A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: atheism & gods

11 Feb 2001 
I wanted to take a moment to thank you for the
Skeptics Dictionary. Please take it as a great compliment when I say that it reminds me of an interactive 'Demon Haunted World.'

I read the postings on your God and Atheism topic, and the subject of the human eye as an example of divine engineering repeatedly came up. As our dear friend Carl wrote many years ago (Broca's Brain?), the human eye is actually a very poor optical instrument. The field of vision is out of focus except for a very narrow spot in the center, the visible spectrum is relatively narrow, etc. As Sagan pointed out, the most simple Brownie camera produces a far better, crisper image than the human eye.

So my question is simply this: is it as simple as saying that if a perfect God designed something (the eye) that could easily be improved upon by imperfect man...doesn't that negate the idea of a perfect God? Surely the Creator would use his best --- in this case perfect---design. Now if a couple of guys at Caltech can cobble together an imaging device that can see in a far wider spectrum than the eye, and return brilliant images in all lighting conditions, then what does that say about a perfect Creator with unlimited materials and time?

To me it says the the human eye is not the best design of an omnipotent Creator. It is, however, not bad for seeing things if all you have in the tool box is water, muscle, goo...and a fair amount of time.

Just to conclude, let me say that your site is valuable not for trying to convince irrational people of the value of reason. Your site is valuable, at least to me, for helping me think clearly and accurately about some very foggy concepts. Please keep up the good work.

And if you find yourself with some free time on your hands, then by all means, feel free to evolve some more, damn you.
Bill Whittle

13 May 2000
Actually your feelings prove the existence of God. If that God doesn't exist why do we have feelings of anger at injustice? If an eternal moral order does not exist than why do we assume things "ought" to be different like co-joined infants. Indeed horror is a reaction to what we instinctively know violates the "good."

Tim S Rodkey

reply: We might feel anger at injustice because injustice is unpleasant threatening.

Who says we think things ought to be different? We know they can't be different, but we can imagine them being different and wonder why, if an all-powerful, all-good being exists, things aren't in fact different.

You may be right about horror, but the good may be nothing but the pleasant.

5 Dec 2000 
My definition of an atheist however is one who has never been in combat.
Rick d

27 Oct 1999
Hey, I just read your skeptic's guide to Atheism vs. Theism. I noticed that one of your main arguments against the theists was the apparent imperfection of the universe. Basic Christianity naturally has a simple explanation for this. I'm not sure why you didn't address or consider it.

Christianity claims that the world was created in perfection and then allowed to fall because of Man's sin. This fall entailed the corrupting of the world, the divergence of the species, and all sorts of other nastiness. The fall was allowed because of the basic free will that humans were given. In other words, God gave us the freedom to screw ourselves up and we promptly did so. Christians believe that the imperfect world will exist for some time and eventually be destroyed and remade perfect again. Taken in that light, the imperfections of the world make perfect sense and are in fact expected. Of course, you can say that this explanation is just a rationalization of our inability to explain everything, but Genesis IS quite old...

In other words, while I don't know that the state of the universe is strong evidence for deism, I don't think it can logically be considered as the main evidence against since at least all of the religions based on Judaism (Christianity, Islam, etc.) have an explanation for the state of the universe which has been in place for thousands of years.
Sam Mulder

reply: Not all Christians would agree with your cosmological and eschatological ruminations. Be that as it may. I never maintain that it is impossible to reconcile the idea of a perfect being who is all-good and all-powerful with the existence of physical and moral evil. All you have to do is say that humans can't understand God completely, so what might appear illogical to us may be perfectly logical.

However, I believe there is danger in that escape route, for then it is possible that all the things we think God says are good are really evil and all the things we think God says are evil are really good. Thus, while striving to build our moral character according to the ways we think God demands, we may actually be paving the road to eternal damnation for ourselves.

If we cannot assume that there is a real rather than illusory connection between human goodness and evil and divine goodness and evil, then conceptually anything goes. Appearances could be absolutely no guide to reality. So, while it is true that we cannot know that this world is not perfection itself, if we are not allowed to assume there is a real connection between our idea of perfection and divine perfection, then we cannot know that this world is not the work of an evil being or an imperfect being.

If, however, we assume that we do not have to be God to understand divine properties sufficiently to know what God is like and what, if anything, God expects of us, then it seems obvious that we must judge God by what we would demand of the best humans. If we would not tolerate a human being allowing innocent children to die to give a lesson in soul-making or character building to others, then why would we approve of a divine being doing so? If we would not tolerate a human engineer building a city that periodically and systematically destroyed large chunks of the population, then why would we approve of a divine being creating a world with such features?

If our only response to imperfection and evil is to cry out that the ways of the Lord are mysterious indeed, and we dare not try to comprehend the mind of God but must assume that all is good and perfect, then we must ask, Why assume that? Nothing in experience can be referred to as a reason for making such an assumption. The belief must be completely irrational, one held without reference to any evidence whatsoever. Such a belief must be an utter and indefensible act of faith. As such it deserves no more respect than a belief in the absolute wickedness of the universe.

A rational person must look at the universe fairly and objectively. Such a person must conclude that the universe is indifferent to our pleasure and pain, our joys and our sorrows. If there is a Creator, reason demands that we think of this being as indifferent to us. To say that on the one hand you know that God demands that you follow this or that set of rules as put down in this or that Holy Book, but on the other hand nobody can really know what God is like or what God considers perfection or goodness, then you are trying to have it both ways. Heads you win, tails I lose.

A rational person tries to rid him or herself of contradictions, but persons of faith seems to consider it a badge of honor to believe both that they know the mind of God and that nobody can know the mind of God.

4 Oct 1999
At least two believers quizzed you extensively about the basis for morality among atheists. Their thesis being that a person without a higher power watching over them would have no reason to obey laws, and would be incapable of feeling awe, joy and love. And would likely either kill themselves, kill other people, or devour their children in a mad ecstasy of irrelevance.

I must admit that I found your responses to their reasonable (though stubborn) questions inadequate and unpersuasive. You seem to feel that since their thesis doesn't apply to you (you are happy, and have no desire to devour your children), that there's no reason to provide an answer drawn from science or nature. But there is one, and I present it here, and you may post it if you think the minions of God will be even slightly persuaded.

reply: I don't think theists will be persuaded by your arguments, but sociobiologists and animal lovers might.

Scientists generally have come to accept the fact that such traits as Good, Evil, Love, Hate, Constructiveness and Destructiveness are all built into human genetics.

How is this proven? Well, first you must accept the enormously popular theory that humans, and all current forms of life, are the result of evolution. I know, I know, its almost impossible to get bible thumpers to agree on this most basic of scientific principles. But there are a few theists who believe in evolution, so they at least might appreciate my following arguments.

1-SINCE LIFE IS AN ACCIDENT AND NOTHING LIVES FOREVER, WHY DON'T ATHEISTS JUST KILL THEMSELVES OUT OF DESPAIR? It is easily observable that all life forms try to stay alive. A few are genetically programmed to live only a short span, but while they are alive, their brains are occupied primarily with survival. Any animal on earth could commit suicide at any moment. All they need to do is to swim into the ocean, (or jump onto land if they are a fish), leap off a cliff, give up drinking, or to simply walk up to a lion and lie down between their paws. How often do animals do this? Virtually never! Is this because all living things believe in God? It's certainly possible, but unlikely, and I'm sure most theists would agree that animals don't know God from Gomer Pyle.

Perhaps a theist might argue that animals, unlike men, don't understand the concept of eternal life, so they stay alive out of fear of death. Well, so do I. I am terrified of dying. I like living too much. I enjoy food, movies, sex. I do whatever I can to stay alive, including obeying the law, paying my taxes, and being polite to strangers. I would also kill to protect myself (if necessary), just like any animal alive. Since every animal on earth is in a constant state of fear, and are constantly striving to stay alive, it's self evident that the urge for personal survival is predetermined in the genes. So it's self evident that humans, as animals, have exactly the same predisposition.

2- SINCE THERE IS NO ETERNAL DAMNATION, Why don't atheists just indulge every desire, and kill, rape, maim and torture at random?

The answer can be found in the observation of animals. A tiger may kill and eat any creature it can get it's claws on, it usually treats other tigers, especially cubs, with affection and support. They do not eat each other, but does that make them moral?

I saw a documentary a while ago where scientists observed a group of feral cats that lived on a farm. It was discovered that one cat was murdering the others, but doing so only when it's victims were alone and unprotected. It killed them indiscriminately, young, old, male, female, strong, weak, but in a decidedly sneaky fashion, seemingly aware that it would be punished if it's crime were exposed. The other cats eventually figured out who was the serial kitty killer, and ganged up on it to drive it away (I can't remember, but they might even have killed it.) Such a case had never been observed in feral cats before, so insane homicidal rampages among cats are at least as rare as they are among men. Generally, cats are fond of their children, and work well as a group to protect each other. Are we to therefore conclude that the 'good' cats were so because they believed in God, and the 'bad' one was a killer because he was an atheist?

I think we can all agree that cats are atheists. They don't worship anyone, except, perhaps, themselves. But that doesn't mean they are purely destructive. No, they act within the mental parameters that their genes have determined, just as do we. Men do not murder out of hand. Generally, we need a good reason to overcome a deep seeded resistance to homicide.

I saw another documentary where a similar incident was discovered in a tribe of Chimps. There was a killer chimp on the loose. Whenever a body was found, the 'loved ones' of the dead one were visibly disturbed, and saddened, mourning their lost comrades. Does this mean that Chimps have souls, or that they have some chimp god that has given them the ability to love each other, and laid down rules making it bad to kill each other at random? I doubt many people believe that. Most theists would probably agree that chimp behavior is either inherited or learned, and that a chimps capacity to learn is itself genetically inherited.

When the culprit was found out, he was attacked by the rest of the chimps. They did not consult their bible to learn that murder was immoral. They knew it in their genes, from eons of evolution.

It also goes to reason that Humans, who are VERY close to chimps genetically, would have the same genetic predisposition to punish murder. When a family member, neighbor, or perceived ally is murdered, we are outraged, because our genes scream that it is wrong. It is dangerous to our species, unless that murder was committed to help our family, friends or allies. In that case, we condone killing because our genes scream that such a thing is good for our species. Ruthless competition for limited resources led to the evolution of our species. Love, murder, hate, war, baby talk, laughter... they are all in our genes. Atheists and theists have the same genes. Believing in God may give a homicidal maniac the sense of fear necessary to keep him in line, but history has proven that belief in God has also given many a homicidal maniac a good justification for acting on his genetic pre-dispositions for rape and ruin.

3 GOD IS GENETICS. My argument leads directly to this. The one attribute of our species that enabled us to survive in a hostile world was the ability to discover new intellectual concepts, to understand so we could learn and adapt to new conditions. So it has always been in the interest of our species that the human brain encourage the search for discovery with sensations of pleasure (in the same way our bodies encourage procreation with pleasurable sensations). But how can our brains tell the difference between a helpful discovery, a useless discovery, and a false discovery? The answer: they can't! At the biochemical level, all our brains can do is recognize our BELIEF that we've made a discovery, and trigger the chemical reactions that lead to pleasure.

A child finds an Easter egg behind a bush, and laughs in irrepressible joy... why? Is it an important discovery? No, but the body has to reward discovery at all times, even tiny ones, because real useful discoveries pass us by at random, and we must always be primed to grasp them. So even imaginary discoveries give us great joy. With this in mind, is it any wonder that the earliest men worshipped deities and believed in metaphysical beings and energies, and created enormously complex systems of belief? The brain seeks knowledge, and when REAL knowledge is unavailable due to the state of technology, anything that is LIKE knowledge will do. Reading a book about an un-provable deity, and attending a church supposedly visited regularly by that invisible deity provides a constant diet of discovery. Belief in Santa Claus and his pantheon of reindeer, elves and toys, gave me precisely the same thing when I was a kid: wonder, joy, pleasure. Theists cite the sheer joy of their religious experiences as proof of God. They don't get the same joy from their jobs, which is not surprising. After a while, any job becomes repetitive, discoveryless. But a mystical belief, especially one as complicated as Christianity, can provide a lifetime of daily revelations that create a state of blissful joy.

The same genetic mechanism has driven me and others to be skeptics, scientists, atheists. We are filled with the same hunger for understanding that all theists have, and find intense joy in our discoveries. The only difference is that atheists no longer accept the ancient, worn-out placebo of faith, that is, believing blindly what our parents/pastors/politicians tell us is invariably true, and sticking with those beliefs through thick or thin. Because of the advances in actual REAL discovery in the modern world, we don't have to rely on imaginary discoveries to feed that primal hunger. Sure, real discoveries are farther and fewer between than those to be found in the labyrinthine web of the Bible, and take much more effort and hard work to find. But that's the price an atheist pays for his/her stubborn rejection of faith. It isn't comforting to be an atheist. But it gives us just as much biochemical joy from moment to moment as the average theist.

4 FINALLY, A SUGGESTION TO YAHWEH If God is reading this Email, I'd like to make a suggestion: write the following message on the moon in letters large enough to read from earth: "I'M GOD, I EXIST, AND I'M A _______" (Fill in the blank with your preferred church or mode of groveling) I and every atheist on earth will sign up tomorrow (after we make sure that there's no hoax at work), because all we need is verifiable proof. I have a sneaking suspicion that Christians, Muslims and New Agers would be far less likely to be persuaded by such unequivocal proof than us good ol' atheists. Religious folks would write off such a lunar message as the work of Satan, the anti-Christ or perhaps evil aliens. But if you want TRUE believers, just give us one undeniable piece of proof. If you're as all powerful, and all knowing as so many of my friends and family believe, I suspect you already thought of this (around the time you were creating syphilis and cancer). But just in case it never occurred to you, maybe you can give it some thought.

Husband, father and all around good guy

atheism & gods

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