On My Non-Belief, Part 4

My current e-mail debate continues.

The bottom line to all of this remains that at the end of all investigation and study both of us are required to take a leap of faith to BELIEVE what we believe.

This is a common tactic among apologists: prevarication over words like “faith.” The sort of faith spoken of by “the faithful” when they speak of “faith in Jesus” is not the same “faith” we have in our friends, or in our ability to cross the street without harm. The Bible says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This is entirely at odds with the empirical methods by which we live our lives and conduct science. I do not put on a blindfold and say a prayer before I cross the street: I look both ways. This is not relying on the “evidence of things not seen.” To insist that “everyone has faith” is to evacuate religious faith of any special qualities, and reduce it to the same mundane inductive power all animals possess. What then, is the purpose of your scripture?

I do not “have faith there is no god” in the same way that you “have faith there is a god.” You would not speak of your having faith there are no fairies at the bottom of your garden. You would not speak of having faith that Zeus is nothing more than a myth. For me, atheism is not a creed based on faith, but a provisional stance based on lack of positive evidence for a particular god. It is the same stance I (and probably you as well) hold towards fairies and other ancient myths.

My mind is not closed. Take the Bible and throw it out. Take Christianity and throw it out. None of that has any meaning or merit without the presence of God. I have chosen to believe in God versus no God.

And I have chosen to not believe in entities for which I have insufficient evidence. How shall I decide between God and no God? If you have just thrown out the need to consider the Bible and Christianity, then there is certainly no urgency, for it is the Bible and Christianity that “put the heat” under believers not only to get themselves saved from damnation, but also to proselytize and apologize others into the faith, as you are attempting to do with me. Without those metaphysical imperatives, then God becomes just another abstract theoretical force of nature, and then what is the point of this conversation? Do we need to have long philosophical conversation about whether the Higgs boson exists? Scientists debate this, but they also perform experiments to test their conjectures about nature.

I have chosen to believe that there is something past this life versus nothing. This is not fanciful thinking without any evidence. This is based on my own reasoning and thoughtful reflection on the information I have been present through education and study.

Then by all means stop preaching your faith and let us discuss specific items of evidence: you have repeatedly said you have evidence, and now I have repeatedly asked you to bring it forth.

Read up on current scientific evidence with an open mind. Try not to be predisposed to no possibility of God.

I will remind you that I grew up as a believing Christian in the same denomination you grew up in. I was in no way “predisposed to no possibility of God.” If anything, I was predisposed in the opposite direction. I spend several hours each week listening to news of science, as well as discussions of philosophy, ethics, current events, and even biblical research. Do not treat me as if I am ignorant.

Thoughtfully consider all of the untold discrepancies and enormous leaps forward on theories that are based on ZERO scientific evidence.

If the discrepancies are “untold” (and so far you certainly have not “told” any of them to me despite my entreaties) then how can I consider them? Or if you mean “untold” in the sense of “plethora,” then this task should be easy: please, bring your compelling items of evidence forward! Give me an example of a standard scientific theory that is based on “ZERO scientific evidence,” and include references so I may investigate.

Have you considered the mathematics required for the typical theories regarding the universe, nature, etc. For all of the universe to have just happened, based on mathematical probability, requires so much unfounded faith its almost beyond reason.

I do not claim that the universe “just happened.” Where I have insufficient evidence I make no claims at all. On the other hand, you claim that a particular God who started a particular religion is responsible for it all. How do you know this? You just threw out the BIble and Christianity above! You are making the positive assertions, not I, and thus the burden of proof rests with you. In our conversation, I have not once said, “There is definitely no God.” In fact, I have gone to some lengths to make it clear that my stance is provisional. I can only assume you are arguing against a straw man.

You have chosen to believe that there is no God. Why?

For the same reasons you do not believe in Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just believe in one less god than you do.

As I said above, toss out Christianity. Just look at all of the scientific evidence with an honest open mind. You asked me a question before regarding what would it take for me to believe there was no God. What would it take for you to believe that there could be or is a God?

As I said in a previous exchange, I have considered this question deeply. In fact I published the answer long ago in my essay Ten Christian Lunacies (pay particular attention to point 9, but please read the entire essay.)

I’d like to point out that I have asked you the complementary question first, and you have said you have considered the answer, but you have not so far provided it for my consideration. So I’m asking again: please let me know how weak the evidence has to be before you will consider becoming a provisional non-believer? If no amount of weakening of the evidence would convince you to shift your stance, then I submit to you that it is because of your religious faith— a faith that I do not have. My stance shifts based on the evidence: I was once a Christian, and in my essay I outline how I could become one again. How could you ever become a non-believer? Thanks to your faith, you can’t.

Utilize your logic and reason. Science says that things progress forward.

Scientific knowledge progressively increases as scientists do their work, but science says nothing about the general “progress of all things.” History says certain things sometimes progress in certain dimensions under certain circumstances, but the history of the Earth also shows us mass extinctions that can hardly be thought of as “progress forward.” The idea that “things progress forward” is an ideology, not science.

We as human beings are the most advanced form of life that we know of.

Again, you are engaged in oversimplified thinking. Humans are not as strong as elephants, nor as fast as cheetahs, nor as good at climbing as monkeys. Those species are all much farther “advanced” than we are along those dimensions. We are (in general) smarter: that is our survival advantage.

Based on the scientific theories of evolution this means from chaos can order. From the simplest life came the most advanced. This sounds good but the scientific evidence indicates that the universe and nature are slowly decaying and slipping into chaos not order. And the billions of years response is very weak and shows a lack of any substantial factual evidence.

I’m not sure what you mean by the “billions of years response.” In an earlier exchange you indicated you accept evolution but are you arguing for a young universe?

I understand the long-term implications of the thermodynamics of the universe. I also understand how complexity can increase in a non-closed system such as the Earth, which gets energy from the sun— until it burns out. So what? Why does this have implications for your faith? It has none for mine.

What about the speed of light? There is new evidence that is indicating that the speed of light is slowing down. If this is true then a great deal of our theories will need to be re-thought.

I’d like to see some mainstream scientific references showing the evidence for this. But again, whether this is true or not, I see no advantage to apologists for any god or faith. If the universe were clearly in a “steady state” and not winding down in various ways, apologists would attempt to use that fact to their advantage as well.

What about the geological record? We have assumed for years that the fossilization process takes millions of years yet we have witnessed that process in a cataclysmic event speeded up to just taking decades.

Again, you neglect to state the implications. So what if this is true? Are you arguing for a young earth?

How about the very foundation of science. A chemically based universe. Some scientists are thinking that might be wrong and we are actually an electrically based universe.

Please take what I am about to say in the spirit it is intended, because I do not intend to sound insulting: either you have no idea what you’re talking about, or you are not doing a very good job at expressing your knowledge. Basic atomic theory describes the structure of the atom and the differences between the atomic elements, and how they, singly and combined as molecules act and interact in what we call “chemical reactions,” and how various particles of atoms are charged, and how the flow of electrons from one place to another is what we call “electricity.” I have never heard talk of a “chemically-based universe.” This is just not a term that ever comes up in science. So please provide references for me to examine, or I am left clueless as to where you are getting your ideas.

In any case, I still fail to see your point. Do you want me to admit that science doesn’t know everything? Fine: science doesn’t know everything, and perhaps cannot know everything. Where does that get you? Perhaps we live in an ultimately unknowable universe. This does not diminish the value of what humanity has learned through science so far. If someone wants to have religious faith in knowledge that lies beyond the ken of science, they are welcome to do so. But Christianity, which is ultimately the point you’d like to get back to (isn’t it) makes particular metaphysical claims over my life and happiness for which I demand reasonable evidence. And so far you have provided nothing but ill-informed disparagements of science.

I am not a skilled apologist but I am trying. I just want to reiterate that my fork in the road came from concluding that the universe and everything in it requires God. The mathematical possibility for all of this just happening is so remote that it makes winning the lotto everyday for the rest of your life look like a sure thing.

Perhaps, but appealing to “God” gets you nowhere here too, because I can simply ask, Why does God exist? What are the odds of something like God existing over his not existing? And, if our physical universe requires a creator as you believe, why does that creator not require a creator himself? It is here that the principle of parsimony, also known as Occam’s Razor comes in handy. Unless there is compelling evidence to require a god over no god, then it is better to provisionally accept the idea of no god— for the exact same reason we live as though there are no fairies in the garden. And even if I granted the idea that there must be a god of some sort, unless there is compelling evidence that that god must have the traits ascribed to it by a particular religion, it is better to reserve judgement about which religion’s god (if any) it is. In any case, you have not shown why I should grant that there is any god, so it remains pointless to discuss which religion’s god prevails.

Comments? Send a tweet to @ironwolf or use the response form.
I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything!