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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: atheism & gods

07 Mar 1998
Operating under the premise that their is no God, it would seem the creation (noun) before us, is the result of unknown factorial accidents. If this is so, it would have to follow that we, as humans, are accidents also. If we are accidents then so are our thoughts, actions, feeling and theories. Thusly, your unbelief in God is an accident.
Mike Braun

reply: Really? Are our bridges accidents? Our skyscrapers and jet airplanes? I'll agree that most of us are probably accidents but it doesn't follow that all we do is an accident. Nor does it follow that all our beliefs are accidents, though many of them probably are. Whether you are aware of it or not you are engaging in a bit of equivocation. You use 'accident' in two senses: 'not created' and 'chance event'. I believe we are not created, but our thoughts and arguments are not necessarily chance events.

30 Dec 1997
I want to thank you, especially for the dictionary part, and the enlightening examples. I've lately been plowing through a lot of text on http://www.infidels.org (who had the link to you) and quite honestly been somewhat confused sometimes because of some unfamiliar concepts. Your dictionary has helped a lot.

I am, of course, an atheist. Passive, so far, but thinking of becoming active if I find the time and energy to do something about it. In Sweden, we are struggling in the precarious situation of separating the Christian church from the state. It's not that simple, after about a thousand years.
Ms Sinikka Oskarsson
Stockholm, Sweden 

Yo Bob:
Upon reading your opinions of God and materialism, I admittedly found them somewhat bewildering. You explained that belief in God has done more harm than good, and that this is therefore a reason to abandon Him.

reply: I don't think I talk about "abandoning" anything.

However, the evils perpetrated by humans are not to be attributed to God, but what we have made of him through our own evil desires. As M. Gandhi said: "Barbarous atrocities have been committed in the name of God. I am not sure if any of these acts have been committed in the name of truth."

reply: Fair enough.

Also, you explained that you believed mass-murderers to be accountable for their own actions, and I noted you invoked the word "choose". But didn't you say that you were a materialist, and you believed only in the flow of natural processes? (Correct me if I'm wrong.) Is that not a contradiction? The free will of human beings only holds true if we limit the bounds of determinism and accept that some things are not susceptible to ordinary rational laws. For instance, a materialist believes the brain is just a complex machine that merely acts in response to certain stimuli, albeit in an extremely complex way. Therefore, choice is an illusion, for we are really acting as a result of things external to us and according to the law in our brains: therefore, we are really not responsible for our own actions. I am not saying that I am a materialist, only that you have reached a contradiction.

reply: What can I say? I am a materialist, i.e., I don't believe in spirits. And I believe in free will. Do you really think that the idea of free will becomes crystal clear and free of contradictions by introducing the concept of a "soul" to make the choices? If the soul makes choices and does so without any causal connection to the material world then there is no connection whatsoever between what a person chooses to do and what they actually do. To deny any causal connection between a person's thoughts and deeds would not be to defend a doctrine of free will but rather a doctrine of uncaused acts. If only uncaused acts are free acts, then I would say there are no free acts. If acts are uncaused then an evil act is not the responsibility of an evil person: there is no responsibility for it at all.

And as for God, well he is only to be reached if we do not deify materialism. And to maintain that we have a free will is to limit, even cripple, materialism (i.e. scientific thought); therefore, belief in a free will makes room for belief in God and objective morality, though the extent to which we adopt these views are different for everyone.

reply: Well, if I were a determinist I would agree with Hobbes that God is to blame for everything: He is the Cause of all causes and hence responsible for all evil as well as all good acts.

Is it not clear that an atheist materialist who believes in responsibility is an oxy-moron?

reply: Very clever. Since you are the one who is clear on these matters, I suppose you know best about oxy and other kinds of morons.

Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have spoken ignorantly.

reply: Anticipate nothing; that way you won't be disappointed.

Greetings. I have just finished reading your text on God and I find it very interesting. I have just two questions to pose :
1. How can spontaneous religious conversion occur? I know for a fact that it does exist, and I think that you should add a topic into the skeptic's dictionary about it. I would love to hear arguments against it.

reply: What is so interesting about religious conversions? I suppose by a spontaneous conversion you mean one that happens rapidly, not after years of thought and deliberation. The intrigue of such conversions escapes me. But as a general rule, people do not alter their belief systems in radical ways on a whim unless they are extremely disturbed. Great stress or physical disorder might make one prone to rapid worldview transformation, religious or otherwise.

2. Because your text on God attacks only the Gods that major religions worship, how would you attack the idea that a God exists but not under the terms of a defined religion? Your entry does a very good job of attacking organized religion's Gods, now you should attack God in principle. (Isn't this funny? I myself am a very religious person and I'm telling you to attack God. I think it is because it is very difficult to KNOW (as in, know for sure) what is the true, any attack on an idea can only make a true one stronger and a false one perish.)

reply: I don't think I "attack" God or any particular concept of God. I offer my views on the origin and nature of the concept. It is true my focus is on the concept of the God of the Western religious traditions. I agree with you that it is always good to have one's ideas criticized: it can only make you stronger, as you are forced to defend your views. The only way to truly understand your own views is to defend them against attack. Otherwise, your views become mere prejudices.

Good day to you, and continue with your skepticism, as it can only lead to the truth.
Geoff Anders II

reply: Don't fret. Mr. Anders has more to say.

Greetings. I present a very interesting proof of the existence of God: God is perfect, therefore it is in his nature to exist. Isn't that interesting? It makes perfect logical sense.

reply: A word of advice, Geoff. It is usually not good form to use adjectives like "interesting" when describing one's own work. It makes people think you are arrogant rather than humble. It is better to appear humble and be arrogant than the other way around. Anyway, I think Anselm beat you to the punch on the argument from perfection. It is called the ontological argument. You can look it up.

Here is a new theory which on two very simple premises proves the existence of God:
Premise 1 : Einstein's theory of relativity
Premise 2 : The Big Bang theory
Ok, Ready?

In the beginning, there was no matter, only a point of light, as described by the Big Bang theory. This means that according to Einstein's theory of relativity (the farther you are from a massive body, the slower time goes) it would take an infinite amount of time for a second to pass, as an observer would be an infinite distance from a point of mass. This means that before the Big Bang, there was, in effect, no time. Therefore, the universe in which we live is the first one to have ever been created, as this universe was created at the start of time. Now, let us look at the sub-atomic particles. A neutron is slightly larger that a proton and electron and can decay into them. This is why there are no atoms formed with one neutron and one electron, the neutron would decay into a proton and electron. Now, back at the start of time, if the neutron, proton, an electron had not been the sizes that they are, one of the sub-atomic particles would have to be able to decay into the two others, or the atomic structure of things would be greatly altered. If, for instance, the proton was the one that would decay into a neutron and electron, then hydrogen could not exist, as the single proton nucleus would decay. Then there would be no water and life could not exist. Now what do you suppose are the chances that the sub-atomic particles formed (from light, remember) into these exact sizes required to have the universe able to support life? Pretty small. There are six other very basic requirements such as the one described above needed to have the universe support life, but I don't have the patience to put them up right now. Some are even more obscure than the sub-atomic particle one. Now with these things needed to have a life-supporting universe, the chances seem that by random chance, to be very small. In fact, less than one in a septillion. Now being that this is the first universe created..... first try, that means... and we have a life supporting universe... hmmm. There are two possibilities:
1. The one in a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance happened (boy aren't we lucky) .. or ..
2. Someone or something created the universe to fit these parameters. Hence, God. (Not necessarily one of the popular-religion Gods, but a God nonetheless.)

reply: I opt for the first possibility. Even if there is no time before the Big Bang there is an infinite amount of this timelessness and who knows what possibilities there are given an infinite amount of timelessness. You might think it impossible to put ten coins in your pocket numbered one to ten and pull them out randomly in exact order, one through ten. But given an infinite amount of time, not only would you occasionally do this, you would do it numerous times.

I know that being a skeptic, I haven't converted you. Oh well.

reply: You must be clairvoyant!

If you see any holes in my logic, let me know.
Geoff Anders II

I don't quite get it, Bob. If there is no God, then why should I not kill anyone. Murder should not be a crime, now should it? If we are created by non rational forces, as you say, then you have no meaning. I have no meaning. There is no incentive to do anything. Give me one good reason why I should not go out and kill someone tonight. I would have no problem killing you. If, however, there is a God, and he did create us, as religion says, then there is incentive to do things.

I do have a right and a responsibility to help me fellow man. I would respect you and everyone else because they are all created by God. I'm skeptical of your position, Bob. You who have made a religion out of Skepticism, could never be skeptical of your own position. You are a hypocrite. You don't give any proof for the non- existence of God in your Skeptical Dictionary. You give the standard atheist illogic. Could it be possible that the mighty Bob just might be illogical in his thinking. Oh mighty one, how should I worship you? Write back to me and give me the slightest bit of credence to your position. I would love to debate you Bob. Give me your best shot.
Timothy Swartz from Dayton, Ohio

reply: Mr. Schwartz:

If belief in God is the only thing that keeps you from murdering your friends and family, not to mention total strangers, then I hope you keep your belief until you die. I guess there is some sort of logic in the notion that if there is no God, then anything goes...no morals, no duties, no meaning. I have read great theologians who have said as much, but I must be missing something because I do not see that it follows that one has a right to do evil if one is not obligated to do good by God. Such a view seems to annihilate the distinction between good and evil. For what it says is that one must only do what God orders one to do. And anything which God does not order one to do, one has a right to do. People have claimed God has ordered them to do a lot of killing over the years. How do we know these people were not deluded? As a society, can we let people kill one another if they say that God ordered them to do it? We don't forbid murder because God has ordered us not to murder; we forbid it because no community of human beings could exist if it allowed its citizens to murder one another at will. I would hope that a theist would believe that God orders men not to murder one another because murder is evil, rather than that murder is only evil because God says so.

As far as having meaning goes, people are free to live or not live meaningful lives. It is up to us. Meaning and significance come from choices and actions, not from being born. Whether a person lives for fifty years or for eternity has no bearing on whether that person's life had any meaning. What they did with their life is what gives it meaning.

I disagree that there is no incentive to do anything unless ordered to do it by God. There are many good reasons for getting an education, having a family and friends, enjoying the arts, traveling and studying, engaging in recreations. The main reason is that these activities give us pleasure and make us happy.

Whether it is by the design of God, as you think, or by an accident of nature, happiness seems to come only to those who care about other people's well-being. People who are self-centered, concerned only about their own well-being, and who are either indifferent or hostile to others are rarely happy.

You write as if you are filled with contempt. You don't need to belittle me or anyone else in order to make your own beliefs seem right. Ridicule has no place in a debate or a discussion among people who care about what they believe in. Opposition should make us stronger; the stronger our opponent the stronger we must become. If we use name-calling and ridicule to try to diminish the stature of one we oppose, we thereby diminish our own stature.

You have the power to demean or to elevate the level of discourse.

I feel very sorry for you when I read your "definition" of God in the Skeptic's Dictionary. I do not pity you or look down on you, I just think that you must have such a hardened heart to say the awful things you do about people who DO believe in God. There is a verse in the Bible that says, "We walk by faith, not by sight." This is true. I am apt to have more respect for someone who can exercise faith than one who must have everything proven to her, no matter how logical or intelligent she claims to be. I do hope that maybe one day perhaps you can go back to the document with no preconceived notions and let yourself be taught.
Susannah Kirby

reply: Why would you respect someone more for believing without evidence than for requiring evidence? I don't think you would apply this standard if you were on trial for your life and jury members came to their decision based on "faith" rather than evidence. Would you want a prospective employer to use such a standard? Would you punish your children using such a standard? I think they would resent your lack of interest in evidence as to their innocence when they are unjustly accused of wrongdoing.

06 Jul 96

God is not a separate entity.

reply: I agree. God is not an entity at all.

Materialism exists because Newtonian physics reached a critical mass and was transferred to the majority of human beings.

reply: You don't say. Well, I learn something new every day.

Now that Quantum Physics is slowly starting to take hold, most of you will begin to realize that God is actually all of you. The original, creative light energy source is where we all came from. Quantum Physics tells us that light can be a wave or a particle. The wave of light is our soul, and when it incarnates on the earth plane it transforms itself into the particle of light (our body).

reply: That is true if and only if you are from another galaxy. If you were born on earth, you are immune to the effects of all quanta, the physical included, and you will come to realize that God has abandoned all of us. That light you keep seeing is the recollection of that first light of day or the hospital room which stunned you at birth, unless of course you weren't born. If so, you have to look it up in the particle book.

Einstein has said that energy can never be destroyed, it can only be transformed , and that is what happens when we shed our physical bodies, our light particle transforms back into a light wave.

reply: Einstein! It's always Einstein said this or Einstein said that. Who is the Einstein guy, anyway...God?

Think of humans as a hologram, an intensely focused beam of light that carries all the information from the original source.

reply: O.K. We're all a bunch of holy holograms or holographs or holognats. We are beams and we carry information on the motes of our beams. And we long for the original. I'm thinking of these things but I don't seem to be getting anywhere with these thoughts.

Jesus, the Christ soul, said he was the "LIGHT". People who have had near death experiences claim they have seen a bright "LIGHT". Yes, we are all holograms of that bright "LIGHT" thus we are all God, and we created ourselves because creative energy must create.

reply: Jesus and Einstein! Why don't you bring in Plato, too, or Augustine or Plotinus. They were all big on LIGHT. Anyway, I don't remember the sermon on the holograms. What verse is that?

Let go of your ego, and go within. Remember, the Kingdom of God lies within. Hope you see the light.

reply: See the light!? Hell, I'm blinded by it! Thanks for all the insights.

(no signature)

16 Jul 96
Like you, I have come to the conclusion that "God" is just a human construct, created to explain the unexplainable, to give meaning to people's lives, and to help enforce social order.

But tempted as I sometimes am to voice my opinion on the nature of God and the soul, I restrain myself because I don't think many people can live with what I believe to be the truth. Most people need to believe they are "special," that there is something greater than themselves watching out for them, and that they will be joining their loved ones in a better place after death. And while religion has been the cause of much unnecessary bloodshed, it has, for the most part, prevented much more. Some people need to believe there is a judge standing over them in order to restrain themselves from committing horrible acts. And even those who have not shown this self-restraint often need to believe they are being forgiven by their God in order to go on.

In other words, the notion of God has done more good than harm historically, and I see no reason to publish my beliefs anymore than I understand why the JWs et. al. feel they have to ring my doorbell every 6 months.

Perhaps I am not giving my fellow human beings enough credit, but looking around me, I doubt it.
--Lena Cimmarrusti

reply: I don't deny that belief in God is a great consolation to many people, as well as a spur to restraint. Much good has been done in God's name. And belief in God has served a great social purpose of binding people together in a set of common beliefs and rituals. But these positive factors should not blind us to the horrors and evils done in God's name from time immemorial. In any case, publishing one's views on these matters is nothing at all like going door to door proselytizing. You have to make an effort to get and read a publication; the proselytizers come to you whether you like it or not.

06 Aug 1996
Do you think God or Jesus don't exist?

Would you like proof? Scientific, infallible, proof? I can provide it. It's all mathematical. And it's unarguable once you read it. You will have no answer because God can't lose a debate.

Regards, Paul (shandman@fl.net.au)

reply: I didn't know God was on the internet nor did I know God's name was Paul and God is a number. Well, I guess I did know the latter: God is Number One. God is also Infinite. Being One and Infinite, God is both divisible and indivisible: a Complete Mystery, the Paradox of all doxas.

31 Jul 1996
Great work, but...

[re] God : 1) Hyper-links to the popular god existence "proofs" and their fallacies are missing.

reply: They don't work because they are references to real books, not hyperlinks.

2) In your debate with some god-addict he uses an argument about the probability of spontaneous evolution of intelligent life forms in a godless universe. Well, besides ignoring the fact that considering all of the planets in the universe make this possibility more likely to occur, you let him get away with mixing up the a priori and a posteriori probabilities of life evolving - once we exist and wonder about the universe, no matter how low the a priori probability for that was, the the chance for formation of human-level intelligence is 100%. This fallacy of his claim is disguised by mentioning Einstein and quantum mechanics, thus muddying the water. (I think this well-known argument has an name, but I don't remember it, nor who first suggested it). On the other hand, using this as a priori probability, makes ET cultures in close range at this era less probable.

Avnimelech Rani

reply: Your "god-addict" remark reminds me that some nineteenth century German Romantic called Spinoza the "God-intoxicated man." Anyway, I apologize for letting him get away with mixing things up, but at least he didn't use any fancy Latin words to muddy the waters. By the way, Einstein and quantum physics are very popular among New Age spiritualists, too. These New Agers don't just muddy the waters, they cast darkness on the sun and fill the ocean with muck. I think this fallacy is called "muddying the waters." It certainly is not the fallacy of poisoning the well. Perhaps it is called the Latina obscuranda fallacy. Generally, if I don't know what to call a fallacy I just say, "hey, you're begging the question." That usually shuts them up.

12 Jul 1997
I just browsed through the section about God/atheism in your "Skeptic's Dictionary."

I have come to a conclusion a while ago that religion/atheism are subjects of speculation. One way or another the beliefs of any in either "faction" are irrational. Some would call this the "mystery of faith" or others would call it "rational, logical thinking" (in regards to atheism). Whatever floats your boat.

reply: I suppose one could say that most of the beliefs humans have are matters of "speculation." But it does not follow that they are therefore "irrational" or "mysteries of faith." The terms "rational, logical thinking" and "faith" would be without meaning if they could be used interchangeably, depending on "whatever floats your boat."

Just because something cannot be known with absolute certainty or is non-empirical does not mean that opposing beliefs on the matter are equally irrational and logical. To use Carl Sagan’s example (somewhat modified): If you believe there is an invisible dragon in your garage which cannot be detected by any possible means and your psychiatrist disagrees with you, I think it would be foolish to treat your belief as equally irrational and logical with that of your doctor. In this case, the doctor’s view is logical and rational. Yours is irrational. You can call your belief a "mystery of faith" if you wish, but such an expression adds nothing to its meaning or value.

Now, if you tell me that your invisible dragon leaves signs of his existence, such as droppings, we can look for them. If we find droppings which you claim are from your invisible dragon, but which under analysis appear to be remarkably identical to those of your cat, I believe a reasonable person would conclude that the signs are from a feline being, very much alive and visible. If we do not find droppings, and you claim either that they are invisible or that we have not looked hard enough (even though we have scoured every inch of the garage every day for a year), I would say that your psychiatrist is correct and you are wrong. This is not a matter of faith, any more than it would be if you told me your mother was chopping your head off every night and it was reattaching itself before dawn. And your claim would certainly not be equally logical and rational with the view that you are imagining these horrible events.

I think whichever way you want to look at, it is irrational anyway. Neither group can find "hard evidence", no testable hypotheses, and any "attempts" at either is horribly tainted with self-interpretation and opinion. In other words, I do not think this is a domain of science. It seems that too many people have extracted bits of information from true science to further their own arguments. Answers to philosophical or metaphysical questions do not lie in the structure of the atom, the degree of entropy in the universe, or evolution. Extrapolating from subjects such as these to theology is absolutely absurd. Those who claim they are scientifically thinking about the subject are charlatans. I am not sure that the human race can ever find answers to those philosophical and metaphysical questions.

So, of course, each is entitled to their own belief or standpoint. I recognize that one group will smugly say that the other is a reflection on how horrible this world has become. So some will call themselves skeptics. I wonder if any have considered themselves to be skeptical of skeptics? Would any kind of thought under the auspices of skepticism be considered rational? To an insider, maybe so. To a skeptic of another skeptic, I don't think so. Who is correct? With anything outside the domain of science, nobody will ever know.
Jason Reddick

reply: You seem to think that there are only two bases for a belief: faith or science. One either has knowledge and truth or belief and opinion. This dualistic and simplistic epistemology is itself not based on fact. I would not call it irrational, but I do believe it is wrong. I would make arguments to that effect. People would read my arguments and read your arguments and decide which is the better. They would do this using their reason, principles of logic and experience. They would not have to decide on the basis of faith. Our philosophical views do not become irrational and equal simply because they are not empirical.

Also, your view of science is erroneous. The history of science is not the story of one fact piled on another with the goal of someday having all the facts. Science involves a great deal of opinion, of trial and error, of tentative hypotheses, testing, rejection, modification, rethinking, criticizing, theorizing, etc. Furthermore, we ignore at our philosophical peril what scientific investigation has discovered. For example, to ignore what has been learned in the neurosciences, as we try to understand consciousness, would be foolish. If it turns out that we can duplicate the "mystical experience" by controlling brain chemistry, we should consider this an important fact in our understanding of such an experience. The fact that certain drugs and electrical stimulation of the brain can produce effects which mimic the "mystical experience" and that certain neurochemical imbalances are often associated with heightened religiosity suggests that the sense of transcendence which many have felt may well have originated from within their own heads.

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