Atheism of the gaps

I’ve realized that what religious people and faitheists have been doing to atheists lately is putting us on the defensive: insisting that we read this or that book; we answer this or that argument—and if we don’t, well, then they won’t pay us any attention. (As if they would anyway!) And I also realized that we can turn the tables on these people. After all, they’re the ones making unevidenced truth claims, not us.  So I propose two strategies for nonbelievers:

1. Make believers read about unbelief before you listen to them. This one I’ve suggested before. Tell believers that we won’t pay any attention to their superstitions, or their criticisms of atheists, until they’ve read The Very Best of Atheist Thought.These works must include the books of the Four Horsemen (one would think the faithful would already have read these, but their misunderstandings about The God Delusion lead me to believe otherwise), the complete works of Robert G. Ingersoll, selected readings from Mencken and Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens’s The Portable Atheist, selected writings of Hume, Walter Kaufmann’s The Faith of a Heretic and Critique of Religion and Philosophy, and Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science: A Critique of Religious Reason (I highly recommend the last book, which is fairly new). I’m sure readers can think of others.

If people can fault us for not reading Aquinas, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian and (ugh) Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart, well, then, we can do the same to them. If they haven’t read extensively in the honorable intellectual tradition of nonbelief, then they have no credibility as believers. Frankly, Salon should publish a piece that says this.

2. Make atheism-of -the-gaps arguments. Religionists often float God-of-the-gaps arguments, saying that God must lie in the interstices of our scientific understanding.  Well, we can play that game, too.  There are huge gaps in believers’ understanding of God, and in those lacunae, I claim, lies strong evidence for No God. Here are some of those religious gaps:

  • Why would the Abrahamic God, all-loving and all-powerful, allow natural evils to torment and kill people? Why can’t he keep kids from getting cancer? How did the Holocaust fit into God’s scheme?
  • Why, if God wants us to know and accept him so much, does he hide himself from humanity?
  • Why would an omnibenevolent God consign sinners to an eternity of horrible torment for crimes that don’t warrant that? (In fact, no crimes do!). The official Catholic doctrine, for instance, is that unconfessed homosexual acts doom you to an eternity of immolation in molten sulfur. And would the Christian God really let someone burn forever because they were Jews, or didn’t get baptized?
  • Why is God in the Old Testament such a jerk, toying with people for his amusement, ordering genocides in which women and children are killed en masse, and allowing she-bears to kill a pack of kids just for making fun of a prophet’s baldness? How does that comport with the God worshipped today?
  • Why didn’t Jesus return during his followers’ lifetime, as he promised?

(I’m sure that readers can add other gaps, including the dozens of inconsistencies in Scripture.)

Now it’s no use for believers to respond “God is mysterious. Perhaps some day we’ll know the answers.” For that is precisely the answer they won’t accept about scientific puzzles—like the oft-touted mystery of consciousness—that they adduce as evidence for God.  If we were to respond, “The brain works in mysterious ways,” or “Evolution works in mysterious ways,” theists like David Bentley Hart would just sneer and say that materialism could never provide answers.

Well, theism doesn’t even begin to provide credible answers to the goddy puzzles above, and, unlike science, has never made a bit of progress in attacking them. So, I claim, we can find good evidence for atheism in the gaps of religious understanding. And that tactic trumps religious God-of-the-gaps arguments, because the gaps in science grow smaller as we learn more (neuroscience is one example), while the gaps in theism are always the same size.

 

184 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

  2. gbjames
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I once had a rediscovered chum-from-high-school do his best to convert me using unbelievably naive creationist arguments. He clearly had no understanding of evolution at all and I accused him of lying for Jesus by claiming he understood something he had never read about. It pissed him off, of course. I challenged him to actually read a book about evolution and suggested WEIT. He actually bought the book and began (at least) reading it. I suspect, however, that he never went past the first chapter since he simply vanished from my Facebook world one day. Perhaps he was raptured up.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      “Perhaps he was raptured up.”

      Xtians always describe the rapture as leaving the rest of the world in chaos. Frankly, I always thought it would be a great way of getting rid of those fruitcakes.

      What a pleasant place this would be if they’d all just disappear. L

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        That would be a good book series and movie!

      • darrelle
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        Once upon a time, before my wife and I were married, I lived in an apartment with my future wife and her girlfriend. One weekend they decided they wanted to watch a certain kind of movie (ahem), so they went to the local blockbuster video store and and discriminately browsed through the appropriate section in which the covers have no pictures.

        They arrived back at the apartment with a certain anticipation. The title they had selected, apparently based solely on the title was, “Rapture.” Or perhaps it was, “The Rapture.” In any case, who needs to read a description with a title like that, from that video section? It was definitely looking to be an interesting evening. My own mental state, as I recall, was one of somewhat amazed befuddlement with a dash of fear.

        Alas, needless to say the movie did not live up to expectations. It turned out to be an absolutely dreadful religious movie, with a very low budget, about The Rapture. What a let down.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          After the rapture, all lonely housewives will ‘have no money’ to pay the hunky plumber…if you get my drift. Nudge, nudge, wink wink.

          • darrelle
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            Wait. Are we talking biblical rapture, or Blondie’s Rapture?

        • gbjames
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          No cries of “Oh, God!” ?

          • darrelle
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            I seem to remember a mother crying “Oh, God!” as, with people disappearing and Gabriel’s trumpet sounding, she murdered her own young daughter because she thought it would assure the daughter being raptured.

      • Darth Dog
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Maybe we could put all the Christians on the B Ark.

        • Graham
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          I think there might have been a C Ark for them?

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            Actually the Christians entered the D Ark ages ago and have yet to emerge. Indeed, they’re constantly trying to drag us back there with them….

            b&

            • Kevin
              Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              Christians live a double life today: members of the modern world with all its scientific advances and yet simultaneously living the metaphor portrayed in the Seventh Seal. They really are tied to a Medieval fantasy.

              • TnkAgn
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                They tend to make good engineers, but avoid the life sciences. I have always mused about the disconnect between a fine mind – and the monomania of religionists.

                As to the Seventh Seal, my parents sent me on a field trip with our Lutheran youth group to see that silliness. At 13, I have to say that the females in my group made it impossible to concentrate on the film. Nuff said.

          • jimroberts
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

            The purported plan (to escape the mutant space goat) involved loading the C ark with all the practical, useful people who get things done and keep society running – farmers, plumbers, mechanics etc. People who are primarily Christian would have to be on the B ark with the rest of the useless parasites.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

              As I recall the A and C arks never took off. The B ark was sent ahead first and they could never detect any ships following them. Funny that.

              Sadly, according to the sacred texts, humanity is descended from the clutter of hairdressers, telephone sanitisers, security guards and management consultants. Looking around me at work, this seems only too credible… :(

      • Kevin
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        It would be nice to get a vacation from them:

        http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/2506/

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        What a pleasant place this would be if they’d all just disappear.
        Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where the global (or at least Springfield-wide) disaster simply went away after all the angry weird people (preppers) bugged out.

  3. Mattapult
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Here’s a gap I’ve recently noticed: Why did God/Jesus give the deciples the gift of Speaking In Tonges to spread the word to foreigners, but did not give the deciples the gift of Writing to spread the word to future generations with accuracy and clarity?

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      While still on the case of Jesus H Christ; why after his resurrection didn’t he consider it worthwhile to go have a word with Pilate. This way some non believer would have recorded this great event of a Zombie walking the streets of Jerusalem

      • Scote
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        Or for that matter, why didn’t Jesus Himself write down a single word on His own for the bible? (Well, and when, exactly, did Jesus approve of the Cannon of the New Testament…)

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          Well we got questions. A major one being if we are to accept Jesus died for us, it was important we be consulted, maybe some of us could have rejected the idea of scapegoating.

        • John Harshman
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

          Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition?

      • Jim Jones
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        > … why after his resurrection didn’t he consider it worthwhile to go have a word with Pilate.

        Or at least Philo.

        • Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          Or better still Josephus. The forgers wouldn’t have had to include the interpolation

          • Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            No, in this case, Philo would have been the better choice.

            Josephus wasn’t even born until years after the latest possible date for all of this to have gone down.

            Philo would have been Joseph’s age. Not only was he there at the time, he was the one who incorporated the pagan Logos into Judaism and thereby, essentially, invented Christian philosophy and, arguably, Jesus himself (though certainly not by name). For the Logos to take human form and not introduce himself to the first person to actually “get it” is bizarre and supremely insulting all at the same time.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

              Thanks Ben for the information. In this case, Philo would have been the right person to visit for a cold one, I guess he could still make them

  4. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Why did god invent the devil? L

    • darrelle
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Apparently, that’s just how he rolls. And that’s cool cause he’s, you know, GOD.

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        How utterly mysterious.

  5. John Hamill
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    As a former Catholic surrounded by devout Catholics here in Ireland, I hear the “God is Mysterious” line a lot. It baffles me.

    One woman can avoid pregnancy by managing her love life with respect to her cycle and another can manage her cycle with a pill. Maybe not exactly the same but not that far apart. Catholics have such a finely calibrated understanding of God’s mind that they know God considers one to be fine and the other to be a mortal sin.

    How can you be so sure of God’s mind that you’ll run around AIDS-riven Africa campaigning against condom use, while at the same time telling people that “God is Mysterious”?

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      I’ve seen this time and time again, the very same people who tell you that “God is Mysterious” when you ask them a perfectly reasonable questions about the massive inconsistencies in their invisible friends attributes somehow are able to discern with complete accuracy their gods position on abortion, equal treatment under the law for women and homosexuals, birth control, religious intrusions into the education of children, privileged treatment for their religious institutions and so on.

      If I didn’t know any better I’d say they were making it all up.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        This probably bugs me more than anything else about these believer types. Though, to bend over backwards being fair, at least some of the mysterious god people do tend to refrain from trying to impose their moral beliefs on others.

        But somehow I never see them drawing the conclusion from their mysterious god premise to the conclusion that this deity can’t tell them what to do either.

      • Larry Cook
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        This is the best answer I’ve ever seen to the annoying ‘mysterious ways’ comment. Thank you.

    • Sheila B and Zin
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      “One woman can avoid pregnancy by managing her love life with respect to her cycle and another can manage her cycle with a pill. Maybe not exactly the same but not that far apart.”

      I agree. Not having sex is as much a contraceptive as taking the pill. Even the rhythm method, while not very reliable, still demonstrates the intent to have sex without producing offspring. Shouldn’t the sin lie with the intent rather than the means? I conclude that the “sin” is actually having enjoyable, repurcussions-free sex!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        “the rhythm method, while not very reliable”.

        OT & old joke:

        – What do you call a girl on the rhythm method?
        – ???
        – “Mother”!

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        H. L. Mencken long ago summed up the ridiculous situation to which you refer: “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.”

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        Precisely.

        Sex is only for procreation. What makes circumventing god’s intention with the rhythm method ok?

    • John K.
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Yeah, all manner of medical procedures and equipment to extend and improve the life of the aged pope, no problem. Women managing their reproduction with pills or condoms, EEK UNNATURAL!

      No hypocrisy or sexism there, no siree.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Just saw an unexpectedly good movie this weekend…Philomena. If anyone can like the Catholic Church after watching it, then their faculties of cognition and empathy are not functioning properly.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          Strangely (to me at least) the real-world Philomena remains a devout Catholic. (Based on an interview I recently heard on PBS.)

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      My parents were volunteer teachers in the in the Couple to Couple League, a church approved group which teaches Natural Family Planning. Used effectively (this isn’t the rhythm method), a high degree of control can be gained in both avoiding and obtaining pregnancy. Of course, it relies on applying the method correctly, including daily temperature readings, cervical mucous levels, and more that I don’t remember of the top of my head.

      Effectiveness aside, this organization only became prominent in the 1970s, with the use of modern science. So for nearly two millennia, couples had to have as many children as “God blessed then with” but then suddenly mysterious God has a new, approved method and the Church leaders can ascertain the Divine desire to use thermometers and charts in lieu of pills and rubber to prevent pregnancy. Why didn’t Jesus just relay this method while he was here? And introduce a few sanitary practices and vaccines while he was at it to reduce the amount of children/women necessary to avoid human extinction?

  6. Pliny the in Between
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    One question I’d love the sophisticated theologians to answer: If god is a ground state, why do they attend the church of a specific denomination or practice one set of beliefs? (I’m sure some of them are new agey enough to dance around that, but not all.)

    • darrelle
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Now, that is just rude. And strident. Unsophisticated too.

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        rude. And strident. Unsophisticated

        Thanks darrelle!
        Now I can apply for my GNU card.

        • darrelle
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          My pleasure. That’ll be $25.00, or two christian babies (slow roasted preferred).

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

            With a honey, JD baste

            My diaphonous christian friend says it’s all Jebus, with cultural twists

            Universal wisdom, or sommat

            • Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              Except that’s not a useful answer – if anything it makes it worse. If they are all almost the same (shades of Reverend Lovejoy) then how does one decide?

  7. Shaun Hervey
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I’m new to this site. Can someone explain to me this “mystery of consciousness” thing that’s supposed to be evidence of God? It seems obvious that consciousness is a function of the brain and that the brain evolved and has a material basis. Where does God fit in?

    • gbjames
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      You’re at the wrong site if you expect any of us to be able to explain where gods fit in. We’re as mystified as you are.

      But you can search the site for discussions on the subject. Here’s a recent one.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Welcome, Shaun.

      I suspect that most of us think that god is a useless add-on word that does nothing to explain consciousness. Xians seen to think, though, that consciousness can only be explained by reference to a being they can’t explain or demonstrate. Their position is a loser.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Welcome to the site. We don’t even have a working definition for god from the other side. How could it have explanatory power?

    • Sastra
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      It seems obvious that consciousness is a function of the brain and that the brain evolved and has a material basis.

      You’re wrong. That doesn’t really seem ‘obvious’ at all unless you grow up in a modern culture which takes it for granted. That the mind is what the brain does was a hard won scientific theory and it’s not intuitive.

      To most prescientific and unscientific thinkers, it seems obvious that the Mind dwells in a realm beyond the physical one, a mysterious spiritual dimension ‘outside of space and time.’ We discovered that this was wrong. Neurology undercuts a natural propensity towards dualism.

      It’s now the last major intellectual battlefield.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        I recall a short passage in The God Delusion where Dawkins mentions how startling it must have been for early humans to hear their own voice in their head, talking to them. I thought that was an excellent point. Of course they would have assumed it was some sort of spirit, or other ‘agent’. They could have hardly considered it to be anything else, given their knowledge and experience at the time.

        • irritable
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          Ha! Shades of that awesomely dippy 70s book by Julian Jaymes “The Breakdown of Consciousness in the Bicameral Brain”.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        How life began is the last major intellectual scientifically investigable battlefield.

        For me consciousness, like evolution, is a done deal.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Vitalism and Mind/body Dualism are closely connected. They both involve an irreducible mentality, a divine spark which can’t possibly be just matter in motion. And both ideas are a huge battlefield for science and spirituality because they involve pretty much every religion, not just creationist fundies.

          • Kevin
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

            That is true, but if someone is convinced that science will never provide sufficient evidence that the mind is reducibly physical, then that is the end of rational discussion. Those types of dogmatic claims are not capable of being battled. They assert their self-priviledged faith onto reality and concede no faults.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

              Yes and no; it’s not necessarily the end of rational discussion because it’s usually case that the same people who insist that no evidence would ever change their mind also think that it’s a sad thing when no evidence will ever change someone’s mind. It’s sad in other circumstances, when other people do it. And yes, they try not to do it themselves. But… but …but.

              Cognitive dissonance. I’ve seen some atheists define it as doublethink, compartmentalization, or any attempt to dismiss conflict or rationalize it away, but cognitive dissonance is supposed to describe the internal discomfort people feel when they realize they “hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time.” It’s stressful. That means they are not happy, beneath the smugness.

              That’s something that can be worked with — sometimes. Help them argue themselves out of it.

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Yes! This exactly Bea’s error in her comments in a couple of other posts. Although she claims to be a monist, she still seems to be adding something to the material to create the mental — but cannot say what.

            /@

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      In addition, the brain is a radio that receives the mind’s wavelength from the realm of deities, presumably

      Take a spike through the brain and your divine reception is scrambled

      • irritable
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

        …and like Phineas Gage, you start getting involved in bar fights.

  8. Peter Gruett
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I’ve often thought that people who tar Dawkins as “strident” and “anti-christian” should be forced to read Mark Twain’s “Thoughts of God” or really, almost anything he wrote on religion. The man did not pull punches but, of course, it’s the four horsemen who invented being a big meany (speaking directly) to the faithful.

  9. Alex
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I sense anger, I like it!

  10. Diogo
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I think there is a mistake on the post. The book Atheist Primer is not authored by Christopher Hitchens. I have not read that book, but the author seems to be Michael Palmer.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Indeed, I meant “The Portable Atheist,” and have fixed the reference. Thanks!

  11. Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    The atheism of the gaps arguments are aimed at the non-sophisticated theologians. One could add arguments aimed at the sophisticated theologians who declare God is a Ground of Being, and so on.

  12. Maria
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Christians: What happened to all the “souls” who lived and died before Jesus was even a thought? Hell must be really crowded.

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      My memory of this is at least 10 years old, but I recall hearing a debate between an atheist and fundamentalist xtian where this very question was brought up.

      I swear I am not making this up, the xtian claimed that god arranged things so that only people who deserved to go to hell were born before the coming of Jesus. This is pretty much the only part of the debate I remember now for the very reason that this argument was so completely depraved.

      Sorry I can’t recall any other details of this, I’ll dig through the archives and try to find a reference to for it.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Other denominations teach that in one lived in union with Christ, or some wording like that, they are not responsible for their lack of knowledge and can be saved. This applies to people before and after Christ, e.g., Native Americans.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 5:34 am | Permalink

        C.f. Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ Canto 4. There, in the first circle of hell, wilt thou meet a gentleman named Aristotle, ‘The Master of those who know.’ Even that greatest of Church Doctors, Aquinas, could not get Aristotle out of hell, since ‘he had not baptism’ because he had been born centuries before the Big Show.

      • Maria
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        Well, I knew they would have some explanation!

  13. Sheila B and Zin
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Why is something a sin when I do it, but not when God does it? E.g. I commit a sin if I kill someone, but God can kill everyone in the world apart from one family and that’s just fine and dandy.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Cause might makes right. And god is most awesome, and you are not. Except it made all of this just for you to play with. Shit. Now I am confused.

      • jimroberts
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        And if you don’t think that’s what the Bible teaches, just read Job.

    • Joe L
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Because God claims ownership of everything. However, Darwin performed a title search, and found some discrepancies.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        I like that.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of that old Cosby riff where he talks about his angry father claiming that I brought you into this world and I can take you out and make another one just like you…

  14. Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    “Make believers read about unbelief before you listen to them.”

    My usual tactic up to now has been something along the lines of “The amount of Christian thought that I have to deal with before rejecting your religion cannot exceed the amount of Muslim thought you have to deal with before rejecting Islam.”

  15. Scientifik
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Why do Christians call themselves children of God if Jesus was his only son?

  16. Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    “allowing she-bears to kill a pack of kids just for making fun of a prophet’s baldness”

    Much as I agree with the conclusion, this is a bad argument that we need to stop using as it actually does reflect a misunderstanding of the relevant scripture. The term “youth” varies from culture to culture–in America, it means “under 18″, mostly, but in other societies, like where I grew up, it’s more like “16 to 30+”. Furthermore, the phrase they were using, “Go on up, baldie!” is a reference to Elijah’s ascension into heaven, ie, death. So while on first glance it really does look like God killed a bunch of kids for teasing the prophet, the real meaning of the text is that a largish gang of hoodlums was making a threat on his life.

    Which still probably doesn’t justify the mass-murder, but “killed gang members making plausible death threats” isn’t the same as “killed children for bald jokes.”

    • Stephen P
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I’ve checked the New International Version, Revised Standard Version and the King James Authorised Version, and none of their translations matches your interpretation. (For example the phrase “small boys” could hardly mean 16 to 30+)

      Can you provide evidence that your understanding of the text is more accurate that that of the translators of those versions?

      • darrelle
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        That would be interesting if Andrew could support that interpretation, but it still would not invalidate the OP’s interpretation. It is obvious from the translations you reference that believers interpret it that way, and what they believe is what is relevant.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        I was remembering the KJV, which says “youths”. Without checking the original language, I couldn’t say.

  17. JimV
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    If reason and logic were divine, magical abilities given to us by a perfect being who created the whole universe just for us, your approach would work. However, since we are imperfect creatures of varying abilities which were created by evolution, it will only work on some of us, and most of those have already noticed those flaws for ourselves. (I haven’t read any of those books because I doubt I would learn much that surprised me from them – although I am sure the points would be stated more eloquently than I could state them.)

    My personal favorite is the whole story of Moses. It is a very-badly plotted story that can be made fun of from start to finish. (Mark Twain would have a field day.) My favorite part is that at the end, after seeing the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, 30-40% of the Hebrews decide they can make a better god themselves by melting some trinkets into the shape of a calf. (And then just after receiving the commandment “thou shalt not kill” from God, Moses has them all murdered.)

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I seem to recall that this is supposedly something lost in translation, and the commandment “really” means “wantonly kill fellow Jews”.

      /@

      • JimV
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that exactly what Moses and Aaron’s followers did?

        • Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:42 am | Permalink

          Arguably, the folks they killed were no longer *fellow* Jews.

          /@

          • JimV
            Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

            That seems to be a lot of extra qualifiers to have been lost in the translation, e.g., the distinction between jews and fellow jews. Must have been the one of the worst translating jobs ever, to simplify down to “thou shalt not kill” what must have been page after page of stone tablets.

            (I myself have only heard that “kill” should have been “murder”, which however I think describes what was done to the calf-makers.)

  18. 103879u
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    There is a huge double standard here. On one hand they ask us to read their Sophisticated Theology but they never ask of the same of believers. If Sophisticated Theology is really the answer then the focus shouldn’t be on us but all the religious laymen who don’t know about it since they are vastly greater in number.

    • Steve Bowen
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      They don’t want naive believers reading theology. They might start realising what a crock it all is.

  19. Dave
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    If the Abrahamic god is the one, true, universal deity for all mankind, then why has he only ever concerned himself with the affairs of a bunch of Middle Eastern tribes living within a few hundred km radius of Jerusalem? Why did he totally ignore the rest of his supposed creation? Why no “prophets” for the Native Americans, Chinese, Australian Aborigines, Polynesians and many, many others? On that basis, even Mormonism is more credible than mainstream Christianity, in that it does at least try to bring another large chunk of humanity into its origin story.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      The more chunks they claim, the more places their theory is falsified by actual data (archaeology, linguistics, population genetics). Hence, only very localized made-up deity traditions can persist.

  20. cooeerup
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I like to remind them some of Jesus’ deciples doubted they had seen him after the ressurection
    Matthew 28:16-17
    16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
    17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

    And when they get a little testy I like to remind them of 1Peter 3:15
    15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

  21. cfunr
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Why didn’t God make men more like women? Then the world would’ve be much more peaceful.

    Actually, why did God make our psychological makeup the way it is?

    Free will might possibly give us the power to make different choices, but it does not give us the power over which choices we desire to make.

    • Scote
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Or *less* like women. Evolution explains why men have nipples. Creation, where “woman” was created from a man, er, not so much.

      Not really a “sophisticated” observation on my part, but it is still one that theists don’t have a decent answer for.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        I agree but, and this illustrates an underlying problem, they think their answers to such questions are very good indeed. When you are comitted to ignoring rationality and evidence in support of your beliefs it is very easy to come up with good answers for anything.

      • jimroberts
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Woman was created from man in the second Genesis creation account, in which JHVH is depicted as a bumbling idiot. We may therefore suppose that Adam’s nipples were just a mistake. Later, JHVH decided that Adam would be happier with “a help meet for him”, i.e. a compatible sexual partner. So he created sheep, pigs, etc. and presented them to Adam as candidates, and gave them nipples as well, but he made them male and female and then realised that breasts on the females would be useful for feeding their young. Eventually of course, after Adam had declared that he wasn’t much attracted to sheep or pigs, JHVH though of making a woman. (This is all true – read the Bible.)
        Still a bit slow on the uptake, it took JHVH a few thousand years before he thought, “That woman I made for Adam seems to have been a great idea, why don’t I try one myself?”
        And Christianity started.

  22. Sastra
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    1. Make believers read about unbelief before you listen to them.

    I’m sympathetic to this approach, but I think that as a general rule it’s a mistake. The Courtier’s Reply is a tactic used when arguments are fundamentally bad. It’s also used by the majority to shut up the minority. Since we are the minority here, shutting down the other side isn’t going to move us anywhere. They’re still in power.

    2. Make atheism-of -the-gaps arguments.

    Excellent idea. Antony Flew wrote a book on this: The Presumption of Atheism.

    Your questions are good but they’re pretty Christian-centric. I’d add in these:

    1.) If an explicit recognition of our god-nature is the step which inspires and promotes true happiness and love, then how can it be possible for those who don’t believe in God to live full, satisfying lives filled with love and happiness?

    2.) If Love is the spiritual solution to all the problems of the world, then why did human rights, science, well-being, and tolerance begin or drastically increase in the ‘Age of Reason?’

    3.) If God is the necessary Ground of Being, then why isn’t its existence obvious? Wouldn’t such a basic truth be conceptually inescapable?

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      “If God is the necessary Ground of Being, then why isn’t its existence obvious? Wouldn’t such a basic truth be conceptually inescapable?”

      Wouldn’t such a basic truth be conceptually inescapable. Exactly. That has been my unformed thought every time Dr. Coyne comments on the topic from the high level thinkers of the righteous. For true high level thinkers it’s hard to beat The Commenteers of Why Evolution Is True Dot Com.

  23. John
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I have my doubts that either strategy will work, unfortunately, because they both turn on a particular point of logic.

    With strategy 1, the idea is: “You’re making it a requirement of my being able to comment legitimately on religion that I first read the following works of sophisticated theology…. Very well, by the same token, I’m making it a requirement of your being able to comment legitimately on atheism that you first read the following works…” It’s a “What’s sauce for the goose” argument.

    With strategy 2, the idea is: Some of your arguments for God are based on (what you take to be) gaps in scientific knowledge. Correspondingly, some of my arguments against God are based on (what appear to be) gaps in your knowledge of your deity. You cannot respond that God is mysterious and we may come to understand some day, because the equivalent argument is one which you will not permit me to make (for example, that science will one day understand consciousness).

    Both strategies make an issue of the double standards that Christians and other religionists habitually adopt: “I am making X a requirement for you, but I am not bound by the same (or an equivalent) requirement myself. I’m allowed to insist that you do some reading, but you’re not allowed to insist that I do some. I’m allowed to talk about understanding one day, but you’re not.”

    Both of Jerry’s strategies call attention to this double standard. They are both variants of “We can play the same game.”

    The reason why I suspect neither strategy will work is that, in my experience, the religious simply do not get this “double standards” argument. For the last five years, I have been trying a version of Christopher Hitchens’ argument: What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. This is another refusal to play the double standards game. If you can make evidence-free statements, then so can I. However, not one of the religious people I’ve tried this argument on understands it. Literally, and without exaggeration. The idea that they are claiming rights (of argument) for themselves that they simultaneously deny others simply doesn’t compute. They just don’t understand the logic of the “No double standards” move.

    I admit that I don’t have anything better to offer. The problem is that we are not dealing with open, logical minds. They have a premise which nothing can be allowed to challenge… and that’s not something readily amenable to logic.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      They aren’t “asserting without evidence.” They’re drawing conclusions from BAD evidence. No wonder they can’t understand that the argument applies to them. It usually doesn’t.

      Hitchens’ statement is a fine response to what’s called ‘witnessing’ — someone reciting by rote what they believe, as if mere repetition will either cause the Light to break in or God gives them brownie points every time they show off. It’s also a fair response to a flat out appeal to Faith. But even a really dumb apologetic is an attempt to persuade through reason. That’s the same standard we’re using.

      I do see a tu quoque in Jerry’s strategies, though.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

        I agree to a point.

        It’s not unlike what I wrote in yesterday’s “tips for atheists” thread: it’s a strawman to accuse Dawkins etc of defining “faith” as believing in things for no reason. Sure we acknowledge theists have reasons, they are just bad reasons.

        But with evidence, I’d say there’s a point at which you have to stop calling it “bad evidence” and admit that whatever it is the theist is pointing to can’t properly be called evidence at all. Things like having an emotional reaction to witnessing a good deed. This already has a natural explanation. Yet theists still invoke it. They may think it constitutes evidence, but it doesn’t, and I’m not sure we should grant it even the legitimacy of calling it “bad evidence”.

  24. Jolo
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I just finished, ten minutes ago, Darwin’s Black Box, and this seems as good a place to put a comment on it as anywhere, mainly because I read it because it is an ID book, and I thought I should read some of them,

    What I noticed was that Behe states there is no evidence for the evolution of the blood clotting system, and as a matter of fact, he could not find any research for it, therefore, it must have been designed. He also conceded that there is no current research for ID, but it is coming. It seemed to me that he wants to have it both ways, deny the evolution of blood clotting because no one has researched it, yet also argue that ID is correct even though there is no research.

    I also felt he found design because he wants to find design, not whether it exists or not.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      He was, of course, mistaken about there being no evidence for the evolution of blood clotting. There may not yet have been any direct evidence because it had not been attempted yet, or because it was difficult enough that no attempts had made progress yet.

      But, TOE, which predicts that blood clotting evolved like all other biological systems, had nearly 150 years of testing to support it by that point. Including lots of solid evidence demonstrating the evolutionary history of many other biological systems.

      At the time Behe wrote his book, already there was no valid reason to suspect that blood clotting was not a result of biological evolution as described by TOE. The only issue left was figuring out the details.

    • Harbo
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      One of the things that makes blood clotting seem evolved, is the fact that it is “imperfect”.
      In fact it is very messy, mixed in with the cascades of thrombolysis and sepsis, it is the cause of much human (and animal)disease.
      If I were an omnipotent and omniscient creature (a position I am still working on)(fear me, you scum) I would have made it better.

  25. John K.
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    People can always be denialists. They can choose grand conspiracies, solipsism, arguments from ignorance, or the wordplay of “Sophisticated Theologians”.

    I’ll just stick to there is no evidence, and I have yet to be presented with a coherent description of a god that could even be subject to evidence. We don’t have to be evasive or appeal to the unknown, the straightforward logic is on our side. That one reason why younger generations are coming around so much. Without the baggage of indoctrination, the whole thing collapses with even the slightest honest reflection at all.

    If someone wants to hold out that there is a solid argument for the existence of god somewhere somehow, so be it. Until they can actually understand and present it in at least some rudimentary fashion, I am not going to waste my time consuming an entire library to do the work for them. Such people have already abandoned rational inquiry on the question, and I don’t feel obligated to attempt to force rationality on them.

  26. Kevin
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The five questions in (2) are simply brilliant to remind any religious person.

    (1) is simply a logical part of discussion, regardless of the topic. Consider talking about a grand unified theory with having no background in physics. Or talking about Wagner’s music in relation to modern day movie sound tracks. You have to know a certain amount before there can be a meaningful discussion, otherwise it is a waste a of time. And religious people are wasting an awful lot of time.

  27. Bob J.
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    add Victor Stenger to list of authors.

  28. Posted April 21, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I think that any Christian who truly wishes to be taken seriously must first demonstrate proper bona fides. And, luckily for us, in Mark 16, Jesus himself tells us exactly how true believers are to identify themselves to non-believers.

    To the best of my knowledge, not a single so-called Christian in the entire history of the religion has successfully demonstrated true faith, as defined in that most explicit passage.

    Note: that passage is also the one in which Jesus commands his followers to “preach the gospel to every creature.” Reject the passage, and they have no business bothering the rest of us.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I’m not a believer, but I have done done all the things to be used as signs except, to my knowledge, I have never driven out a demon.

      I have picked up snakes, and I have drunk deadly poison (alcohol will kill you dead if you drink enough of it); I spoke in new tongues in French 101 (and at certain times during many a poison drinking session); I have placed my hands on sick people and they have become well.

      I’m working on that demon thing, tho:

      http://gomotors.net/Plymouth/Plymouth-Demon/photos.html

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Now that’s a Demon I could drive out!

        b&

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        I had a Plymouth Demon decal on my bicycle waaaay way back

  29. Johnxyz
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Perhaps we should start a list of questions we’d like to ask christians.
    “When will Kentucky be passing a law requiring the stoning of adulterers?”

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Or those who work on the Sabbath

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        …and which day is the Sabbath? The Jewish Friday sundown through Saturday sundown? The Christian Sunday sunup to Sunday sundown? The Muslim Friday something-or-other?

        You’d think something as simple and fundamental as a calendar would be the sort of thing an all-knowing all-powerful spook wouldn’t fuck up, especially considering how important the gods seem to think the calendar is supposed to be.

        b&

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          Don’t forget Seventh-Day Adventists!

          /@

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            Why not? I like forgetting…who are we discussing, again?

            b&

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        How about those who cook and eat a bacon cheeseburger on the Sabbath, while wearing a cotton/polyester blend apron?

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Even better: Prawn nod bacon skewers with cheese! Cracking.

          /@

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

            Better better: do so this Saturday, and be sure to add some leavened bread to the mix. You could do so by, for example, dipping the prawns in bread crumbs (and some sort of batter, of course) and then deep frying them — presumably, in lard.

            Hmmm…breadcrumbed beer-battered battered shrimp (I’m not much of a prawn guy) wrapped in bacon, deep fried, served with a cheese dipping sauce, on a Saturday in the middle of Pesach…that should just about do it, I think.

            b&

        • Chris
          Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink

          Yep, it’s quite amusing that large chunks of the Bible Belt are known for either seafood or barbecue!

  30. moarscienceplz
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “These works must include the books of the Four Horsemen (one would think the faithful would already have read these, but their misunderstandings about The God Delusion lead me to believe otherwise)”

    It’s really no surprise believers have failed the read The God Delusion. Christians insist there is only one book they need to read, and yet very few have done even that much work.

  31. Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    We already do make atheism of the gaps arguments. All the time.

    Whenever we ask “where’s your evidence got that claim, that’s what we’re doing.

    It’s already a fundamental argument for us. In the absence of evidence, atheism should be the default. Atheism is not a positive claim.

  32. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    1. Make believers read about unbelief before you listen to them.

    Good grief – what a reading list! I’m not going to spend time reading even a half of that. Religion isn’t important enough to occupy that much of my time learning how to waste even more time debunking it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      Yes, that list looks more like a rhetorical argument than a practical suggestion. I would say that any believer who read that lot – and comprehended it (and still believed) would be equipped to out-argue me (or most others on this site). But that would be irrelevant – really, I can’t be bothered with Sophisticated Atheism (TM) any more than I could with Sophisticated Theology. And I have a horrible feeling that the likes of Alain de Boton might creep into the picture.

      I just don’t buy the arguments for G*d, or chemtrails, or alien abductions, or homeopathy, and I don’t have the time or the inclination to read in depth on all those subjects either pro or con before I dismiss them. In my view, the Bible is more than enough evidence to dismiss the Christian God utterly. The philosophical/theosophical arguments are just dancing around the subject. IMNSHO.

      I guess the list is a good pretext to give god-botherers the brush-off though. If I used it it would be slightly intellectually dishonest in that I’ve never read [most of them] and if the god-botherer did read it all, I wouldn’t be able to answer them credibly, so it would be a bluff.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        The philosophical/ theosophical arguments are just dancing around the subject. IMNSHO.

        See my comment a few days about about the philosophical “meaning” of a rock. It involved a sock (or the rock) and an aiming point just behind the questioner’s eyes.
        Subtlety never was my strong point.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

          Just as a matter of idle curiosity, what type of rock would this be? Personally, I’d favour marble, or maybe a nice chunk of granite. Something suitably dense and hard, anyway.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

            If you want dense and hard, then a nice fresh lump of dunite or lherzolite is hard to beat, for a rock. If you’re willing to accept a mineral, then a sock full of barytes would have a “stunning” impact.
            but I do still like my “Day in the Death of a Worm” specimen, even if it is “soft rock”

            • Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

              Not to go wildly off-topic…but barium sulfate is one of the whitest substances there is. The best semigloss photographic and inkjet papers have a coating of barium sulfate and are known as “baryta” papers. It’s also a very common coating in laboratory optical equipment, especially integrating spheres.

              One project that’s moved rather farther down the priority list is to make a monochromatic light source that projects into an integrating sphere. That might sound high-tech, but the monochromatic light source is just a bright light, a couple narrow slits, and a couple prisms, all arranged just so. The integrating sphere will be an off-the-shelf hollow styrofoam sphere with a couple holes strategically cut into it. And the inside of the sphere will first get painted with an high-quality white paint and then, while the paint is still wet, dusted with barium sulfate powder.

              So…I gotta ask: what is it about barium sulfate in its native mineral form that makes it useful for this entirely different purpose?

              b&

  33. Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    You’re using the Holocaust as a point of “evidence gap” for why God does or doesn’t exist?

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Iirc, the OT spends a lot of time telling his favourite tribe He will favour them eternally if they do His bidding – ask any Amakelite, Midianite, etc.

      Yet, all the various indignities and pogroms over the centuries culminating in The Vile Solution.

      This Yaweh is something of a prick and not to be trusted.

      Unless of course one of tne tribe ate pork, then it all makes perfect sense.

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        When it comes to matters this serious, I cannot jump to the whim of my own emotions, as you seem to be doing. But I can look to those who survived those horrible years. Consider Elie Wiesel, who survived the worst conditions, questioned God’s abandonment of His people, but yet came to understand that God was with him.

        Also, just curious. If God intervened when bad people did horrible things, would we still have free will? I do not think God wants us to do these horrible things, but He doesn’t stop us either. He guides us to do better, and at the worst times, survive.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          Yet some believers think Him happy to visit earthquakes and tsunamis on good people who do icky things …

          /@

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

            I know; people got some crazy ideas about what God wants and does.

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

              And who is to say who is right and who is wrong? Not you, surely?

              /@

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Nope, not at all. Which is why I quoted Elie Wiesel to begin with. Wiesel, who suffered horribly, still refers to God positively. Personally, I do not think God sends tornados or hurricanes to hurt sinners, as we are all sinners. While tragedies, these are natural things that happen in our world. Nationally speaking.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                “Nationally speaking.”

                What does that mean?

        • gbjames
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          “He guides us to do better, and at the worst times, survive.”

          How do you know that?

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            Personal observation from studying history

            • gbjames
              Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

              I think you are confusing history with personal assertion. Given the absence of any real evidence for deities of any sort, claiming guidance from them doesn’t represent a convincing case.

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                History is evidence; deities are of course personal observations for how people are.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink

                @Thomas Flowers

                “History is evidence; deities are of course personal observations for how people are.”

                That makes no kind of sense at all.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          The problem with apologies such as this one is that it would take so little effort and imagination to avoid or ameliorate these types of situations.

          Imagine if Jesus had no more power than a lowly Greek Muse. He could have given Hitler the inspiration necessary to fulfill his vision as a painter. As such, Hitler presumably would have succeeded at his art and never desired to enter into politics. The world would have been spared the Holocaust; we would have had a significant body of literally divinely inspired expressionist paintings; and Hitler’s freedom of choice would have been expanded in the process.

          If even I can think of a solution such as that, of what excuse could any god have for not implementing something at least as satisfactory?

          This is the true nature of Epicurus’s Riddle. “Free will” as an attempt at an answer gets you nowhere; all you do is name the particular form of the malevolence and / or incompetence of the gods. Similarly: is there free will in Heaven? Is there evil in Heaven? No answers to those two questions can be compatible with a benevolent Abrahamic deity whose sphere of influence incorporates humanity.

          Or, even more fundamentally: why does Jesus never call 9-1-1? Answer that in a way that preserves Jesus’s moral righteousness and power to act, and I just might consider converting.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            By expanded or mean altered, therefore no longer free will.

            Cheers ;)

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

              Therefore, your gods are utterly impotent; by expanding or altering anything, they therefore remove free will. Jesus’s (imagined) personal appearance a couple millennia ago was the ultimate exercise in expanding options, and therefore, by your argument, removing free will.

              …and you still didn’t address the question about free will and evil in Heaven….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                You’ll have to explain that one. How exactly does a carpenter remove free will? He was a teacher, correct, or is consider one by those who call him such. He didn’t force anything, he was a voice calling from the wilderness. Some followed, some didn’t. Free will remains.

                Back to the subject at hand. The Holocaust is too precarious to boil down to one man. Who is to say, history may have forgotten the voices that said no to extermination and were silenced. It is my experience that God does not force anything on anyone, a choice is given. Some listen, some don’t.

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                Are you claiming Jesus never performed any miracles in an attempt to convince people of his true nature? And if you’ve been convinced that the creative force that Spoke the Universe into existence wants something of you, how can that be less of a constraint than giving somebody some inspiration on how to paint?

                Besides, who are you to declare Jesus incapable of inspiring Hitler to paint in a way that didn’t remove his free will?

                And you’re still avoiding the question of whether there is free will and / or evil in Heaven — as well as why Jesus never calls 9-1-1. Are you serious about preaching the gospel or not? Do you actually believe any of this, or are you just trying to convince yourself that it’s good if people think you’re a member of the club?

                b&

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

                The free will argument is absurd on many levels. Even setting the free will debate aside for a moment and granting that everyone has libertarian free will, it comes nowhere close to showing why God would need to remain hidden.

                I don’t think any theist would argue that if I prevent my toddler from running into a busy street that I’m taking away his free will. I’m merely helping him via my free will and my knowledge that running into a busy street could get him killed.

                So, yes, why can’t Jesus call 9-1-1, or if inspiring Hitler to be a painter is too much of a violation, couldn’t Jesus/God at the least relay some kind message to the Allied Forces to give them a quicker advantage? How would relaying Hitler’s plans violate anyone’s free will anywhere?

                This isn’t a far fetched notion when it comes to theistic claims either. If you haven’t come across it before, you can have some fun Googling the saint named Padre Pio to see some truly bizarre tales.

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                Indeed, the possibilities for a divine entity to act in these sorts of situations is endless. How about giving everybody a perfect sense of empathy? Every hurt you cause to another, you feel yourself. There could even be special exemptions for physicians; say a prayer before setting a bone when no anesthesia is available, and, if Jesus deems the intentions pure, the physician is spared the patient’s pain, or at least enough of it and for long enough to perform the procedure properly. Who would wantonly hurt another? And yet, if the need truly were great enough, your willies would still be free enough to do whatever needed to be done. If, of course, you felt the personal sacrifice was worth it.

                And even if there’re problems with this, or being a Muse, or a spy, or anything else, that still misses the point. The gods are supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing. If mere mortals are capable of coming up with ideas such as these, what the hell excuse do the gods have?

                …aside from non-existence, of course….

                If Jesus can help some dumb jock score a touchdown, he can damned well call 9-1-1 the next time one of his official spokesmen starts raping some kid. And, if not, then fuck the motherfucker.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Chris
                Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:50 am | Permalink

                God plays somewhat fast & loose with free will in the Bible: check Exodus for God interfering with Pharaoh’s will to prove a point (which is bad whether you accept that the tale is either literally true or a parable).

                Another question: is there free will in heaven? If there is can you do bad things? If there is not then the being in heaven is not *you* (if you define humans as having free will). So… if there is free will in heaven and no evil, why the hell didn’t God cut out the crap in the middle and do the same on Earth. Sin? Well, a truly loving God would simply forgive.

                The whole argument is ridiculous. Christianity does not answer Epicurus’s problem.

          • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            Riddles are aimed to be just as they are, riddles, unsolved and witty. Another one I enjoy is the creation of the unmovable rock, of which God himself cannot move.

            Riddles are fun children’s games and are to be taken as such.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

              “Riddles are fun children’s games and are to be taken as such.”

              The same can be said of deities.

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              Then here’s something not for children, but rather a poetic adaptation of one of the proofs of one of the foundational principles in modern math:

              “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

              There’s a rock that you yourself can even lift, but your god can’t.

              Checkmate, theist.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                That’s a good one! Just because you say it, doesn’t make it truth.

                Cheers!

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                Fine. So demonstrate where I’ve gone astray.

                It’s but a single sentence. If it’s the child’s play you’re implying it is, you should be home free.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted April 21, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

              If you’re religious, the house rules allow me to ask you what your evidence is for God, and also why you think the religion you hold is the right one and, say, Islam is not.

              Before you can comment further, you have to answer that one.

          • Posted April 22, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Or even offer a bandage to a small child in a bit of pain?

            This is Scriven’s version of the argument from evil: lots of *little* evils happen, which almost any ten year old would stop if around. Since they are not stopped, there is no god. (Gods are assumed here to be the ones people care about, with a minimum of ethics, etc.)

        • eric
          Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

          Also, just curious. If God intervened when bad people did horrible things, would we still have free will?

          The answer to that must be “yes,” unless you think the 12 disciples had no free will, Abraham had no free will, Adam had no free will, Eve had no free will, moses had no free will, all the Israelists who saw the pillar of fire had no free will, etc., etc., etc.

          The bible is filled with stories of God making his presence empirically, clearly, known to people. If that robs people of their free will, then you must conclude that most of the major figures in the OT and NT had no free will.

          And if we move away from the bible and talk about general theology instead, I’d point out that your assertion implies the very amusing conclusion that Satan did not have free will either. After all, supposedly God did intervene to stop his rebellion from winning and Satan saw all of that directly. So, he must not have free will, eh?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        culminating in The Vile Solution.

        Now there is a name for a band!

  34. Doug
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one of my biggest objections to religion–ANY religion: God is omnipresent and all-powerful. He could, if He wanted, reveal his Word to everyone, everywhere at once, in a way in which there would be no misunderstanding. But he doesn’t. He always tells one person [the Oracle of Delphi, Moses, Joseph Smith, Mohammad, L. Ron Hubbard, the Pope, your local shaman, etc.] what He wants, and then tells that person, “YOU tell everyone.” Very inefficient way of doing things.
    Abe Lincoln once heard from a minister in the Midwest who claimed to have a message for Abe from the Almighty. Lincoln said [I'm paraphrasing], “God knows where I live. If He has a message for me, He would give it to me directly, instead of sending it to a minister in Ohio.”

  35. Bo Gardiner
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I wryly use their “get back to me after you’ve read Sophisticated Books” all the time. But rather than books on atheism, I suggest positive alternatives to religion like books on humanism and other secular philosophies.

    I mean, we know they’re not going to read any of ‘em anyway, and it’s mostly to make a point. So it’s useful for that point to appear more positive and less antichristy.

    Thus, instead of “Fie! I won’t read those devils’ books!” I get sheepish (and quick) subject changes. Which I think allows a greater possibility that a seed of doubt has been sown.

    • Bo Gardiner
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I’d love suggestions for this sort of book, BTW.

  36. jimroberts
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    “Why, if God wants us to know and accept him so much, does he hide himself from humanity?”

    According to all three synoptic gospels, Jesus explained this. Here’s the first (Mark’s) version

    And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Rather than an explanation for an invisible God, this sounds to me much more like the con-artists telling the Emperor that only truly wise people can see the cloth.

  37. krzysztof1
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    After having given much thought to what theists really want — is it “answers”?– I have decided that they don’t really want answers so much. They may want to belong to a community of believers (“the communion of saints”); they may just want to feel that God is watching over them; they like the feeling that they are going to have a much better eternal life in Heaven. But I have never heard of one being consumed by anxiety over how God “did it”–created the Universe. Or just how the soul gets separated from the body, or how our “perfect” bodies will be returned to us in Heaven.

  38. kelskye
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    That Herman Philipse book is really good – though prepare for a long slog of philosophical objections to arguments. One highlight was two chapters pointing out the flaws in Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, yet the main flaw (that there’s not a shred of evidence for a sensus divinitatis, and the entire story as Plantinga has proposed it is ad hoc) gets a grand total of one sentence in that book. Likewise, going through Swinburne’s inductive argument point by point, he first points out the nonsense of the idea that an infinite thing is vastly more simple than finite things, only then puts that criticism aside to point out every other flaw he can. Each time, Swinburne’s argument effectively comes down to “God is more simple than any naturalistic explanation”, and that simplicity is crap, but Philipse’s persists in going through the technical details of whether Swinburne has properly made a c-inductive case.

    Still, the book gave me a lot to think about. It’s always handy to have a book that highlights all sorts of considerations that never cross one’s mind before.

    “but their misunderstandings about The God Delusion lead me to believe otherwise”
    The strange thing is that this happens with atheists too. I came across someone recently who was criticising the book as pretty much the worst thing any atheist has written, yet when i asked him for criticism, the section he pulled out as an example was missing the point on his part. There’s enough in the book to criticise without misreading it and criticising the misreadings.

    • irritable
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      … there’s not a shred of evidence for a sensus divinitatis.

      Just hold on there. You don’t need evidence. Obviously, there MUST NECESSARILY BE a sensus divinitatus or else …. um … you wouldn’t be able to prove … um … the existence of the very God that the sensus divinitatus … um … exists to prove.

      • kelskye
        Posted April 22, 2014 at 1:58 am | Permalink

        Plantinga’s point (at least as far as I can tell) is to try to argue that theism is warranted without justification, while atheism cannot be warranted without justification. At least, that’s the attempt. It goes something along the lines of:
        If theism is true, then God would want us to know him. So God would give us something in order for us to know him. So the merits of whether we have something in our heads for God to communicate with us rises and falls on the question of whether God exists. So it’s simply not enough, as the likes of Marx or Freud did, to hold a de facto atheism by exploring the psychology of belief. Atheists would have to demonstrate God’s nonexistence in order to show the theist doesn’t have warrant for their beliefs.

        Yet what would happen if we have a very good naturalistic account of the psychology of belief? That is, that on a naturalistic evolutionary model, the senses that theists normally interpret as the divine would be perfectly explicable? The move a proponent of reformed theology would have to make is to either make the appeal that God created the evolutionary process with our eventual recognition in mind, but such a move would be entirely ad hoc. It fits the evidence only because the theory can be rigged to fit whatever the evidence is.

        Plantinga’s reformed theology is a bad hypothesis, so it’s surprising to see that it’s treated so seriously in the philosophical community. Philipse did a good job examining the logic of it, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to see why the idea of a sensus divinitatis should be taken any more seriously than the idea of ESP, or that dogs are from the planet Venus scouting out an alien invasion.

  39. Sheila B and Zin
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    How come God’s forgiveness requires repentance? Why cant he forgive you anyway? Humans can do this at times, why apparently can’t God? I would argue that forgiveness without repentance from the “sinner” is more meaningful for the one doing the forgiving than with-holding forgiveness until you’ve exacted a grovelling apology.

  40. Walt Jones
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    My question derives from the oft quoted John 3:16 – to whom did he give his son?

  41. Sven
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Any argument for god begins with the assumption that “my god” exists. The question I have for believers right off the bat is which god are we talking about here? Baptist? Evangelical Christian? Catholic? Allah? Jehovah? Because your mileage will certainly vary depending on which church you attend.

    My next question is, why does your god get a privileged position? Aren’t all the other believers out there just as sincere? Haven’t they also had “conversion experiences”? Why is god seemingly misleading everyone else but you and your group?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      The question I have for believers right off the bat is which god are we talking about here? Baptist? Evangelical Christian? Catholic? Allah? Jehovah?

      The FSM welcomes all with a warm embrace of … damp pasta.

  42. irritable
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a couple of questions:
    Why was Jesus so coy about the resurrection? Why vanish from the tomb in the middle of the night? Couldn’t he have just ascended in glory over Jerusalem so that no-one could ever have got the wrong impression?

    Why didn’t Jesus write anything down?
    He could do miracles effortlessly but didn’t have the time to jot down just a few notes. Just left it to some anonymous Greeks, decades later to try to reconcile hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay in the world’s least convincing game of Chinese Whispers?

    How come he mercifully cured all those people (rubbing dirt in eyes to cure blindness etc etc) but never dropped a single hint about WASHING YOUR DAMN HANDS?

  43. irritable
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Okay, one more:

    How come God is so incredibly wasteful of resources?

    Hundreds of billions of galaxies, in the visible universe alone. On average, hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy. Then wait 13.8 billion years – just so that, on a few places of the surface of one insignificant planet, a bunch of intelligent primates get to be condescended to by a bunch of theologians for a billionth of a yocto-second in the lifetime of the Universe.

  44. Richard Thomas
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    We atheists are used to arguing “as if” there were a god, so we talk about gods as if they actually existed. For me the major gap is that there can’t be a god as usually envisioned (an omnipresent non-physical intelligence). We know of no way that there can be an intelligence that isn’t physical (neurons or their equivalent). I know that this leads to arguments that god is outside of time or in another dimension, but this just adds more gaps. Furthermore, if there were such a god, how would it interact with the physical world? (This is certainly a gap the needs explaining.) Ground-of-being type gods are hardly worth bothering with.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] New Republic has published a revised version of my “atheism of the gaps” post from yesterday. In the magazine it’s now called “Atheists should use the strategies of religious […]

  2. […] of apologetics designed to answer my recent request that theists tell us why there is natural evil (the “atheism-of-the-gaps” gambit). Their […]

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