Monday, March 28, 2011

Could God Value Anything?

The following is a question I submitted to professional theologian William Lane Craig through his website  The question pertains to Craig's persistent use of the Moral Argument for the existence of god despite the fact that this argument has been shown to fail on multiple levels.  Here I attempt to show one more flaw in the Moral Argument.  If Dr. Craig responds to my question, I will be sure to post his response below.

Dr. Craig,

One chief component of The Moral Argument for the existence of God is that there must be objective value assigned to human life in order for objective moral values to exist.  Such objective value can only come from God.

The value of something, from an economic perspective, is the price that an individual is willing to pay for something.  Essentially, that which someone is willing to give up for something else.  For instance, the value of a Kobe steak, to me, is $90—that is, I would be willing to give up ninety of my dollars in exchange for a Kobe steak, but not ninety-one of my dollars.  Or, the value of staying out too late with co-workers at a bar on a Wednesday night for a married man may be one hour of the silent treatment from his wife—that is, he would be willing to stay out too late if the cost of doing so was that his wife would not talk to him for an hour, but not if she refused to talk to him for a week.  (Granted, for some married men this would be a benefit, not a cost!)

God is the perfect creator of the universe.  Perfect, meaning that God cannot possibly improve and cannot lack anything. 

If value is what we are willing to go without in exchange for something else and God cannot go without anything, how, then, could God assign value to anything?

It seems to me that the ability to assign value requires the willingness to go without something.  God cannot be without anything.  Therefore, the ability to assign value could not be possessed by God, much like the ability to sin or the ability to be wrong could not be possessed by God.

Thank you,

Ben Doublett

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Response to "Why Are Atheists So Angry?"

On March 10th, Rabbi David Wolpe, a well known Jewish apologist who has appeared in debates with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins among others, published an article on the Huffington Post website entitled Why Are Atheists So Angry?  This was the second such atheist-bashing article to appear on the Huffington Post website in as many months.  I emailed the Rabbi in response to his article (which can be found here:  Here is that email
Dear Rabbi Wolpe,

I am writing in regards to your recent article on the Huffington Post website entitled Why Are Atheists So Angry?  I myself am an atheist and I frequent the Huffington Post website, but I am attracted mainly by your writings.  I am actually an avid follower of yours; despite not sharing your views on the existence of a god and the value of organized religion.  I have read your book, Why Faith Matters and watched many of your debates and other videos on YouTube. I find your style of communication to be both effective and engaging.  

I was, however, rather distressed and disappointed in your most recent article.  While there are, to be sure, many atheists who are frustrated with religion and its promoters, I hardly think it is fair to paint with such a broad brush and castigate all atheists as 'angry' based only upon comment sections on a website.  It seems like such a sweeping generalization should have come with a caveat that most, or at least not all, people whom you have interacted with who lack religious faith are not angry people. 

In fact, I would go further, and say that perhaps nonreligious people like myself are, on balance, less angry than some who do have faith.  Did you consider as you were writing the article the images of protests in the Islamic world from a few years ago after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper?  Call atheists angry all you want, but I sincerely doubt any of us have ever held up a sign that says, "SLAY THOSE WHO INSULT CHARLES DARWIN". 

In the article, you mention your previous post about talking to children about god.  While it is true that some of the comments left on that article were over-the-top, perhaps some of the criticisms were valid.  After all, wouldn't a better way for parents to approach the subject of religion simply to be to tell their children, when asked, that different people believe in different gods and others don't believe in any, and that when they are old enough, they can make up their own minds?  It seems to me this would be better than teaching ones children that there is a god or teaching them that there is not.  Parents have the responsibility to teach children how to think, not what to think. 

You have done great work communicating your position on religion through various mediums to secular audiences.  I wonder, is insulting and generalizing about that same audience the best way to continue that work, or were you simply letting off steam? 

There are lots of crazy, angry people on the internet.  There are angry Democrats, angry Republicans, angry Christians, angry Jews and angry Muslims.  But we do not elevate our discourse on any subject by taking the worst of a single group and painting the whole demographic with that brush.

Thank you and I look forward to your response,

Ben Doublett

EDIT:  Within a few hours, I received the following response from Rabbi Wolpe

Dear Ben,

Thanks for your response and your kind words.  I intended to convey my surprise not at atheists the world over, but at those who responded on HuffPo and other religion sites.  If you look at my comment on the article which I posted yesterday, I noted that the responses to this article were thoughtful and measured.  In case you can't access it, this is what I wrote:

"This has been an interestin­g experience for me. The comments I read (I grant I have not read them all) have been much more thoughtful­, much less abusive, than the posts I mention above, for which I thank the posters. Three brief points:
1. As one who was for many years an atheist, a devotee of Bertrand Russell, and who has publicly debated with mutual respect (I hope) with Christophe­r Hitchens, Stephen Jay Gould, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and others, I am neither angry at the idea of atheism or disrespect­ful of it.
2. What I question was why the atheists who posted felt it necessary to seek out religion articles, (they are easily avoided by HuffPo users) for not argument, but abuse. Those who doubt this should check the posts on the previous articles mentioned. There were considered and wise comments as well, but a very high percentage of hot anger.
3. Judaism, and the Hebrew bible, are far less condemnato­ry of atheism than of idolatry. And pride of place is given to the exhortatio­n to lead a good life, even above belief. I still maintain that it is dogmatic to discount the supernatur­al, just as it is for believers never to entertain the possibilit­y that there is no God. But kindness and goodness come first: To all who share that, believers and atheists and everyone in between, I offer my respect and appreciati­on."

  I strongly disagree about teaching children about all religions and having them make up their minds, which I think unrealistic and impractical, but that is a discussion for another time.  Curiously, I didn't think my article was either insulting or antagonistic, but I suppose this is very much a question which side of the street one inhabits.
  In any case, you are certainly right; there are too many angry religionists, and some of them are within a whisper of advanced weaponry, which scares me as much as it does you, and should everyone.

 Once again, I appreciate your comments --

Best Regards,


Monday, February 21, 2011

Peter Says Stuff: Did Jesus Exist?

Peter Says Stuff: Did Jesus Exist?: " First I would like to start off with a disclaimer, I am writing this to put forth the idea and compile information, if I missed anythi..."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Response to "Atheism: The Lie of the Century"

Dear Miss Raissa, I recently read your post, Atheism:  The Lie of the Century.  I was taken aback by some of the inaccuracies in your piece, and so I would like to offer the following as a correction.  For those of you reading that have not seen Miss Raissa’s original post, you can find it here:  


Atheism is not, as you say, ‘willful rebellion against god’.  That would be something like Satanism, where adherents recognize the existence of the Christian god, but choose to rebel against him anyway by worshipping his rival.  Atheism is different—it is the absence of a belief in a god.  What atheists would say is that there has never been any persuasive evidence to support the existence of a god.  And, in the absence of any positive evidence, it is only prudent to withhold belief. 


Very few atheists will make the claim that, because Darwin was an atheist, evolution proves that a god does not exist.  Darwin’s personal beliefs have nothing to do with the implication that his discovery had.  Rather, what we say is that evolution by natural selection is the only feasible explanation for the diversity of life that exists on Earth that does not involve a designer.  Other explanations might be intelligent design (guided evolution) or creation (all species are made to suddenly pop up from nothing by a creator.)  Evolution by natural selection, though, is the only one of these explanations that is actually supported by the evidence.

Because the only explanation for the diversity of life that is supported by the evidence is also the only explanation that does not involve a deity of some kind, atheists feel confident asserting that evolution is evidence of a kind for the absence of a god.  After all, if a god can create life using any method he wishes, why do it using the only method that doesn't require that he to do anything? 


Your basis for claiming that atheists cannot be moral is that morality ‘comes from god.’  To prove that this is not the case, I need only to ask you a simple question—could god be bad?  Or is he bound to be good?  That is to say, is whatever god says good simply because god says it, or does god make a choice to be good?

If you answer that god could not be bad—that everything god does is good simply because god is god and whatever he says goes—then you have accepted the moral position that might makes right.  This eliminates the need for the word ‘morality’ altogether, because now morality is not behavior that is good, it is just behavior that is consistent with the will of the most powerful thing imaginable.  All you need to describe that is the word ‘obedience.’ 

The other option is that god could be bad but chooses to be good.  His power is not what makes him good, rather it is his choice.  If God chooses to be good and not evil, then that choice must be based upon an external, abstract concept of right and wrong.  We can imagine a ‘scale of goodness’ that god chooses to sit at the top of.  It is by this ‘scale of goodness’ that we can analyze god’s goodness or badness and discover that he is maximally good.  Because the behaviors that would be the most conducive to the well-being of other self-aware beings are all exhibited by god—behaviors like unconditional love, a respect for free will, a desire for us to be fulfilled by entering his kingdom—we can conclude that the Christian god is a maximally good god. 

However, this ‘scale of goodness’ (or however else you might like to imagine it—it is an abstract concept, not a physical entity.  Sam Harris uses a landscape with peaks and valleys to illustrate a similar point) must, by necessity, exist outside of god.   The scale must be applied to god so it cannot be part of god, otherwise the reasoning would be circular. 

Therefore, if god could be bad, and is not bad, morality cannot come from god.  If god could not be bad, then morality could not come from god because all that morality would be is obedience.  Either way, we have to define morality in some manner that does not relate to a god, which allows atheists to be moral just like any other group.


This really does not have anything to do with the objections raised by atheists regarding religion.  In order to be an atheist, one does not have to hold any view on any subject other than to lack a belief in gods.  Someone can be pro-life and be an atheist; someone can be pro-choice and be an atheist.  I know pro-life atheists and pro-choice Christians. 

Abortion is a very difficult issue with strong arguments on both sides—the pro-choice and the pro-life side.  However, you can no more say that “atheists are pro-abortion” than you can say “black people are pro-gun rights” or “white people are anti-financial regulation”.  It’s an unfair and unproductive generalization about a group of people.

Hopefully this clears up your obvious misconceptions about atheism.  I would expect that in the future, before you decide to write anything else about atheists or any other group, you would do the necessary research on what exactly it is that you are criticizing.

Thank you,

Ben Doublett

Friday, February 11, 2011

Response to Rabbi Adam Jacobs

On February 10th 2011, Rabbi Adam Jacobs published an open letter to the atheist community on the Huffington Post website.  The letter, in its condescending entirety, can be found here: 

Below is my response to Rabbi Jacobs.

Dear Rabbi Jacobs,

Thank you for acknowledging the burgeoning atheist community with your recent letter.  For decades in America, the religious have ignored or ostracized atheists, regarding us as outsiders who are uninvited to sit at the table of public discourse.  Now that the numbers of the nonreligious in America have swelled to somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent, though, it seems the religious are more and more willing to engage us. 

In that engagement, it would behoove both sides to follow certain rules of etiquette so that we can have a conversation, informed by evidence, without either side feeling personally affronted.  With that in mind, I will make mention of a few violations of that etiquette your letter seemed to make.

First, it is typical of the religious to approach nonbelievers with condescension.  Your letter was no exception.  When you say something like, “Having spent a sizable portion of my life as an atheist, I understand your perspective,” it may seem to you that you are trying to relate to us, but from our point of view it seems like you are talking down to us—as if nonbelief in your holy books is just a phase that some people go through.  In fact, the religious have no right to condescend to nonbelievers, as studies like this show that nonbelievers tend to be more intelligent and polls of the National Academy of Sciences show that of the most elite scientists in the nation, over ninety percent disbelieve in a personal god.  I do not bring this up to assert that atheism is true simply because high intelligence and personal accomplishment correlate with atheism.  The only reason I bring this up is to show that the condescending manner in which you and other religious people approach nonbelievers is unjustified and unwarranted.  You are, decidedly, not better than us. 

The second breach of etiquette your letter makes is to present a straw man.  You claim to have read the works of many of the popular atheist authors, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have taken the literary world by storm in the past few years.  I will take your word for it, but I can only assume you did not absorb much of what they wrote, otherwise you would not have said in your letter:

The first point I'd like to explore is that there really are no true atheists. It seems to me that in order to claim with certainty that there is no God you would have to have knowledge of the totality of the universe - seen and unseen - and I don't think any of you guys are ready to make that claim.”

It is repeated, ad infinitum, by all of the popular atheist authors (with the notable exception of Victor Stenger) that no one claims knowledge or certainty of the nonexistence of a god.  Rather, we claim that no one, in the history of religion, has provided a compelling reason to believe in the existence of a god.  Lacking any evidence to suppose that a god exists, we must also lack a belief in a god.  Atheism is not the claim that no god exists.  Rather, since theism is the belief in a god, and the prefix a- means “an absence of” or “a lack of”, an atheist is simply someone who lacks belief in a god. 

The great philosopher Bertrand Russell demonstrated this point with his famous celestial teapot analogy.  Imagine that I were to claim there is a teapot in orbit around a star in the distant Andromeda galaxy.  You would have no way of disproving this claim.  However, if I were to ask you to believe this claim without any evidence except my word, you would almost definitely default to the position of disbelief.  This should be our position on the existence of a god.  I know of no way to disprove definitively the existence of a god; however I cannot hold a belief in a god until I have some evidence to support that belief. 

The third breach of etiquette you make is when you assert that atheists, unlike the religious, have no business advocating for our position.  You assert that atheist organizations, unlike churches, should not be buying billboards to advertise our presence.  You assert that atheists, unlike believers, should not be networking with one another on the internet.  I can assure you that secularists and atheists have just as much a right to compete in the market place of ideas and share our beliefs (or lack thereof) in the public arena as any group.  And, if recent census data and the New York Times Bestseller List are any indication, we have been quite successful so far. 

The fourth breach of etiquette you make in your letter is the false equivocation between the various communist dictators of the twentieth century and the long history of religiously motivated evildoers.  It is important to recognize that the Northern Ireland conflict, the Kashmir conflict, the conflict in the Balkans, the attacks of 9/11 and many of the other religious atrocities and wars that we site are directly motivated by religion.  People in all these situations kill each other not for personal gain, but because they believe the creator of the universe has given them a divine mandate to do so.  They believe that murder and war is their God-given purpose with as much sincerity as you believe it is yours to teach and mentor members of your community.  And they have about the same amount of evidence to support that belief as you do. 

Now, were dictators like Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin motivated similarly by their atheism to commit their atrocities?  Of course not!  There is no way for an atheist to believe he or she has a divine right to do anything.  What motivated these monsters to their evil acts was not their atheism, but their religious-like devotion to the communist ideology, which took the place of religion in their regimes. 

Remember, we are not simply playing a game of “who has the most bad guys?” where we each count up the number of evil people on the other side and whoever has the fewest wins.  What we are doing is analyzing whether believing that there is a creator of the universe who has a favorite race or nation of humans will cause more or less violence.  History, both ancient and modern, has shown that it causes more. 

Also, let us be clear on this once and for all—Adolf Hitler was not an atheist!  He was clearly a Christian as anyone who has read Mein Kampf can tell.  Numerous times he called himself ‘saved’ and Jesus his ‘personal savior.’  I have no more reason not to take Hitler at his word that he was ‘saved’ than I have any other Christian who makes this claim.  It would have been very easy for Hitler to repudiate the Christian religion as being based on Judaism, but instead he refused to ever admit that Jesus was Jewish.  Here is a brief excerpt from one of many speeches Hitler made in which he asserts his strong Christian faith. 

"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.”  (De Roussy de Sales, 1973)

Finally, the last breach of etiquette you made was to present another straw man—to say that atheists believe that religion has contributed nothing to human history.  Of course, this is not true.  Atheists recognize the civilizing force religion played in early human history (as comedian Patton Oswald parodies in a bit called ‘Sky Cake’ here:  We appreciate, like any other person, the art and literature and civic discourse that religion produced in times gone by. 

However, recognizing that religion played a not-entirely destructive role in our history does not mean that it has a place in our future.  The only role religion plays in today’s world is to warp our ethical sensibilities to the point where we believe protecting a zygote is more important than curing Alzheimer’s Disease, to provide artificial cultural barriers that prevent us from establishing a truly global civilization, to stand in the way of equal rights for women in the Middle East and gays in the West, and to prevent almost half of all Americans from recognizing that the history of the universe extends back more than six thousand years. 

The negative effects of religion in today’s world are so voluminous that I could fill a book with them, but I can think of no single positive thing that religion gives us that we could not acquire from some secular discipline or endeavor. 

In summation, while I am glad that you decided to reach out to our rapidly growing community, Rabbi, I hope that in the future you will do so in a more informed way. 

With this in mind, I hope that you continue to encourage discourse between believers and nonbelievers.  


Ben Doublett
Fool of Psalms blog 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Godless Purpose

The question of purpose is one that religious people of all stripes raise when confronted with an atheist.  “If God does not exist,” they ask, their faces aghast, “then why are we here?”  When confronted with this question, I am often tempted to refer to the famous exchange between the British Prince Phillip and scientist Peter Atkins.  Prince Phillip, upon hearing Atkins speak about science, said (with all the haut of royalty,) “You scientists are awfully good at answering the ‘how’ questions, but what about the ‘why’ questions?”  Atkins, with a keenness of wit that I can only dream of one day possessing, responded, “Sir, the ‘why’ question is just a silly question.”  

While this poignant response stopped the British royal in his tracks, I dare say that it may not suffice for everyone.  After all, we do have an inherent urge to make our lives mean something.  Can this intrinsic desire be ignored so easily?  Can we really assign our lives to meaninglessness?  I believe we cannot.  A deeper purpose is needed for most humans and at least a partial fulfillment of that purpose is requisite for happiness. 

I believe, however, that we can find such purpose without pretending that imaginary things exist.  We do not have to fool ourselves into thinking that we are the playthings of some dictator in the sky in order to have meaning in our lives.  As with almost all things, the answer to the question, “why are we here?” can be found in science.  In this case, we can look to the process that took us from a single, simple, self-replicating cell to the intelligent, creative, loving beings that we are today:  Evolution.  

Deriving Purpose from a Purposeless Process

Evolution by natural selection is a cold, cruel and heartless process.  It works by allowing only the most fit to survive solely on the basis of their genetic predisposition to reproductive success.  It works like a machine—without intention, it morphs beings over time into plants and animals adapted for their circumstances.  It is the last place one would think to look to find meaning in life. 

And yet, one can infer some measure of purpose from an understanding of it.  One has to look at humans in the context of evolution and realize what we are.  Everything that makes us human, our fingers, our vision, our appearance, our posture, and most importantly our brains—8ilbs supercomputers that allow us to make decisions, feel emotions, perceive the world around us and reason through problems—have been crafted by this process, pitiless though it may be, so that we may more effectively protect the genetic information that constitutes our DNA.  Remember, the human is not the information; the human is the brain and the body that contain that information.  In a way, the human can be considered the protector of that information—a guardian that has been built, over millions of years in extremely small increments generation-by-generation, to protect it.  We are like Olympic runners, carrying the torch that is our precious DNA for a short time until we can pass it on to the next runner who will continue to carry it forward. 

When evolution is viewed in this context, it becomes very clear that, in the absence of an intelligent creator, humankind does have a purpose.  Our purpose is to survive and to ensure the survival of those who also carry our genes.  This includes all members of our species, but most importantly the focus is upon our off-spring, the ones within whom our own precious information lives past our individual deaths and who give us some sense of immortality. 

This purpose manifests itself in a host of beautiful and meaningful ways.  Romance is one such manifestation—the joy we feel when we find a partner who is willing to share themselves with us.  The ecstasy and nourishment of sex, the act of creating the next runner in the Olympic relay of life, is a pleasure that is incomparable and irreplaceable in the human experience.  But most of all, the unconditional love we feel for our children, the fierce desire to protect them and ensure that they survive and thrive long after we are gone. 

These powerful emotions are the result of nature selecting those beings most capable of living long lives and producing viable offspring.  So even though evolution by natural selection can seem to be a capricious and wasteful process, we can also see it as the method by which the strongest and deepest human emotions were created and infer a validation for the romantic and paternal impulses that constitute the best in all people. 

Objective and Obligatory

Religious readers will be quick to point out that the purpose which evolution imbues us with, while clearly objective—insofar as it crosses cultural boundaries and applies to all humans regardless of national, religious and historical boundaries—is not obligatory.  Despite the fact that we have a biological impulse to love our spouses and our young, we are not required to do so.  They may point out that we have other, less pleasant biological impulses that we feel morally obligated to control, like the impulses towards tribalism and belligerence.  If we are naturally evolved rather than created, then we are no more obliged to follow our altruistic instincts than our destructive ones. 

They would claim that, if the god of Christianity (or Judaism or Islam or Mormonism, etc.) exists then there is a purpose for humanity that is both binding and obligatory.  Most theologians claim that this purpose is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  It was for this purpose, they assert, that god created all of humanity and therefore that is the purpose of each of our individual lives. 

This may seem like a satisfying answer, until you actually think about it.  Once you realize what it really implies, you understand that this would be a very unsatisfying answer indeed!  I for one am very glad it is not true.  The best illustration of this point is made by Christopher Hitchens when he compares the god of Christianity to the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il. 

Hitchens writes about his experience in a rare visit he was permitted to North Korea.  There, upon waking every morning, children are taught to thank the Dear Leader for allowing the sun to rise again.  Every day, the people of North Korea sing the praises of their dictator and their entire lives are spent working for his benefit. The North Korean government is not “for the people,” the North Korean people are for the government.  If anyone dares to rebel against Kim Jong Il, they spend the entirety of their lives in a work camp, suffering one of the most miserable existences imaginable. 

Your choices are servitude to someone who appears to be your moral inferior (but claims otherwise) or a life of inescapable suffering and torture.  Nothing could be more similar to the view espoused by Christians.  Eternal subjugation in Heaven to a celestial dictator who is beyond all petition or eternal torture and suffering in Hell.  In fact, the only difference I can see is that at least you can escape North Korea by death!  The god of Christian scripture offers no such mercy. 

The notion of a purpose that we may not wish to pursue and to which we are inescapably bound is one of the most despicable and undesirable ideas I can imagine.  It would be the ultimate cruelty. 

Furthermore, the very notion that we were all created so that we could have the opportunity to become devout Christians is undermined by the fact that this option has been made unavailable to the vast majority of people throughout human history.  Remember, humans have been on this Earth in our current state for approximately 200,000 years.  Out of this, the self-proclaimed benevolent god of Christianity has offered people the opportunity to have a relationship with him, through his human form, Jesus Christ, for a mere 2,000 years.  So all humans who lived in the 198,000 year period prior to Jesus, except for the small, exclusive desert tribe that Yahweh defined as his ‘chosen people’, were denied knowledge of the purpose of their existence! 

Not only this, but, as I observed in The Salvation Paradox, knowledge of the god of Christianity was withheld from the vast majority of people on the Earth after god decided to turn himself into a human and sacrifice himself to himself to get around a rule he made himself.  Knowledge of their supposed purpose in life was withheld from Native Americans, for instance, until European settlers arrived in the 1600’s.  It was withheld from Australian Aborigines until the 1700’s.  Surely if there is some objective purpose to life, some reason for why we are here, that knowledge should be apparent to all people, not just the small minority fortunate enough to be born in the right place and the right time.  If we look to evolution for an objective purpose, we find that this is the case—all people, regardless of race, religion, nationality or place in history, have the opportunity to find their purpose in creating, caring for and protecting their offspring.  If we look to religion for an objective purpose, we find the knowledge of that purpose confined to a select few throughout history.   

Subjective and Voluntary

So, we can infer a purpose for everything that makes us human from evolution.  We are under no obligation to pursue this purpose, but we should not wish for a purpose to be obligatory in the first place—that would be very unpleasant indeed.  But I think the thing that can give most humans the most satisfaction would not be an objective purpose, but a subjective one.  One that they can determine for themselves.  No one likes to feel that their life is outside of their control, so we cannot think that some dictate of purpose, whether it comes from nature or from a god, would be enough to satisfy anyone. 

What we need to realize is that we determine our own purpose.  While our minds and thoughts may not be the arbiters of reality or fact, they are the arbiters of meaning and value.  We can decide what pursuits we want to spend our life on.  If you decide that you want to make the purpose of your life the advancement of human understanding of the cosmos, you can do that.  If you decide that you want to make the improvement of the lots of others the purpose of your life, you can do that.  If you decide that you want your life to be about having as much fun as you can with the people who you love, you can do that, too.  You control your own purpose. 

At the end of the day, we have to realize that life has a purpose in the same way the pantry in your kitchen has a meal.  All the ingredients are there, but if you want it you have to make it yourself. 

Blog Wars! Round 4: The Closing Argument

The following is my closing argument in the four-round debate with theology student and Christian blogger, Cody Cook.  My previous arguments can be found here:

Round 1:  Opening Statement--
Round 2:  Rebuttal--
Round 3:  Cross Examination--

Let us recap what we have heard in this debate.  In the first round, I gave three reasons to believe that an atheistic worldview is more capable of answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” than a theistic worldview:

  1. The something that exists was clearly not designed for humans.
  2. Our scientific narrative does not involve a god.
  3. We have no reason to believe a god would exist instead of nothing. 

In the first round, Mr. Cook claimed that something, existing out of necessity, was necessary to create the universe.  This something required a will because the universe began to exist at a certain point in time. 

However, in the second round I demonstrated that the universe most definitely did not begin to exist at a certain point in time.  The Big Bang created space and, therefore, time.  If this seems confusing, just remember a little bit of physics from high school: 

Therefore, Time=Distance/Speed 

Time requires distance to exist.  Distance requires space.  No space means no time.  Without the Big Bang, we do not have space—even empty space—and therefore we do not have time.  The beginning of the universe was not an event in time; it was the beginning of time itself.  Hence, no will is necessary and physical laws without a will are capable of bringing the universe into existence. 

Mr. Cook also asserted that a god exists necessarily.  He has provided no justification for this, other than to say that the presence of a god is necessary for the existence of the universe.  This reason can be dismissed because that god would have to have existed prior to the universe and would need some other reason for its necessity, otherwise the existence of god would also be contingent upon existence of the universe. 

That which can be asserted without justification can be dismissed without justification so I could dismiss Mr. Cook’s assertion of god’s necessity out of hand, but I have provided two good reasons for my dismissal:

  1. The omnipotent nature of a god would contradict the necessity of a god.
  2. The god of the bible has traits, like human emotion and thought, which are contingent. 

It is up to you, the reader, to decide for yourself who has won this debate, but I think the answer is clear:  An atheistic worldview can provide an answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  A theistic worldview cannot.

My opponent's closing argument can be found here:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Conversations with a Christian

I had an interesting exchange with a Christian recently that highlighted for me the absolute lack of respect for reason and evidence amongst the religious.  It is interesting how willing the religious are to contrast their belief in god against reason and evidence themselves.  It is very rare to find a Christian who believes that reason and evidence can actually be used to support the existence of a god.  I felt that this was an important thing to share, so please check it out below.  What I have posted is just part of our exchange, because the rest is largely irrelevant.  Also, all spelling and grammar mistakes in the selection attributed to him are his own: 

Christian:  It seems our discrepancies come over what we are willing to take leaps of faith for. You're willing to believe that everything can be explained by human logic and put your fiath in that, whereas I believe that man cannot fully comprehend everything and put my faith in God. Also, you are starting with the logic as you have laid it out and from there are, point by point, explicating how God could not exist due to each. However, I start out with the existance of God as my absolute truth and pick apart the arguments from there. In your case, logical arguments are bigger than God and so God cannot exist within them. In my case, God is bigger than logic and so has power over the logical arguments and turns their absolute truths into fallacies. If you take a step back and open your mind to the fact that we as humans are only wired to understand a very small crossection of the greater universe, be it light, distance, sound, time, or what have you, then you may be able to realize that no human can fully define the laws of the universe or its existance.

Me:  I think your argument really fell apart for me, though, when you said, “However, I start out with the existence of God as my absolute truth and pick apart the arguments from there.” If you presuppose your conclusion, of course you will arrive at it. This is a fallacy and therefore not a legitimate way to analyze a claim.

My aim is not to disprove the existence of a god with certainty. If you state that a god exists but has created humans and the universe in such a way that if we apply a logical and evidence-based analysis to the world around us, we will find that this god does not exist, I know of no way to disprove that statement. You have constructed an un-falsifiable claim that is inherently illogical.

Imagine if we did this with another issue, say politics. I tell you that I believe a careful study of economic principles and history shows that the supply-side policies advocated by Republicans will produce superior results to the demand-side policies advocated by Democrats. According to your logic it would be okay for you to reply, “Well, if you start off by using economics as the arbiter of economic truth, then yes, you are right. But I choose to use the Democratic Party platform as the arbiter of economic truth and then go back and decide what economic model works based on that. You and I just have different ways of approaching the problem.” This is absolutely not a legitimate way to think and analyze problems. A conclusion cannot be your starting point.

As I said, my aim is not to definitively disprove the existence of all gods by all possible definitions. My aim is simply to show that there is no good, positive reason to believe that a god exists when one analyzes the question objectively without presupposition in favor or against the existence of god. I also aim to show that there are good reasons to believe that the god of Christianity does not exist.

Given two thousand years, Christianity has failed to produce a single argument for the existence of a god that can withstand the rigors of logic and evidence, but atheists have developed many arguments such as the ones I have given to believe that this particular god does not exist.

The only recourse left for Christians such as yourself who wish to perpetuate their belief in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence is to denounce reason and logic themselves. As Martin Luther famously said, “Reason is the greatest enemy faith has.” When you contrast my acceptance of logic with your belief in god, you confirm this.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 3: The Cross-Examination

Here is the third round of my debate with theology student and Christian blogger, Cody Cook.  In this round, Mr. Cook presented me with three questions, which I answer below.  His questions were in response to my opening statement and rebuttal, both of which can be found below:

Question 1)  A question sometimes considered by medieval theologians was whether God could create a rock so heavy that He couldn't lift it. Assuming for a moment that God had physical characteristics, this would be a paradox involving God's omnipotence. If God is omnipotent, the objector asks, why couldn't He make a rock so heavy that even He couldn't lift it; and if He couldn't lift it, how could He be omnipotent? Most Christian theologians would answer by saying that God's omnipotence only extends to doing those things which are not irrational to do (and since God would be the source of rationality, this means that God is consistent with, and does not deny, Himself). So, for instance, God could not draw a square circle. Do you think that your argument regarding God's omnipotence and necessity being in conflict is based upon making a straw man of the Christian doctrine of omnipotence? If not, why not?

  1. Your question assumes that god would be the source of rationality, which he could not be even if he did exist.  Rationality, or logic/logical absolutes exist transcendentally and necessarily.  Rationality would apply to god (as you admit) and therefore could not come from god. 
  2. The difference between my paradox and the Paradox of Omnipotence is that mine contrasts two qualities that contradict one another and therefore cannot exist in the same being.  The Paradox of Omnipotence makes the assertion that omnipotence is inconsistent with itself. 
  3. God cannot draw a square circle because it would violate the law of self-contradiction.  There is no such violation if god were to choose to end his own existence.  In fact there is an entire branch of Christian theology that contends that god did just that at the crucifixion—that god literally died.  As Thomas J. Altizer writes in The Gospel of Christian Atheism: 

“Every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent, but only the Christian knows that God is dead, that the death of God is a final and irrevocable event, and that God’s death has actualized in our history a new and liberated humanity”

Question 1)  You argued that logical absolutes exist necessarily, but that thoughts are the unintended product of chance (evolution). You also argued that necessary beings cannot help but exist, but that the universe began to exist, so I take you to be saying that the universe is contingent. If the universe begins to exist with nothing before it, then it would seem that the laws of logic also would have begun to exist alongside the universe. If the laws of logic are dependent upon the universe (because they would have nothing to refer to, nor could principles hold, in nothingness), but the universe is contingent, it would seem that the laws of logic are also contingent, meaning that they could be different. So the law of non-contradiction, for instance, does not have to be true. Thus, logic would be arbitrary. As an atheist, would you argue that there is grounding for these laws of rational thinking, or are they simply standards of protocol that humans, who were not intended to think rationally, use to attempt to explain the activity of the material universe? 

  1. Your use of the terms unintended/unintentional when referencing logical thought in humans is a form of begging the question. 
  2. Logical absolutes exist necessarily not contingently, and would exist regardless of whether or not a universe exists.  They would exist even in a perpetual state of nothingness.  For instance, a state of nothingness would not also be a pink unicorn (law of non-contradiction.)  Therefore, the premise of your question completely fails. 
  3. Human perception of these laws is the result of the nonrandom cumulative process of evolution by natural selection.  The hunter who was able to think coherently enough to assemble a plan to take down a wooly mammoth was able to survive and reproduce more than the ones who were not.  This is the grounding for logic in human thought. 
Question 3)  Is it correct that Hawking and Dawkins, both of whom I referred to as atheists who would obviously not agree that the evidence supports theism, made statements pointing out that there is a striking appearance of design in the universe? If so, did I do any more than make the accurate claim that they did so, or did I go further than what they said by claiming that they were “puzzled” or that they had no atheistic interpretations of this data?

I would not agree with your assessment.  The way both of these authors construct their books is generally like this:  “It does seem like X was the product of design by a god.  However, we know that natural process Y explains this without invoking a god, so we shouldn’t believe that a god exists for that reason.” 

What you did in your opening statement was take the “It does seem like X was the product of design by a god” part, remove it from the explanatory part, and present it as if it were a legitimate problem for which these scientists have no explanation

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 2: The Rebuttal

The following is a response to Cody Cook's opening statement in this debate, which can be found here:


In his opening argument, Mr. Cook explains the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by postulating a dichotomy between things that exist necessarily and things that exist contingently, or as a result of a cause.  I will grant that this is a true dichotomy.  However, my objection to his conclusion is two-fold:

  1. Mr. Cook claims that a god exists necessarily, but this is not true or consistent with the description of that god. 
  2. Mr. Cook claims that the cause of the universe must be a conscious decision by a being capable of decision-making, which is not consistent with what we know about Big Bang cosmology. 

Why god does not exist necessarily

That a god exists necessarily is a major assertion, but Mr. Cook provides absolutely no evidence to support it.  Why is the existence of god a necessity, like numbers, logical absolutes or the laws of physics?   There is no reason to suppose this is so.  That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, and I am tempted to do this.  However, while there are no good reasons to believe Mr. Cook’s assertion, there are at least two good reasons to dismiss it:

  1. God has traits that do not exist necessarily
  2. Something that is omnipotent cannot exist necessarily

God Has Traits That Do Not Exist Necessarily

Mr. Cook and I agree that certain things, such as numbers and logical absolutes, exist necessarily.  So how can I assert that a god could not be also counted amongst those things?  Simply because no other thing that exists necessarily has a mind.  The number seven, lucky though it may be, possesses no thoughts, emotions or instincts.  Anything that does possess such attributes also possesses a causal explanation for them.  Human and animal thoughts, emotions and instincts are explained by neurology and evolution.  Because thoughts, emotions and instincts are contingent rather than necessary in every instance that is available for us to examine, Mr. Cook takes on the burden of proof to demonstrate how this rule could be violated.  So far, we have heard just an assertion with no evidence. 

The Logical Paradox Necessity and Omnipotence

Furthermore, in the conclusion to his opening statement, Mr. Cook asserts that “god exists because He must. He can’t do otherwise.”  Of course, this statement presents a stark contradiction with the omnipotent nature of a god.  Allow me to present it like this:

  1. Anything omnipotent would have the power to cease its own existence.
  2. Anything necessary cannot cease to exist.
  3. Nothing omnipotent can exist necessarily. 

This paradox is something that Mr. Cook must own up to if he continues to assert that a god exists necessarily. 

Why the cause of the universe does not have to be personal

Mr. Cook demonstrated that the universe must exist as a result of a cause.  I agree.  However, Mr. Cook also invokes the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument to explain that god is the only possible cause.  This is where he is mistaken.

Mr. Cook justifies Premise 2 of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (“If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God”) in the following way:

“Big bang cosmology has shown us that the universe began to exist at a finite point in time, which suggests that it could have not come into existence at all. In other words, it does not have to exist.”

Mr. Cook goes on to explain that, since the universe began to exist at a certain point in time, and therefore had not existed at some point in time, it requires a decision-making agent in order to bring it into existence.  If the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin to exist at a certain point in time, and time passed during which the universe did not exist, then Mr. Cook may have been justified in asserting the necessity of a decision-making agent in order to bring the universe into existence at some point in time.  

However, a simple understanding of the nature of time itself completely destroys this line of thinking.  The Big Bang most definitely was not an event that took place at a certain point in time.  It was the explosion of both space and time into existence.  Einstein demonstrated this—it is one of the things he is best known for.  Time is not an absolute that exists before the universe; it is something that exists only as a feature of a universe that has space.  The equation that we all learned in high school physics demonstrates this:

Therefore, Time=Distance/Speed 

Time requires distance to exist.  Distance requires space.  Space did not exist before the Big Bang.  Time, therefore, did not exist prior to the Big Bang.  Since this basic piece of science completely destroys the notion that the universe began to exist at a certain point in time, a decision making agent is no longer necessary in order to cause the universe.  A choice is not necessary, because no time passed before the universe began to exist.  A god, then, cannot be considered as the only potential cause for the universe. 

We can now see that Mr. Cook’s assertion that god is the best answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” completely falls apart.  Since I have some extra space, though, I will go on to discuss the less relevant claims Mr. Cook made in his opening remarks. 


As I said in my opening statement, the position most atheists will take is that the universe was not designed for life—life emerged as the result of the universe being the way it is.  If traits of the universe had been different, the features of it would have been different, too.  Perhaps there would not have been planets on which life as we know it could have formed, perhaps something similar to life would have formed in some other way, or perhaps something far more interesting and beautiful would have emerged.  We will never know.  But for Mr. Cook to assert, in light of this position, that the universe has the “hallmarks of design” with one species of primate on our pale blue dot in the mind of the designer, seems as ludicrous as someone taking a pair of sunglasses, noticing how well they fit on the human face, and then calling this evidence for the idea that the human face was designed by Sunglass Hut!  It is completely backwards.

Furthermore, as I explained in the first point of my opening argument, while the Earth may seem moderately hospitable to us, the universe as a whole definitely is not.  Most of it is constructed of empty space, which is deadly to us.  The vast majority of planets in the universe, even if any of them are hospitable to us, are simply too far away to reach in a human lifetime.  Any planets within our reach are also deadly to us.  If Mr. Cook and I were having this debate on either of our two closest planetary neighbors, Venus or Mars, I imagine the first (and only) thing Mr. Cook would say would be something to the effect of, “well, this place is not very well designed for me at all” before we were both promptly melted into puddles by sulfuric acid rain or frozen in place, respectively. 

The fact of the matter is the universe is decidedly poorly designed for life.  Life is rather well-equipped to survive only on our tiny planet, and that can be attributed to evolution by natural selection. 


In his opening statement, I was surprised to see Mr. Cook quote Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins out of context in a way that misrepresents them as puzzled about the supposed “fine-tuning” of the universe.  In fact, anyone who reads either of their works will know this is far from true.  While this point is largely irrelevant to the debate, I would like to make sure it is acknowledged because this technique is used frequently by Christians seeking to discredit science. 

Anyone who has read a popular book on science will know the typical structure of a chapter:  The author lays out a common question or misunderstanding (called a Problem Statement) and proceeds to explain the solution to the problem in the rest of the chapter.  Mr. Cook takes the problem statements given by both Hawking and Dawkins in their respective works and presents them as if they were genuine problems that neither scientist understands.  This is called quote-mining and it is widely regarded as an intellectually dishonest rhetorical device, but (or, dare I say, so) it is characteristic of religious writers.  I was disappointed to see Mr. Cook implement it in this debate.  I encourage everyone reading to look up the context of these quotes for themselves.   


As I have explained here, Mr. Cook fails to establish his basic premise in two major areas:

  1. A god cannot exist necessarily, because aspects associated with a god, like a mind and omnipotence, are in contradiction with necessary existence. 
  2. A decision-making agent is not necessary as a cause for the universe because the Big Bang did not occur at a specific point in time—it was the explosion of space and time into existence. 

These two main points, along with the other, dubious claims made by Mr. Cook in his opening statement, demonstrate that his case is too weak for him to be considered the winner of this debate.  Thank you for reading.

My opponent's rebuttal to my opening argument can be found here:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reflections on the debate.

I have mixed feelings as I publish my piece for the first round of my blog debate against theology student and Christian blogger, Cody Cook.  I have formulated a strong, three-point argument that establishes that an atheistic worldview is better suited to answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” than a theistic worldview.  I am quite pleased with how it turned out, although I wish I was not constrained to the word limit (which I actually proposed myself).  I was unable to go as in-depth into the physics around the early universe as I wanted to, which was very disappointing.

The thing to keep in mind for me is that Cody is very good.  The last time I sat down with him and talked in person was the first time I had ever walked away from a debate with a Christian thinking I had lost.  Of course, this is to be expected, since he is training to be a professional theologian and I am just some guy who has read a handful of popular-level books on religion.  After all, there are no schools for atheology (unless you count physics or biology).  Plus, I think he is more intelligent than I am.   But in the end, he is trying to prove a falsehood, so even if he is more informed and intelligent than me, I have the advantage of being correct, which makes the playing field about even.  This means the debate should be a good one. 

I also found out after posting that I had mistakenly adhered to the word limit for Round 2 instead of Round 1 and exceeded the agreed upon word limit by 400.  Fortunately, one of the contrived virtues of Xianity is forgiveness, so Cody didn’t get mad, but I was still annoyed at myself.

After reading Cody’s opening statement, I was very impressed.  He is a very good writer.  Clear, concise, and to-the-point.  He presents the Cosmological Argument in two different forms, one that supports the other.  I was a little annoyed that he used an intellectually dishonest but typically Christian technique of quote-mining from the books of both Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, so I will have to call him out on that severely in my response.  I also caught a couple of assertions, one scientific and another philosophical, that are false.  Happily, he did not construct a “God of the Gaps” argument that I was expecting in reference to the beginning of the universe, although he did touch on the Teleological Argument (sunglasses fit the human face perfectly, therefore Sunglass Hut designed the human face) briefly.

All-in-all, I am feeling confident as the debate moves forward into Round 2.  Cody has given me a lot of ammunition to work with and the next round should be even better than the first! 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 1

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Mankind has never had to answer a more difficult question than this, and I have been given a space of only 1600 words in which to do it.  I am not qualified to answer this question, but I am qualified to demonstrate that a worldview which conforms to the principle of Occam’s Razor is.  My opponent and I will be debating whether theism or atheism is better suited to answer the previously stated question.   

I shall erect a case that demonstrates the existence of the universe can be explained without invoking a god and that a theistic worldview is incapable of answering the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  I shall support this case with three arguments:

1.       A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for. 

2.       There are natural explanations for why a universe would exist instead of nothing.

3.       There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing.

 A Theistic Worldview Cannot Account for Many Features of Our Universe

Let us examine the universe that we live in.  Our planet, Earth, is one of eight (get over it, Pluto lovers) orbiting a medium sized star.  That star is just one of half a trillion stars in our own galaxy.  Many of those others are suns with planets of their own.  The nearest of them are only a few years of travel-time away from us—if you are a photon that is!  Traveling at the fastest speed humans have ever gotten a vehicle up to, your ETA is closer to 2 million years.  In fact, ever physically traveling to anywhere outside of our solar system seems almost impossible, because the speeds needed to get to any other stars within a human lifetime are disallowed by certain laws of physics.  Not to mention the fact that our galaxy is just one amongst a collection of over 100 billion in the universe! 

An atheistic worldview has no trouble whatsoever accounting for a universe of this size.  The heavy elements forged in the first generations of stars after the Big Bang were formed by gravity into planets upon which complex chemistry eventually produced life on (at least) one of a hundred billion trillion planets in existence.  Life is not the goal of the universe, just a quirk of it, like the storms on Jupiter or the methane lakes on Titan.  Easy.  

The theistic worldview, however, provides no such easy answer.  The Christian claims the universe was created for the benefit of us, the creation.  So why the excess?  Why, if the universe is a gift to us, are we limited to just one of a hundred billion trillion planets?  Why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us?  Why are all of the planets within our reach also deadly to us, with their crushing gravity, sulfuric acid rain or freezing temperatures?  Why is everything outside our solar system kept off-limits to us by overwhelmingly vast distances and the laws of physics?  The idea of a god creating this universe for a species limited to just one planet seems like renting out all of Disney World for just one child then telling that child she can only ride the Tea Cup merry-go-round.  And nothing else. 

Genesis tells us that the stars exist so that we can mark the seasons.  Well, most stars in our own and other galaxies are not visible with the naked eye, so that can’t be it.  Maybe god was giving us something pretty to look at for when we invented telescopes?  Or perhaps god has other projects going on on distant planets, each with their own E.T. Jesus, nailed to some kind of extraterrestrial cross? 

I am being facetious, of course.  There is no good reason for the universe to be so large and so hostile if it was designed for us.  There is a very good reason for it to be this way if it was not.  When considering the universe, atheism clearly has greater explanatory power than theism. 

There Are Natural Explanations for Why a Universe Would Exist Instead of Nothing

Due to a series of recent advancements in scientific knowledge, we now have a very well-established explanation of why the universe exists and why it is the way it is.  This narrative could not possibly be further from the one given in genesis. 

We now know that the spontaneous creation of matter does actually happen; particles pop into existence for brief moments in time.  In his book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking explains how this fact converges with certain naturally emergent properties such as gravity to inevitably create a universe. 

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

A brief explanation for why the universe exists as it is as follows.

  1. From the Big Bang, energy—and therefore antimatter and matter—are created. 
  2. Matter and antimatter are created in unequal amounts, with more matter than antimatter; therefore our universe becomes ‘matter dominated'. 
  3. Initially, most of this matter exists as hydrogen, which collects into pockets across the universe.
  4. These pockets form the first generation of stars, which cook the hydrogen into heavier elements, like carbon, oxygen, and iron.
  5. When the first generations of stars go supernova, they seed the universe with the heavier elements which allows future generations of stars to also create planets, upon which complex chemical reactions take place.    
  6. On (at least) one of these planets, a reaction causes a molecule to become self-replicating.  Because that replication process is flawed, evolution by natural selection, given billions of years, develops the distant progeny of that molecule into complex life forms like us.  

None of this requires divine intervention—just naturally emergent properties like gravity. 

Unfortunately, due to special constraints, I cannot elaborate on this further.  Suffice it to say that these assertions have all been demonstrated by the scientific method to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the scientific community. 

There is No Explanation for Why a God Would Exist Instead of Nothing

Now I will proceed to establish the most important point in my case—that there is no reason why a god would exist instead of nothing. 

This point is important because of how the topic question for this debate is structured.  The question is decisively not “why is there a universe instead of nothing?”  Rather, it is “why is there something rather than nothing?”  This distinction is a small but significant one, because while I am proposing that only the universe exists Mr. Cook is proposing that something exists outside of the universe.  He is proposing that there is an intelligent being, capable of monitoring every movement of every particle at every point in time, capable of orchestrating the dance of 100 billion galaxies across empty space, capable of manipulating evolution in order to create one very specific species of primate, and capable of feeling human emotions like love and sadness.  Such a being requires an explanation for its existence, just as the universe does (perhaps more so.)  

If Mr. Cook cannot provide an explanation for why such a being should exist instead of nothing, then he cannot be considered the winner of this debate. 

Unfortunately for modern apologists, the ancient Hebrews neglected to write a “back-story” for Yahweh, the way the Greeks, for instance, did for their better thought out mythologies about Zeus and company.  Genesis gives no account for Yahweh prior to his creation of the Earth other than to say his spirit floated on some great body of water. 

Now, I am going to be very careful here because I am flirting with an Argumentum ad Ignorantium and I want to make sure no one can read a fallacy into this argument.  What I am not saying is that because Mr. Cook cannot explain the existence of a god, one cannot exist.  That would be fallacious.  What I am saying is that if parts of the theistic worldview require inexplicable phenomenon, a theistic worldview cannot be have greater explanatory power than an atheistic worldview.  That is a key distinction to keep in mind, least Mr. Cook charge me with constructing an Argument from Ignorance.  Remember, we are not debating whether or not a god exists—we are debating which worldview is better able to answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” 


In conclusion, you have heard here three good reasons to believe that an atheistic worldview is more capable than a theistic worldview of answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  Those reasons are: 

1.       A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for. 

2.       There are natural explanations for why a universe would exist instead of nothing.

3.       There is no explanation for why a god would exist instead of nothing.

If Mr. Cook wishes for you to believe that he has won this debate, he will have to tear down all three of these arguments and erect a case of his own in their place that establishes how a theistic worldview answers the question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  Good luck to him—he will need it.

My opponent's opening argument can be found here:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Aliens and Apologetics

***NOTE:  Some of my posts are serious rebuttals to serious arguments given for the existence of a god.  This is not one of those posts. 

In my view, there are four very important questions that fall upon the shoulders of science to answer.  Those questions are:

  1. How did everything that exists get to where it is today?  
  2. What will probably happen to everything that exists in the future?
  3. Are we alone in the universe?
  4. Does the universe have a creator? 

In some ways, questions 3 & 4 are similar but the answers to those questions, based on the currently available evidence, would be very different.  We have good reasons to entertain the possibility that an alien civilization may exist somewhere in the universe.   

We have found that life can survive and even flourish under harsh conditions.  Life forms called extremophiles have been found in the coldest and hottest places on Earth.  Some have even been found to survive on vessels that have traveled through space.   Animals and plants are composed of four of the five most abundant elements in the universe, so we know the ingredients for life are not difficult to find.  We know that any self-replicating molecule that makes slight errors in its replication process will undergo the process of evolution by natural selection and we know that human beings are very successful animals because of our intelligence, so we can imagine intelligence developing independently on some distant planet the way, for instance, the eye has developed independently forty times here on Earth because of its utility.  Finally, we know that stars and planets are abundant in the universe—one could estimate upwards of 160,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars altogether, so there are LOTS of potential chances for life to get started and develop. 

We have no such reasons to entertain the possibility that a creator may exist.  Any being sufficiently intelligent to create a universe would require an explanation for its own existence and no such explanation has ever been postulated for the existence of a creator that is credible.  Furthermore, there is no mark of design in our universe, and no argument for the existence of a creator has ever been formed which does not rely upon a fallacy or a false premise. 

However, there is one key similarity between the two questions:  We can have an intelligent discussion about the possibility of the existence of both an alien civilization and a creator, a conversation informed by all available evidence.   But anyone who claims to be in constant, personal, telepathic communication with either thing should be immediately removed from that conversation.

Think about it.  We do discuss the possibility of alien life at the highest levels of science.  NASA employes ‘astrobiologists’—individuals who study what alien life might be like, despite having no alien life to study.  The Keplar Space Telescope surveys planets in distant solar systems, hoping to find one that may be “Earth-like” and home to other life forms.  A robot is being built by a private company that may one day be sent to the icy Jovian moon, Europa, on an “ice-fishing” mission into the liquid oceans that exist miles beneath its surface, hoping to find something swimming around down there. 

However, there are many people in our society for whom these endeavors are a waste of time.  They will tell you that they already know the answer to the question of whether or not aliens exist—yes!  How do they know?  Why, because they are communicating with those aliens of course!  But it is a telepathic communication, so only the select few individuals who the aliens choose to communicate with are able to hear what the aliens want.  Some of those individuals don’t want to communicate with the aliens, so they construct hats out of tin foil to protect their thoughts.  Every once in a while, someone will come along and claim to actually be an alien, just in human form. 

All of these people are immediately discounted from the conversation about the existence of alien life for obvious reasons.  

However, we seem to allow the same class of people to enter into conversations about the existence of a creator.  Most apologists and theologians will freely and willingly admit to being in constant, personal, telepathic communication with the creator.  They are actually proud of this fact.  They tell you exactly what that creator wants you to do, who he does and does not want you to sleep with and what days of the week he wants you to eat fish instead of meat.  We put these people in charge of large congregations of eager followers, who also want to be able to engage in telepathic communication with the creator.  We even put these people on television, on news shows, and let them discuss matters of morality and public policy.  In recent memory, we have elected at least one of these people to the office of the Presidency!  And the extra-crazy person who claims actually be the creator in human form?  Well, instead of locking him up and throwing away the key, the way we do with people who claim to be aliens in human form, people all over the world now worship that guy, thousands of years after his death! 

Why the dissonance?  I honestly cannot figure it out.  Yes, let’s have a conversation about the possibility of alien life.  Yes, let’s have a conversation about the possibility of a creator.  Let’s hear all the arguments for both and let’s hear all the counter-arguments.  But we should also make a rule of immediately excluding anyone who claims to be in direct, personal, telepathic conversation with either an alien civilization or the creator of the universe from that conversation.