Silly Theist Logic

Devoted Atheist Dave reader “Andrea” added a decent comment on my post from 2 April, Prayer is Futile, but then followed up with the inane I don’t believe you’re an atheist. You wouldn’t be spending this much time writing about a Person whom you claim you don’t believe in.

By this incredibly well-thought out religious logic, we can conclude that:
- J. R. R. Tolkien believes Middle Earth and hobbits exist.
- J. K. Rowling believes Hogwarts and the wizarding world are real.
- George Lucas believes wookiees and Jar Jar Binks exist.
- Jim Davis thinks bright orange talking cats who love lasagna exist.
- Walt Disney really believed in talking mice, dogs, and ducks.

And so on, and so forth.

The point here is that a lot of people write or talk about things they don’t believe exist. This is entertainment, baby. It’s called “make believe.” You, as a theist, should know about making believe all too well. It’s all right, I had imaginary friends when I was a kid, too. I even believed in Santa. But I grew out of all of them. That’s another one, by the way: parents, especially around Christmas, seem to talk about Santa Claus an awful lot. Does that mean they believe he exists?

As far as what I would or wouldn’t be doing as an atheist, who are you to say? The only thing you know I will not be doing, based on my being atheist, is believing any gods exist. That is the only thing my atheism tells you about me.

I didn’t think I’d have to point this out, since my audience is made up primarily of atheists, nonbelievers, agnostics, and rational thinkers (surprise, I’m not actually trying to [de]convert anyone – I have a feeling it’d take more than a blog to do that). But let’s see if this helps you understand:

Sometimes when I make a post specifically talking about the Christian god and pointing out its logical inconsistencies and flaws I will assume, just for the sake of argument, that said god actually exists. That’s a literary device. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, if your god exists as your Bible describes it, then we know these things about it…” That doesn’t mean I believe it exists. For the sake of simplifying things I omit the disclaimer at the end of every post, but I’ll provide one for you now.

Disclaimer: I do not believe in a god or gods, nor have I as long as this blog has been active. If I ever come across as though I do believe in a god or gods, just remind yourself that I do not believe in a god or gods.

(A)gnostic (a)theism

(A)gnosticism deals with knowing a god exists or does not exist.
- a gnostic knows at least one god exists.
- an agnostic does not know whether or not a god exists.

(A)theism deals with believing a god exists or does not exist.
- a theist believes at least one god exists.
- an atheist does not believe any gods exist.

Gnostic theist: “I know god exists.”
Gnostic atheist: “I know gods do not exist.”
Agnostic theist: “I can’t prove it, but I believe god exists.”
Agnostic atheist: “I can’t prove it, but I do not believe gods exist.”

While nobody can truly prove gods exist, many people believe they can. These people are gnostic theists. Gnostic atheists, on the other hand, swear they can prove gods do not exist. This is not the case, however, as the supernatural cannot be disproven. Certain aspects of a particular god may or may not be provable by way of logic, but this does not prove nor disprove the possible existence of any gods.

Agnostic theists will admit they have no proof of a god’s existence, but will still adhere to the belief that one exists. There are many factors in play here, including (but not limited to) duality, a mind-body split, an attachment system, and decoupled cognition. These are all evolutionary traits that led, as a side-effect, to religious belief. Agnostic atheists will generally admit that the existence of a god or gods is a possibility, but that there is no evidence to support the belief and, as a result, will refrain from believing until sufficient evidence is presented.

Personally, I identify as an agnostic atheist. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Until extraordinary evidence is offered in support of the extraordinary claim that a god does exist I will remain atheist. Until extraordinary proof is offered in support of the claim that either a god exists or does not exist, I will remain agnostic.

Theistic evolution (and other things)

The following is [nearly] copied directly from a conversation I had on Facebook with a friend, Matt. At one point about halfway through the conversation another friend, Chuck, joined in for a short while. The conversation started with a quote by a hypocritical “Christian” and then moved quickly to evolution, the (in)errancy of the Bible, historical Jesus, and finally ended with a nice little “agree to disagree” moment. The whole thing began when I posted a quote:

“I have a compelling reason to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God… abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.”

-Carl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

Matt
Haven’t read much on theistic evolutionism. I don’t think its possible.

Dave
Considering the Christian god is “perfect,” why couldn’t he have created life, which then evolved? Through god, anything is possible (they say).

Don’t forget that evolution (and its theory) says nothing about the origin of life. Only about how life adapted and evolved after it originated. The origins of life are theorized in abiogenesis.

Matt
Well that isn’t the account in genesis. God created everything fully mature. New with the appearance of age. Jesus did the same when he turned water into wine. I am curious though… I can accept micro evolution. What are your thoughts on separating micro and macro evolution?

Dave
I think evolution is evolution. Micro- and macro- just measure it on different scales. Here’s a pretty neat explanation of how it works:

Image via thinkatheist.com

Matt
That’s what I anticipated. However I think you can separate the two. We see changes in frogs and what not. But the single cell to man theory I have issues with. New information in the genome through random unguided chance mutations just doesn’t seem like a plausible sound enough theory for the origin of intelligent life.

Dave
Given billions of years, why not? Remember a species may undergo many (like, millions) of random mutations that don’t work in favor of its survival, and those afflicted with such mutations either die out or remain “neutral” (the mutation is neither beneficial nor detrimental to its survival). But one in a million random mutations might be beneficial to the point where that species is now more able to procreate and survive.

So the species passes that mutation on to its offspring, who then procreate and thrive. A million mutations later, and another generation is that much more capable of survival. One won’t be able to pinpoint the exact generation in which speciation occurs, but it gets to the point where generation X+n is no longer able to breed with generation X.

The original species may still even exist – those which did not mutate beneficially may still be thriving in their own particular niche just fine.

An analogy:
Give a monkey a computer with a keyboard and word processor, then let it bang away. What are the odds it will randomly type out Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its entirety? Pretty slim.

But reprogram the processor so that every time the monkey randomly hits a letter in its proper place, the letter is saved in its position. Eventually, the monkey WILL have “randomly” banged out Hamlet in the word processor.

Matt
I can appreciate the theory. It does however boil down to a few pre-suppositions. Is the universe billions of years old? Were these primordial conditions exactly right to produce by chance those amino acids then so on and so forth? I mean it does make sense given bookoos of time and some very particular conditions, but it doesn’t account for some of the immensely complex organisms we see today. Like the bombardier beetle, the circulatory system of giraffes. Butterflies metamorphosis over weeks not years. The chances of life producing from nothing is not one in some very very large number, its zero.

The question is; who re-programmed [the hypothetical word processor]?

Dave
Again, evolution does not account for the origin of life, nor does it attempt to – that’s abiogenesis.

As to “who” programmed it, that goes back to the theory of natural selection. A species will retain a mutation (random pounding of keys) that is beneficial (landing in the right position) to its survival.

Funny you mentioned giraffes, though, since they have within them my favorite evolutionary “mistake.” Research their laryngeal nerve.

Matt
I remember. You had mentioned it previously.

Are you familiar with the 747 gambit? Also what are your thoughts on the anthropic principle?

Dave
Regarding the “Ultimate Boeing 747″ I’ll remind you that complexity won’t arise out of nothing, or suddenly, but rather in tiny parts at a time and over long periods of time.

Regarding the anthropic principle, I’ll refer you to Douglas Adams‘ “puddle analogy.”

…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

Chuck
Keep in mind when were talking about the origin of life describing it in years doesn’t do justice. Single cell organisms can reproduce asexually, which means one organism could reproduce many many times in a year plus how many times it’s offspring reproduce. So yeah at the birthrate of mammals evolution happens slow. But with more primitive life forms a change could happen more rapidly. More keys mashed per year if you will.

Matt
So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?

Also, if I may, returning to the original topic of why couldn’t God use evolution in the creation process, its seems to me that this ideology compromises Biblical inerrancy. This also suggests that God requires long periods of time to accomplish his creative process. If that were the case then I think the Genesis account would reflect that. Some might argue that the Hebraic lexicon only offers vague idioms for durations of time. While the Hebrew word for “day” could mean any period of time, it is important to know that this is true unless it is annotated by a number. So when we observe the creation account in Genesis, we must accept it as a literal six day creation week. Most importantly, coming from the Christian perspective, Jesus tells us that we must accept the teachings of Moses since it is the Word and Jesus is the Word. Anyways, that’s why one cannot be a Christian and subscribe to the ideologies of metaphysical naturalism.

Dave
You said: “So in observing asexual single cell reproductive cycles, have we seen, at any rate, mutations occur that benefit the organism’s ability to survive?”

Yes. Check out the Lenski E. coli long-term evolution experiment.

Chuck
It may not be single celled organisims but… there was a type or scale or fungus that infects a widely grown crop that developed immunity to to the main pesticide used to treat it within a human lifetime. It happend like ten years ago so I dont remember the specifics…

Dave
Re: inerrant Bible vs. evolution

Knowing that I’m atheist and consider the whole book a bunch of baloney, it may be a little more difficult to take what I’m about to say seriously, but I’m going to give this whole “apologetic” thing a shot. Here goes.

Is it not possible to see see the Bible as just a book? Perhaps it is inspired by the word of god. Maybe he even had a hand in writing some parts of it. But perhaps some of it really was just a recollection of stories that had been passed down verbally through many generations.

Instead of reading Lev. 11:20 as an outright error (I, personally, see it as one) try and see it as a misinterpretation. Knowing how geology works, we can essentially disprove a worldwide flood. So what if the flood story was just an exaggeration to try and get the point across that god means business?

With misinterpretations and exaggerations in mind, try to read Genesis in a similar light. Sure, maybe god created the world; maybe bugs and water and light and people all came at separate times (and they most certainly did!) but maybe the ordering of the story is just to give you the general idea: god did it, more or less like this.

The Bible was, after all, written by humans; not by superhumans. Perhaps they heard voices that told them what to say, but if everyone were hearing the same voice we would expect the Gospels to agree with each other 100%. Fun fact: they don’t. Perhaps because of misinterpretations and exaggerations.

If the Bible is read with more of an open mind and while considering the fact that stories can be misinterpreted or exaggerated and languages can be mistranslated, it wouldn’t be all that inconceivable to suggest that god could have “guided” the evolution process with his hand. Maybe the beneficial mutations were his idea to begin with.

Matt
Trees bearing fruit after their own kind. Like I said, micro evolutionary processes are evident and as far as I am concerned totally Biblical. Concerning the gospels, In a court of law, if all of the witnesses to a murder all had the exact same story, they would be accused of conspiring and their testimony would be thrown out. Luke accounts for one blind man healed by Jesus while Matthew accounts for two. Luke’s account was concerned with only the one because the man Jesus healed became a disciple. The argument you present lies in the realm of legalism, and Jesus railed against the pharasees for just this reason. Fun fact: the life, death, and even the resurection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact. Even His enemies admit to these things (except the muslims). And as far as mis-translations go, we literally have over 25,000 manuscript documents to validate the accuracy of the New Testament translations.

Dave
The Bible is riddled not with different recounts of the same story, but with outright contradictions. In the court of the law, that wouldn’t fly. In the New Testament specifically, Matthew and Luke give us two different people as Jesus’ paternal grandfather, and say that Jesus was descended from both of David’s sons (Solomon and Nathan). If one of those is true, both cannot be true. A person cannot have two biological fathers.

The Gospels tell us of Jesus sending out his disciples and he gives them specific instructions which included what they can or can not take with them. Are the disciples allowed to bring a staff? Mark says yes. Luke says no. That may be an insignificant detail, but again both cannot be true, therefore the Bible (at the very least, THAT part of the Bible) cannot be taken literally.

I think you and I can both agree that Jesus’ crucifixion was kind of a big deal, and we can probably both agree that the details are somewhat important. Jesus wore a crown of thorns. He was flogged. He carried his cross. He was nailed to the cross. All in all, he was treated pretty badly here. But let’s go back to the part about Jesus carrying the cross. Only one of the Gospels actually say that happened: John. The rest say Simon is the one who carried the cross. It’s commonly accepted that Jesus carried it until they met Simon, but that is nothing but speculation and assumption, as none of the Gospels tell us both men carried the cross. If the Bible is inerrant, there is no room for assumptions. If any of the Gospels are right, I would go with the safe bet of Simon carrying the cross (three against one, after all) but it is therefore logically impossible for John to have been correct.

I can list more contradictions for you if you’d like, since the Bible is teeming with them, but for now and for this discussion I think I’ve made my point well enough. So I move on.

You said “the life, death, and even the resurrection of Jesus are safely preserved as historical fact.” This is simply not true, and it’s unfair for you to use it in this debate. No proof whatsoever exists of an historical Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Not one historian (outside the Bible, which only Christians count as “proof”) from Jesus’ time ever wrote about him. Why is that? Miracles would have been a big deal, I imagine. It wasn’t until 70 years after Jesus had died that the first Gospel was written. Some people point to Josephus as an historian who wrote about Jesus, but it’s been proven that Josephus’ writings which pertained to Jesus were forgeries.

As even an atheist like I will admit, a lack of evidence of existence is not evidence for nonexistence, but you simply cannot state something is a fact when no evidence supporting it exists. The only “evidence” you could possibly use is the Bible, but even now we’re debating over its validity. To use it as proof is to assume we both accept it as valid.

For the record, the Muslim Qur’an tells us Jesus (“the messiah”) was born of a virgin, performed miracles, ascended into Heaven in bodily form (but not that he was crucified), and will return to earth on Judgment Day.

Matt
Look, I do want to be fair. Unfortunately, for the literary critic of the New Testament, there are several extrabiblical references and authorities to Jesus. To name a few secular sources: Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger. Not to mention Jewish references such as the Babylonian Talmud. As Josh McDowell puts it “Similar to the secular references, the ones found in ancient Jewish sources are unfriendly toward Christianity’s founder, followers and beliefs. For this reason their attestation to events surrounding Jesus’ life are valuable testimony to the historicity of these events.” If you would like to or are at all interested in furthering your understanding of apologetics, the I would refer you first to Josh McDowell’s book “The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” As far as the Qur’an is concerned, I have my reasons for rejecting It as Divinely inspired and that should be reserved for another discussion.

Dave
Pliny the Younger: his “references” were all Christians themselves, so any accounts are biased. He was born in 62 CE anyway, so his “word” is nothing but hearsay, being he wasn’t even born ’til after Jesus would have died.

Tacitus: Born after Pliny the Younger. Again, not an eyewitness account. He didn’t even cite his sources.

Suetonius: Born after Tacitus. Only ever mentions the common name “Chrestus” and never refers to an earthly Jesus.

Talmud: Never actually mentions Jesus. Refers to “Yeshu,” who was a disciple of Jehoshua Ben-Perachia, who existed more than a century before Jesus (or it refers to Yeshu ben Pandera, who was a teacher in the 2nd century).

Thallus: Doesn’t mention Jesus – only the darkening of the sky at the time of his alleged crucifixion. The validity of his writings is called into question, however, when one considers that neither Pliny the Elder nor Seneca (easily the two most contemporary scientists at the time) mentioned the “eclipse.” The two scientists were known for researching and writing about all the known geological and astrological phenomena.

There are no eye-witness accounts of Jesus. None. Anything said about him after the fact is hearsay.

For the record, I fully understand that none of this disproves an historical Jesus. That isn’t what I’m trying to do. God and Jesus cannot be proven to exist or not exist (actually, they could be proven to exist but so far nobody’s managed to do it). An inerrant or errant Bible, however, is very easy to prove. A worldwide flood 6,000 years ago, for example, would have left very specific geological evidence, yet none exists. In this case the nonexistence of evidence works as evidence for nonexistence.

So, back to the very original point (actually, the original post was just a quote I found amusing in its hypocrisy), accepting the Bible as errant does not necessarily make one unChristian, but it opens the door for acceptance of reality.

The reality is this: evolution has occurred on a massive scale and continues to occur. The earth is billions of years old. God may or may not still exist and have had something to do with the aforementioned known facts.

Matt
Well, it certainly delights me to see that you at least admit to the possibility of God’s existence. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that makes you an agnostic. Let me assure you sir, God is certainly real and you can know and interact with Him right now. That is the most powerfull evidence available. Nonetheless it is not my place to make God known to you, its His. Religion is not all its cracked up to be.

Dave
Technically, I’m agnostic. Technically, I’m also atheist. Gnosticism/Agnosticism has to do with knowing. Theism/Atheism has to do with believing.

I don’t know whether there’s a god or not (agnostic) but I don’t believe there is (atheist).

Sources I used:
Did Jesus exist? (nobeliefs.com)
Secular References to Jesus: Thallus
(tektonics.org)
Thallus: an Analysis (infidels.org)

Life, the universe, and everything

As an opener I’d like to state that my worldview has absolutely nothing to do with my atheism. I like to think that were I a theist I would still hold life, the universe, and everything in exactly the same regards. This post is not intended to answer any questions about nor explain my view on theism. Correlation does not imply causation. That being said, let us proceed.

Where did we come from?
Four billion years ago or so, just the right combination of chemicals came together somewhere on this planet. Some phosphates, some sugar and nucleobase molecules, and a charge of electricity or radiation (lightning?) have been proven to be all it takes to create life. It’s hardly “something from nothing,” but as uncommon as it is, given a lot of chemicals and a lot of lightning and billions of years something’s bound to happen. Those are the layman’s terms, of course; I’m not a chemist, a biologist, or a physicist. But there’s proof, so there you go. It may not be the correct answer, but it’s the best one out there yet and it’s certainly more realistic and preferable than “God did it” (which would only raise more questions).

Of course the life created was the simplest it could possibly be. On a relatively new planet, however, given plenty of time and a fast-changing environment, this life began to change. It evolved, more cells began to work together, organisms formed, they grew fins, swam, poked their heads out of water and began breathing air, crawled onto land, grew legs, scales, feathers, wings, fur (not necessarily in that order) and, billions of years later, here we are. That was the condensed version. Be sure to research natural selection to learn more about how all that busy stuff actually happened.

Why are we here?
This is still up for interpretation. Taken to mean “what is our purpose,” one could say that as a species our only purpose is to continue to propagate the species. Man find woman. Man court woman. Woman bear child. Child grow up. Find mate. And so on, and so forth.

If you’re looking for a deeper purpose, I could only tell you my own as I believe every person finds his or her own purpose in life. Mine is to be happy and have a happy family (first) and try to keep everybody else happy to my best extent (second). This includes going to school, getting a job, telling jokes, writing songs, singing loudly, smiling a lot, dancing when the mood strikes me, wearing comfortable shoes, playing video games, keeping a blog, donating to charities I know will make the world a little easier to live in for some people less fortunate than I am. If you think my purpose is anything more or less than that, then I’m so very sorry for not living up to your standards. I apologize if my purpose seems a little superficial compared to yours. The fact of the matter is that I’m happy, my family is happy, and ain’t nothin’ gonna bring me down.

Where are we going?
This one’s easy. Eventually, as happens with all species, the human race will go extinct. It may or may not be replaced by another sentient race, more adaptable to change and more capable of surviving in whatever the conditions are at the time. I doubt very much that we will be the last animal to go extinct. In the end, nothing we say or do or accomplish as a race will matter. Not to us, at least; we’ll be dead. It very likely will matter to whatever species outlive us, since there is no doubt we will have changed our planet (whether it’s earth or some other planet we move on to in the future) in a manner that will affect the other animals around us. Knowing that, maybe we should try and keep things nice and tidy ’til we go.

In terms of where each one of us goes, or how we end up, being that I don’t believe in any afterlife (primarily because I have no reason to) we’ll just die. That’ll be it. Physically, our bodies will decay and nourish the land and life around them. Metaphysically, one must remember the human is a social animal. We tell tales, sing songs, and create art. Not that it’ll matter to me much after the fact (since I’ll be dead), but I like to think here and now that once I’ve died I’ll be remembered. Perhaps people will still listen to the music I’ve created or read the stories I’ve written. That line of thinking – that I’ll possibly be remembered in those ways – brings me comfort and makes me happy. See “Why are we here?” above if you’ve forgotten why I think that’s important.

Why is goodness good, and what are morals anyway?
Who am I to say what’s good and right versus what’s bad and wrong, you might be asking. I’m not a philosopher so you’ll have to forgive me if you disagree, but I prefer to take the utilitarian route and define goodness as whatever makes the greatest number of people happy and comfortable, and causes the least amount of discomfort, pain, or unhappiness. That answers, as far as I and my opinions are concerned, the question of why it is good to be good.

The less important question here is what are morals and where do they come from? I, the non-philosopher, prefer to ask who cares? Morals exist. Everybody has a different view, and some of them contrast with one another, but how we developed morality is completely irrelevant. It is, though, also completely answerable. I already mentioned humans are social animals, but I need to bring it up again here because it’s pretty important. At some point in our ancient history of evolution we discovered that is it more beneficial to work together to accomplish a particular task, as opposed to going it alone. As family groups became more common, we realized it would be detrimental to our well-being if we killed or hurt those around us. Anybody who did so became an outcast as they were seen to be harmful for the future of the family/clan/community. For (hopefully) a better understanding of how we may have developed morality and ethics, I will refer you to the parable of Grog and Zog - a silly name for a story about cavemen that teaches an important lesson.

Still have questions? Read it again.

The contents of this post are subject to change.