Weekly Buzz: 12/1/14

Why do some atheists comment thousands of times on religious websites? (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1yaVErw.)

Why do some atheists comment thousands of times on religious websites? (Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1yaVErw.)

What motivates atheist “super-commenters” on religious websites? Why do many religious people really doubt evolution?

Find out in this week’s buzz.

“You Can’t Educate People Into Believing in Evolution”

Emma Green wrote a great Atlantic article about evolution and religion. She looks at an illuminating new report about barriers to accepting evolution:

In his report, Hill found that religious belief was the strongest determinant of people’s views on evolution—much more so than education, socioeconomic status, age, political views, or region of the country. More importantly, being part of a community where people had stated opinions on evolution or creation, like a church, had a big impact on people’s views. “Creationists are substantially more likely to belong to networks who agree with them about human origins,” he wrote. “Likewise, creationists are more likely to belong to congregations who have settled positions that reject human evolution.”

What that means is that “debates” about evolution and creationism actually might not be that effective. “For those invested in the position that human evolution is compatible with orthodox Christian faith, the findings from [this survey] tell us that persuasion needs to move beyond a purely intellectual level,” Hill wrote. “Ideas are important, but ideas only persuade when individuals are in a social position that allows them to seriously consider what is before them.” For those who value the widespread acceptance of evolution, this is an important insight: There may be more effective ways to persuade people to consider principles of biology without trying to debunk the existence of God [emphasis added].

The “evolution vs. creationism” debate is not about science. 97% of scientists accept evolution. This debate is about God’s existence. If accepting evolution is tied to accepting atheism, then many believers will reject evolution—no matter the evidence.

What do you think?

“10 Old Testament passages that shape how I think about God”

Check out Peter Enns‘s list of 10 crucial OT passages. What do you think of his analysis?

“Online troll or therapist? Atheist evangelists see their work as a calling”

Kimberly Winston, a fantastic RNS reporter who covers atheism and religion, looked at atheist “super-commenters” on religious sites. What in the world motivates these atheists? Winston offers some thoughts:

But interviews with Max and other atheist “super-commenters” on various religion websites reveal there is more to their motives than disruption and rage. While some may see them as trolls, they see themselves as therapists. And far from seeking chaos, they have their own codes of conduct they say help them keep their online conversations from becoming a stream of insults and hate.

As always, Winston’s work is worth reading.

“Philip Kitcher: ‘New Atheism’ hasn’t supplied anything to replace religion”

Chris Stedman interviewed philosopher Philip Kitcher about the “New Atheism” and the relationship between religion and humanism. (Kitcher just released a new book, Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism.) Kitcher explained his thoughts on New Atheism to Stedman:

I think that the “New Atheist” critique has a very narrow view of religion.  For people like Dawkins, religion is all about people having false beliefs—and they think that when people have false beliefs, it’s better to correct their beliefs. I think in general that’s right, though having a misguided belief isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. But you can’t just leave things with “Well, we’ve now shown you why your traditional beliefs are false, enjoy yourselves and get on with it!” 

Dawkins would also rightly say that the forms of religion he attacks are the ones that cause the most violence and suffering in the contemporary world. But there are many people who practice less problematic—even socially valuable—forms of religion. It isn’t the end of the story to wipe out religious doctrine and say that’s the end of it. One must come to terms not only with religion’s history of problems, pain, and suffering, but also with its achievements. 

My perspective aims to widen the critique of religion, be more sympathetic to religion at its best, and strive towards finding a positive position that could replace religion. Some suggest that people never give up a perspective, however bad it may be, until they’ve got something to replace it. My fundamental difficulty with the “New Atheism” is that I don’t think it has supplied anything to replace religion.  Secular humanism tries to fill that gap. I wrote Life After Faith because I wanted to put the focus back on the positive: on secular humanism as a positive perspective on life.

What do you think of Kitcher’s take, and the rest of this week’s buzz?

38 thoughts on “Weekly Buzz: 12/1/14

  1. You are so sweet, thank you for the kind remarks about my work and especially for including this here. I was absolutely surprised during the reporting of this story. I thought I would end up reporting on a bunch of big jerks. But these men were thoughtful, kind, respectful and perfectly charming in their interviews, which all happened over the phone (they are spread out from Western Canada to Britain). It made me realize again how we come to everything we read/encounter with our own set of preconceived notions about who or what someone is because of a label – atheist, Christian, liberal, conservative, etc. Once I talked to these guys and then went back and read some of their comments, I could hear them differently – probably as they were framed in their own heads originally. I guess my takeaway was this – no one can be reduced to their simplest labels. I wouldn’t want to be, and I shouldn’t do that to others, either.

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  2. “The “evolution vs. creationism” debate is not about science. 97% of scientists accept evolution. This debate is about God’s existence. If accepting evolution is tied to accepting atheism, then many believers will reject evolution—no matter the evidence.”

    This is not accurate. The whole problem is that despite the fact that essentially all scientists accept evolution a huge percentage of Americans, specifically the 40%+ who believe God created man just as it says in the Bible WITHOUT evolution: http://www.gallup.com/poll/170822/believe-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx

    Evolution, prima facie, has precisely zero to do with God’s existence. But I can see how it could be a problem. If God did not create man in this form deliberately but instead we are just the winner (in terms of intelligence) of a long-term competition with other primates and our brains and bodies can easily be explained on a spectrum of all other animals (being a difference in quantity and proportion, not a fundamentally separate type) that strongly contradicts not only what the Bible says but most people’s understanding of it and themselves up to about 200 years ago. So Ken Ham has a point that if you let them pull out on thread from the sweater, the whole thing might unravel.

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  3. I’d also point out that evolution has mountains of conclusive and coherent evidence for it at this point whereas we are still waiting for the first piece of evidence for the existence of God. So if the point is that faith is contrary to rational thought and the use of evidence and sensory experience, then that is correct.

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    • Peter, I cannot help but wonder whether you are waiting for ‘the first piece of evidence for the existence of God’ in the same way that a disciple of the idealist Berkeley in Fermi lab might waiting for ‘the first piece of evidence for the existence of neutrinos’: sure, the curved artifact in the bubble chamber might be a neutrino, but to think so requires layers and layers of theory (c.f. WVO Quine, Karl Popper – original ‘falsification’ guy who was stunned when disciples did not realize that for him there are no proven scientific theories but rather only as-yet non-falsified theories – T. Kuhn, and the great Bas van Frassenn). The same can be said for prayer (c.f. Richard Swinburn’s oddly titled ‘principle of credulity’ in ‘The Existence of God’) … to think the saints’ experience is experience of God requires layers of theories. But a priori evidence for the existence of God is all over the place – you don’t have to see it as evidence, but to avoid seeing it as evidence you have to assume a set of theoretical statements that discount it, and, more uncomfortably, you have do so while trying to disprove ‘evidence’ using an argument of the form, ‘Since God is non-existent, the saints’ experience of God is illusory’ … an argument that feels terribly close to ‘Since God created the universe in 6 days, evolution is wrong.’ I mean this with all good humor, but sincerely.

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      • The difference being that scientific theories start from observations of reality and mathematical laws and a sincere attempt to formalize them, whereas this always starts from magic and then introduces confirmation bias to try to prove that magic is real.

        What evidence are you talking about? A priori evidence of God’s existence? This discussion has gone on for days now and nobody has actually plainly stated it.

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  4. the belief in evolution by 97 percent of scientist’s simply proves 97 percent of scientists are dishonest
    they know evolution can not be scientifically proven .. “some “of the 3 percent would be the honest scientists who
    base their belief not on science that at one time thought and taught the world was flat and that aids was a automatic death sentence and always has to change what it thinks as it learns new things .. but rather the bible which has never had to change what it teaches because its always right no matter what..

    http://www.lutheranscience.org

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    • @Rob: “the bible which has never had to change what it teaches because its always right no matter what”

      We don’t allow slavery anymore, which most slaveholders justified from a Biblical point of view, and we don’t stone people for adultery, missing the Sabbath, etc., along with a thousand other changes or contradictions of biblical teaching. So I’m not sure how you get to the point that the Bible never changes.

      For the record, here are all the issues with the Bible visualized: http://bibviz.com/

      But if you still dislike science, it would only be fair and a statement of your integrity to stop using your computer right away. There is only science in that metal box of electrical circuits and logic, not faith.

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  5. 2 Peter 3:4-6

    4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.

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  6. I’d simply point out that Rob’s comment, ironically as it were, underscores Peter’s sentiment. Religion quite literally breaks ones ability to reason logically about anything that contradicts scripture. Luckily for ‘enlightened Christians’, Christian scripture contradicts itself sufficiently to provide leeway for all sorts of self-serving rationalizations, but the fundamental truth remains: religion, by and large, continues to be relegated to the ever-dwindling space of ideas about which we have no good data. In other words, at least with respect to religious belief that moors itself in any way to scriptural dogma, the clock is ticking.

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  7. As someone who is trying to learn more about all things talked about on this awesome blog, I sometimes find it frustrating when people in either camp (God exists / God doesnt exist) take on a definitive and dismissive tone of the other side. I agree with the above comment that religion is relegated to the space of ideas about which we have no good data – and I would extend that to encompass not just religion, but more simply to how we think about the question of whether God/a higher power exists. People who are arguing for either existence or non-existence both don’t have definitive data to back up their arguments, so why should they be using a definitive tone in drawing conclusions? What’s worse, why should they be dismissing and in some cases looking down on the other side for their opinions? I guess it is in human nature to feel uncomfortable with not having our mind made up, taking a side, and having a position we can defend – but it seems like it does more to close minds and stymie the discussion than it does to inspire thoughtful and open discourse. The discussion of these issues is so incredibly valuable – would just love to see it happen with an understanding that we are working with bad data here and that we are just doing the best we can to find comfort in existential thought.

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    • I’m glad we agree about the fact that ideas for which there exists no evidence should concede to ideas for which there does, but I am sorry to say that I think you are quite mistaken regarding the burden of proof. If you are not familiar with the term please go and google it and do some reading. I’ll wait… Have you read it? Promise? Ok, let’s continue. The assumption regarding our world’s default state is that no God exists, much the same as that the default assumption regarding a teacup orbiting the planet Earth does not exist. For you to make a claim on either the teacup, or your god’s, existence you must provide the proof of your positive claim. For the same reasons the inductive proof of a negative statement is impossible, the burden of proof lies with those making the claim for existence. To act otherwise is nothing but a false equivalency and the methodology of someone with a very weak case. Again, the fact that I call you out for having no evidence by no means implies that I must provide evidence to the contrary, as I’m not the one dancing around in a silly hat acting as if Stone Age mythology is anything more than just that.

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    • Atheists never, never, never need to prove God doesn’t exist anymore than you need to prove alien civilizations don’t exist. The burden of proof is on those making the claim.

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  8. Are you serious with that response dude? So much aggression and condescension for no reason. And please don’t patronize me and ask me if I am familiar with a term and tell me to google it. I went to Yale too, graduated in your class, and knew you. I wasn’t even trying to make an argument for either side – I was simply stating that it I think it is counterproductive to have a contentious discussion about these issues since the data is incomplete. I personally think it is impossible to prove that God does or doesn’t exist. You can say the burden of proof lies with those who believe in a God’s existence, but all the science in the world can’t describe why we are here. From the very beginning, why anything exists at all. Evolution and all the science we have is great but not complete in describing why the most elemental particles that started the process scientists study even were there to begin with. I don’t know what the answer is and I am not trying to tell anyone how they should think about it. I just enjoy reading discussions about it. I’m sure you’ll offer some kind of response but I honestly don’t care to read it. If you could spare me the additional vitriol I’d appreciate it. Please do remember that I received the same sheepskin from Yale that you did. The way I remembered my time in New Haven – we respected others while engaging in thoughtful discussion. I won’t discuss this further because I wasn’t attempting to make an argument for or against yours to begin with, but I assure you this – I won’t be talked down to. You can be confident in your views and still be civil toward others. That honestly was just an embarrassing way to address another person.

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    • Yes, I knew who you were when writing my response. That doesn’t change the fact that your response makes claims that demonstrate either a lack of understanding, misunderstanding, or blatant willingness to ignore the problems inherent in asserting truths about the world with no proof whatsoever to back them up. I’m not sure why you’re perceiving aggression; this is not aggression, it’s just an objective statement about the physical world we live in. I’d call you out in the exact same way if we were friends having drinks at a bar and you made that statement; feel free to ask any of our mutual friends to testify to that fact. Maybe it’s abrasive, but my philosophy is that life’s too short to tiptoe around issues such as this.

      The point is that I don’t need to disprove the idea of god any more than I need to disprove any other idea that has no grounding in reality. So feel free to take what you perceive to be the higher ground, but I simply don’t accept your false equivalence between an ideology with no data to back it up and a method of reasoning about the world that has led to the creation of basically everything you use in your daily life. Not only do I not accept it, but I feel that to propose such lines of reasoning is to do a disservice to the conversation insofar as it encourages statements such as:

      “Evolution and all the science we have is great but not complete in describing why the most elemental particles that started the process scientists study even were there to begin with”

      Ok, so because we can’t answer every single question about reality with our current toolset and our primate brains, let’s just throw our hands up and state that we might as well look at these two ways of approaching the world around us as equally valid when they are clearly not (i.e. you’re not responding to these messages on your faith-based computing device, or sending prayer-mail, or basking in the glow of your bible-powered lightbulbs). The reason one tends to produce wealth, reduce net human suffering, and deliver answers to billions of our questions about the world is precisely because it hinges upon concepts like the burden of proof. And beyond that, how can one make such a statement without in the very next breath admitting that religion has nothing to say regarding why there’s something rather than nothing beyond the notion that ‘god did it’, which is an extremely weak position as it begs the question ‘then who created God’, and from there we hop on a merry-go-round of destructive cognitive dissonance and circular reasoning.

      Finally, I don’t know why you’re focusing so heavily upon your perception of being talked down to and our shared Yale degrees. Screw the degree; I could care less about it, and to be honest some of the smartest people I know don’t have any degrees at all. I’m not talking down to you, I’m confronting what I think are toxic ideas in our culture. If you’d like to reply, go for it, if not, that’s fine too.

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    • The question of why is a red herring. There is no reason to believe there is a why. The only way to argue there is a purpose is if someone demonstrated how a creator had one when he or she made us and there’s no proof such a person exists. There is plenty of proof for chaos and billions of years of random collisions and evolution however.

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  9. I had one reaction to this exchange: “This aggression will not stand, man.”

    I love diving into deep debates about theology, philosophy, and science—as long as they include respect and civility. Sardonic remarks cripple important discussions, instead of facilitating them.

    I think the above comments define “evidence” and “proof” in unhelpful ways. Evidence is not synonymous with scientific evidence, and God is not a scientific hypothesis. Our epistemology should be broader than a shallow scientism.

    We should also reckon with how classical theism actually describes God: God is existence itself, not a material being. Therefore, God is not some irrelevant material thing. God is the reason there is anything at all, and why we are able to have this conversation right now. And asking who created God is not a strong argument.

    I also think the above comments write ontological checks that are bouncing before our eyes. Why are we assuming that materialism is a logical starting assumption, instead of magical thinking? As Conor Cunningham has said, who told you that you were merely matter, or that matter is mere? I don’t agree with everything in this clip, but watch him talk about materialism, nihilism, and atheism.

    Dropping theism isn’t simply dropping an antiquated hobby. It’s dropping a way of making sense of existence, something science can’t do.

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    • This is precisely why I stopped having these discussions; there is no discussion to have when we the conversation bottoms out at metaphysical appeals and anti-materialist claims. There’s simply nothing of graspable substance to talk about, and doing so leaves us tangled up in a Gordian knot of Wittgensteinian language games that could last forever (which is precisely why we’re still having these types of debates).

      If people want to believe, for no reason other than the fact that our brains are powerful enough and our language is expressive enough to conceive and discuss such topics, that there’s a whole world of forces controlling our lives that we simply can’t interact with or observe, that’s fine. I’d simply ask that they begin by saying “I have no idea whether or not this is true, nor do I have a way to substantiate my claims, but here’s how I think the world works”. The problem is that, aside from the most abstract of religious scholars, people do not approach religion in this way; instead, it is positioned as an ex novo, concrete answer to “life’s greatest questions”, which is disingenuous at its best, and downright counter-productive for our species at its worst.

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      • That’s a good point, Matt. It’s like a bait and switch. Look how mysterious the universe is. There are things we don’t know yet. There may be forces that are totally surprising. Also, we have no independent way of verifying outside of our brains and reason and the knowledge developed by us and others and the communication skills we have what is true or false, or how to judge that standard. Therefore, Jesus was born of a virgin, died for our sins, and sits at the right hand of the father. We know that God has three parts and wants us to spread his word. If you’re liberal please vote for the poor and the environment and if you’re conservative please vote against gays and abortion.

        That’s quite a deductive leap!

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    • Haha, Mike, I have to say I disagree with everything here, as it were.

      On evidence. Give me any evidence for God you’d like. It doesn’t need to be a mathematical proof. It just can’t be because ancient writers said so. Well it can, I just don’t believe that because 1,000s of ancient writers said all sorts of stuff about all sorts of God and you and any other religious person doesn’t believe 99.9% of it, just the 0.1% that relates to a given faith. So unless there’s some better reason than argument from an authority that there’s no objective reason to recognize, it’s not very persuasive. The problem is that there is NO evidence for God of any sort, and you’re not even willing to offer any because of course if you had it you’d be world famous by now. I’m also not sure what a shallow scientism means, but you are currently using your eyes, which use light, on a computer that uses electricity and mathematics to communicate almost as fast as theoretically possible with people far away, and using cells in your brain we can identify to process language, which we know how you learned and how you evolved to learn, to make judgments about how science isn’t all there is. So there’s like 10-20 examples of scientific insight working perfectly without breaking a sweat and moreover every step in that process is rationally understandable to you and me in a way that we can agree. So I’m not sure what other category of evidence there is, but every single thing that’s happening in your life right now can be explained by science so far.

      “We should also reckon with how classical theism actually describes God: God is existence itself, not a material being. Therefore, God is not some irrelevant material thing. God is the reason there is anything at all, and why we are able to have this conversation right now.” If you want to redefine the terms to win the debate that’s fine. If God is just all of existence then I’ll just go on continuing to use the term existence, and you can use God, as a sort of religious dialect, but in no way does calling existence God incline me to change anything about any of my behavior or thinking. Certainly it imposes on me no moral codes or rituals, or beliefs about history or reality not grounded in science.

      It can all be magic, sure. But that’s unhelpful. If it’s all magic and we can’t process it rationally then WHETHER OR NOT you present me evidence of God I have no reason to believe any of it. It could all be a dream or a delusion. It could all be fake. Epistemology gets to a point of being totally useless. If I’ve been crazy this entire time and nothing I think or do makes any sense, or there isn’t even a standard of what makes sense, then who cares? That is totally unhelpful and useless in practice, and again, certainly doesn’t lead you to conclude that certain moral codes, rituals, or beliefs about reality are valid over others. There is also an irony Descartes would appreciate about you using words and reason to communicate with others who have reason on a machine made by reason about how reason and materialism isn’t very solid or comprehensive. I can keep saying that 2+2 = 5 and find a way to verbally justify that but it would be an act of maliciously tricking myself using the very tools that should prevent me from doing so. It’s like a lawyer using his superior knowledge of the law to be a criminal.

      Science constantly makes sense of existence. I’m curious what you think religion has done to make sense of existence that we couldn’t have done with religion? Every society of any significance have developed moral laws, often from no religions or a combination of different religions, that we agree on: don’t murder, don’t steal (interestingly enough don’t rape or abuse children or hold slaves didn’t quite make the cut in the 10 commandments, despite their extraordinary moral relevance). I am genuinely curious though because I can’t point to a single example where religion improves our understanding of existence.

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  10. Well, apparently no one has yet brought us into the most modern science and what it means to ‘reality’ itself. It seems most of the scientific side of this argument is based on there being something ‘real’ with ‘real’ evidence.

    Well…
    First, let’s talk about the quantum slit experiment. Given that, from what I gather, you’re almost all Yale alum (Stanford myself) this should be nothing new. If you fire a single photon at two slits and don’t observe it, you get a pattern on a backdrop behind the two slits suggesting that the photon went through BOTH slits. As though it were a wave, or the particle was in two places at once. Then, if you place a detector which watches the photon go through the slits, suddenly ‘reality’ changes. The very laws of physics shift. The particle goes through one slit or the other. Only one. And strikes only one side on the backdrop. Hmmm.

    Reality? Nope. Science itself proves that reality has wiggle room, and isn’t real.
    It’s as though reality pulls itself into focus when we look at it, but otherwise it floats about with some level of uncertainty.

    In fact, everything that happens in our universe is probability. The increase of entropy, which is chaos/disorder. However, the increase in entropy is a probabilistic process. There is a certain level of probability – so infinitesimally small that it has never and probably will never happen in recorded history – that a tea cup could fall off a desk, break, and then reassemble itself. That is also science. It just is too incredibly unlikely to have ever been observed, but, oddly enough, it is allowed. All we’ve ever observed is particles becoming more orderly, rather than less orderly, on very small scales for very short periods.

    Now, all of science is theories. We all know that. Hypotheses which can only be disproved, never proved. No matter the evidence.
    Some of our greatest scientific theories came from Steven Hawking. One of his greatest theories came to him as he struggled to put on a sweater. That was his inspiration for a theory which CAN be backed up by math (which by no means implies it is correct or will be disproved at some point), and which we now accept as science. Yet the premier scientists of the world, physicists to be precise in this case, understand that it is nothing more than a mathematically substantiated theory which might be wrong. Physicists, again some of our lead scientists, are well aware that we live in a world where nothing we know is fully ‘true’ and where everything can change on a dime.

    In fact, physics has been tangling with a severe limitation for decades: We can’t make quantum physics play nice with relativity. Our two best theories don’t cooperate. Which means, inherently, that both theories are not fully correct. In other words, science has huge gaps.

    Now, let’s get a little weirder – based in science. According to quantum physics, there are minimums of time and space. Planck time, Planck length. The universe is, in fact, discrete. And particles never have one state. They can either be here or there with a certain amount of probability. There are many very strange effects, such as quantum entanglement. Two particles can be ‘tied together’ and changing the state of one instantly changes the state of the other – no matter the distance between them. Faster than the speed of light. That’s information traveling faster than the speed of light. This is one of the foundational pieces of evidence for the theory, and it’s just a theory, that there are more than 3 spatial dimensions in our universe. Perhaps, one scientific theory proposes, those quantum entangled particles are separated by thousands of miles in the 3 dimensions we can observe, but in higher dimensions they actually sit right next to each other. Space itself is tangled up into a giant knot.

    Now, what sort of things are we aware of that behave in these ways? Reality only definitively organizes itself when you look at it? Things are discrete at the smallest levels, not continuous? It all sounds quite a lot like a computer game, where the graphics only render when you look in a certain direction, and the rest of the world stays relatively consistent as data points when you don’t look at it… But it’s not fully rendered. Am I saying the world is a computer game? Of course not. But in ways it behaves like one. Scientifically.

    Now, mathematically speaking, there simply isn’t enough information in our three dimensional world for us to understand, perceive, or fully model higher dimensions. If you were to imagine a theoretical 2D cartoon character as a sentient being, that character could never see, join, or fully understand our 3D world. He could do math and come up with theories about it. But all he could ever see would be the effects of our world – he could see our shadow. He could see the effects of things that we did in our 3D world on his 2D world. You could stick your finger through his 2D universe and he could see a cross section of your finger. But he would have a hard time ever understanding your 3D finger. His world lacks the third column in the matrix defining that extra dimension.
    Likewise, we, in our 3D world, could never fully understand, see, or join the higher spatial dimensions that scientists are now fairly sure exist. That opens up all kinds of possibilities for what really exists, and how it all works. Scientifically. To the point where we can only do math and create hypotheses. There is little evidence to suggest what all goes on outside our own dimensions.

    All that is to say, that science itself has an unfathomable level of wiggle room.
    And, more importantly, the ‘reality’ we’re all so convinced of is a HUGE leap of faith. In fact, there’s evidence that firmly suggests if you turn your back on reality, it will be ever-so-slightly different when you turn back around. And if you had a nearly impossibly rare experience, which is not scientifically impossible, probability could even allow a larger shift of reality when you turn your back on it. Of course we’ll never observe such a thing, but it’s scientifically possible.

    Now, since words are getting defined, let’s think about the basic requirement of Christianity – Faith.

    No need to Google it, we all know what it is. Many people think Christians are insane for having faith.

    But everyone reading this practices faith every day. How do I know that? How did you purchase your computer? Money. Paper money. Or, worse, digital numbers in a bank account. A faith-based currency system. You simply believe that your work, rewarded with paper money or numbers in a digital bank account, is being fairly compensated. You have faith that the paper money and digital numbers have real value. They actually don’t, but you have enough evidence that those pieces of paper and numbers in a bank account will be valued by others that you make a leap of faith and invest your hard work and time in amassing them. You save them. You base your life around them.

    That’s faith. You look at the evidence that leads you to a point, then you make a leap of faith.

    Everyone arguing the science end of things is looking at the, incomplete, evidence involved in science and then making a leap of faith that science is real. That reality is real. Actually, modern science is starting to undermine the concept that reality is real, that is becoming a fluid subject. Our faith in the consistency of reality is actually based more on probability than ‘reality’ according to science. Our real world at times behaves like a computer program – waxing notions of the ‘Matrix’. If I sound crazy and sound as though I’m coming from a radical perspective, this is quite literally straight from modern science. I am no more crazy than science itself.

    The first question is this – what evidence relating to Jesus existing, and then to the next part – Jesus being God, would someone who doesn’t believe him accept? Generally, the barrier for the evidence they would require would be so high that you could never amass that much evidence related to any even that happened more than 1000 years ago. In fact, it would be hard to even amass that much evidence related to an event like the Boston Tea Party less than 300 years ago. The amount of proof required by someone who doesn’t believe in God is frequently something that could never be achieved. Which is why it is very accurate that many people here have asserted the debate is virtually not worth having.

    For those who would like to know what evidence there IS, we can discuss that. It won’t convince anyone who requires a level of proof extending what is possible in this scenario (a 2000 year old historical set of events). I’m not trying to convince anyone. It is more than acceptable for me to make a leap of faith starting from the existing evidence, the same way anyone here makes a leap of faith regarding our monetary system. (There are people on this planet, many of them, who refuse to take a leap of faith in our monetary system. They tend to live in cabins in Alaska. But they exist. And you can’t convince them otherwise because their requirement for evidence is too high. That’s an acceptable viewpoint as well, crazy as it may be socially).

    In terms of religion, we have little hard evidence for God. HOWEVER, the evidence relates to Jesus. There is more evidence regarding Jesus than there is regarding many murder cases that put people in jail for life. We certainly could get into the evidence there. The vast majority of the evidence is 1st century texts and accounts. There are more accounts and there is more evidence there than there is regarding most other events of the time period, which are not generally questioned. There is scientific evidence backing up that some things in the Bible really happened, that some places in the Bible really existed.
    From there, the leap of faith is this: Was Jesus God? Or was he a person? Do you believe what Jesus said? Or do you not?
    For me, that, like science, is a probabilistic question. What is the probability that a human being could wander the earth claiming to be God and even the people who desperately wanted him dead couldn’t step forward and say “He’s not perfect! I once saw Jesus insult my sister!” or “I once saw Jesus take bread from the guy sitting next to him!” It seems unlikely that if you wanted to discredit someone claiming to be blameless, someone couldn’t step forward and give one instance where he did something that by his own rules would be considered sinful.
    Additionally, it seems very unlikely that any man could be as eloquent in handling the people who tried to trip him up as Jesus. You can watch thousands of hours of debates and interviews by very eloquent politicians. Pick your favorite. JFK? Roosevelt? You could watch interviews on talk shows with actors, also incredibly eloquent people. Yet, in my opinion, none of them could have handled the questions thrown at Jesus as eloquently as Jesus. Speaking in terms of probability, that makes Jesus at the very least a one-of-a-kind human being.
    Then there is the fact that the followers of Jesus were almost all put to death for refusing to denounce Jesus. Think of human nature. What is the probability that multiple people refused to change their story when asked “Did you really see Jesus come back to life after the crucifixion? Because if it’s just a hoax and you don’t denounce it, we’ll kill you.” If it was all some hoax, what situation have we ever seen in history where dozens of people refused to change their story about some nice hoax – even when many of them were literally killed for refusing to go back on it? What was their motivation? In the terms of Freakonomics, the economic argument is “What’s the incentive?” Seriously, what is the incentive? Where is their incentive for carrying on this hoax, right to their death?
    Then there are many interesting stories about Jesus himself. For instance, Jesus knew he had one day to live – and he went around washing people’s feet. What human who has ever lived would have known that they had one day to live and spent it washing other people’s feet? Ghandi? No. I can think of no one. Any human being would either try to ‘selflessly’ make a large impact for their cause – a great speech, a grand gesture, something. Or would just lay around and take the day to themselves. What’s the point of washing a few people’s feet, unless you are a quite abnormal human being making a quite abnormal statement?
    Then there’s issues regarding the text of the Bible. There are more early copies of biblical texts and accounts than any other text of its era. That seems unusual. The Catholic church translated and distributed the Bible for around a thousand years. In doing this, and having complete control over it, they failed to censor hundreds of verses that directly undermined their power and went counter to what they were doing. Which was picked up on by Martin Luther. What powerful organization would leave a text that undermined them intact for thousands of years while basing their power off it? Again, it’s strange.

    Ultimately, it’s a bunch of strange things. Enough things that if you added them all up and this were a murder investigation, the ‘evidence’ might be enough to get someone sent to jail. But, just like a murder investigation, it’s far, far from perfect evidence.

    The evidence for evolution, which I and many other Christians believe firmly in, is fossil record. Things like a single skeleton found here and there. In fact, the evidence has many pieces, but is also quite sparse as well. It’s enough for me to firmly believe in it. But how many skeletons do we have that represent the transition between ape and man? I don’t know the number, but I think it’s only around 20, maybe less. Maybe only 5. Someone here probably knows. There are also genetic indicators, which we have more evidence for. But we’re pretty closely genetically related to peas too, and the fact that we share things in common with something only supports the theory of evolution. It doesn’t prove it. So there’s a leap of faith that’s even required in believing that theory.

    Generally speaking, there’s enough evidence that it’s hard to argue Jesus wasn’t at least a human being walking the earth. Arguing against that is similar to arguing that Aristotle didn’t exist, or something of that nature.
    I choose to take a number of pieces of evidence that have the same form as the pieces of evidence related to any historical situation, or an event like a murder, and then make a leap of faith into believing that Jesus was not just a man. I choose to take a leap of faith to believe what he said. It would be perfectly acceptable for someone else to not make that leap of faith based on the evidence that exists, and to say that Jesus was just a man. Saying that Jesus didn’t exist at all is a bit like denying evolution, though, because the amount of proof of those two things is on the same order of magnitude. But it would definitely be acceptable to believe that he was just a man who said nice sounding things. Sure.

    I take a leap of faith and believe in God because I believe what Jesus said. That’s the evidence. The evidence is for Jesus, and from their I just have to have faith in what he said. I’m no more crazy than someone that has faith in anything else- the monetary system, or ‘reality’, or scientific theories. The magnitude of my faith is a lot like the magnitude of believing in black holes. After all, there’s largely only theories and very sparse evidence suggesting that black holes exist.

    There are other scientific theories even less substantiated – dark matter, for example. It’s a question of what evidence you believe, and what leaps of faith you’re willing to take. For me, that includes Christianity, Jesus, evolution, and black holes. I, like many Christians, don’t shut my brain down and make wild claims. It is not a negative and ignorance-inducing belief for me – and for millions of other Christians. Nor is it a belief that I think you need to have, or that I will try to convince you of. I’m simply explaining why I have faith.

    And accepting that in order for you to believe what I believe, you might need a level of evidence that would never exist for events from 2000 years ago. And that’s totally fine as well. It makes no one unreasonable. But everyone should be aware that they invest in faith every day, that science is not nearly as solid as we like to believe – particularly at the fringes of explaining our universe, and that reality is also not as solid as we would like to think. It’s also interesting to note that current scientific theories regarding the number of dimensions that actually exist open up all kinds of possibilities, within the bounds of real science, for what might exist. Science itself suggests that things could exist in the higher dimensions of space and we would only see the shadows and effects of what exists in those dimensions. Such as quantum entanglement. And from there, who knows. Scientifically speaking, many things are possible – and that neither confirms nor denies God or any number of other theories. But it does create room for many, many theories. And it makes it very difficult to shoot many of them down, definitively,- and also very hard to prove any of them, definitively.

    From there, it’s a matter of leaps of faith based on evidence. Some people chose to make different leaps than others, but we all make them. No one can be held at fault for making leaps of faith, it’s what they decide to do with that faith that can be negative or positive. Faith in science can cause blind ignorance that causes the ignorance even of other aspects of science. Faith in God can cause blind ignorance that causes the ignorance even of other aspects of the Bible. Any type of faith can lead to ignorance of other things, and other people. But it also does not inherently cause any form of ignorance or any set of actions. We all take leaps of faith in something, so unless we’re all ignorant and negative (perhaps), then faith is neither stupid nor inherently wrong. If faith is not negative, yes the results certainly can be – for instance, imposing it on others without thought or consideration, taking negative actions, etc. And that applies for all sorts of faith – faith in money, faith in science, faith in God.

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    • This is just another form of the same false equivalency drawn earlier in the comments. Let me paraphrase your argument in more succinct terms:

      1. Our scientific understanding of the world is incomplete, and at times can seem contradictory or mysterious when examined with our current theories and tools.
      2. This gives us wiggle room to introduce the concept of faith, and means that we need some degree of faith to acknowledge scientific findings as part of a coherent reality.

      3. Therefore everything requires faith and we can’t take a stance on whether or not any of those types of faith are beneficial or destructive, or categorically analyze varying degrees and or types of faith.

      This line of reasoning breaks down quite dramatically between points 2 and 3 when laid out clearly and in simple terms. How so? Well, all of your examples are taken from the receding horizon of the unknown, about which I commented earlier. Yours are stories from the edge of our knowledge, and they largely ignore how we got to a position in which it makes sense to ask such questions or perform such experiments in the first place. So how did we get to those points? In every case, we arrived at the current state of mystery through a series, often times hundreds of steps in length, of smaller pieces of knowledge gained through experimentation with previous theories and tools that were revised and improved within the positive feedback cycle of engineering and scientific discovery.

      You do not have to take any of those steps on faith. They are repeatable 100% of the time. I’m assuming you’re familiar with Calculus, so think of this process as taking the derivative of the world around us. The wiggle room you speak of is the remaining unpredictability (if it suits you, you can think of it probabilistically in terms of a narrowing of probabilistically valid outcomes to any given interaction with the physical world) as we approach the limit of knowledge at a given point. Sure this may be a local maxima and we may need to take a more fundamental approach to unify it with some other local maxima of knowledge, but it works. We know it works because as we move along the curve we get back all sorts of information that we can then turn around and apply to the creation of new technologies. Ultimately, ‘faith’ in the context of science is a functional definition; it describes the gap between our theories and tools and the behavior of the natural world.

      Conversely, the type of faith required to believe in religion is of a categorically different type. There exist zero ways of interacting with the world around us that help us to narrow down the probability function of any god’s existence, nor do any predictable or repeatable patterns that can be used to better understand our natural world emerge from the process of examining the concept. Therefore the question remains just as open today as it was the day the first homo sapien decided that something like him/herself must be controlling all of this and grandly endowed the universe with agency, and began telling this story to all who would listen. Faith in this context is substantive: it is an untestable claim on reality to which one either does or does not subscribe.

      So we have two contrasting philosophies. On the one hand we have science, whose methodology has produced a robust history of understanding the world around us (even if we define this understanding narrowly in terms of discovering principles that allow for the creation of increasingly powerful technologies), and that is constantly making progress when it comes to shrinking the wiggle room you speak of. On the other hand we have mysticism, a philosophy in which we’re still asking the same questions today that we began with. Reiterating my sentiment from an earlier comment, to equate the two and act as if we should view them as non-overlapping magisteria on equal footing, of similar types, dealing with equal levels of uncertainty, and requiring equal levels of faith, is disingenuous at best. Dawkins himself (I guess it’s appropriate that at least one of us tips their hat to this blog’s namesake) concisely sums up the issue:

      “it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”

      And there we have it, the biggest problem for religion: it has come no closer, despite attempting for many thousands of years, to proving its claims. That is the fundamental difference. That is where your argument breaks down.

      But you won’t believe that, of course, and so we’ll keep arguing round and round about the unprovable until we either die or figure out a way to alter our brains such that we’re no longer susceptible to this degree of self-destructive behavior. If we die it won’t matter either way; if we develop the technology to change ourselves and our biology, you’ll have to make a choice. And only in that moment of choice will any of us know where you really stand.

      (as an aside, the evidence for the existence of Jesus as a real historical human is scant, at best http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus and if you disagree, please feel free to engage with the Wikipedia community to update the page so that we may all benefit from your knowledge)

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    • Dak, with respect, none of this has anything to do this debate or atheism whatsoever. It is perfectly possible for us to have varying degrees of understanding of reality and its parts without conceding that any notion someone proposes has validity.

      I may not know what’s inside a black hole, but that doesn’t give any credence to the medium who claims to speak with the dead. You may not know how to recreate the human brain via AI, but in no way does that prove that alien civilizations exist and have been secretly manipulating Obama. All of this is a massive smokescreen that takes uncertainty and turns it into a hammer to break a whole in the walls of reality and allow fantasy to have more credibility than it does. It would be one thing if electrons all came out of the double slit to spell “Hello, I am Jesus and you should believe in me” or if the Bible had a genetic sequence mapped out. But as it is, we have the real world that has relative certainties and uncertainties and in that real world there is no evidence whatsoever, even questionable evidence, that God exists.

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    • Also, where does faith really come from? In 2001 there was an elegant symbol of inspiration in the form of a monolith left by aliens. Something like that would be incredibly interesting and provocative.

      What we seem to have, overwhelmingly, is a series of early political or intellectual figures who reached some insights and made some claims that any of us could, in theory make. It is perfectly imaginable to me that you have all the intellectual capacity and potential to say every word and do every deed (short of later embellishments and lies by writers) that Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Joseph Smith, Buddha or anyone else made. Supposedly there are miracles, but ALL the faiths claim miracles. I can find you people in the world today who claim their religious leader raises others from the dead. There are big audiences for mediums who claim to talk to the dead using techniques so discredited there are whole library sections detailing them. And yet these tricks work now, in the era of universal communication and information, so imagine what a clever or crazy leader could have accomplished generations ago, or what his later disciples could easily do to change the story to support their claims to power. We literally see it happening all around us from Mormonism and Scientology in the West to charismatic leaders in the East. So Someone Saying That They Talk to or are God really needs to not be the basis of what millions of people believe, at least not in serious discussion.

      I’m perfectly willing to believe there is some being in the universe that we would consider God like. I’m even willing to believe there might be multiple universes. But until someone explains to me a better reason for faith than my parents said so or this country is mostly Muslim/Christian/Jewish/etc. or ancient writers said so, it’s just not credible on any rational level. Uncertainty over some things doesn’t create certainty over others, anymore than darkness or shadows function also as light sources.

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  11. Peter,

    Actually, your 1, 2, and 3 are incorrect interpretations of what I’m saying.

    1) Science itself says that there is no ‘reality’. The world is a large sum of probabilities, which actually change when observed. The world behaves much like a computer program. We still can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather. We don’t know what causes a migraine. There’s not a little wiggle room, we’re completely lost when it comes to most of the world. And the higher the energies, more celestial the events, or tinier the processes, the less we know.
    Dark matter being a great example – why does the universe behave as thought it’s 2/3 heavier than what we can see? That’s not a ‘little’ wiggle room. That’s us being fully lost, even in the midst of the miracles of modern science.

    2) Everyone has faith. You used faith to buy your computer. You use faith when you go to your job. Not a little bit of faith, a lot of faith. If I choose to place mine in historical events, I’m doing the same thing as you are showing up to your job. If you want to reject faith, you need your employer not to give you gold bars – which actually only have value if you have faith as well, but to actually give you food, a car, and gas. The ‘concept’ of faith is no concept. You’re practicing it right now.
    Furthermore, because of how little science knows, you HAVE to have faith. You don’t “know” black holes exist. You have faith that they do. What we observe that goes along with theories of black holes might be something else entirely. Saying you know black holes exist is almost 1:1 as true as ancient civilizations ‘knowing’ the earth is flat. Actually, not true- they had far more evidence supporting that. Faith is not a concept introduced in wiggle room. Faith is what happens when the evidence is incomplete. And it’s incomplete about almost everything
    Let’s look at it another way: What do you think happened in Ferguson? Whatever you think happened, someone else think something else happened. Only one person knows, and he wants to save himself so we can’t fully trust what he says. Everyone else with an opinion one way or another is looking at the existing evidence, and then making logical leaps to fill in the rest. In fact, if they firmly believe their logical leap they have then engaged in a form of faith.

    3) If you use faith every day based on evidence, then it’s rather hypocritical and destructive to judge other forms of faith based on evidence. Whether you like the evidence or not, whether you want to make the jump or not. I don’t say that you should believe the evidence that I believe. But I do say that neither of us is more logical – and that you make leaps of faith of equal scale all the time. Just about less emotionally charged subjects. Make no mistake, dark matter and string theory are just as hotly disputed as who Jesus was- so believing in many fundamental scientific understandings of the world takes just as large a leap of faith. Just in different evidence and with less emotion.

    Sadly, science is being vastly overestimated in this conversation. I’m an aerospace engineer. Physics is a hobby.
    This is literally how science works: Physicist, say Stephen Hawking, pulls on his sweater. Gets idea. Goes and does a bunch of math. Waits decades in the hopes the one or two astronomical observations or particle collisions show some evidence that shows his theory is plausible.
    Science takes that as a building block, and moves on.
    You’re looking at science in terms of what happens if you boil water. That’s a well supported phenomenon. When you zoom out to how the universe works, or drop down to how the quantum tunneling in your circuits in your computer works, the theories are enormously vague and poorly understood. And they govern the way everything around us works. Much like someone believing in a religion would assert.

    Science IS that shaky. What I’m saying isn’t uncomfortable, the state of the world and science is what becomes uncomfortable. There’s not a little wiggle room, there’s so much wiggle room that most people cannot even fathom modern physics.
    And I was the first one to say that because you don’t know what’s in a black hole doesn’t suggest anything else. But it makes it impossible for you to say that there isn’t a God. It also makes it possible for me to say that based on the evidence surrounding Jesus, I believe that there is a God.
    I’m not trying to convince anyone that there is a God, I’m saying why I believe that there is. There’s no reason that should be uncomfortable. Faith in science that has so much left to explain might be uncomfortable, but science doesn’t have ‘a little’ wiggle room when it comes to the largest questions of the universe.

    Science would look the same with or without a God. If God used tools of any sort, mystical or very physical, to create the world – science would simply go about explaining them. If the world existed with no God, science would explain it just the same. If God exists, science explains his tools and his creation. If he doesn’t, it explains the world. Science is just theories based on observation

    For instance- your GPS. It uses relativistic calculations to properly place you. If you ignore relativity, it doesn’t work.
    But Einstein made a mistake. If everything is relative, and a spacecraft travels away from the earth at near the speed of light for a while, then turns around and travels back, what does Einstein say happens? Time has slowed down on the space ship. It’s clocks are behind. That has been measured. But everything’s relative, right? Einstein threw out the concept of an ‘ether’ in our universe when he threw out special relativity. So the space ship isn’t traveling, according to relativity, at near the speed of light. The spaceship-earth system are traveling at near the speed of light. Neither of them is, according to Einstein, actually traveling at near the speed of light without the other. Something is deciding that the spaceship is traveling fast and earth isn’t, or the spaceship’s clocks wouldn’t slow down. Which has been measured on actual spacecraft. Either it has to do with the relative masses of the objects, it only occurs with circular motion, or the universe does, in fact, have an ether. Which Einstein threw out of his own theory.

    That’s how arbitrary science is. It’s an enormous bunch of leaps based on sparse evidence and theories. The science of jumping off a cliff is well defined. The science of evolution is reasonably defined. The science of human evolution is poorly defined (and yes, again, I believe humans evolved from apes myself). The science of how time, the universe, and many other things work is very sparsely defined. I believe in all those scientific theories, so asserting science against what I’m saying makes no sense. What I’m writing is why I see no problem with believing scientific theories and Christianity at the same time.
    You have to question science with the same lens which you question Christianity, otherwise you’re simply playing favorites. Many scientific theories are less justified than many religious events and beliefs. If you zoom out and start talking about miracles in the Bible, you’re using things that I’m not discussing against what I am. I’m not questioning what happens when you throw a rock off a cliff. But the attempts at counter discussion here are taking the least well backed up items from religion, and the most confirmed aspects of science. It’s an inherently twisted argument. Unfortunately, if there are smoke veils they lie in that.

    As far as mediums and people who claim they talk to the dead, you have to look at the evidence for each of them. Jesus, for me, is the only one with sufficient evidence for me to believe in his claims.

    Like I said originally, no one’s asking anyone to believe. At least not on my side. If you don’t believe in ancient writers, I’m fine with that. But then don’t believe that Julius Caesar existed, that the Vikings populated Britain, or that Cleopatra killed herself with a snake. Events like the last of those being far less substantiated than the life of Jesus. On the other hand, you can believe in those ancient writers as well as those about Jesus, and call Jesus a quack. That makes sense to me as well, it’s just not what I believe based on the evidence.

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    • First of all, the evidence for Caesar’s existence is about 100x that for Jesus’ existence, right off the bat. Unless the entire Roman Empire forgot who ruled it and/or faked hundreds if not thousands of independent records across several generations of rulers. Second of all, Jesus probably did exist since the Bible took pains to make the facts of his life awkwardly match prophecies. For instance, it is definitely not the case that the Roman Empire required people to go to the towns of their birth for a census, which is just one of several details of just that one census that don’t match. They needed to shoe-horn in Bethlehem to fulfill a prophecy, so from the very start we know someone was lying. Third of all, the Bible can’t even agree on basic facts of Jesus’ birth, life, and resurrection. Several of the Gospels don’t even point out that he was born of a virgin, which the Church still decided to make a key selling point. Fourth, we know that certain passages, for certain, were added later or specifically edited in or out, like the story of him preventing the stoning of a prostitute.

      Additionally, even if everything is true, none of it proves he was God, even if he indeed resurrected. The Bible is actually full of resurrections of given figures, and for people of that time who knows what they actually saw, or think they saw, or told others they saw. They may well have believed they saw several dozen resurrections.

      Moreover, the core point of the story makes no sense. God needed to send down his son to die so he can forgive people for a (minor) act of disobedience against God committed by their ancestors? The idea of crimes being passed down across generations is a hallmark of early legal systems. This is manifestly a primitive society who practiced ritual human sacrifice in the past, like most early religions, projecting their view of what the most powerful religious ritual would be onto a hypothetical God. This story has all the fingerprints of a society awkwardly shoehorning in an idea of God into their very contemporary and somewhat bizarre (to us) legal thinking.

      Finally, I don’t need faith in science because I see the results of science. You are literally typing on science and mathematics made into metal and silicon right now. If it doesn’t actually work in reality, whatever that would be if we throw out all the rules, and it’s actually all magic and a dream, well then that doesn’t actually help you prove the existence of God either.

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      • Btw, as a sort of funny random example, there was a myth back in the racist old times that Asian women had sideways genitals. This myth was particularly intriguing because we know as a fact that thousands of white men slept with Asian women in America alone and presumably knew the reality. And yet, large numbers of them continued claiming this as a fact for reasons that only a psychologist could understand, knowing that other men would know that it’s not true. It’s even possible, psychologically, that they got themselves to believe it, as such is the power of falsifying memory. That was only about 100 years ago.

        So from that bizarre example to show what any lawyer would tell you, that people lie all the time and/or can’t remember even the most basic facts (like apparently people get confused all the time about the appearance of their assailants in violent encounters):

        • We have a book that is 2,000 years old and that no other source verifies the core claims in
        • We have no way whatsoever to confirm any of these claims today
        • We know that these claims are highly suspect by their nature, relating to unnatural events
        • We know that it was written some time after the events claimed
        • We know that it was heavily edited, including by the Roman Emperor for political reasons
        • We know that it’s claims empowered an early group of people to rise to the top of a new religion, so they had a motive to lie or embellish
        • We know that people are just terrible at reporting facts in general and also that back then there was no such concept as objective history or journalism
        • We know that the core documents, the four Gospels, vary in content even about many core claims
        • We know that other parts of the Bible make claims at least as supernatural and miraculous as the actions of Jesus but about less significant figures
        • We know that some of the details of Jesus’ biography must be false or were inserted wholesale far after even the initial drafts, which themselves were long after he died
        • We know that the God in the New Testament is simply not the same as in the Old Testament and the people writing this were relatively OK with that seemingly earth shattering inconsistency
        • And we know that many other religions have made similar claims about their sacred founders or leaders

        Or to frame all this another way. What is uniquely compelling about this such that its followers routinely reject the same or similar claims from all other faiths, but are completely compelled by the very limited and shaky evidence offered here?

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    • Dak, “But I do say that neither of us is more logical – and that you make leaps of faith of equal scale all the time.” This is just false, sorry. I am more logical. Even if you call me using reason and evidence in proportion to importance of getting something right for a given purpose faith, which I’d say is a misuse of the word, my leaps are literally infinitely smaller than those required to believe in God. They are infinite because on the one hand I have some evidence for my knowledge or understandings, and religion has zero. Moreover, the consequences of my misunderstanding my GPS by several centimeters because of the effects of relativity or an imperfect understanding of it are trivial, whereas the consequences of making billions of people believe in imaginary stories with strict moral rules and consequences have been already incredibly destructive and may continue to be. There is not one thing in my life I’m as certain of as you have to be to believe in God, nor anything that is more consequential. The ratio of any faith (aka assumptions or leaps in reason) to logic and evidence is simply incomparably lower for me.

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  12. Also, in terms of having a serious discussion – everything I’m discussing is actual science. So it doesn’t make much sense to assert that I’m throwing up smoke or having a non-serious discussion.

    And for the sake of correctness, multiple dimensions are not multiple universes. That’s a second and even harder to investigate concept.

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    • I wasn’t saying it’s not science, I’m saying that identifying doubts or gaps or levels of certainty in science in no way provides a magic trump card to open the door to God. It is a complete non sequitur. We could literally not have any science whatsoever and that makes it no more likely that God exists, just as having even more science doesn’t make it less likely that he exists. The simple fact is, there is no evidence for the claim that he exists and no one has ever offered any OTHER than fraudulent claims of miracles that you can still see today along with the transparently deceptive and false way they are presented. If you want resurrections, I can show you 10-20 modern religious figures who claim to do them, along with any other miracle you’d like to see.

      Any other topic is a complete red herring and a smoke screen. Uncertainty about unrelated areas has nothing to do with certainty or even some degree of confidence about God’s existence.

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  13. I’ve really enjoyed reading the recent comments by you guys on this. Really interesting stuff on either side of the discussion. I respect that Dak presents his view but readily states that he isn’t trying to convince anyone else that they need to agree with him. I think finding common ground or a solution has been elusive because what God is can vary significantly among people who believe in God. I bet it varies a lot among people who read the blog and comments, and we should be aware/respectful of that. I’ll start by acknowledging that as far as tangible evidence goes, science has mounds more of it. But we can go around in circles on it because even though science has more hard proof, it is what we do/are capable of as humans in our limited capacity and there very well could be more to it. You guys can state all of the evidence and theory you want, but none of you will arrive at an indisputable COMPLETE answer. The materialist side of it can say there is much more evidence to support their view and that’s why theirs is better, and that’s fine. But that should not be confused with the authority to convince people who do believe in God that they are wrong. Yes, you have more evidence, No, you can’t completely prove that you are completely right without doubt and that there isn’t more to it. You base your view on the evidence we have scientifically collected as humans. I believe in science but I also believe there could be so much more that we are missing. I don’t believe that we have a full understanding of our existence, despite how many strides we have made in science. Don’t tell me I’m wrong, just tell me you believe something different, and I’ll absolutely respect that. Even the materialist view, with all its proof, is still something you have to state as your belief, not fact. Your hard evidence may get you closer to an answer than mine, but it is still a leap you need to make to believe (it doesnt matter if it is a smaller leap, it is still a leap). I’ll tell you I respect your opinion, but my HOPE and my FAITH is that there is something more. Why do I feel that way? For a number of reasons – a lot of them are rooted in my life experiences and a desire that there is something there for us when the lights go out. None of it is scientific and none of it can be building blocks to show definitive proof that God exists. You may be frustrated by that, and that’s cool. This is what works for me. What works for you, works for you. You don’t have to agree with it at all, but it shouldnt be dismissed or judged (not accusing anyone specific of doing this, speaking more generally). To drop a boiler room reference, “tell me you don’t like my firm, tell me you don’t like my **** necktie, but don’t tell me my beliefs are wrong”.

    At the end of the day, the materialist argument is rooted in logic and the belief in God argument is rooted in faith and hope. Calling attention to the “facts” religion uses is low hanging fruit in my opinion. Because there is so much variance in how people who believe in God support their beliefs. To me, religion is a vehicle to express our beliefs and connect with a higher power/God. Some people go to church because they literally believe every scripture, some go because they want to stand among a community of people who are on similar spiritual journey, and some don’t follow a specific religion but still believe in a higher power.

    Can’t we say that “this is what we think, but of course there is the possibility that we are wrong” – on either side of the discussion? Why does it have to be about winning or losing a debate and not about learning from each other? Is coexisting with another viewpoint and not being able to prove it wrong that uncomfortable? I don’t know exactly who/what God is, but I hope. I don’t necessarily know what I hope for – but my views are constantly developing and changing. I read this blog to be enriched by the views of really smart and thoughtful people; to learn from them and to enhance my understanding. I don’t love the fact that I don’t have all the answers but I feel more productive keeping my mind open and hearing everyone’s thoughts – and not trying to prove anyone wrong or cast aspersions on their views.

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    • So to clarify I for one don’t care at all what you specifically think or if you change your mind, or any single other person. However, I see constant evidence of the harm religion does to people and to the world, so the hope is that someone reading this will have some ammunition to break down the walls their parents or pastor put up in their minds.

      Also, some religious people now claim as you just did that they just want to be left alone and not challenged by atheists, but then they turn around and want to indoctrinate others and children who can’t defend themselves intellectually, or vote for laws that harm people for no other reason than faith said so. If you don’t do either, so be it, you’re not my opponent, and this argument would only be relevant to you if and when you realized how much better it is rationally and emotionally to give up the fantasy, but that’s solely your concern.

      “I think finding common ground or a solution has been elusive because what God is can vary significantly among people who believe in God. I bet it varies a lot among people who read the blog and comments, and we should be aware/respectful of that.” >>> It varies a lot in his official biography too. I respect that even less actually than if everyone religious agreed on a very specific definition of God. The fact that you feel comfortable making up your own version of supposedly the most important figure in all of existence simply reveals how unserious all of this is. If he were real, presumably he’d find it somewhat important for all of us to know something about him for sure so that we could properly obey, speak about him, etc. Instead we just get fog and smoke and mirrors. The fact that you respect other people’s interpretations also doesn’t make sense. Either this is the supreme leader of everything or not. If so, and you are sure he exists, how can others just go around and insult your supreme leader by making up what he’s doing, saying, etc. You’d be arrested for speaking falsely about the King of Thailand, but people can believe and say whatever they want about God?

      “You guys can state all of the evidence and theory you want, but none of you will arrive at an indisputable COMPLETE answer.” >>> Actually I can state definitively that none of you for hours of discussion now has said a single thing that would convince a rational person that God actually exists. Interestingly, none of you have even tried nor ever do try in these discussions, other than by using fundamentally illogical arguments like science isn’t complete and has areas of uncertainty therefore God exists. That’s a non sequitur. Also, as previously stated, in no way do I have to prove that something imaginary doesn’t exist for my argument to be complete.

      “You guys can state all of the evidence and theory you want, but none of you will arrive at an indisputable COMPLETE answer.” >>> Think that if you’d like. I’ve said before, I don’t need any belief at all to see thousands of examples of science working in practice every day, which you all enjoy as well by the way, vs. no examples of religion working ever in any respect other than as an idea in people’s minds. I also don’t need to be certain about string theory or the finer points of quantum mechanics, and the consequences of being wrong about those are fairly trivial, whereas the consequences of say indoctrinating a teenager that their sex drive is bad and they should suppress can be catastrophic, along with other ways religion makes people feel guilty and wrong for no reason other than that ancient writers said so to control people in their countries.

      “I’ll tell you I respect your opinion, but my HOPE and my FAITH is that there is something more. Why do I feel that way? For a number of reasons – a lot of them are rooted in my life experiences and a desire that there is something there for us when the lights go out. None of it is scientific and none of it can be building blocks to show definitive proof that God exists.” >>> Thank you for someone finally admitting this. Yes, you want it to be true, but you have no actual reason to think that it is true and no reason that can be communicated to convince others. It is wish fulfillment. To be perfectly precise, the typical person gets this either through their parents or their community, and it is driven by a fear of death. I do dismiss and judge this, by the way, as a childish fantasy like the desire to fly, but why should you care.

      There is no possibility (or just a low possibility as to be meaningless) that I’m wrong that the faiths we currently see are made up. None of them have said anything to make anyone believe they have an ounce of credibility, either. However, there could be a future encounter with some alien that people deem to be a sort of god, but I haven’t ruled out that possibility.

      All I’m learning from this argument is that religion is extremely good at tricking people into believing it and shutting down the otherwise healthy logic centers of the brain with respect to itself. It’s like a mental immuno-virus that systematically attacks the brain’s defensive grid to prevent itself from being questioned. I could make any other similar claim about any other topic as people make about God and all of you would dismiss it as silly in about a second. I used to be religious myself, so this gives me unpleasant flashbacks to how I was equally convinced as you are now.

      Our goals are different. As I said earlier, I am trying to prove people wrong, partially in the hope for example that I can prevent someone gay from feeling terrible about themselves because the Christians told him to (as has now happened to THREE people I happen to know), but more generally from wasting their lives pursuing a fantasy made up by cynical people a long time ago. It won’t prevent death or give ever lasting life. Sorry if I’m the first to tell you that. But I promise, just trust me as it happened to me to, you’ll feel better when you accept that. Peace.

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      • You start your comment by saying you dont care what I am thinking or that I should change my mind, and then you close by saying that you are trying to prove people wrong and also characterize my pursuit of a higher power as a waste of time and a fantasy. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell me you don’t care what I think and then close by telling me that I’ll feel better when I accept that what I am pursuing is a fantasy that will not give everlasting life. It’s like you are saying “hey, I dont really care what you think and I’m not going to try to convince you, but you’ll feel so much better when you give up your fantasy and think like me.”

        It is important to keep in mind that religion is a product of humans, and for that reason can absolutely be deeply flawed. I disagree wholeheartedly with all harm that is done to people in the name of religion. I hate that the people you know who are gay feel terrible about themselves because Christians told them so (I think that whoever said that to him is a bad person). I hate that the church tends to be excessively slow in their progress on many social issues. I dislike that women cant be priests in the catholic church. I think religious institutions are deeply flawed, oftentimes motivated by greed and power. The fact that we are human and fallible absolutely doesnt excuse the corruption and harm that is done through religion, but it is a big reason for why that corruption exists. I do think there are also valuable teachings in religions, but it would be dishonest to sit here and not agree that there is also a ton of corruption and harm.

        I never told you that I provided any evidence for the existence of God and I never purported to use any religion as evidence. No one is saying God exists and the definitive evidence is that science is incomplete. All I was saying is that science being incomplete makes God POSSIBLE. I’m not an idiot. While I certainly am fearful that no God exists – i dont reject it as a possibility. It would be disingenuous for me to pound the table and say it is not possible that you are right. But you mistake my claim that God’s existence is possible as me saying I have proven that God exists. You certainly do not have to prove that God does not exist. But can’t you concede that there is at least a possibility that there is something more to it than the science that we have? Why can’t science and a higher power co-exist? Something like the miracle of childbirth or being among beautiful forms of nature – you will say it science, but why can’t I look at that and wonder if there is something more to it? Separate it from religion now – talking just about the potential for a higher power. On the one hand I can recognize that it might just be random and chaos and I’ll enjoy it while I am here, but why can’t I also hope for there to be something more? Am I harming anyone by doing so? Maybe your fight is not with me because I am not trying to indoctrinate other people into grasping onto destructive and harmful beliefs that masquerade as religious thought – but why can’t you concede that it is possible for there to be something more?

        My gripe with you is not with your complaints about religion, it is with your unwillingness to concede any kind of possibility that we don’t have everything figured out. So I don’t have any hard evidential proof to prove that God exists, but I don’t have to when I am saying based on my human experiences and beliefs that I hope for there to be more.

        The last thing I’ll say is that these matters of thought and belief are extremely personal and emotionally important. Dismissing it, judging it, and calling it a fantasy is unfair. This is my life, I’ll spend it as I see fit, thank you very much. Objecting to corrupted beliefs is fine, telling people that they are wasting their life is offensive. If I am wasting it, that is my choice. I respect your goal that you stated because I do agree religion can be flawed, and the more we discuss it I agree that we may have different goals, but I find it so offensive to be told that what I believe is a fantasy without you actually knowing what I believe. At some point this discussion is obviously going to go into the “agree to disagree” file. Go tell other people they are chasing a fantasy and save them from wasting their lives. Your efforts are wasted on me – I’d rather surround myself with more positive energy. Life is too short anyway to argue – after all, we’re all going to die one day and who knows what will happen when the lights go out.

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        • I stand by what I said. I don’t care what you think as it doesn’t affect me but I am also saying, for your and/or public benefit, you would feel better if you thought differently. There’s no contradiction. In aggregate, however, I would like there to be more atheism since we would therefore have a better run and more rational world, so as I said I hope some people are influenced to reject the programming.

          Religion is a product of humans, I absolutely agree. Purely of human imagination.

          “All I was saying is that science being incomplete makes God POSSIBLE.” <<< Yes God is possible. And if one day we have evidence that he exists we can pick up the discussion there. Otherwise he is in the category of infinite things that may exist but we don't know about. From the very beginning I've said that other things we don't know about may exist but we generally don't spend tons of time talking about hypothetical imaginary things that could exist, so this discussion is at least partially motivated by the prevalence of people who are sure God does, in fact, exist.

          We're not disagreeing on anything. You can hope what you want. I hope I'll be a leading tech entrepreneur one day. We'll see who's more delusional in the end, and it well may be me. But by saying that it's just hope and there's no evidence you have finally, and I sincerely thank you, stated the conclusion I have been asking everyone to either plainly confirm or reject on this forum.

          "Dismissing it, judging it, and calling it a fantasy is unfair. This is my life, I’ll spend it as I see fit, thank you very much." <<< You may do so, but your right to speak and think isn't a shield from judgment and dismissal. We dismiss opinions we don't like all the time. You probably think there are plenty of people who say or do things that are stupid or don't make sense. Religion no longer has a special exemption that your predecessors imposed on all of us by force to not be criticized, like the monarch of thinking, so we will tear it to shreds using reason as the fraud and destructive power grab by the ambitious few over the credulous many it has always been.

          You gotta just trust me on this one, one day when in all likelihood you realize it's all a sham, you will look back and think none of what I said was offensive but helpful. And if you don't it doesn't matter anyway since God says you're right and I'm going to hell. One way or another, it'll work out for you. By the way, I am using you as a proxy in a larger war. So it's not all about your beliefs or being offended.

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          • All I was looking for was for the admission that God is possible, so thank you for that. I get why you are using me as a proxy but I am not sure I am the best proxy for the war you are fighting since I do not think I fully represent what you are arguing against. You can judge and dismiss my opinion all you want – I wont be offended by that. But it is more the insistence that I must agree with you that is frustrating. I get that this is part of a larger war/fight for you, and perhaps I am thinking about this whole discussion far too simplistically for my opinion to be of value in the discussion that has been going on, but all I was trying to do is allow for the possibility of God. I know you’ll equate the possibility of God to the possibility of unicorns existing, but that cheapens the discussion (I get it, intentionally cheapens the discussion so that we all come around and agree that God doesn’t exist). Beyond that, I can’t contribute anything else of value in this discussion. You guys can discuss all the different scientific theorems and how it proves non-existence or existence – all that is above my pay grade. I was a poly sci major and I write qualitative market research for a living.

            Unlike people you seem to be have your war against, I avoid speaking in certainties about these issues. I don’t think either side of the discussion has met the burden of proof to speak with certainty that they are right (regardless of one being closer than the other with evidence – and maybe in your view your opinion has met the burden of proof, but I don’t believe it has). Obviously you think I am naive to be waiting with hope for a higher power and I know that you reject that opinion – but please don’t insist that I agree with you and tell me how much better I’ll feel when I agree with you. It is as if you think I am sitting here saying to everyone that I think 2+2=5 and that I will be so much better off when I realize I’ve counted wrong and have no evidence at all that 2+2=5 and that of course all of our evidence suggests 2+2=4. I don’t think our existence is as simple as the latter, though I know you view me and anyone who believes in God as someone sitting there saying 2+2 could equal 5. I don’t see our existence as being as simple as the equation 2+2=4, I see it more as A + B = ?. My initial call in the comments was for civility to others in these types of discussions – but apparently my saying that I believe the evidence for both existence and non-existence is incomplete lit a fire and dumped gasoline on it at the same time. I’m not sure if that was a good or a bad thing (probably bad).

            Obviously you have strong conviction in your view, but saying that I will look back on this one day after I realize it is all a sham and see it differently is just annoying and unproductive. It’s a great way of saying lets agree to disagree but I’m right and eventually you’ll come around. If you want the last word on it it’s all yours. Just tell me again that eventually I’ll feel much happier when I see it your way and I’ll say, “you know what, youre right! I can’t wait until the fog clears, the veils of corrupt religion are lifted, and I let go of my fears of dying! Praise Jesus (the non-divine version) I can see the truth! YOLO!”

            For the record, I genuinely hope you end up being a leading tech entrepreneur one day, and I also hope there is a God.

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  14. This has been a spirited discussion. I hope we can agree on a few things:

    1) We’re not going to argue each other into adopting different worldviews. As Philip Yancey said, “No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.”

    2) This kind of discussion, however, is still very valuable. Why? Because we can each get closer to truth by dropping different straw man arguments and misconceptions. Christians are wrong to hold up the Bible as a scientific text book, and atheists are wrong to cloak their philosophical conclusions in the guise of “objective,” scientific statements. Science has nothing to say about meaning, it can’t dictate values, and it can’t even explain why science gets off the ground in the first place. Truth is broader than science. That being said, there are areas of tension between recent scientific developments and Christian dogma. It’s hard to reconcile certain conceptions of original sin and evolution, for example.

    3) No matter what your conclusions are about Jesus’ divinity, every serious scholar accepts his historicity. For a quick explanation of why we shouldn’t doubt Jesus historicity, see this short clip:

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