Flat-Earth Folly (demonstrates the sphericity of the earth to modern day flat-earthers such as those crowing about a "worldwide sphere-ist conspiracy" over on youtube)

Flat-Earth Folly by Dave Matson Flat-Earth Folly by Dave Matson

We are as gods compared to the ancients. The ingenious Greeks actually deduced the spherical shape and size of the Earth. But they never dreamed that a day would arrive when astronauts would routinely see the curvature of the Earth, when satellites would photograph the whole sphere of the Earth time and time again, when mechanical probes from a variety of nations would actually visit those "wandering stars" that are spherical planets, and it would have blown their minds to have known that men would actually stand on the moon and gaze upon a very spherical Earth.

 In this age of wonders there is an odd, little society in the United States that fancies that the Earth is flat. Not surprisingly, religion is behind it. A spherical Earth just doesn't fit in with their flat-earth book known as the Bible. But, give them some credit. At least they realize that the Bible is a flat-earth book. Unfortunately, they resolved that annoying conflict with reality by throwing out reality itself! In doing so they have advanced the cause of humor over the years by being the butt of numerous jokes.

 In a flat-earther's world of deep denial, all of the wonders above turn into giant hoaxes or conspiracies! Never mind that even president Nixon's inner circle couldn't keep a secret for long or that Hoover's FBI couldn't keep its dirtiest secrets safe! We are asked to believe that whole nations, with their ever-changing governments, that hundreds of eminent scientists and corporations are part of a perfectly orchestrated conspiracy! Moreover, this conspiracy is so incredibly perfect in juggling its infinitely many operations (from phony factories, phony space centers complete with phony launches, phony scientific papers, phony reports from phony weather satellites, and the ability to recruit legions of people who will never spill the beans) that even decades later it remains totally credible, the best efforts of debunkers notwithstanding! Anyone who can swallow that whale is clearly at the deepest level of denial and well beyond the reach of reason and evidence. In the real world such a conspiracy--if it could ever be put together--would immediately explode at a thousand different points. After all these years such a conspiracy would have been trampled like grass under a herd of elephants! The need to believe in such a vast, flawless conspiracy is enough reason to reject the flat-earth claim. However, I will add two more arguments for the record.

 My first argument is as basic as gravity itself. On a scale the size of the moon, let alone Earth, gravity completely overpowers the cohesiveness of rock. Given its great mass, which can easily be calculated in any modern physics laboratory, the only shape the Earth can have is a spherical one. For the same reason, we observe that all the planets in our solar system, as well as their larger moons, are spherical. For that same reason, our sun is spherical. Careful measurements may reveal slight deviations due to rotation and other factors, but for all practical purposes we're talking about spheres.

My second argument rests squarely on the certainty of mathematics. It immediately settles the issue and no other arguments need be considered.

 Mathematicians have proven that there is no way to convert an accurate spherical map to an accurate flat map. Neither can you convert an accurate flat map into an accurate spherical map. If you have any doubts, try a couple of experiments. First, set the intact rind of half an orange onto a flat sheet. You will quickly discover that it must be ripped in numerous places in order to flatten it. Many points (think of little "cities") that were initially next to each other on the rind are now clearly separated. That is to say, the flattened version of the orange hemisphere distorts any map on it. (I used half of an intact rind because it is easy to scoop out the pulp. I can't even imagine flattening a whole rind into a single sheet without massive ripping!

 Going the other way, try fitting a sheet of paper onto a tennis ball. You can't avoid getting all kinds of wrinkles or folds, meaning that if you began with the same amount of sheet area as the tennis ball you would not have enough to cover that tennis ball! Moreover, many points (think of little "cities") that are clearly separated from one another on the flat sheet will now be next to one another as the intervening space got folded up. Clearly, a flat map cannot be translated into a faithful spherical map.

If you want a mathematical approach, consider any triangular space on a rotating sphere defined by a point at the north pole and two points on the equator, the latter being arranged so that all distances between these three points are equal. We will make this sphere 8000 miles in diameter so that the results will be comparable to the earthly situation. Thus, each of our three points would be separated by about 6280 miles from each other. If we considered no other measurements, we could come up with a flat map that gave those distances. It would be an equilateral triangle with sides 6280 miles long.

 Now, on our spherical map, consider the midpoint within our first three points, the midpoint being equally far from each of those points. Do the math (using the distance formula, a bit of trig, and an elementary use of vectors) and you will find that this midpoint is about 3820 miles from each of the first three points. Understand that on a spherical map distance is measured along the surface.

 Now, calculate the middle point to the equilateral triangle on our flat map. You will find that the distance between it and any of the other three points is about 3623 miles! Thus, that distance is nearly 200 miles shorter on the flat map than on the spherical map. Since there is only one midpoint in either case, it becomes clear that a spherical map cannot accurately translate to a flat map. The reverse is also true. If you begin with a reasonably-sized equilateral triangle on a flat map, a little more math will make it clear that there is no such triangle on the sphere that has the right lengths for its sides and the correct distance between its midpoint and the other three. The discrepancy will be obvious. That leads us to our grand conclusion.

 Whoever produces an accurate map wins the debate! Moreover, the accuracy need only be eyeball good since, if one side has a reasonable map, the other side must have a map that is manifestly off in places. We're not talking about itty-bitty differences that might be explained away by some subtlety! We will have a clear winner unless Earth has another shape altogether! A nice feature of this test is that, if an accurate spherical map is presented, we don't even have to look at flat-earth maps since no accurate flat-earth map could possibly exist. And, vice versa. This conclusion has the stamp of mathematical certainty.

 Take a globe that is at least 8 inches in diameter (better accuracy) and use string and painter's blue masking tape (less sticky, won't hurt your globe) to get the distances between 10 major cities or ports, and convert those string distances to a scaled-up globe of 8000 miles diameter. Make sure those cities are spread out over an area (rather than in a line) in order to get a proper test. Compare your results to any number of accepted tables that give the distances between these cities. You will find that your globe gives a remarkably good fit. Therefore, no accurate flat-earth map exists. And, no flat-earth exists since it would surely allow an accurate flat-earth map.

 The flat-earther is nailed to the cross in that his only escape is to argue that nobody really knows the distances between the major cities and ports. Such a claim would have been absurd even in the last days of sail! In the Age of GPS, where the distances between cities can be measured with an accuracy of less than an inch, such a claim becomes hysterically ludicrous! We "round-earthers" have the map; We win!

 Dave E. Matson
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Questions

Questions That Curious Christians Are Dying To Ask The Atheist
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(The most recent post or posts)


Question #8: Atheism has no future! There you are, all dressed up in your coffin, with no place to go. Isn’t that a serious defect in your philosophy? What meaning does your life have?

Meaning is for the living. The dead have no need of it! Thus, if your life is finite, and if it has meaning, then that meaning must be rooted chiefly in the here and now or, perhaps, in deeds remembered. And, life does have meaning. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” -- Ludwig E. Matson. If you cannot find meaning in a finite life, then don’t expect to find any in an infinite life. Life, however long, is lived in finite chunks, and if those chunks don’t have meaning for you then an endless sequence of the same offers nothing more.

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One might argue that a finite chunk of life is made meaningful by what comes after, i. e., an infinite life. However, this is an odd way to assign meaning since identical chunks of life may be both meaningful and meaningless depending on their context! Accordingly, the real meaning of life is never at hand, never in deeds done, because it must always be justified by something further down the road. Thus, we don’t find meaning in life’s activities but, rather, in its simple continuance. I reject that entire notion.

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A finite life, then, has finite meaning, roughly centered about a particular point in time and space. Life in ancient Rome retains only an echo of its meaning for most of us because we are removed somewhat from its proper time and space. Indeed, some meaningful events can only be finite! Consider that first kiss between lovers, or that first trophy you won. It’s not the same the 1000th time around!

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Can an infinite life even have meaning? If you lived so long that you won every possible trophy 10,000 times, what meaning would there be left in winning the 10,001st trophy in, say, chess? If you solved every decent crossword puzzle that could possible exist, 100,000 times each, what is the point of doing it all over again? Is there any meaning left in those activities?

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In our finite world we differ considerably from one another. Some of us are engineers or doctors while others of us are football players and house maids. Some of us are Chinese in outlook and some of us are British. Given an infinite life, there is no reason why a German could not become as “Japanese” as the Japanese themselves in culture and outlook. We are unique individuals in a meaningful sense. Yet, these historical twists and turns of fate, which go far in defining who we are in a finite world, would be averaged out if we lived for endless ages. In a world where people lived for zillions of years in perfect health, with undiminished abilities, where people valued doing new things, they would eventually all “look” alike. Everyone would have had countless turns at being an engineer, a nurse, a tailor and a first baseman in a world series baseball match. Everyone would have taken their turn, countless times, at Swedish, African and other cultures.

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I wonder what would pass for dinner conversation in that world? “Gee, Don, I won my 13,249,777,861st zillionth world championship in chess!” “That’s nice, John. I noticed that all your games were identical to my 15,437,890,654th zillionth win as world chess champion some 4,568,001,454,989,567 zillion years ago. And, by the way, didn‘t we have this exact conversation countless times before, only with different numbers?”

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What fresh, delightful discoveries await someone who has seen it all? What achievements and triumphs await someone who has done it all? What becomes of those special events if we enter upon the billionth repetition? What kind of conversation can we have with a loved one if it is nothing more than the trillionth repetition, word for word, of a previous conversation? Wouldn’t we be forced to think the same thoughts over and over, because all worthwhile thoughts had been exhausted? Would there be any meaningful difference between you and I if we have lived countless times in all cultures, done the same things endless times, and dabbled in all philosophies? Where is the meaning in all of this? Perhaps, the theist has asked the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking “Where is the meaning in an infinite life?” Is infinite repetition of life’s moments any improvement on no repetition? I suspect that if God allowed us to live as long as we liked, every one of us would sooner or later say “Enough! I have seen everything I wished to see, done everything I wished to do, and I am now ready to die, for life has nothing more to offer.”

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I suppose that God could totally reset the memory of his heavenly recruits every 1000 years or so to preserve the meaning of life in heaven, to prevent people from becoming bored out of their ever-loving minds. Yet, it is our memory, our life’s story that make us “us.” If we wipe the slate clean, are we left with the real you? Hasn’t the real you died in a very meaningful sense, there remaining only a hunk of matter that physically resembles you, an empty vessel? Where is your advantage over someone who is actually living a finite life? Without recollection of your previous lives, would the latest segment of your infinite life be any more meaningful that a finite life? Would it not look and feel very much the same? Even if you knew that you had some kind of infinite continuation, you would still dread “mind erasure time,” because that’s the end of you in your current reincarnation--the only “you” you have any knowledge of.

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It seems to me that those in heaven, the beneficiaries of an infinite life, have the choice of two evils if their minds are not periodically erased in some way. They can either live in an infinite rut and retain their basic differences, their identities as it were, or blend together by doing everything and being everyone, which ultimately becomes a rut in itself. Either way meaning seems to have evaporated.

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So there lies the good Christian, in his coffin, dressed for heaven as it were--going somewhere to be sure--a world without meaning! Would not that Christian eventually beg for death, that being preferable to infinite boredom? A meaningful life resembles a good novel. It has a beginning, a central theme, tells an interesting story, and has an END. How meaningful could a novel be that runs on and on without hope of an end? Would it spin into a tight, infinite loop, an endless repetition of some theme? Or, would it drift endlessly and without limit, becoming an insipid blend of everything, signifying nothing, a random repetition of portions of itself ad nauseam? If our infinite novel conveyed its meaning in a finite number of pages, then the infinite lard remaining could be discarded with great profit; if it did not, then its meaning could never be delivered, being forever out of reach. Both choices seem fatal to a meaningful novel--or a meaningful life.

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Of course, I could be wrong about such a nebulous and murky subject. Suppose that, contrary to the above, some clever theologian showed that only an infinite life has real meaning. Atheism, then, would be the doom and gloom philosophy that Christians claim it is. But, wait a minute! Our task is not to decide whether an infinite life might be preferable to a finite life, as though we were placing an order in some cosmic restaurant. Our task is to find out what is actually on the plate before us, and in that matter we have no choice. Deciding that it can’t be spinach, because we don’t like spinach, is a poor argument indeed! Is atheism true? That’s our question. If, in fact, it is a doom and gloom philosophy, that would not take away one iota of evidence for it nor provide one iota of evidence against it.

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I have spoken of “meaning” as though we have a clear idea what we are talking about. But do we, really? The word has a foggy, fuzziness about it. Does an object require a maker in order to have meaning? If that is the case, “What is the meaning of life?” is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking “What is the meaning of life, if it has any?” Life might well be the sole product of evolution and nothing more, depriving it of all meaning under this definition. Some find that a dismal prospect; I find it irrelevant, since I view “meaning” in a broader context.

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“What is the meaning of life?” might also be rephrased as “What is the point of living?” If that is our concept of meaning, then it has no universal answer. Every individual who enjoys life has his or her own reasons for living. The question should not be “What is the meaning of life?” but rather “What makes life worthwhile to you?” In that sense, there are many good answers.

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“What is the meaning of life?” often reduces to “What is the purpose of life?” A stone can be used for many purposes, such as pounding in a tent peg or in defense of oneself. In that sense, “purpose” means “intended use.” A broom was designed to sweep floors, so that is its purpose even though it might serve well in keeping an ornery dog at bay. In that sense, asking “What is the purpose of life?” assumes that life has a creator who gave it purpose. The question should be “What was the goal (or goals) that this creator (or creators) had in mind when they designed life, if life was created?” What did he, she or it (or a committee) hope to accomplish? Were humans created as an interesting variety of food for bacteria or to rule over the earth?

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Of course, if life simply evolved all by itself then any questions about its purpose are meaningless. Evolution is not a designer exercising grand plans with a purpose in mind; it is a tinkerer dabbling blindly with resources already on the shelf. Atheists are not required to supply answers to questions that are meaningless! Don’t fault atheism for not giving you the purpose of life (as in why it was created) if it has no creator.

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If life did have a creator, then a careful study of life’s strong points might reveal its purpose. What does life do best? If life has any overall competence it is procreation, the passing down of the genes whatever the cost. No other grand, universal purpose is discernable in life’s overall “design.” Procreation is king, and everything else is strictly supportive of that role. Many creatures are “designed” to inflict insidious pain on their fellow creatures, that being beneficial to their procreation. That's something best attributed to evolution. Evolution also best explains the vast waste and awkward “designs” associated with life.

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We might also address the question of the meaning of life with respect to its value. What can we get out of life? What is it good for? This is similar to asking “What is the point of living?” Different people have different values, so we cannot press too strongly for a universal answer. Yet, we might note that humans have one thing that other animals lack, a really powerful brain. If the highest good in life is to exercise our capacities to their limits, at least those that are non-destructive, then we must look beyond the simple pleasures in determining the meaning of life. Otherwise, we might as well be pigs, at least those pigs in a position to eat well and enjoy life. A social life based on reason and reflection, borne of knowledge and study but not lacking in sensitivity and the simple pleasures, seems to hold the greatest value in this sense.

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If the words “John was here.” were eroded into a rock by a freak twist of nature, would they be devoid of meaning? Perhaps, we supply the only meaning in a world of evolved life. If so, then it is silly to argue whether life has meaning, much less as to what that meaning is. The answer will vary from individual to individual. Meaning would always be attached to specific times and places where intelligent minds surveyed their environment. “Meaning” would have no independent, eternal existence anymore than the concept of “red” or “green” would have. Both arise under appropiate circumstances as the brain wrestles with reality; neither has a continuing, unbroken, cosmic permanence.

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The idea that a life must last forever to be meaningful is an idea that I have criticized above. Infinite life in “heaven” is a poorly thought out concept, being little more than a desire to avoid death. And, the context of that desire, to the extent that it has an intellectual dimension, is rooted in the experiences of a finite life and foggy ideas about meaning. What might be good in finite measure may be folly in infinite measure! A little more ice-cream for desert may be grand, but an endless diet of ice-cream entails things that a child may not have suspected. Typical Christian thoughts about heaven end at the Pearly Gates, or shortly thereafter, and appear to be no deeper than a child’s desire to live on ice-cream and candy. Such thinking exhibits no grasp of the infinite.


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Questions Christians Have for Atheists

Questions Christians would Love
to Ask the Atheist

Curiosity is a sign of intelligence, and I imagine that many Christians would love to corner an atheist, at least in their imagination, and press home some essential questions. Some of their questions will challenge the atheist by focusing on the perceived difficulties of atheism. Many questions will reflect genuine curiosity. And the questions of a few Christians, which are not really questions at all, will attempt to “put us down” or intimidate us. Almost every Christian who has given the matter thought has some pet questions they would love to ask.
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I speak to the Christian because I live among Christians. I know their views best. I have heard their questions time and again. Yet, humanity, diverse though it be, is bound by common bonds. What is asked by a Christian will often be asked by people of various faiths. In truth, I speak to a wider audience.

As an atheist, I reject theism; “a-theist” means “not-theist.” Theism holds that a god (or gods) exists, and they may be male, female or other. Some atheists reject theism because they just don’t see any beef in it; others feel that theism may be decisively refuted by reason and evidence. An atheist may even hold both views, depending on which definition of “God” is being addressed. Notice that the definition of atheism does not spell out an atheist’s moral values and philosophies. Atheism is logically compatible with communism and capitalism, with kindness and cruelty, with genius and idiocy, with morality and immorality, with social grace and cold aloofness, with happiness and misery, and with ignorance and education. An atheist can fall into any of those categories. Therefore, in principle, it is rather silly to speak of “atheist” values as though the term prescribed certain values. That’s like speaking of the values of non-golfers. The term, by itself, does not pin anything down. The only thing non-golfers have in common is that they don’t play golf; the only thing atheists have in common is that they reject theism. Beyond that nothing is spelled out. We must not confuse atheism, which bestows no particular values, with the atheist, who most certainly does have values.

Serious atheists often belong to groups that do have identifiable values, one such group being the secular humanists. In that sense we may speak loosely of “atheist” values, a kind of general consensus as to what serious atheists believe--as long as we have some idea as to which groups we are talking about. My own views closely parallel those of the American atheist organizations. It would be silly to treat diverse atheistic views, such as those of America and of the former Soviet Union, as being interchangeable in all respects. With that in mind, what might we expect of the person who diligently rejects theism? Although atheism, as such, tells us nothing about values, one may suspect that dedicated atheists do share certain values, real or imagined, and that seems to be the point of those who talk about “atheist values.”

I do not--and cannot--speak for all atheists, but many of my answers are the answers educated, American atheists would give. When I talk about atheists, those are the people I usually have in mind. “God,” will henceforth refer to the ethical monotheistic god of Christianity, though many of my comments apply equally well to other concepts of the divine. So, let the questioning begin!

Question #1: ----“Why on Earth is this guy an atheist?”

Some Christians don’t wait for an answer. Apparently, they know atheists better than the atheists know themselves! They declare that we are in rebellion against God. God, it seems, cramps an atheist’s freewheeling lifestyle. Yet, many atheists have anything but a freewheeling lifestyle! Some of us just aren’t party animals no matter how you slice and dice it. Our “cramp factor” would be somewhere down there with the most devout, monkish Christian. What, then, is our reason for our reputed rebellion? Indeed, why should we reject paradise? It’s not as though we are required to do something odious or exceedingly difficult. Joining a popular fraternity and suffering through their initiation rites--or climbing a great mountain--would be a lot tougher! However, there is one thing a person can’t do, and that is to believe in something that his or her mind finds unreasonable.

Doesn’t a rebellious attitude require that you believe in the object of your rebellion? Doesn’t that come first? Nobody rebels against flying elephants! How is it possible, then, for an atheist to rebel against a god that, in his or her mind, does not exist? One may rebel against church authority or other things that do exist, or are thought to exist, but what would be the point of rebelling against something that doesn’t exist in one's mind?

Is the atheist mind so terrified by theology that it must subconsciously shut it out? How do we explain those atheists, namely most of us, who were once deep into Christianity? Obviously, theology did not disgust or terrify us then, so how is it that we made the transition? How terrifying can the promise of eternal life in paradise be? I would think that eternal extinction would be far more terrifying. Might it be the Christian who is in deep denial? Armchair psychology cuts both ways.
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I suspect that many Christians simply cannot come to grips with the idea that intelligent, thoughtful people have no use for their god--or any god. Their whole life, from the cradle on up, has been wrapped around this idea of God. Everyone of importance in their world assures them of God’s existence. They are taught that God is their moral compass, their ticket to eternal life in heaven. Their whole universe revolves around God, in the here and in the hereafter. And, then, along comes an atheist, who thinks all of this is nonsense! Isn’t it a whole lot easier to think that there is something wrong with that atheist than it is to admit that one’s whole idea of God, one’s hope for eternal life, one’s entire universe as it were, might be a house of cards?

Thus, that atheist must be in rebellion against God. Perhaps, he or she has soured on life and subconsciously rejects God on that account. Perhaps, that atheist has an immoral lifestyle that would be cramped by a belief in God. Maybe the devil is somehow at work. The reasons go on and on, ad nauseum. The last thing that a devout Christian wants to think about is the possibility that his or her universe might be a house of cards. That would be a pretty terrifying thought.

Why do I reject theism and, in particular, ethical monotheism (into which the gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam fit)? In the light of modern understanding, I see no compelling reasons for such belief. Theologians have set forth many reasons, many indeed, but none seem to stand up to serious investigation. In the end, I find the whole concept incredible, as incredible as giant, green spiders on Jupiter.

Why do I reject the Christian concept of God? My chief reason is that such a belief requires us to reject that which we know best about our world, all for the sake of pure speculation. On one hand we have the principles of nature, the laws of science as it were, laws established by the most rigorous testing. They have been tested in countless places and under extreme conditions, again and again, by armies of sophisticated, well trained investigators. These laws, within their proper limits, form the basis of an interlocking fabric of successful explanation that has given us a coherent and ever deepening insight into reality. They have taken us to the moon and back, a very significant test indeed!

On the other hand, we have the claim that these very same laws and conclusions are systematically violated by a being Christians call “God.” Contrary to all our experience, God thinks but lacks a physical “brain.” God exists but lacks the substance associated with existence. God is all-powerful, contradicting everything we actually know about objects and forces in our universe. God has no locality, being “everywhere,” in contradiction to every object we know of in our universe. God knows all, in direct violation of Einstein’s general relativity, which is one of the greatest successes of modern science. And, the list goes on.

How do we know all these things about God? The theologians have declared it so! Those qualities are deemed to be the properties of a perfect being, a being that theologians imagine must exist. But we have yet to see a single case where a suspension of natural law has been demonstrated with anything approaching scientific rigor! Surely, such a momentous discovery of the supernatural would find its way into the scientific journals. We do have the usual claims and anecdotal evidence, the kind of reasoning cited by flying saucer buffs and others holding odd beliefs, a mode of reasoning central to many cults and religions. What we lack is anything close to the rigor by which natural law (and its consequences) has been verified. The abilities of God seem to be the product of pure, unadulterated speculation, something that has evolved over time, and such ideas have surely colored the expectations of the faithful who, in turn, provide endless anecdotal evidence for God‘s abilities and existence. It is not by accident that miracles reported in Arab lands conform to the views of Islam, that reports from Hindu India conform to Hindu beliefs, and that reports from Christians conform to the very beliefs of those who report them.

The choice, as I see it, is between the veracity of natural principles and their consequences, what we know best about our universe by actual test, and what amounts to little more than theological speculation and emotion. In my mind, the first choice wins hands down.

The concept of God also radically contradicts what we may reasonably expect of God. I find it inconceivable, for instance, that God would play “hide and seek.” It seems ludicrous that God would stay just out of reason’s reach on Earth but not in heaven. Why would a supreme being value belief based on insufficient evidence? Such belief suggests stupidity or gullibility, at least intellectual recklessness, and I find it hard to believe that God would value such qualities. This is not the kind of faith--faith in a trusted friend--that is well and good. That kind of faith is based on a proven track record, on which one is willing to take a risk.

What kind of father would play hide-and-seek with his children, always keeping just out of reach? What kind of father would toss out inadequate hints of his existence and reward those children who believed in him while punishing those who had the intelligence to see that this evidence was not enough?

Various Christians are fond of citing the Bible to the effect that there is adequate evidence of God, that atheists are without excuse. Romans 1:20 settles it! However, despite the alleged adequacy of the evidence Paul had in mind, evidence presumably available to anyone, his claim is rejected by a good many Christians. Nor have the majority of the world’s scientists, much less the Nobel-Prize winners, found merit in Paul’s unimpeachable evidence. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, is it not? God remains very much in the shadows, and learned Christians have said as much; God must be taken on faith.

A few believers claim that God does not wish to overpower his subjects by directly revealing himself. I haven’t the foggiest notion as to why that should bother God, especially since he did so in the Old Testament. It sounds suspiciously like a rationalization. God, at least to those advocates, evidently has this peculiar desire to allow his subjects the opportunity to reject his existence. However, that requirement is easily compatible with providing sufficient evidence that allows the best and brightest to conclude that God probably exists. There would still be plenty of wiggle room for God’s subjects to reject him. The Nobel Laureates of that world would be leaning towards God’s existence, but there would still be room for doubt, for rejection. That test of faith, deemed all-important, would still be there. There is no reason why the best and brightest should automatically be disenfranchised.

According to the Bible, God was not nearly so shy in the good, old days. It didn’t bother him a bit to overpower his Old Testament subjects. Even the New Testament reports some awesome miracles. Matthew 27:52-53 informs us that when Jesus was crucified an earthquake opened the tombs--and many bodies came to life! Moreover, this throng went into Jerusalem and were seen by many. (A lot of relatives must have been profoundly shocked! Did these visitors of old reclaim their property, their money? Of the numerous authors living around that time, this astounding event has gone unnoticed. Not even the other Gospels speak of it.)
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Consider also the miracles where Jesus multiplied fish and bread to feed a multitude, not once but twice! Evidently, God had not yet gotten wind of this idea about not overpowering his subjects.

Unfortunately, we have no way to check out such reports of ancient miracles. It is precisely in our modern era where we have the means to rigorously check out such claims, at least where evidence is available, and God seems strangely silent. Claims abound, now as then, but serious proof is nowhere to be found. Gone are the dramatic miracles and interventions of old.

As I see it, the natural explanation of this hide-and-seek syndrome is that God can’t show himself because he does not exist. That makes a whole lot more sense to me than assigning unconvincing, speculative motives to God.

What might we reasonably expect of a benevolent, father-figure god? Surely, such a being would not create an everlasting hell for his subjects and, at the same time, create such weak subjects as to guarantee that most of them would wind up there! It never ceases to boggle my mind that a large number of Christians actually believe that proposition. It strikes me as insane to connect a benevolent, father-figure god to hell, the most evil thing that a god could possibly create. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose, but that’s enough right there for me to reject the god of traditional Christianity. I find talk of infinite crimes and infinite punishment to be infinitely absurd. It turns God into an infinite fiend! And, that seems to be the feeling among many Christians as well.
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The Bible is another thing that seems wholly incongruent to what we would expect of an all-powerful, father-figure god. Here we have a book that is supposed to be God’s chief means for communicating with his subjects. Yet, the Bible is hopelessly muddled with respect to its most important mission, salvation. Salvation is the chief purpose that many Christians assign to their Bible. As a result of this muddle we have an endless number of Christian views specifying the requirements of salvation, which translates into a huge number of sects.

You would think that an enlightened being would have set aside a short chapter in the New Testament with the specific title “Here are the new requirements--and nothing but--for salvation,” and that such material would be found nowhere else in the entire Bible. Think of all the confusion, not to mention bloodshed, that such a simple act would have prevented! Such a gross oversight strongly suggests to me that the Bible, which is also full of contradictions and other problems, is the work of man and nothing but the work of man. I find that conclusion preferable to believing that God can’t write or that he can’t protect his all-important book from total corruption. And, if God had nothing to do with the Bible, which is central to Christianity, then I think it reasonable to conclude that God (the god of Christianity) doesn’t exist.

I could talk about the flawed “design” of our world, even of us, and I could mention various other observations that have led me to reject the idea of God, but the above considerations sketch out my chief reasons for being an atheist. I do not offer them as absolute proof but rather as observations that, after much study and reflection, moved me to accept atheism. Unlike most religious folks, who have strong emotional ties to their various religions, I have no particular attachment to atheism beyond the fact that it seems to be the best explanation by far.


Question #2:-----Can you absolutely prove that God doesn’t exist? Why should an absolute being, who created the universe in the first place, be subject to its principles? Isn’t it presumptuous to say that God has no excuse for writing the Bible the way it is, for not showing himself? By what means have you plumbed the subtlety of God’s infinite mind?
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Question #2 has morphed into several questions! But they all touch on the principles of reasoning, which are vital to any search for truth, so we might as well take them in concert. The concept of proof will be a good place to start, and it is a subtle concept that requires some poking about. Poking around in the epistemological basement can be a bit stuffy, so please bear with me.
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In judging the truth of anything in the physical world we must go by what is likely, namely those claims with the best track records--not by what might be possible. In any serious search for the truth our maxim is this: The possible is no substitute for the probable. The very essence of objectivity lies in seeking the most probable explanation, the one with the best track record. Objective thinking is both an art and a science; in the game of truth, mature judgment and methodology work together to ensure placing the best possible bet. The expert player doesn’t reach for the exotic explanations when mundane ones (with proven track records) will do. Those mundane explanations, “party-poopers” at best, the spoiler of hopes and dreams as it were, are usually the very place where truth is hiding. Coming to grips with that fact is sometimes a revelation in itself, a kind of milestone in one’s thinking.
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If a cherished idea is not supported by mundane explanations, dig a little deeper. If, at that level, none of the exotic explanations are helpful then dig a little deeper. Yes, dig a little deeper. Surely you will find whatever proof you need in the strata of ever more exotic explanations! That is how we insulate ourselves from reality.
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Let’s consider a concrete example of our rule of mundane evidence. All things being equal, it is far easier to believe that someone is misinformed, under a delusion, guilty of misinterpreting an observation, or even dishonest than it is to believe their claim that a genuine miracle has occurred. The track record for the former consists of thousands of documented cases, including mass delusions of the most astounding nature; the track record for a supernatural event is zero--none have been documented beyond reasonable doubt in the refereed, scientific literature. A smart player in the game of truth will, all things being equal, bet on the former collection of humdrum explanations. The odds, to the extent that we may judge them, are hugely in his or her favor.
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We may abandon the realm of mundane explanations only when the evidence of error piles up to such an extent that the track record of an exotic explanation seems more probable. (We adopt the least exotic explanation of the lot that will do the job.) To sum up: We must stick with the commonplace, everyday explanations until driven from them by the force of evidence.
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The more exotic a claim is, the poorer its track record, meaning that the mundane alternatives look better and better. Which excuse looks better to your boss, your claim that you had a flat tire or that you were kidnapped by Martians? The latter might do if you had some really, really good proof! That leads us to a very important rule of reason: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The more exotic a claim is, the greater the proof required.
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If extraordinary evidence is required to make an exotic explanation look a wee bit better than the competing, mundane ones, then an equality of evidence means that the exotic explanation is inferior. Suppose you are considering two explanations that are equally supported by the evidence at hand. One explanation involves four assumptions; the other (the more exotic one) involves those four plus three additional assumptions. All things being equal, the latter is obviously the inferior bet. Those three extra assumptions are just three extra ways to go wrong. Since both explanations are equally good at explaining the evidence, why take the extra risk? It’s a bad bet that no professional gambler would take.
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We thus arrive at the celebrated principle of Occam’s razor (William of Ockham, died circa 1349) by the back door. Occam’s razor: Do not use more assumptions than you actually need to explain the evidence. Assumptions must not be multiplied beyond necessity. All things being equal, the simplest explanation that does the job is preferable. You trim the unneeded fat from your explanation. In the game of truth, you don’t needlessly increase your odds of losing.
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In that respect, we atheists have a trump card. If the universe can be explained satisfactorily without invoking God, then Occam’s razor tells us that’s where you must place your bet. If biological evolution can be explained adequately without invoking God, then that’s where you must place your bet. Scientists, themselves, are happy to find the mechanisms, and science does not attempt to answer the question of whether God is involved.
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William Ockham, of course, never envisioned his principle as being a trump card for atheism. In those days, before science, if the wondrous, functioning patterns of nature were not the work of God, whence? Today, with the deepest mysteries of the universe apparently being resolved, with so much already explained in detail and the promise of more to come, “whence” is all but answered.
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Our rule of mundane explanations seemingly rejects miracles out of hand as extraordinary evidence would not likely accompany such a report, especially an ancient one. However, the alternative is to bypass explanations with the strongest track records, which are central to any objective investigation. (Would a typical Christian dismiss the mundane explanations for the miracles of the Hindu faith? Good judgment often prevails when somebody else’s turf is up for grabs!) The proper conclusion is to simply admit that miracles lacking extraordinary evidence are not credible, not to claim that they never happened or are, a priori, impossible. They are rejected for lack of evidence.
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Occasionally, our rule about mundane explanations will lead us into error. Superior odds does not guarantee a win. However, the alternative is far worse. Bucking the odds hardly improves our chances, especially if we make a beeline for explanations with extremely poor track records. The professional gambler gets rich by knowing and paying attention to the odds, by resisting the temptation to buck those odds despite occasional losses. Abandon objectivity and you have lost your compass.
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Another important point is this: There seems to be no way of achieving 100% certainty in the real world of atoms and energy. The one exception is my own consciousness, which is self-evident to myself whatever my actual condition; everything else seems to involve various degrees of uncertainty! Consequently, we have no right to demand absolute proof if we are talking about the real world (the physical world or anything that can affect that world). The best of arguments will always have loopholes; there is no escape. Those loopholes may be incredibly farfetched in the better arguments, but they are all there, an infinite number of them, and they are all logically possible. The mere existence of a loophole, therefore, cannot be a valid reason for rejecting an explanation about the real world. A loophole must be more than mere possibility; it must have credibility.
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Skeptical? Consider a claim that surely must be 100% correct, namely that the earth is more or less spherical. Doesn’t that claim assume that your mind is functioning correctly? Isn’t it logically possible that your real body bears little resemblance to what we call human, that your every experience from “infancy” on up was a carefully created delusion implanted by some alien race? Might not the world actually be flat in some bizarre reality far beyond our comprehension? Don’t ask me to bet on it, but how do we rule it out with absolute certainty? How do we squeeze out the last, possible doubt? Every starting point seems to involve assumptions that, logically speaking, need not be true.
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Logical certainty is possible, at least in principle, but you must stay within a system of logic. (By that I mean an abstract “world” defined by a set of axioms that include the principles of deductive reasoning.) In chess, we may be certain that the black pieces will win, given optimal play, if White is left with only a king and Black has a king, a rook, and the move. We may be certain that 2 + 2 = 4 is a correct statement, assuming common arithmetic. (In base 3 we have: 2 + 2 = 11). It is meaningful to talk about certainty within a logical system, but human error can still creep in. Had we overlooked the need to stipulate that it was Black’s move, White might have been in a position to capture the rook or declare stalemate!
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Logical certainty is possible in chess, mathematics and within other systems of logic because the rules are axiomatic, meaning they are neither true nor false. Accordingly, no error can creep in on their account! It would be silly to argue over whether a knight’s move in chess is really correct for a knight, as though there were some ideal standard outside of chess to which all knights were accountable. If you play chess, a knight moves in a certain way and that’s that. If you work within a particular mathematical system, you automatically accept its defining axioms.
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Certain geometries may not reflect the real world, but that has nothing to do with their logical fitness. Rather, it is an observation about how well that logic system apes the real world. Even if two axioms in a system of logic contradict one another, it is not a case of one being right and the other wrong--or both wrong. By accepting one or the other, you merely get different games or different systems of mathematics. (Both could be relevant to the real world! Einstein’s idea of space and time might fit one system of geometry even as our experience of space, based on everyday life, fits another.) Since deductive reasoning clarifies what is already in the axioms, drawing out what is packed in there, we have no room for error if the deductive reasoning is correctly applied.
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Hence, deductive reasoning can’t lead to new knowledge as such, but it is valuable for showing us what is hidden in the axioms. Only in that sense does it make new discoveries. (Note that a deductive, absolute proof of God’s existence would be futile inasmuch as God’s existence must already be packed into the axioms in order to be drawn out! Circular reasoning seems unavoidable. Appeal to actual evidence--the one thing that pure, deductive reasoning cannot do--seems unavoidable for any credible argument in favor of God’s existence.)
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Deductive reasoning is useful to scientists because it tests hypotheses by drawing out the predictions within the assumptions they are using. The “axioms” of an hypothesis are really assumptions or models about the real world, something whose truth may be tested. If a scientific explanation reasonably apes the real world, then its credibility (and that of its assumptions) increases.
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Science actually advances to new knowledge by way of inductive reasoning. But alas! Certainty is lost. (Inductive reasoning runs in the opposite direction of deductive reasoning; it starts with specific details--observed facts--and works towards unknown, grand principles. Deductive reasoning begins with grand principles--in the form of axioms--and works towards the details.) Unfortunately, any attempt to build upwards, to assign an explanation to a set of facts, must contend with an infinite number of alternative explanations. For a scientist, this is not a problem as only a handful of those explanations normally have any credibility. However, if any possible alternatives remain--and testing an infinite number of them seems unlikely--absolute certainty is lost.
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We can have certainty, via deductive reasoning, but at the expense of saying nothing about the real world. We can say something about the real world, via inductive reasoning, but at the expense of certainty. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
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Here, then, is my answer to Question #2: Barring a contradiction in the definition of “God,” I cannot prove with absolute certainty that the claim for God’s existence is false. This is not an admission of weakness but rather a fundamental limitation of the reasoning process itself. A demand, here, for absolute proof is absurd as is the demand that my arguments have no loopholes. The question is who has the better argument, not who has absolute proof. Loopholes, in order to be credible, must have significant weight. Their mere existence means nothing in evaluating an argument.
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We have no recourse but to weigh the alternatives and choose the better argument, knowing full well that error is possible. If one side of our balance clearly outweighs the other, and if we are dealing with a subject where the best arguments have very likely been exhausted (as versus a frontier subject where exploration has just begun) then we may accept that conclusion as being stable and the best bet by far.
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On one pan of our scales I set the case for God’s existence; on the other pan I set the case for God’s nonexistence. I concluded that the latter clearly outweighs the former, based chiefly on the several observations I sketched out under Question #1.
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As serious rebuttal cannot take refuge in the mere existence of loopholes, we may reject the vague defenses that God might have had some subtle reason for not showing himself or for writing the Bible as is. Those defenses are not necessarily false, but there is nothing about them (as stated in Question #2) that forces us to take them seriously; they are mere suggestions without credibility.
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If there is a being who is all-powerful, such a being might be capable of violating what we take to be the fundamental principles of nature. However, an objective investigation must begin by considering whether such a being exists, not whether that being should be consistent with supernatural powers. The face value of the evidence plainly works against establishing the existence of such a being, my point in replying to Question #1.
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Finally, we should consider the question of the burden of proof. It’s not your obligation to build a case against giant, green spiders on Jupiter before rejecting them. If you perceive a ghastly lack of evidence for that claim, especially as extraordinary evidence ought to apply, then you have every right to declare that it is unconvincing to your mind. You are merely reporting your belief that the claim cannot be taken seriously; you are not advancing a rebuttal, which requires evidence. Therefore, demands by the Green Spider Society that you prove them wrong would be a flagrant abuse of the reasoning process. Here, now disprove the Purple Spider theory; here, here, now disprove the Golden Spider theory!
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The theist is a little like a mathematician who claims to have proven a famous conjecture. Our math genius can’t simply say “Prove me wrong if you don’t like my claim!” His claim will never be accepted, and rightly so, on that basis. He must produce the goods, he must take on the role of a salesman and convince his fellow mathematicians that he is right. That is to say, he has the burden of proof. If that proof isn’t forthcoming, his claim can’t be taken seriously.
No beef, no belief!
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The theist, then, has the burden of proof if he or she advances a claim that God exists. Those who claim that God does not exist (rather than simply rejecting the idea because it is nebulous or lacking in evidence) also have the burden of proof. It is always the salesman who must convince you that his goods are worth buying. You are under no obligation to refute the worth of his goods.

A total lack of refutation might mean that an argument is so incredibly good that no one can refute it. It might also mean that there is no argument to refute or that the argument stinks so much that no one bothers to refute it! It could even mean that no one has yet gotten around to refuting it. A claim is not made safe by a lack of refutation. It must be established on the basis of positive evidence.
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The question of the burden of proof is worth noting because believers often claim that atheists cannot or have not proven their case. Even if that were true, it would not justify theism or make the claim of God’s existence a safe bet! Believers, like our mathematician, must come up with the goods if they want to be taken seriously, a point that theists (as philosophers) generally understand. It’s not the job of the atheist to prove that God doesn’t exist, even though many of us have advanced formidable arguments to that very end. We need only show that the case for God’s existence is seriously defective in order to eliminate it as a reasonable claim.
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The next few questions will be under another, appropriately named, post.

Question #3: ......It seems that the evidence can neither prove nor disprove God. Therefore, shouldn’t you label yourself as an agnostic? In ruling God out, aren’t you claiming to know more than we can possibly know? Science can’t begin to explain all the mysteries of our universe.
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If the evidence is truly indecisive, and if that defines agnosticism, wouldn’t that make all Christians agnostic as well? We would all be agnostics! But even in that world you would have agnostics who accept God, agnostics who reject God, and agnostics who straddle the fence.
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I reject the idea that all atheists are agnostics for three reasons. First, a number of atheists have constructed proofs that, in their opinion, rule out the ethical, monotheistic gods of Judaism, Islam and Christianity--and probably all others of note. Consequently, the claim of insufficient evidence is strongly contested, at least for those gods of any interest. Bear in mind (Question #2) that the popular demand for airtight, 100% proof is incompatible with the reasoning process itself. In the real world of atoms and energy, “proof” means proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (A bona fide proof, then, means that an issue has been settled beyond a reasonable doubt. New evidence, on rare occasions, might overturn that proof, but the objective mind--the serious player in the game of truth--does not hold out for unlikely scenarios.) Since a number of atheists feel they have proof of God’s nonexistence, why should they refer to themselves as agnostics?
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An atheist might conceivably prove his case by several means: One, if the acceptable definitions for “God” are incoherent, then the claim that “God exists” may be rejected as meaningless. Two, if the acceptable definitions for “God” harbor one or more contradictions, then “God” cannot exist. Three, if the acceptable definitions for “God” lead to predictions about our world that contradict observation, there being no reasonable expectation of remedy, then we have proof that “God” doesn’t exist. Exotic definitions of “God” could, of course, be invented to defeat almost any proof that an atheist might present, but it would also mean the abandonment of the gods most people put their faith in, the gods that matter. The typical atheist could care less about the weirder concepts of God.
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Yes, the unexplored shadows of our universe might hold evidence in favor of God’s existence, but then again they might not. New discoveries might even undercut the case for God’s existence. Moreover, nothing lurking in those shadows can wipe out harmful evidence already at hand, and any hope to emasculate such evidence with new insights and discoveries must be viewed as wishful thinking until proven otherwise. We can’t count our chickens before they hatch! We must always base our conclusions on the evidence we actually have, tempered by what we realistically expect to discover, not on wishful thinking, not on what might be. Hence, if atheism appeared to clearly outweigh theism in the scales of truth, there being no realistic promise of new evidence to overturn that, then we must accept the case for atheism as proven. That does not mean we have plumbed all the mysteries of the universe. That does not mean nothing will ever turn up to overthrow our conclusion. Proof, in the world of atoms and energy, does mean that it would be perverse to reject the proven proposition as matters stand. That is where the serious player in the game of truth places his or her bet. To hold out for another conclusion, a pet hope, is the act of a mind that lacks objectivity.
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Second, some atheists reject the argument in favor of God’s existence for lack of evidence, not because of concrete proof. That is, they don’t see enough evidence to make the claim worthy of pursuit. “Come back when you have a serious case!” they say. No beef, no belief! I find it difficult to apply the “agnostic” label to such a person. There is no suspended judgment in his or her mind, a mind that sees no credibility in the claim.
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Must we be “agnostic” with respect to the claim that giant, green spiders exist on Io? Even though no robot has searched Io, the whole idea should hopefully strike you as silly. A gross lack of evidence--where extraordinary evidence is required--gives us every right to firmly reject a claim. We reject it for lack of evidence (not as actually disproved) but we still firmly reject it--and rightly so.
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The whole idea of appealing to insufficient evidence as grounds for agnosticism is that it is an appeal to uncertainty. The agnostic looks into the mist and is reluctant to take a firm stand. The matter is not clearly settled in his mind. Yet, we have no qualms about firmly rejecting the giant, green-spider idea. That matter is very clearly settled in our minds. It is nonsense until proven otherwise. It lacks credibility despite the fact that no robots have landed on Io to check it out. (A disproof based on scientific principles might be in the wind, but one doesn’t have to know much about the sciences in order to immediately reject this claim as far-fetched.) In that sense we are clearly “atheistic” about those green spiders. We are definitely not in the green-spider camp. Nor do we straddle any fences.
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When it comes to the argument of God’s existence, some of us, after the dust has settled, do see a gross lack of evidence where there should be extraordinary evidence. We reject the argument in favor of God’s existence for the same reason that you would reject the claim about giant, green spiders on Io. We lack the uncertainty that is essential to true agnosticism. Hence, call us atheists. If there is an error in using that label, it is the lesser of the evils.
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Third, organizations and authors opposed to theism often refer to themselves as “atheists.” (Different definitions of agnosticism--hence of atheism--do exist, even among non-theists. Hence, I use “often.”) One might think the matter could be settled by appealing to a large dictionary, but life is not so simple. At the very least we must decide which dictionary to use. Even if questions about dictionaries and other resources could be settled, there is a fundamental barrier that cannot be breached. Any attempt to find the true meaning of “agnosticism” or “atheism” violates the reasoning process itself! Definitions are like axioms, being neither right nor wrong. (Check out the role of axioms within my reply to Question #2.)
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A definition is merely a statement that tells you what a user means by a particular word or phrase. It is a given. If you read that author’s work, then (hopefully) that is exactly what that phrase or word means. A different author might attach a different meaning to that same phrase or word, but we have no logical grounds for saying that one definition is right and the other wrong. We can point out practical reasons why a particular definition should not be used. In the most extreme case (a definition containing a contradiction) the thing “defined” cannot logically exist. That is to say, we have no definition at all in that the word or phrase does not connect to anything.
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Almost as bad are definitions so vague as to leave the reader in a fog. They should be avoided on the grounds of poor communication. The remedy is to clarify the meaning, not to argue over what meaning is “really” correct.
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Words, of course, must be understood if communication is to take place. A definition that creates pointless confusion should be rejected on the grounds of poor communication. If we say “black” we ought not mean “green.” Yet, common words are given different meanings within professional groups, a fact recognized by even the most picky dictionaries.
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Consider the word “theory,” which means something like “half-baked idea” to most people. Scientists use the word in a completely different sense. A scientific “theory” refers to a explanation that unifies and makes sense of a whole body of facts, that has been confirmed over and over within its proper range of parameters, that has been fruitful in leading us to new knowledge. In the world of science, “theory” is a badge of high merit and not some derogatory slur. Thus, we have the atomic theory, Einstein’s theory of gravity, the theory of plate tectonics, the theory of electricity and the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, to name a few. (Regarding the latter, creationists constantly confuse the common meaning of “theory” with its scientific meaning by saying that evolution is “only” a theory. That’s like saying an athlete “only” won a gold medal!)
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The two uses of “theory” show that a common word may have a different yet perfectly acceptable meaning within a limited but significant group. On what grounds, then, do we deny a major group of non-believers, consisting of learned authors and organizations, the right to call themselves “atheists?” They have as much right to define that word as does science in defining “theory.” Their definition is found throughout the literature, and the well-informed reader is aware of it.
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My own take is this: Agnostics and atheists differ in the conclusion they attach to the data. Atheists, because of a proof in hand or because they perceive a gross lack of evidence, flatly reject the case for God. Agnostics feel that the data does not allow a firm conclusion. Thus, they straddle the fence with respect to reason. Their hearts may fall into the theistic camp, the atheistic camp, or straddle the fence. Hence, we have agnostic Christians, agnostic atheists and agnostic agnostics! Perhaps the agnostic atheists should be counted as borderline atheists, and the agnostic agnostics as just agnostics. Finally, one might be agnostic towards certain definitions of “God” and atheistic towards other definitions.
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I would not call a new-born baby an atheist even though that baby is definitely not a theist. For me, the atheist title carries positive freight--a conscious rejection of theism. In practice that means a rejection of the gods commonly associated with ethical monotheism and polytheism. As for the more exotic definitions of a god, most of us could care less. An atheist, as I see it, views theism as either having been disproved or as being so lacking in evidence as to be unworthy of serious consideration. Of course, there are shades of gray in the real world, and we would expect to find atheists whose rejection of theism is quite feeble. Perhaps, they had never really considered the matter or have some serious doubts.

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Question #4: ......What harm is there in my believing in God? Why must an atheist stick his nose into my religion? Let each and every person mind their own beliefs and be tolerant of others.
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What harm is there in believing in God? Well, it depends on the kind of god you believe in. You might think that God is indivisible, but in truth there is a god for every sect if not every believer. (A belief in an imaginary god is just as real as a belief in an actual god.) One man’s god tells him that he is justified in killing a Danish citizen who was a bit too critical, or perhaps a doctor in an abortion clinic. Another man’s god tells him to interfere with public education, because his god is at odds with what is taught in the science classroom. More than a few Americans say that the laws of their god have priority over our Constitution. Would you trust them to guard our basic liberties?
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As I write, we have a “civil war” between two Islamic sects in Iraq, notable for its size and ferocity. One can easily point to scores of places in the world where individuals, villages, even whole areas have been savaged in the name of someone’s despicable god, acts too fresh to be counted among the dusty pages of history. In many places children are taught that those who reject the accepted view of God are perverted or evil. Atheists, in particular, have been slandered over the ages with more than their share of lies, lies that often led to physical violence.
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A belief in God, then, does have the potential for great harm. Perhaps, the gods of those who are bent on evil are too small, too defective, not really God at all. Perhaps, they are just so many warped views of God. Yet, a belief in them is no less real, no less consequential. Accordingly, the Muslims who attacked the Twin Towers were a small group of fanatics who shared a warped, diseased view of Islam. The mother who baked her child to drive out the devil was just a lone lunatic, religion having nothing to do with it. The popular attempt to subvert public education is really due to misguided Christians who interpret their Bible a little too literally. And, the attempt to overthrow the American Constitution in favor of “God’s law” is something that real Christians don’t approve of. Proper Muslims and Christians don’t do those things, we are told.
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I suspect the truth is less flattering. The hard core of religion, with its extremes of punishment and reward, with its tendency to assign great weight to the observance of petty minutiae in its attempt to claim and control the individual, and in its absolute certainty, is ideal for destabilizing minds. Almost any action, however insane, can be justified if the alternative is hell. Almost anything, however insane, is preferable to upsetting an all-power, judgmental god. If you have a pathological bent, making it God’s business supplies the best of all possible justification. You are privileged to have God’s truth, of course, and God cannot be wrong! Such is the mantra of every religious nut that ever walked the Earth.
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That woman didn’t shove her kid into the oven just because she was a lunatic! Religion, with its perverted concept of hell, worked on her fevered mind and pushed her over the edge. Those who blew up the Twin Towers were not just a few fanatics. Their minds, among countless others, had already been worked on by the dark side of religion, making them vulnerable to further manipulation by terrorists. Thus, I reject the notion that all god-inspired evil can be laid at the feet of defective individuals rather than at the doors of defective religions. A religion is defined by the teachings of its leaders as manifested in its believers, and what you see is what you get. Attempts to define religious failure out of existence are but a hollow game of words. Certainly, we can point to defective individuals who have strayed far from their religious doctrines, but those cases cannot exhaust the dark side of religion. Religion, therefore, must be criticized in an attempt to remove its errors and reduce its potential harm.
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Consider an atheist who has familiarized himself with the massacres and outrageous behavior of, say, Christianity and has encountered an arrogant attitude among the faithful once too often, who sees an uneven playing field firmly in place. Doesn’t that beg for a sharp rebuttal, some kind of action? A rebuttal will naturally focus on the worst in Christianity and that is unfortunate. Every coin has two sides. However, if you are complaining about an organization you normally don’t spend a lot of time looking at all the things it does right.
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As long as there is religious injustice and an uneven playing field, there will be atheists who will stick their nose into your religion, and rightly so. Yes, we should be tolerant, but of people’s rights--not of their ideas. No idea should be immune to public criticism.
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Question #5:.......Do you believe in math ? Who mathematically programmed the laws of nature? The first atom required an intelligence to program and design it. INTELLIGENCE and WISDOM must have existed before everything else. MATH existed before everything else. WHO CREATED MATH, INTELLIGENCE AND WISDOM?
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Nobody created intelligence and wisdom. Suppose that “intelligence” and “wisdom” refer to things that exist and cannot cease to exist. Consider the case for Wisdom (or Intelligence). Either it has existed for all time or else it had a beginning. If it has existed for all time, then no one created it. If it had a beginning, then there was a specific point in time when it first existed. However, that cannot be true since wisdom has no connection to specific times and places, being a general concept. Specific instances of intelligence and wisdom can be associated with times and places, but in generalizing those words into universal concepts all such connections are lost. Wisdom (or intelligence), as a universal concept, can no more connect with a specific time than can “whiteness” connect with a specific place. Therefore, no one created intelligence and wisdom--or whiteness.
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God might create white objects, even snowstorms where everything around seems white, but he cannot create whiteness itself. As a universal generalization, whiteness cannot be attached to a specific time and place as required for created objects. Even if the whole universe turned white, that would still not do the trick. It would still be true that each location in it is white, and “whiteness” can’t deal with locations at all. It’s a generalization devoid of any references to locations. We wind up with an example of a white universe but not an example of whiteness. Asking who created whiteness is an abuse of the language based on linguistic confusion.
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Do I believe in math? “Believe” is an odd word in this context! It’s like asking whether I believe in chess. Well, I have a degree in mathematics and I do play chess, but I’m not sure what it means to “believe” in either. I do recognize that mathematics is a powerful tool for describing our universe, and that chess is a game humans play. I heartily recommend both.
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Nobody created math, because math is not a thing. Anything that is created must exist in time and space; there must have been a time when it did not yet exist. There must have been a place or places where it first appeared. Otherwise, it could not have been created.
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Math is a collection of systems of logic that may be explored by the principles of deductive reasoning, and each system is defined by a set of postulates that are not connected to time or space. Time or space might be defined within a system of logic, as it is in chess, but it is entirely internal to that logic system. There is no logical connection to the outside world of atoms and energy. Math has no existence outside of its defining set of postulates. A set of postulates may approximate conditions in the real world, allowing a math defined by those postulates to be useful, but that does not mean that math exists outside of its postulates.
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Chess is another system of logic, and it serves to illustration some of the basic concepts. The essence of chess are its rules. Chess has no existence outside of its rules. That chessboard and those chess pieces are merely physical aids. Take away the rules for chess and they become meaningless props. Even people are not necessary for chess as the game can be played by computers. Of course, a computer cannot dwell on the nature and beauty of chess.
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Chess cannot have an ultimate creator although we may speak of a local creator or creators (if they could be identified) who first invented it on Earth. The invention of chess, for all we know, might have occurred countless times in countless galaxies throughout our universe. Mathematics and chess (and all systems of logic) are ideas that are expressed if the conditions are right. The ideas are not tied to time or space, but their expression is. Since the ideas (the postulates) are the essence of chess, chess cannot have a true creator in the sense that a building or a nation might. Wherever it is expressed (brought into the conscious realm by being invented), at various times and places in our universe as may be the case, we may speak of local creators. The same is true for mathematics. Various types of math have found expression at the hands of creative and able mathematicians, who discovered/invented them. They are its local creators.
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Intelligence and wisdom have no existence outside of minds. They are simply qualities that minds may have. Note, once again, that the generalized concepts of intelligence and wisdom, that being true of any quality, are unconnected to a particular time and place. Anything that can be created must be connected to a particular time and place (or places) though the boundaries may be fuzzy. Hence, intelligence and wisdom cannot have a creator. We can only speak of particular times and places where intelligence and wisdom arise as qualities of local minds. Evolution, by “creating” an advanced brain, can set the stage for intelligence and wisdom. Note that evolution doesn’t require intelligence to “create” intelligence.
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To sum up, asking who created math, intelligence and wisdom is an improper question. Intelligence and wisdom are qualities, and qualities cannot have a creator. Math is a collection of systems of pure logic, a collection of ideas as it were, and it cannot have an ultimate creator though it may be expressed at various places and times by local discovery/invention. (Those who like to think of math as consisting of eternal ideas prefer “discover,” while those who see it in terms of human creativity prefer “invent.”)
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As for those first atoms, their origin is explained by the Big Bang theory of the cosmos, which is now generally accepted. That theory explains other things as well, including the distribution of elements in our universe (essentially 75% hydrogen and 25% helium). The first atoms no more require a creator than do snowflakes. Moreover, recent discoveries have greatly increased our confidence in the Big Bang theory.
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Who programmed the laws of nature? No one did. The laws of nature exist as natural consequences of our universe, not as separate things within our universe. Therefore, the idea of God creating individual laws to govern the universe is wrong-headed. The laws of nature are not like traffic laws that someone thinks up; they are not like spice added to a cake to make it come out right. Nor do they govern anything, as do the laws of kings. Rather, they are the consequences of the way our universe is and do not exist as independent entities. For that reason, they cannot be created as independent entities.
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Scientists first studied the patterns about them and identified various laws of nature, which they expressed mathematically. Thus, the laws of nature--as expressed in textbooks and used in calculations--are the ideal, mathematical summaries of the patterns scientists perceive in nature. Hence, the laws of nature, now in mathematical form, appear to be exact and uncompromising. In that form it is much easier to imagine them as absolute laws created by God, as fundamental mysteries beyond which one cannot probe. Such precision! Such exactitude! Such baloney!
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In truth, many of the laws of nature are nothing more than idealized summaries of a messy, underlying reality. Far from being fundamental starting points, beyond which science may not probe, they are often explained quite easily as consequences of the most straightforward, obvious properties of our universe.
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Take the law for the propagation of light, which states that the intensity of a source of light is inversely proportional to the square of its distance from an observer. This law, though expressed with the infinite precision of mathematics, represents only a good approximation in nature. Moreover, it is the direct consequence of light traveling through a “flat,” three-dimensional space. That is, it is a consequence of the most obvious, straightforward properties of our universe and, therefore, not something to which we could assign a creator.
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The gas laws (Boyle’s law, Charles’ law, Gay-Lussac’s law, the Combined Gas law, and the law for molar volume) are all derived from the idealized, statistical treatment of individual gas molecules as points in a flat, 3-D space. No deity sat down and said, “Well, I had better create Boyle’s law for my universe.” The gas laws cannot be separated from the most basic properties of our universe.
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The same thing may be said for the process of osmosis, which is central to life. It, too, is a statistical process, one that depends on the laws of chance. Osmosis is not rooted in divine power or unfathomable mystery; it comes out of the basic laws of chance, a branch of mathematics, and some simple observations of our everyday universe.
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Even the fabled second law of thermodynamics is a probabilistic generalization, one relating to the direction of time. It hangs on the laws of chance. It offers no fundamental prohibitions. In principle it could fail dramatically, but only by overcoming astronomical odds. In principle, a broken vase could leap back together again, there being no violation of the laws of particle physics. It’s just that the odds are astronomical.
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We are gradually learning that several of the laws of physics, those that seem the most universal and profound, are in fact little more than statements about the simplicity of nature that can almost go unsaid. The "laws" of energy, momentum, and angular momentum conservation have been shown to be statements about the homogeneity of space and time. The first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy, results from there being no unique moment in time.[2] Conservation of momentum follows from the Copernican principle that there is no preferred position in space. Other conservation laws, such as charge and nucleon number, also arise from analogous assumptions of simplicity.

(Victor J. Stenger, Intelligent Design - Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/cosmo.html)

Asking who created the laws of nature, as though they were inexplicable starting points, is wrong-headed. No one created them. Once the nature of our universe was defined in the Big Bang, its laws were defined as well. They are consequences of the nature of our universe, often springing from its simplest, most straightforward properties.

Question #6: ----Why shouldn’t blasphemy be punished? God’s law must come first!

"He that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him."
-- Bible: Leviticus 24:16
And they who disbelieve and deny Our revelations, such are rightful owners of hell.” -- Quran: Surah 5-10
When one lets some air out of an over-inflated, pompous religion, by spoken word or pen, that’s blasphemy. Blasphemy pokes fun at religious doctrines that seem idiotic or arrogant. Blasphemy dares to question holy scripture. Blasphemy even dares to openly question the existence of God. As you might expect, religion takes a dim view of blasphemy; in many parts of the world it is severely punished. The more hotly inflated a religion is, the more privileges it has gathered unto itself, the greater its punishment for blasphemy. It is that concept of blasphemy that I will defend.
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Blasphemy is the word that the majority hisses into the ears of the few. Each church has accused nearly every other of being a blasphemer. The Catholics called Martin Luther a blasphemer and Martin Luther called Copernicus a blasphemer. Pious ignorance always regards intelligence as a kind of blasphemy. Some of the greatest men of the world, some of the best, have been put to death for blasphemy. After every argument of the church has been answered, has been refuted, then the church cries, "Blasphemy!" Blasphemy is what an old mistake says of a newly discovered truth. Blasphemy is the bulwark of religious prejudice. Blasphemy is the breastplate of the heartless. The Infinite cannot be blasphemed.
-- Robert G. Ingersoll

From Ingersoll's summation in the 1887 case of a young man brought up for trial under an old New Jersey statute against blasphemy. Ingersoll argued the case for free. The jury found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to $25 and court costs of $75, which Ingersoll paid. [http://www.etymonline.com/columns/ingersoll2.htm]
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A good blasphemy marks the spot where a dark, religious dogma collided with the light of a working brain. ---D..E..M.


A few Christians, those who favor putting the United States under “God’s law,” might have Question #6 in mind. However, it is the thinking Muslim who really needs to be addressed in the light of recent, worldwide riots. Hence, the lion’s share of my reply attempts to get at the real reason why the West protects the Salman Rushdies of the world, why blasphemy should not be a crime in a civilized world.
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The short answer to Question #6 is that the United States is not a theocracy. We are not like Iran; we a not a Christian version of the Taliban. Those who choose to live in this country cannot impose their concept of “God’s law” on the rest of us. Nor may they ignore the laws of the state with impunity. As for “God’s law,” who really has it? Different Christian sects have different ideas as to what “God’s law” is. Beyond that, we have non-Christian views as to what “God’s law” is. Moreover, atheists say that there is no such thing as “God’s law.” Who shall decide? Shall the tyranny of the majority settle it? Shall a small but dictatorial minority settle it? Not in this man’s country! Our liberty is not negotiable, and that includes freedom of religion. Secular laws best serve a nation of diverse peoples.
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Many Muslims have probably wondered why the Western World so eagerly grants asylum and support to Islamic blasphemers. Is it part of an attack on Islam in which the offending authors provide a convenient vehicle? Perhaps, we are in a debate and agree with the offending authors. Few Westerners seem interested in the details, however, so maybe it’s an attack after all! Such thinking, of course, is based on a misunderstanding of Western culture. Despite appearances, we are hardly at war with Islam. Many of us who support Salman Rushdie and other blasphemers have never read their works, so our support is not based on the nature of their material. It comes from deeper, universal principles.
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The Western mind does find it incongruent and unsettling that Islam so easily accommodates those who are hell-bent on calling for the death of a Rushdie or a Dr. Shaikh, individuals who have had the temerity to question Islam’s dogmas. Mindful of how the world perceives this rabid attack on Rushdie and others, many Islamic scholars argue that true Islam--a religion whose cultural brilliance once exceeded that of the West--has been hijacked by a few extremists. However, this higher, more noble view of Islam seems lost in the popular clamor to kill a Rushdie or a Dr. Shaikh. Where was it during the riots over the Danish cartoons, where mindless attacks were made against innocent people? We in the West find it alarming that an Islamic court, even in the darker corners of that world, could threaten an educated citizen with the death penalty for exercising his or her brain.
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If a man loudly proclaimed that there was no water in the Indian Ocean, would these same courts find it necessary to threaten him with the death sentence? Hardly! He would simply be dismissed as a fool, a minor nuisance at worst, for the great truth of the Indian Ocean is clear to all who live on its shores, who travel its expanse, who know anything about geography. The great truth of the Indian Ocean is not in the least bit endangered by the claims of a fool--or a hundred fools for that matter. There is no need of blasphemy laws to protect that great fact, even if it had been sacred, for there are no credible threats and no danger of corrupting a new generation of thinkers. Great truths don’t need protection. Whence, then, the desire to kill a Rushdie, a Shaikh?
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The danger of a blasphemer is not that he has profaned some great truth or greatly upset an infinite and just God, which no honest search for truth could possibly do, but rather that he has questioned privileged, manmade doctrines that are often wrong. He has challenged a system of belief and not a great truth, a system invariably built upon privilege and conjecture. He has pricked a balloon of super-heated air, a man-made object as no great truth floats such a balloon. Someone once pithily noted that almost every great advance made in human religion (and culture) began with a blasphemy. Islam was blasphemy to the religions it replaced, and “blasphemy” will be the name attached to any improvements on Islam.
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If a blasphemer is clearly wrong, let us counter with evidence and reason as that benefits all. Punishment neither proves the state right nor enlightens an honest blasphemer. Can truth, let alone a great truth, fear the probing question? Should not knowledge answer ignorance, even as light answers darkness? What is more, how can a just and wise God be offended by a sincere error? Will the theologian tell us that God gave us brains but forbade their honest use? If an accepted “great truth” cannot be defended to the satisfaction of educated, impartial minds, how do we know that it is a great truth after all? If it takes force to uphold an idea, then it cannot be a great truth.
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How silly it is to call an idea a “great truth” if it has no weight outside of one’s religion! Can a great truth divide educated, rational minds? Does it have geographic boundaries, being true in one country and false in a neighboring country? Does the truth of a mathematical proposition hang on which part of the world one comes from? Or, is truth just truth? Make the details of religious belief a “sacred dogma” if you must, something to be accepted mainly on faith, but don’t persecute on account of that dogma. History is littered with dogmatic beliefs that turned out to be wrong despite the fact that they were held to be great truths with the strongest, inner feelings of certainty.
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If someone wishes to believe that the Prophet had hair on his chest, and that person is not a noisy agitator disturbing the peace, what possible harm does it do his neighbors? Does it break their bones or deprive them of water? Let such matters be argued peaceably in a public place, if there is any interest, and let each participant draw his or her own conclusion. A matter of polite but firm opinion on public matters and beliefs, as opposed to a deliberate and unnecessary insult to one’s person or family, cannot rightly be answered with violence.
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If a blasphemer is right, then he has done his followers a great favor by sweeping away the debris of false belief. Isn’t the removal of error the very thing we hope to do if we have any respect at all for truth? Might not the blasphemer be one of those rare individuals who points the way to the next great advance in a culture or religion? Hasn’t that role always fallen to the blasphemer? Shall we, of all the generations before us and of all generations yet to come, arrogantly declare that we alone possess the truth? Have we nothing more to learn in a changing world? Only a fool could believe that.
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By the lights of logic and reason, a blasphemy ought to be viewed as a potentially helpful challenge, a possible gem among piles of dust, never as a crime--let alone a capital crime! It might conceivably lead to a better understanding of truth or an improvement in our lives. Pain-killing anesthetics were once blasphemous to some, as was manned flight, but what fool would hold such views today? Mohammed, himself, was once a blasphemer, with respect to the religions of his time. The obvious, logical response to a blasphemy--if we are interested in truth--is to rebut it with reason. If that cannot be done, then we should consider the possibility that we might be the ones who are wrong.
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Unfortunately, the world is more interested in protecting comfortable lies and privileges than in seeking truth. People demand certainty on matters where certainty cannot be had, and they want assurances where only insecurity exists. Upon their proclaimed dogmas they ultimately erect vested institutions that, in turn, reinforce and propagate those dogmas. Such beliefs are honed to a fevered pitch, because human vanity and comfort, and the vested institutions, both depend on them in a kind of symbiotic relationship. Anyone who challenges those beliefs, which are vulnerable precisely because they are not great truths, threatens both the institution and public comfort. It’s like removing the rudder from someone’s intellectual boat, so that it drifts uncomfortably and uncertainly. Consequently, blasphemy is treated as a capital crime in the more backward areas of the world, areas devoid of modern enlightenment and filled with unchallenged, “sacred truths.” And the more ignorant people are, the more certainty they invest in their cherished illusions. And the more certain they are, the more intolerant they become!
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There are also ancient reasons for executing the blasphemer. In those days angry gods spoke through lightning, earthquakes, droughts, diseases, floods and storms, or so the people thought, and it was the job of their priests to allay heavenly anger and seek divine blessings. Before long, those priests had enthroned themselves in a maze of ritual and taboo. Anyone who questioned the gods provoked their divine wrath (even as they undermined priestly power). Thus, a blasphemer endangered the whole tribe. In ancient eyes it was better to kill the blasphemer than to risk the wrath of an angry god who might destroy their crops with a drought or give victory to their enemies.
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The severe punishment of heavenly offenses also has a root in sheer vanity. The more powerful the king was, the greater the rituals and ease of his being offended. (The greater a king’s power, the greater his desire to let everyone know about it.) Hence, an ancient might easily imagine that his god had a short fuse, that most offenses would be met by deadly punishment. Moreover, the more serious the rituals were, the more respect and power the priests had.
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Modern science has deflated this whole, ancient perspective. The death penalty for gathering sticks on the Sabbath is ludicrous in modern eyes, as are any number of rituals in the Old Testament. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of science no longer attaches natural disasters to God. Unfortunately, scientific enlightenment has yet to spread worldwide. A popular view in Indonesia has it that the deadly tsunami that recently struck them was sent by God who was angered over unbelievers!
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If one grasps ten relevant facts out of a thousand, how easy it is to accept grand, sweeping speculations and the prevailing dogmas with the utmost confidence! That which is supported by ten facts is often destroyed in the light of a thousand facts. What is supported by a thousand facts is often modified in the light of ten thousand facts. The road to truth is a journey of many steps, of better and better insight. One doesn’t begin with certainty.
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The enlightened mind understands how easy it is to err and has some grasp of its own limitations and prejudices. The greater part of wisdom is in knowing that we do not know. In learning how best to guard against error, we learn best how to recognize truth. Wisdom begins with a doubt! It matures as we discover how little we really know. Fools cannot conceive of doubt, and that is what makes them so dangerous. The man with doctrinal certainty in one hand holds a club in the other.
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It is the comforting lie, wrapped in privilege, that must be defended with violence, whose investigation must be immediately discouraged, cut off, by any means available. Orthodoxy makes blasphemy a crime precisely because the blasphemer has threatened the vulnerable basis upon which its power, privilege and identity rest. Blasphemy jars a religion’s false sense of certainty, challenges its simplistic view of the world, and deflates the comfortable, privileged position its believers imagine themselves to occupy. That is to say, blasphemy commits no crime. If something is endangered by a blasphemy, it is something weak, something that needs to be changed. Blasphemy cannot endanger a great truth, but it might uncover one.
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The West, in large part due to cultural diversity, an excellent educational system, and science, has moved away from making blasphemy a crime. At least, one doesn’t read about doubters being threatened with death penalties or hear of mass cries for the hanging of some poor atheist! When we learn that truth is not our private possession, we become less shrill. When we admit that we might be wrong, and mean it, we respect the very concept of truth. Those who cannot doubt are not equipped to search for truth. And, if one is not equipped to search for truth, one should be careful about declaring what it must be. It is a deep respect for truth--not a need to attack Islam--that requires us to stand up for the Rushdies of this world.


Question #7: What would it take for you to believe in God?

What would it take for me to believe in God? Reason requires evidence more reliable than the best findings of science, findings often confirmed by centuries of observation and rigorous testing. God, the unfathomable, yet whose intimate properties are somehow divined by theologians, just happens to be contrary to everything we actually observe in our universe! God thinks, but without a brain. God exists, but without a body. God lives, but is unchanging and outside of time and space--whatever that means. God is everywhere but not detectable anywhere. God is complex but, unlike complex things, arrives with neither aid of creator nor evolutionary history.

If God exists then almost everything we know about reality, the product of careful and intensive study, the stuff of actual observation, must be turned on its head. If the laws of nature can be violated, truly violated, even in one instance, then they might as well fail in a hundred instances. They could no longer be reliable, universal principles. We would be left without any foundation for understanding our universe. This is not a proposition to be taken lightly given the huge success of science. As I established in an earlier post, an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof--and the claim that God exists (entailing multiple violations of natural law) is the most extraordinary claim of all! If we are to reject natural law, then it must be on the basis of the most extraordinary evidence. Good reasoning requires that the more probable, the more mundane arguments be exhausted before we reach for the exotic arguments.

To put it another way, upon examining an exotic claim the likelihood of a hoax, a misunderstanding, a self-delusion--or any number of ordinary causes--are vastly greater than the likelihood that basic, scientific findings have been uprooted and overthrown. And, it will not suffice to claim that God is above natural law as we must establish God’s existence first. That can only be done by appealing to what we already know. That is, any such effort must begin by respecting the known principles--not by claiming that they don’t apply!

When all the reasonable possibilities have been exhausted, if a day comes when science can no longer explain important facts, not then or likely in a million years, only then are we justified in turning to the supernatural. But, how could we know that we were dealing with a god, gods, a devil or something else? Any conclusions about the supernatural realm are necessarily wild speculations. The rules of nature and reason are the only rules we have to play with. Once they have been undermined, anything goes. Indeed, without the principle of cause and effect, we would have no way of knowing whether a supernatural event even had a cause!

Therefore, if I found evidence for a god that was more credible than the laws of nature, there being no serious prospect of an ordinary explanation, evidence that was in harmony with the general concept of God, evidence that reasonably excluded other deities and devils, only then could I take seriously the claim that God exists. However, once we leave the scientific realm, there being no known rules to guide us, one supernatural conclusion appears to be just as good as another. Consequently, even if I should witness supernatural events, I could never be sure that I was actually dealing with God. There would have to be an historical trail of supernatural deeds and communication, solidly verified and consistent with the concept of God, before I could make any reasonable connection between observed, supernatural events and God’s existence.

Please note that I'm talking about the general, ethical monotheistic concept of God, not the “fundamentalist” idea of God. The latter god is tied to an inerrant Bible, and a snowball lost in the middle of the Sahara Desert during the height of summer has more hope than does a defense of the numerous contradictions, scientific blunders, moral errors, historical errors, failed prophecies and other problems attached to the Bible. Those problems would have to be resolved--and I don’t mean by the wishful thinking of slick apologists who write great tomes to sacrifice the probable for the improbable, who collect far-fetched loopholes whose chief merit is their logical possibility, who construct alternative scenarios out of nothing to avoid what is obvious to mainstream scholars--before I could be persuaded that a deity had anything to do with the Bible.

In a nutshell, if you are a fundamentalist and can demonstrate that physical reality (as defined by the laws of science) and Bible reality (as defined by the work of serious, mainstream Bible scholars over the last 200 years) can be stood on their heads in favor of God and an inerrant Bible, then I will admit that I was wrong. Where a Bible with substantial errors is accepted, the latter criteria may be dropped. Logic and reason demand no less.

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