance."

          • DAVID

            Resurrection from the dead is not exactly something you would forget. You wouldn't forget your first impressions of it either. It would be much easier to suppose that it was made-up rather than half-remembered or vaguely transmitted.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            The first written report of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection are not in the Gospels (like you seen to believe). They were in the first letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 15) written by Paul circa 53-57 AD. A mere 20 to 24 years after the events. By a man who while persecuting Christians, encountered Jesus resurrected, experienced a conversion and made a point to talk to eye witnesses. The corruption of the Gospels theory falls flat when confronted by this historical fact.

            One more thing, not all Gospels were written in Greek, According to Papias (Circa 100AD), first century writer, the Gospel of Mathew was written in Aramaic, which places its writing within 70 years of the events it reports. On a society in which oral history was very important, there was very little time for corruption for this gospel.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • Octavo

    I sometimes wonder if people who claim that atheism is unfalsifiable have read any fantasy or science fiction novels at all since they are replete with scenarios in which naturalism and atheism are easily falsified.

    In Final Fantasy X, when someone dies, a priest can perform a ritual that sends the person's spirit to the afterlife. Later in the game, you find a portal to said afterlife. You can enter it and visit with the spirits of the deceased for a time.
    Naturalism is falsified since it is determined that life has a non-material component and the spirit can live beyond the flesh.

    In Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: A scientist named Sid has invented technology that can detect and interact with the spirits of any living being. He uses his new knowledge of how matter and spirit interact to design force fields that keep evil spirits from entering a city. Later he observes the spirit or god of the earth absorbing the spirits of dead people.
    Naturalism is falsified in this scenarios and a mixture of animism and theism is confirmed empirically.

    In Dungeons and Dragons, Clerics and Paladins derive their holy powers from their worship of gods - gods who can be observed and empirically verified. A cleric who worships Pelor becomes proficient at supernatural healing, while a cleric of Gruumsh becomes proficient at inflicting supernatural harm. When a cleric or paladin turns away from the worship of her god or violates the god's moral precepts, she loses all of her abilities to heal, harm, or prophecy.
    Atheism is falsified in this scenario. The reliable powers of the cleric are dependent on his devotion to a god or gods.

    In the Chronicles of Narnia, the children observe Aslan creating Narnia ex nihilo with his song.
    Theism is confirmed by direct observation.

    What would it take for my atheism to be falsified?
    If a returned Jesus or one of his prophets could repeatedly raise very old desiccated corpses from the dead in public view (like he did with Lazarus), that would be equivalent to a rabbit in the precambrian. This would show that A) Life definitely exists beyond Death. B) Jesus is who the scriptures say he is. C) The Mind is more than the Brain. That probably wouldn't be the end of debate, but if I and everyone else could witness that personally, that would be the death knell for my atheism.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • ZenDruid

      Yes, the concept works splendidly in fiction.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Of course, that happened- the Jerusalem Zombie Apocalypse of Matthew 27:52- and many people were converted because of it. It's happened since, but you dismiss such stories as NOT EVIDENCE, so what does it matter?

      Even if you witnessed it personally, like John C Wright did from the inside, all the other atheists would just call you a liar.

      • Octavo

        Why should I consider it evidence? It's hearsay that contradicts well documented and understood biology. Like I said, I'd need to witness it personally, and it would need to be made public so that others could witness it. Future generations shouldn't have to just take the word of a few people in a past generation regarding highly implausible events, especially if the salvation of their eternal souls is on the line.

        By the way, were there any other accounts of the events that corroborated said zombie apocalypse and the accompanying earthquake? I was under the impression that few biblical scholars think that portion of Matthew was historically accurate.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • TheodoreSeeber

          "Why should I consider it evidence?"

          For the same reason you would consider the writings of Richard Dawkins or Jean Paul Sartre or Voltaire evidence.

          " It's hearsay that contradicts well documented and understood biology."

          Biology is neither well documented nor well understood.

          Even if you did witness it personally, all that would happen is you'd either term it to be a hallucination or you'd convert and all the other atheists would call you crazy.

          "By the way, were there any other accounts of the events that corroborated said zombie apocalypse and the accompanying earthquake? I was under the impression that few biblical scholars think that portion of Matthew was historically accurate."

          Many. I suggest reading the gospels that were *rejected* as being Canonical by the Catholic Church.

          • Octavo

            "Even if you did witness it personally, all that would happen is you'd either term it to be a hallucination or you'd convert and all the other atheists would call you crazy."

            And if I had a hallucination, the same two results would likely occur.

            "Biology is neither well documented nor well understood."

            I have to wonder: what do you think the brain is? What does it do? If it holds our memories in neurons, how are those memories transmitted to an afterlife?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            "And if I had a hallucination, the same two results would likely occur."

            And thus, there is no reason to believe that you are open to evidence.

            "I have to wonder: what do you think the brain is? "

            An interface cable.

            "What does it do?"

            Interface between the neurochemical network and the soul.

            "If it holds our memories in neurons"

            Nobody has ever proven that neurons "hold" memories. They may well just be multidimensional plugs. Of course, if you take a parallel computer cable and cut out some of the wires, what happens?

            "how are those memories transmitted to an afterlife?"

            The memory already exists in the afterlife.

          • Octavo

            "And thus, there is no reason to believe that you are open to evidence."

            Do you think hallucinations don't occur? Do you think that hallucinations can't be mistaken for real life?

            A more interesting discussion is the one we're having about the brain.

            If the brain is an interface cable between the soul and the neurochemical network, then what mechanisms/particles/waves/fields/ interact with the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up our neurochemical network?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • TheodoreSeeber

            http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/05/fundamentalist-atheism.html
            For the first. I think it doesn't matter. Visions are as real as the rest of what we get from our senses.

            Let us move on with the second.

            I don't have to know the mechanism to know that this model works as well as the standard current model, which can't give us the mechanisms/particles/waves/fields/ interact with the protons, neutrons, and electrons that allow a neuron to store a memory. Heck, we don't even know the size of a memory- for short term memory it varies between 5-11 distinct irreducible objects (which is why phone numbers are 10 digits or less) , but we don't even know for sure what an "irreducible object" is or how it gets stored in long term memory even in a purely naturalistic sense.

            If my model is correct, I can only say that the connection is a parallel cable- with each neuron hooking up to a corresponding memory in the soul- and that brain damage will damage the connection between each neuron and the memory (usually by destruction of the neuron). There is some evidence in stroke treatment therapy that one can *rebuild* those connections and *recover* those memories by using different neurons in the brain, which is where my model comes from to begin with, but it is not easy by any means, and in a stroke, the neuron-neuron interaction is also damaged, so first you have to find a pathway to communicate with the senses at all.

            Here is an example of the use of one of those therapies, Singing Therapy, to rebuild some of those connections:
            http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/02/22/aaas.music.language/index.html

          • Octavo

            "I don't have to know the mechanism to know that this model works as well as the standard current model, which can't give us the mechanisms/particles/waves/fields/ interact with the protons, neutrons, and electrons that allow a neuron to store a memory."

            This is false. This is like saying the moon is made of green cheese after we've already traveled there and taken core samples. Yes, one could argue that under all that rock is a fetid dairy product, but it wouldn't be a useful argument.

            We know that neurons are made of atoms (protons, neutrons, and electrons.) We also know that neurons store memories. We even are getting at some of the details what happens at the cellular level when memories are formed.
            Relevant article below:
            http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091223125125.htm

            If you propose a new model - that neurons don't store memories - then you are going to need to account for why we can't detect any fields strong enough to interact with neurons beyond the ones in the standard model, such as protons, neutrons, electrons, and the four fundamental forces.

            If there's a new field that corresponds with the soul or the spirit - let's call it the Thaum - that is strong enough to interact with the matter in our neurons, then quantum field theory shows that it would be able to be produced in a particle accelerator.

            "There is some evidence in stroke treatment therapy that one can *rebuild* those connections and *recover* those memories by using different neurons in the brain, which is where my model comes from to begin with, but it is not easy by any means, and in a stroke, the neuron-neuron interaction is also damaged, so first you have to find a pathway to communicate with the senses at all."

            It sounds like you think this means that repairing neurons is like rebuilding a radio transmitter (or a parallel port.) This would be more convincing if there were any other indication that neurons transmit data to any location outside of human tissue.

            I do enjoy the discussion. Very few supernaturalists actually come out and say exactly what they think the brain does.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • TheodoreSeeber

            That is just how the wiring in the cabling is done. It does NOT explain the persistence. We do NOT know for sure that neurons store memories, there is no reason at all to prefer one model over another.

            It could be we don't detect those fields because we don't have the instruments to detect a soul- yet. Ignorance is not proof.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Other animals also have memories. Some non-human apes can talk about those through sign language or computer assisted language. Some birds can tell you directly. Are their memories stored in something disembodied outside space and time?

            Evolution shows that our ancestors go back through time when the most advanced animals were fish or even worms. When in the history of your ancestors did memories stop being physically stored in neurons and become outside space and time? What about when you were building yourself from a single cell? How many cells did you have when your memories went off Universe?

          • Michael Murray

            Dude. Their like in the astral body dude. It's like the plane of all existence man. You just have to feel it like. It's like completely out there.

          • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

            Oh, of course, I should have known that. :-(

          • articulett

            Chalk it up to "mystery beyond your understanding"-- and try having more faith next time.

          • articulett

            Hey dude.... I create my own reality and I made you say that.

            (Embarrassingly, I once believed something like this in my New Age days... I transitioned there after coming to the conclusion that Catholicism made no sense. I still thought faith was good and new age beliefs "resonated" with me-- ha! Eventually I realized that faith and feelings are not a path towards truth.)

          • Michael Murray

            I wonder how common an interest in mysticism is for people passing from Catholicism to atheism? I passed through that kind of thing. I think it's a secondary infection due to damage done to your internal scepticism system by the Catholicism virus.

          • articulett

            Would you WANT to know if souls were just an illusion of the brain?

            Google Clive Wearing-- he's a guy who can't form any new memories because of a damaged hippocampus. If you can't make new memories without a working hippocampus, what in the world do you imagine someone would be with no brain (and no body inputting data) at all? It makes no sense. If there was any real evidence for any sort of disembodied consciousness, scientists would be all over that evidence-- testing, refining, and honing it for their own benefit and to help people like Clive Wearing.

            Wanting something to be true and believing it to to be true and getting it so that it's logically consistent in your brain... still doesn't make it true, --you know.

            If souls are real, when do you think the scientific data will come in? Don't you think that they should have some results by now. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7621608.stm

            How do you think scientists ought to go about distinguishing real immeasurable beings from illusions of such? How long without any real evidence is sufficient for them to say that souls seem to be as much of an illusion as a flat earth? If we have no more evidence then we have now in 20 years, do you think it might be prudent then? If souls aren't real, is there any reason to try and believe in gods? If one is going to believe in immaterial beings, how does one go about deciding which ones to believe in anyhow? And how do you know if you believe in the right ones (presumably the ones that give you the goodies in some next life for believing in them and punish you if you pick wrong.)

            Religion makes no sense at all to me.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Also- Location. If the Catholic soul theory is correct- human souls exist *outside* of the physical universe. Location is the wrong word, just as the idea of heaven being "up in the clouds" or hell being "down in the ground" is just metaphor. There is no space, time, or particles associated with the spiritual; there may be waves.......and there is no physical structure that corresponds to either memory or the soul definitively. Your model is not reality, and neither is mine.

          • articulett

            even if you did witness it personally, all that would happen is you'd
            either term it to be a hallucination or you'd convert and all the other
            atheists would call you crazy.

            How do you know? Do you imagine you have psychic powers as well as contact with the invisible creator of the universe? Don't you trust that your omnipotent god could use his super powers to tweak things so that creations would believe whatever he wanted them to believe? What good is being omnipotent if you don't use it to keep yourself from being disappointed? If someone doesn't believe what you want them to believe about you-- who is at fault-- them or you? Do you think you could force yourself to believe in Santa again if you really tried? What if you were promised eternal paradise for faith and threatened with eternal damnation for non belief? Would that work? What sort of entity would use such manipulations to garner belief?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I know because I've seen it happen, over and over again. Even experiences in the Atheist's own life like the birth of a child that would indicate a loving God to a theist, get ignored by atheists and downgraded as just an evolved biological response that has NO spirit behind it at all.

            I have given up on the conversion of atheists. The best we can do, is make common cause with them in the fight against superstition and fundamentalism.

            As to your specific questions-

            If God wanted a bunch of robots, he would have created robots. Not being disappointed is boring, as is not believing in Santa Claus- which I still believe in. Promises of eternal paradise from a God that doesn't exist, is worthless, and the Catholic God doesn't use that to garner belief (where you end up is all on you, not on some judgement of a God you don't believe in anyway). And to the Hard Atheist, being wrong is the reward- the true paradise is Hell, eternally separated from God and his oh-so-obnoxious followers.

      • Benjamin O’Donnell

        Surely you're being ironic in this post. Right? Right??

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Wrong.
          http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/

          is exactly what I'm talking about. If you personally experience such a miracle that leads to your conversion, all that will happen is that all of your Atheist friends will label you as crazy rather than imperil their own atheism.

          • Octavo

            Lots of people have subjective experiences that are hard to verify. Philip K. Dick famously believed a satellite named VALIS gave him a revelation via pink laser beam. He used this information to save his son from previously undetected inguinal hernia.

            The problem is that information gained during subjective revelatory experiences is hard to verify.

            You may be able to take one person's word on their experiences of Angels or telepathic satellites, but I can not.

            I used to do so, but I've spent too much time with charismatics and faith healers to trust the fallible, individualistic nature of their revelatory experiences any longer.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Hard to verify does not equal "should be ignored with prejudice".

            But I am suspecting that there is a level of atheism that is equally not appropriate for this discussion.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    As others have pointed out, there is a certain amount of straw-manning going on with this post. I would go along with the author for a small subset of non-believers who promote Atheism as a faith position, i.e. those who decide that there are no deities without question, just because that is how they want it to be. I would argue that those are very few and not supported by the bigger group who don't believe because there is no evidence to believe. I have written more about that here: http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/2012/10/not-all-atheists-are-pro-atheisma.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.blazsik James Blazsik

    Beware of atheism in the gaps...

  • http://www.facebook.com/roger.hane Roger Hane

    Though he makes some good points (which have been made before), Trent Horn's reasoning is a bit disorganized. Christians and atheists both use the god-of-the-gaps argument to both prove and disprove God. The argument from ignorance which brought about the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So many good responses have been given here that there's not much point for me to add things. I'll just emphasize that I think it hinges on the need to show strong causal connections to give positive proof of God. Absent that, you can't conclude anything one way or the other. Positive proof that God wasn't involved in a certain event only restricts itself to that specific event, and can't be used as a generalization.

  • gwen saul

    I began this article and got as far as the following sentence: "For example, evolutionary theory could be falsified by the discovery of
    modern animals that were fossilized in ancient rock layers, or what
    J.B.S. Haldane called “a Precambrian rabbit.”

    How unfortunate the author is unclear about evolutionary theory and archaeology (not to mention scientific study protocol).

    A modern day animal embalmed in a palimpsest of rock is most certainly not an indication (nor would it be sufficient evidence) to "falisify" in any way evolutionary theory. May I suggest a course or two in bio-evolution, basic archaeology or bio-anthropology for our confused author?

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ NoahLuck

    Granted, there may be some atheists who think like this article describes. Mostly the objection to the "God of the gaps" is the objection to this specific form of argument that frequently occurs with theists:

    1. I don't know why X happened.
    2. God could have made X happen.
    3. Therefore X is evidence for God.

    But that's bad logic and bad math. It's just plain wrong. A corrected and improved form is this:

    1. I don't know why X happened.
    2. There are infinitely many theories {H1, H2, H3, ...} that could explain why X happened, and one of those is that God made X happen.
    3. For each theory, it would, if true, assign probabilities of X happening {P(X|H1), P(X|H2), P(X|H3), ...}.
    4. If you apply Bayes Theorem, you can transform those probabilities into betting odds for and against the different theories.
    5. Those betting odds are evidence for or against the different theories.

    See http://yudkowsky.net/rational/bayes for an introduction to how to think about evidence. It's mathy, but even if you dislike math you should still be able to pick up some good intuitions.

    I wrote a ditty to describe it simply:

    Imagine it’s true. Then imagine it’s not.
    How likely in each are the facts that you’ve got?
    The odds of the facts times the odds for the thought
    say how sure or unsure you ought be of what’s what.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Hi Noah, I like your ditty.

      Some religious people accuse me of having faith, or beliefs. I stop and tell them that I have "reasonable expectations based on prior evidence."

  • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.nance Mitchell Nance

    How can atheism be made unfalsifiable when it doesn't make any claims in the first place? Atheism isn't an "-ism." It contains no beliefs of its own.

    • Mark Hunter

      When the atheist bus ads went up in London in response to Bible ads on buses that referenced web sites that threatened non believers with eternal damnation the statement "There's probably no God" was taken to the Brithish advertising board by a group of clerics demanding that their be evidence behind that assertion. I still chuckle at the irony.

  • Jim J. McCrea

    There is one air-tight argument, that does not involve a God of the
    gaps, but which truly brings us to God. That argument is from
    *contingency.* We see that all finite things are contingent, which means
    that they can be different from what they are and they do not
    necessarily have to exist. Now they need an explanation for why they are
    the way they are and why they exist. This cannot exist in contingent
    being itself in the same way that a contingent truth cannot have itself
    as a premise. It must exist in a first cause that is not contingent, but
    necessary, so that it itself does not need a cause. A necessary being
    cannot not exist and cannot be other than what it is. It exists because
    it is Existence itself, and is infinite because it must have everything
    existence can possibly imply. It is the baseline of all other existents.
    Or put another way, only an infinite being cannot be other than what it
    is, for it contains all actuality without potentiality to be anything
    different. That is the essence of the Judeo-Christian God. Now this is
    not an argument of God of the gaps because it is not arguing for a cause
    for a particular contingent being, but from the very contingency of
    finite being itself.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Jim, that argument went away when we looked at the very small world of the quantum level and started seeing non-contingent events, and particles appearing out of nothing.

      • Jim J. McCrea

        However, in quantum mechanics, there must be a reason why a wave function collapses in a particular way, as opposed to other alternatives. There must be a reason why a particular particle materializes as a particular place and time rather than another. According to our current understanding of quantum theory, there are no hidden variables. What is observed quantum mechanically is not the result of something deterministic on a deeper level. What this shows is not that quantum mechanical phenomena have no cause, but their cause is outside of space and time. And as far as we can determine, these behave according to universal probabilistic laws which shows that the cause is omniscient. For me, quantum mechanics is one of the clearest evidences there is for the existence of God.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          The non-detectable and the non-existent look amazingly alike. You can take the position that there is an non-detectable cause under quantum mechanics, but then you loose the forcing part of the so called "causeless cause" argument.

  • xyzzy

    I'm going to comment principally on the original post, rather than the debate in the comments. Also, to be clear, I am going to refer to Mr Horn's god by his name, Yahweh, to avoid the confusion with other possible meanings of the word "God".

    Mr. Horn mis-states the god of the gaps. Not all arguments for a god are god of the gaps. The "god of the gaps" phrase was coined by atheists to describe a *specific* argument for god: "The world contains something that we don't understand, therefore Yahweh must have existed to make that thing." The gaps are the gaps in our knowledge; over time, our knowledge has been increasing and the gaps have been getting smaller.

    For Bill O'Reilly, Yahweh must exist because "The tide goes in, the tide goes out. You can't explain that!" Actually, I can. And if you ask about something else that I can't explain, I can look at the tides and say "maybe we can know more some day".

    If you say "Yahweh must exist because I don't know how there could be life without Yahweh to create it", then you are appealing to the god of the gaps argument. If you say "Yahweh must exist because the universe needs a creator", then you are appealing to the god of the gaps argument.

    If you say "I have eyewitness testimony that is written in the bible", that is NOT a god of the gaps argument. If you say "I feel Yahweh's presence when I pray", that is NOT a god of the gaps argument.

    I'm an atheist, but unlike some, I don't admit any possibility of Yahweh existing. My only reason is a stunning lack of credible evidence of *any* god existing. So, just like Allah, Vishnu, and Russel's Teapot, I assume Yahweh does not exist.

    Mr Horn can reasonably ask what might make me believe, but it is hard to describe a specific event. What evidence would Mr Horn accept for believing the tooth fairy is real? It would have to be pretty compelling. I can consider some possibilities, though:

    If Yahweh really wanted me to believe in him, he could stop by and say hello.

    But what about free will, you ask? I'm dying of metastatic prostate cancer. No joke - 72% mortality by 5 years after diagnosis, no known cure. If Yahweh created this universe, he created the conditions that are going to kill me. But I want to live! Tell me that death by slow torture as the tumors begin to eat away at your body is a less serious imposition on my free will than stopping by to say hello! If Yahweh wants me to have my free will, he could spend a bit more effort on making a universe where free will is available to me, and a little less effort trying to hide any evidence that he was ever here.

    Ah, but maybe that is it: Yahweh doesn't *want* me to know he is real. It would be hard to expermentally detect an all-powerful being who does not want to be detected, but we can determine some experimental limits.

    We can tell that Yahweh does not perform miracles to give his followers preferential treatment. Cancer kills Atheists, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims at the same rates. If Yahweh wanted to reward his followers, he might give them miraculous cures -- but that might reveal his presence, so he can't do that.

    They say "God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no". But one thing we can be pretty sure of is that he says "no" most often when the world was going to drop a big fat NO on you anyway. That is, there is no statistical evidence that petitional prayer has any effect. Of course, Yahweh could have let people die who he would otherwise have saved, in order to prevent that Templeton study from detecting his actions. It sounds pretty callous, but maybe Yahweh doesn't care about that suffering.

    If I understand Christians correctly, you believe you are partly a physical body and partly a spiritual thing called a "soul". Somehow, the soul must interface with the body. I assume this interface is in the brain. If you could detect that interface, that would certainly be evidence of *something*. It is not evidence of a guy who doesn't want you to eat shellfish, but it is evidence of something. Maybe if we knew more about that, it would give us clues about Yahweh.

    If I could get the Golden Plates and a couple of Seer Stones, I could read the Book of Mormon first hand. I would copy the original language off the gold plates and study the language. I would also investigate how a seer stone works -- maybe it is just an iPhone hooked up to Google Translate, but wouldn't it be interesting to know?

    Ultimately, I want evidence that I can check myself. I've personally observed doppler shift in radio signals, and the change in frequency really was consistent with the relative velocity and the speed of light. I've personally observed polarization effects in light. Physics is available to everybody. I want that kind of evidence for Yahweh before I will believe.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      zxzzy, I am very sorry to hear about your medical situation. I am currently assisting a family member with a similar serious condition, and want to send you my best wishes (I know that does not actually do anything). Yes, there is no evidence that YHWH is anything more real that Zeus or Thor. But, we who live have this moment to know that we do live. It is only for a time, for each of us, but it is still a great thing to look upon the grandeur of the Universe and know even a small amount about how it did unfold and how some small number of atoms became us.

      Take care,

      -Q

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Baylis/1185954799 Paul Baylis

    "Science of the gaps" = This sure looks like something supernatural, but science will one day be able to explain it in natural terms.

  • articulett

    Atheism can be falsified by producing a god. A real god could falsify atheism in a number of ways and has no excuse not to if she desires for all humans to "believe in" her.

    Just define your god-- and show how it is distinguishable from a mythological god, demon, advanced aliens, fictional character and other such-- then show that such a being exists. Easy Peasy. Or pray really hard for your god to do a real miracle like growing back the amputated limbs of the people who believed the rightest stuff about that god or those who prayed the best or were the most worthy or whatever-- you know, something that makes your god distinguishable from all the gods you don't believe in. Is that really so much to ask?

    Or here's an idea-- have your god provide the kind of evidence that you yourself would require if god wanted you to kill your son like he asked of Abraham. What sort of evidence would you need to believe it was a real god asking you such-- and not a voice inn your head or misperception or trick. Do you think Abraham had that kind of evidence? Or-- better yet... the kind of evidence Jesus would need to give you to show you he wanted you, personally to give away all your possessions to the poor (including your computer) like he asked (twice) of his followers in the bible! You clearly don't believe that Jesus wants this now or you wouldn't have the computer you are typing on-- so what kind of evidence would Jesus need to give you? How would he have to manifest? He could do it, right? That's a fair request. We'd be using the same standard you are using.

    Or how about your god provide the kind of evidence you'd require to believe in Xenu or some other supernatural being you don't believe in?

    An omnipotent being has no excuse if his creations disappoint him... especially not if he's omniscient and knew exactly how they'd dissappoint him before he made them. Real gods are falsifiable... just like real invisible penguins would be. But imaginary ones are not. Atheism can be falsified just like lack of belief in fairies can be falsified with the production of a fairy.

  • articulett

    I think theists are confused about falsifiability. Falsifiability is a concept in science which says a scientific hypotheses should be testable-- and if we are on the wrong track, there should be evidence which shows this. But for theists, a lack of evidence for god is god testing your faith. Nothing counts as evidence against your god-- it's either evidence that can be used for you to support your faith, or evidence which is negated. If god performs identically to wishing on a star then that's because he doesn't want to be tested.

    In science a good hypotheses CAN be falsified, but the evidence just keeps piling up in support of it. A theory is the best explanation for the a body of observations and it predicts new evidence (See heliocentrism, atomism, Cell theory, Evolution, gravitational theory, etc.) A theory is the framework and the fine details are refined over time adding to an increased understanding of reality-- the one that is the same for everybody no matter what they believe.

    If souls were real, we'd expect there'd be a test we could do which would have differing results than if they weren't real-- just like with the Higgs Boson. Real things should be distinguishable from imaginary things when scientifically tested.

    Supernatural beliefs are generally not science and not falsifiable-- they are like positing that we are in a matrix scenario... they might be fun to imagine, but there are no good reasons for thinking any of them are true and lots of good reasons for thinking that they aren't.

    • mally el

      There are a lot of good reasons to think that they are true. Reason and faith in our ancestors who had no reason to lie. They had no political or financial reasons. In fact, Moses and the prophets were only interested in people's wellbeing by proclaiming socio-spiritual laws, that they claimed was revealed to them, and which the people in those days accepted faithfully.

      articulett, there are truths that can never be verified. There is a real thought in my mind at the moment but who will ever know about it. I sang a song on the platform of a railway station where nobody else was present, but how would science prove it. I could go on and cite some more significant happenings which are not really provable.

  • 42Oolon

    Not a problem. I would accept any evidence on a western civil law standard that proves the essential elements of the god in question. However, I cannot tell you what these elements are, as I do not know what god you are proclaiming and I have never heard a coherent definition.

  • Jake Spooner

    Test your faith. Read entire link. You may never believe in God again.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAURq_ouYLc

  • David Bennett

    Scientific aetheists do not argue that there is evidence that one or
    more gods do not exist, only that there is no good reason to believe
    that they do. Aetheism is the starting point of reason. I will not
    believe anything without good reason to do so, otherwise how should I
    decide in what to believe. I could presume unicorns or fairies created
    everything, and I would have as much reason on my side as do those who
    believe in a single omnipotent god. The parsimony principle, also known
    as Occam's Razor, suggests ideas that are not necessary to understand
    the world and have not evidence to support them should be discarded.
    For as has been proven, anything *might* exist and be controlling
    everything by means unseen. Gods are unnecessary and so aetheists refuse to accept they exist.

    When believers can provide evidence that one or more gods exist which cannot be explained by other phenomena that are already known to exist, scientific aetheists will accept the existence of God. Aetheism is therefore clearly falsifiable, and many aetheists would be grateful for proof that a loving god exists. It is just that no evidence has ever been put forward or can apparently be imagined by the author of this article that would survive the critical scrutiny required under the Popperian method, which is to say no good evidence for the necessity or existence of any god can even be imagined. This, as Martin Luther argued, is why all theists have to have faith. Faith is not evidence and it is certainly not proof.

    The physical universe does not appear to require a god to create or run it. Proven physical laws suggest everything we can perceive could either have always existed or have spontaneously formed without any external causal impetus. Every time religion tries to find a role explained only by the existence of a god, science has provided an explanation based on known phenomena. The god of the gaps is therefore not a proof that god will never be proven to exist but a mockery of the inability of the religious to do anything more than retreat from the world of material things as science explains away successive mysteries. Soon religion will be forced back into the untestable, and therefore incredible, world of metaphysics.

    You cannot blame aetheists for your inability to deliver reliable evidence to support your hypothesis that there is a god. Until you can prove Luther wrong and demonstrate scientifically and unambigiously that one or more gods exist your beliefs will appear completely unfounded to all those who do not share your faith (or possibly delusion).