Dennis Prager explains why he believes in the afterlife

Here’s a five-minute video by conservative Jewish “pundit” Dennis Prager; it’s part of his “Prager University” series of short videos, some of which are okay but most of which are dire. In this one, Prager himself explains why he believes in an afterlife.  The reasons boil down to these:

  1. “If there’s a God, then there’s an afterlife. It’s that simple”.  Well, not to Jews, many of whom believe in the former but not the latter.
  2. The injustice and suffering of this life demands that it be set right in the next life. This presumes that God wants to fix things, but it doesn’t explain why Prager’s “good and just God” would allow people to suffer in this life. Why would he let kids get leukemia or other people suffer, and not from the depredations of other humans? If God were both good and just, he wouldn’t let that shit happen. Prager never explains this “unjust suffering” coming from his loving God.
  3. Since God isn’t physical, there must be parts of reality which are also “nonphysical”. To Prager, that means that therefore there is a nonphysical soul that survives the death of our body. This is a horrible piece of logic. Why couldn’t God be the only nonphysical thing in the cosmos?
  4. We can’t become immortal through our deeds. After all, our good works disappear, and kids may die without producing any “works”. Further, Hitler’s bad deeds would make him “far more immortal” then any good human. Ergo, there must be ANOTHER way to live on: the divine afterlife. This is another ridiculous piece of logic.
  5. If there’s no afterlife, none of us will ever again see the departed that we most love. Therefore, a good God wouldn’t do that, ergo an afterlife!
  6. If there’s no afterlife, then this life, which is all we have, is a “meaningless crapshoot.” Prager can’t abide that, so there’s an afterlife.
  7. The biggie: while Prager says he doesn’t have any idea of what happens in the afterlife, he does know that “my belief in the afterlife keeps me sane.” If there were no afterlife, bad people would get away with their misdeeds, and Prager wouldn’t see his loved ones again. As he says, “This would drive me mad.” Well, it doesn’t drive most of us atheists mad. We may not like it, but there’s a lot about reality that we don’t like. Reality doesn’t exist to make us feel good.

It all boils down to two things: Prager’s assumption of not only a God (for which there is no evidence), but a good God who, while allowing bad stuff to happen on earth, will make up for it in the afterlife. There’s no evidence for that, either, nor for an afterlife. The real message that Prager has is this: “I believe in God because it makes me feel good, and I’d go nuts otherwise.”

Well, there’s a lot of stuff that we could believe in that isn’t real but could make us feel good.  As an example, Sam Harris has used the delusion of an enormous diamond buried in his backyard. Prager uses the delusion of a God, which, though equally unevidenced, is socially acceptable because it’s common.

Truly, it baffles me that someone with a modicum of intelligence can produce a video purporting to give evidence for an afterlife when all he’s doing is pretending that what gives him comfort really exists. And most Americans are content to either live with such delusions or accept them in other people.

 

h/t: Chris

93 Comments

  1. Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    “And most Americans are content to either live with such delusions or accept them in other people.”

    Such fictions are easier.

    “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” – H. L. Mencken

  2. Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    With regard to Jews and the afterlife, a couple of interesting links:

    https://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/jewish-afterlife-beliefs/

    https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2012/05/10/do-jews-believe-afterlife

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      You’ve cherry picked two sites saying that Jews IN GENERAL believe in the afterlife. That’s not true if you look around in general. Yes, I was wrong in implying that ALL Jews reject the afterlife, but the sites you’ve chosen are simply wrong in their general assertion.

      • Posted January 8, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t exactly cherry pick these sites. I googled “jews believe in the afterlife” (or a sentence to that effect) and posted the first two results. 🙂

        Many years ago (back in the nineties), I read a fascinating book called “The Jew in the Lotus” – a great read which I warmly recommend. I seem to remember that they did touch upon the afterlife and/or reincarnation.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jew_in_the_Lotus

        • Posted January 9, 2018 at 1:53 am | Permalink

          Wouldn’t googling “Jews believe in afterlife” be an obvious case of sampling bias?

  3. YF
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    When someone tells me they believe in a good god, I ask them to explain what they think his honorable objective was with the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, which is estimated to have drowned over 250,000 people, many of them children. They usually give me the ‘mysterious ways’ excuse, but one person replied that this is God’s way of keeping down the population!

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

      -Epicurus (attrib)

      • Craw
        Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        “Can god make a rock even he can’t lift?”

      • XCellKen
        Posted January 8, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        If God is all powerful, can he microwave a burrito so hot that he can not eat it”

        Homer Simpson

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      “one person replied that this is God’s way of keeping down the population!”

      Wouldn’t universal contraception be a more humane way of doing that?

      Oh, I forgot, G*d hates wimmins to have sex without being punished for it…

      cr

    • AudreyA
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      God created a world with physical laws to which we are subject. Tsunamis are part of that world. The Judeo-Christian God does not promise a world without suffering. What you see as a horror, the deep believer sees as a brief and painful passage to everlasting life. We have an obligation to work to prevent such pain where we can, but the fact of pain and suffering does not negate a just God. God gives comfort and offers consolation–He bears our suffering with us–but He does not act in the physical world.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted January 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        He does not act in the physical world.

        So, no such thing as a miracle or physical response to a prayer then? And how does God bear our physical suffering?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 9, 2018 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          And if God does not act in the physical world, we can safely ignore him/her/it, then. 😎

          cr

      • Robert Bray
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        ‘What you see as a horror, the deep believer sees as a brief and painful passage to everlasting life.’

        Whence, then, the ‘obligation’ to prevent or lessen this ‘painful passage’? Ah, yes, let those who suffer, suffer. After all, the measure of a lifetime is not even an instant sub specie aeternitatis. Anyway, I feel fine.

      • Posted January 12, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        (Leaving the non-existence of any “gods” aside) this is logically consistent: Since you did not claim that your god is “good” and very powerful.

        I’ll assume you think your god is powerful: Powerful enough to create the entire universe and everything in it. This checks the box for all-powerful if anything could. (How do you know he never acts on the physical world? You just said he did.)

        You god seems to take interest in individual human lives. So he’s aware.

        So, your god could have prevented those tens of thousands deaths by tsunami in Dec-2004: All those children ripped from their parents arms and drowned in front of their eyes. And he knew about it.

        But he didn’t.

        So, he’s either an indifferent god an asshole god or non-existent.

  4. Fran
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Prager is Jewish, not Christian, even if he aligns himself politically with conservative Christians

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      This is correct. I know of at least one fundamentalist christian who idolizes him. Of course, I know a *lot* of fundamentalist christians who will go along with anything (Drumpf, Moonie Jonathan Wells, ad nauseam), no matter how anti-christian, if it supports what they are *really* interested in–right-wing politics.

  5. Andrew David
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Dennis Prager isn’t a Christian; he’s Jewish.

    Potholer54 made the same mistake and it so badly distracted his commenters that he deleted the video and re-uploaded to correct it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WIwKhX-1gZQ

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    That is to me, some of the crazy thinking of the religious. We must have this afterlife, otherwise this life is meaningless. So we all hang around waiting to die and get that afterlife, whatever it is. It starts to get very close to the Islamic version – doing the good deed and getting 72 virgins to play around with in that afterlife. But what about the little kid who dies or the wife. What the hell do they get. Maybe they get to watch?

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Don’t know about the kid, but I’d say that women should get 72 gilman (pl. of ghulam), servant boys, cup bearers, in paradise; but I think they’re also reserved for males.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 8, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I think we must have an equal rights afterlife. That is to fix the one you did not get first time around.

  7. Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Prager regularly commits the Appeal to Consequences fallacy. Sounds like this video was a run-on example of such.

  8. Mark Joseph
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    1) Statement is factually incorrect, as pointed out by PCC(E).

    2) Non sequitur; wishful thinking. A good understanding of how biological evolution and history really work indicates that no, injustices will not necessarily ever be corrected. He’s made an extraordinary claim (there’s an afterlife); now it’s up to him to support it with extraordinary evidence.

    3) Begs the question by assuming the existence of god; after that, a non sequitur, as shown in the OP. “Even if you could prove the existence of a god, you still have all your work in front of you.”

    4-7) The fallacy of the Appeal to Consequences.

    Religion poisons everything–especially minds, logical thinking, and social institutions.

  9. Tom
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, why isn’t Mr Prager a christian?
    Is it that his understanding of his god and his logos only goes so far?
    The Last of the Nazorians?

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Sometimes this tactic works – particularly playing Christians and Muslims off each other, but with Jews one gets the (relative) lack of missionary/conversions (these days)in the way. So maybe asking why one denomination rather than the other is the way to go.

  10. rickflick
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    What a pompous nutter. He dares to call himself a university. Attending as a student would cause brain damage.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Reminiscent of Trump University…?

      cr

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      In Canada, from what I understand, it might be illegal. (I don’t know how people like “Dr. Dre” get by, though.) A place opened a few years ago called “Vancouver University” and was told to cut it out, for example.

  11. CJColucci
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    It is obviously comforting to believe that all the suffering and injustice of this vale of tears will be rectified in the hereafter, and I would not go out of my way to quarrel with someone who believes this and goes about his or her business feeling better, though I will cheerfully argue with anyone who accosts me and says he (or she) has good reasons to believe that this is so.
    Now if they could give me a good reason to believe that my late dogs are waiting for me in the sweet by-and-by, I might reconsider.

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      It’s not Heaven unless I get my favourite pair of old shoes back just like in Julian Barnes’ History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.

    • eric
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      If wife #1 isn’t there, its not heaven. If wife #2 isn’t there, its not heaven. OTOH if wife #1 and #2 are both there, it’s definitely not heaven. 🙂

  12. Hoffer Kaback
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Dear Prof. Coyne,

    There are two major factual errors in your comments about Dennis Prager. The first is that Prager is Jewish, not Christian. The second is that it is fundamental in Orthodox Judaism that there will eventually occur a resurrection of the dead and that there is an afterlife.

    hk

    On Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 2:31 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Here’s a five-minute video by conservative > Christian Dennis Prager; it’s part of his “Prager University” series of > short videos, some of which are okay but most of which are dire. In this > one, Prager himself explains why he believes in an afterlife. The ” >

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Well, I know some Orthodox Jews who don’t believe in the afterlife, so that’s not correct as a general proposition. But I have made two tweaks to care care of your comments; thanks!

  13. steve oberski
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    If it’s a belief in an afterlife that’s keeping him sane then it’s not working very well.

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      It’s my belief that I am Gandalf that keeps me sane.

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Believing things just because you wish they were true is not the hallmark of sanity.

  14. eric
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    If there’s no afterlife, none of us will ever again see the departed that we most love. Therefore, a good God wouldn’t do that, ergo an afterlife!

    If you love aunt Betsy the atheist and uncle Bob the Hindu, guess what? You still aren’t going to see them in Prager’s heaven.

    So, amusingly, Prager’s argument of “a good God wouldn’t do that” is an argument against the typical Christian metaphysics of a heaven with entry requirements and a hell for those who don’t meet them.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      Even worse, what if all your relatives ARE in heaven? How is everybody going to fit at the table on Thanksgiving? Keep in mind that all THEIR dead relatives are going to be there too…and their relatives, and their relatives…We are definitely going to run out of those cute napkins with the pilgrim being chased by a turkey with a hatchet!

  15. Posted January 8, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I think these preachers decide what to believe in using a Magic 8-ball at some point in their lives. We who study the phenomenon should invent some sort of system for encoding them. I’m thinking a letter for each dimension starting with “G” for a belief in God and “A” for afterlife in this case. Perhaps those that don’t believe in an afterlife get an “a” as a placeholder. What are some other significant dimensions?

  16. Veroxitatis
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    This fellow could usefully use a healthy dose of logical positivism. (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent). Wittgenstein – Tractatus.

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Wittgenstein may have been the first to use *stealth* positivism to hide (personal, in his case, not any particular denomination) religious beliefs.

      (Positivism is only slightly science-friendly, after all. Recall Comte’s hilariously wrongheaded pronouncement about what was inaccessible to instruments forever.)

  17. nicky
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Praeger has indeed some good points. But his conclusions are completely off the mark and basically non-sequiturs (well Jerry pointed that out quite systematically in his seven points).
    And yes, it drives me mad that innocent children die for no good reason, and yes, I’d love to see my beloved ones again (and I do, in dreams).
    Yes, it drives me mad that life is so unjust, but not so mad as to believe in a Good God or afterlife.

    • Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m curious: what, exactly, do you think are Prager’s “good points”?

  18. Robert
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t argue with theists anymore. When they raise the god subject I explain that I believe in the transmigration of souls.
    Why do I?
    1. Over 1 billion other people do.
    2. There is evidence for it – thousands of people can describe previous lives.
    3. Why else would I behave unless I knew my next life would be a better or worse one depending on how I live this one?
    If they persist, and if I have had a drink or two, I point out that they are likely to come back as some kind of lowly life form.

    • Posted January 9, 2018 at 2:03 am | Permalink

      1 is an argument from popularity. Reality persists regardless of your belief and others’ beliefs. Just because many people believe something (e.g. creationism, migration of souls) doesn’t make it true.

      2 is confirmation bias. Humans are easily fooled. There is also no evidence for a soul and no possible mechanism for a soul according to our current knowledge of physics and neurobiology. Sean Carroll has a post on the evidence from physics.

      3. Because your behavior affects this life. You will be arrested if you break laws, your friends and family will shun your immoral actions, etc.

  19. Hempenstein
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    In re. 3, Frisbeefarians also believe in the soul, but they believe that immmediately on dying, it flies up on the roof and remains stuck there forever. Yet they manage.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    “Prager University” doesn’t strike me as much of a school — but then, next to “Trump University,” I suppose it’s the freakin’ Sorbonne.

    • Sshort
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Touché!

  21. strongforce
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ll leave this here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIwKhX-1gZQ&t=147s

  22. Larry Smith
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I remember listening to Dennis Prager when he was on AM radio in So. Cal. At that time he handled the problem of theodicy by saying (IIRC) that it wouldn’t have made sense for God to have arranged the universe any other way than with suffering/pain. If there was no suffering, then we wouldn’t be able to become who we are, unable to reach our full potential by striving, failing, and striving again, etc. I think he got this argument from a rabbi, again, if memory serves.

    Now he seems to have given up on that rather tenuous concept by punting things into the post-game timeframe; i.e., the after-life.

    As one commenter wrote in response to Prager’s video: “This shit is so weak a first year philosophy student could mow it down.” Indeed.

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      In fact, routine objections to the “soul-making theodicy” are even *taught* to general philosophy classes. (We did one when I TA’d intro.)

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    “2. The injustice and suffering of this life demands that it be set right in the next life.”

    I think that’s a near-universal human instinct. We have an instinct for ‘fairness’. We demand that inequalities and injustices be compensated. And hence, if someone does great evil in this life and gets away with it, or someone dies in horribly unfair circumstances, then we want there to be some way of restoring ‘fairness’.

    One manifestation of this is vendettas, of course. But another equally powerful consequence is the feeling that there ought to be an afterlife where this can be taken care of. And from the ‘ought-is’ fallacy we get – Heaven and Hell.

    (The Greeks had Nemesis, Goddess of Retribution. Her Roman counterpart was, interestingly, Invidia).

    cr

    • Doug
      Posted January 8, 2018 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Animals suffer in this life. Are they entitled to an afterlife? I know that some religions believe that animals have souls, but others don’t.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 9, 2018 at 12:13 am | Permalink

        Well, that’d be nice.

        (Do I have to state explicitly that I don’t believe in an afterlife?)

        cr

  24. Kevin Lawson
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Prager makes some very interesting points and teaches us that logic is not nearly as difficult as pointy-headed intellectuals would have us believe. In fact, using his techniques, I’ll bet I can prove ANYTHING that I want to believe. Great stuff!

  25. Hrafn
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I think the whole thing boils down to wishful thinking: a series of ‘wouldn’t it be nicer if…’ statements about things that Prager has no evidence for, but would make him feel better about life, the universe and everything.

  26. Posted January 8, 2018 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    A lot of people rubbish calling out logical fallacies, pointing out that this makes for lazy thinking, and that it still does not show you to be correct even if you identified a mistake made by the other side. And they are right, to a degree.

    Stuff like this shows that explicitly teaching logic, how to recognise poor reasoning (in oneself as much as in others), and that being reasonable should be valued could go a long way. It won’t be panacea, but it would be a first step.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      The highest truth is that the God of the Bible rules mankind. Arguments that support this truth act in the service of God. If these arguments are “logical fallacies,” then “logical fallacy” is not a valid complaint and there is no virtue in logic.

      In fact, faith is greater than rational thought and all decision making should be based on prayer. Unless America is a Christian country ruled by white men who understand that the Bible is inerrant, the nation will plunge into chaos. My prayers have revealed that this apparent “fallacy of consequences” is actually correct.

      Trump is fallible, but all men are sinners and Trump has now found the true path. It is our duty to support him because clearly his presidency is the will of God. If he chooses to goad North Korea into nuclear war and 50 million people on the Korean peninsula and in Japan are vaporized, that is part of God’s plan and we must glory in His wisdom, even if his ways are mysterious to us lesser beings.

      If you disagree with any of this, you are conducting a war on religion. The first amendment to the constitution mandates that any such war must me stopped and the second amendment shows us how this can be done.

      I know that it must be the Holy Spirit moving me to share all this with you, because otherwise I would be crazy and I really, really hope I am not.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Have you considered getting a shrink?

        • Kevin Lawson
          Posted January 10, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          Sounds expensive. I’ll wait until I get to heaven, where the health care includes low-deductible psychiatric coverage. And BTW, they also have low-interest loans for reading lessons.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Nice one! You had me going for a minute there…

        cr

  27. Roger
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    I have a hard time believing he doesn’t know how silly all of that is. He would have to be really far from being exactly a rocket scientist.

  28. RA
    Posted January 9, 2018 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Back when I was still a theist I loved listening to Prager on the radio here in L.A. He was a smart, reasonable conservative, so I thought. Then one day he had psychic Uri Geller on his show and he totally fell for his nonsense. He kept asking Geller if he thought his powers came from god. Tons of listeners including me emailed Prager with info on how James Randi had debunked him and his whole fraudulent history. Next day Prager went on the air and doubled down on believing in Geller and argued in favor of him using the most idiotic reasoning I ever heard, similar to the stuff in his video. That day I realized that religion could make otherwise intelligent people stupid and it started me on my road to becoming an atheist.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      “it started me on my road to becoming an atheist.”
      Possibly the one good thing Geller ever did. 😉

      “G*d works in mysterious ways…” – oh, wrong quote.

      cr

  29. Posted January 9, 2018 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    It should not be called ‘The’ afterlife, merely ‘An’ afterlife.

    If it were a thing, it would not actually be ‘life’ by any definition I know of.

    My reading of the Old Testament was that they thought the dead went to Sheol https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol
    Which sould a bit like Slough for those of you who know England…

    • Posted January 9, 2018 at 3:56 am | Permalink

      …which SOUNDS a bit…

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 9, 2018 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

        Slough? Whose chief distinction is that John Betjeman, later Poet Laureate, famously wrote a poem that started: Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough…

        cr

  30. Kirbmarc
    Posted January 9, 2018 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    The afterlife argument is basically an argument from consequences which stems from the Just World Hypothesis, the idea that reality is governed by moral laws.

    Not only is the argument for an afterlife really weak, the Just World Hypothesis is pretty weak too. It’s quite a stretch to suppose that reality is oriented towards a moral goal, especially in light of how suffering seems to happen on a random basis.

    But the Just World Hypothesis might have a stronger appeal than theism. Think about all the rhetoric about being “on the right side of history” or about how “the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice”.

    Those are ideas common among many atheists, too, and it’s easy to see why they’re appealing: it’s comforting to think that for all the injustices and suffering in the world things are eventually going to get better, bad things will fade and goodness will rise, etc.

    Even very skeptical and rational people, like Steven Pinker, seem to be sympathetic to the idea that things are getting better, that in the long run violence and injustice are going down, etc.

    It’s comforting, but not very accurate. There’s no physical law that says that injustices are going to decrease. To be fair, though, there’s no law that says that they’re going to increase, either (an Unjust World Hypothesis?).

    History has no “goal”, evolution is a-telic and so are international relations or technological developments. It’s perfectly possible for a society to be both technologically advanced and very unjust or violent, or for a liberal democracy to turn into a dictatorship, or vice verse.

    The harsh truth is that not only the universe doesn’t care about morality, but that institutions that preserve or advance society towards a less violent and more empathetic social standing aren’t guaranteed to win, or even not to collapse.

    It’s not logically or physically or even socially impossible for a large-scale nuclear war to happen (however unlikely it might seem right now). It’s not logically or physically or even socially impossible for the number of liberal democracies to decrease, or for violent crime to rise.

    This is why social reformers always have to extremely careful about what they’re supporting, and evaluate the results of their choices. There’s no guarantee not to mess things up even if you have good intentions.

    Being a progressive reformer is a VERY hard job, and requires time and effort. Easy slogans, pretty speeches and feel-good narratives aren’t going to change the world, or even to deal with a single social issue.

    Solutions to social issues might be complex, might require years, and always require honesty and careful monitoring of results.

    Assuming that just because something “feels good” than it’ll lead to good outcomes, or that because a positive trend is happening it will last, is naive and potentially dangerous.

    The Just World Hypothesis is very emotionally comforting and I don’t blame anyone for indulging in it from time to time to assuage frustration with injustice or suffering. But skeptic rationalists must always take it with a pinch of salt.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      I agree, though I think you’re doing Pinker an injustice when you ascribe an implicit Just World Fallacy to his analysis of a process. My recollection is that he was very careful to draw a distinction between why it’s likely that violence will continue to go down, and why there is no overarching Reason that it will.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 9, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Agree completely. Pinker most certainly does not give any credence to anything like the Just World Hypothesis. People noting that statistics indicate that violence and injustice have gone down over some period of time is very different from people thinking that reality is inherently just and that eventually good behavior will be rewarded and bad behavior punished.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      The moral arc of the universe bends towards whatever is pulling it the most because it is just an arc and the morality part is a delusion. Right and wrong are personal judgments with no objective external basis.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      I agree that there seems to be a natural human instinct for ‘fairness’ which is not exclusive to religion (though religion often exploits it).

      cr

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Prager is a victim of his desire for a ‘Just Universe’.

      He’s actually not interested in defining God or the afterlife. He wants both to be real for one reason: justice.

      Prager has determinedly smashed one of my preconceptions of religious people: that they all just want Heaven to be Real.

      Prager wants hell to be real for bad people. And he needs hell to be real so that those alive do not sin.

  31. Sastra
    Posted January 9, 2018 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    The Argument From Consequences has also been called “The Argument From Boo-Hoo.”

    1.) If there is no God, then undesirable thing X is true.

    2.) Boo hoo!

    3.) Therefore, God exists.

    That’s a very powerful second step, apparently.

  32. Posted January 9, 2018 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Re #5, this includes I assume that in this afterlife you would be able to hear the screams of torment from your beloved friends who were nonbelievers. His “just God” somehow creates Hell (not to be found in Jewish scriptures) and assigns people to its torments “forever and ever, Amen” of of his infinite goodness.

  33. Posted January 9, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I really must add that the whole purpose of the afterlife scam of Christianity is to keep people from acting against the secular and religious elites when they are alive. Wait until you are dead and you will get a reward and your enemies will be punished … now, get back to work, you haven’t made your quota yet today.

    We too often get drawn into the details, which are just smokescreens for the main message (“How many angels can dance … ?” Who cares since they do not exist any way!)

    The main message of these religions is always “control the behaviors of the masses for the benefit of the elites,” pure and simple. If they did not do this, they would not be around long.

  34. SSE
    Posted January 9, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Our secular humanists group once had an interesting discussion about the “afterlife.” It emerged that the group’s greatest concern was that, minus hell and that Immortal Judge presiding over it, there would be no justice for those who practiced evil.
    Romans 12: 19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ sayeth the lord.”
    No afterlife, no payback.
    We mourned not the loss of everlasting life, but the loss of our unspoken hope that the universe was somehow just.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Karma’s a bitch…who doesn’t even have the decency to exist.

  35. Posted January 9, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Warning: A-z logical fallacies at work:

    If X is true then Y is also true.(Circular)

    If Leprechauns exist, there must be pots of gold at the end of every rainbow.

    “God exists but is not physical”.

    Hmm, if not physical it would be impossible to determine anything about Him Her — especially whether there’s an afterlife or not. Both claims are Special Pleadings and a Non-Sequitur. Presumably, there could be a God, but no Afterlife.(As some religions practice)There could possibly be an Afterlife, but no God, as well.

    If God is not physical why would He create a physical universe? If God is spiritual S/He would have more likely creates a spiritual universe.

    As we reside in a physical universe there is no evidence of a supernatural or spiritual force working within it. If it were true, Quantum Field Theory would have been able to predict and detect it by now.

    To postulate, Deus ergo Afterlife is to declare the Laws of Physics and The Standard Model of Politics is false.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Therefore. Mr. Prager’s assertion can be readily dismissed.

    • Posted January 9, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Haha, Standard Model of Politics. WTF, autocorrect?

      • Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Were there such an advanced political science!

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 9, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      “As we reside in a physical universe there is no evidence of a supernatural or spiritual force working within it.” If the natural world is things that are, then supernatural things are things that are not. Spiritual things are spirits or ghosts, but there is no evidence of ghosts in the natural world. I’m confused. What do spiritual and supernatural mean? Are they different? or are they just synonyms for undefined bullshit?

  36. Bryan Mills
    Posted January 9, 2018 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Does mocking people with whom you disagree make you feel better? Does your position become stronger because you sneer and use profanity? The strongest argument against atheism is how atheists act toward people they don’t agree with.

    • Posted January 10, 2018 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      Typical believer comment: the vast bulk of this post is devoted mocking Prager (and there’s no mockery here), but to his ARGUMENTS. Further, if the strongest argument against atheism is the false claim that atheists are nasty towards believers (which we mostly aren’t), you’re making arguments as ridiculous as those of Prager: an argument stands on its merit, not on the civility of its proponents. If you want to convince me of God, give me some EVIDENCE for God. Prager (and you), sadly, didn’t.

      All too often, believers like yourself take criticism of arguments as incivility and mockery. I suggest you reread the post and try to find anything nasty I said about Prager.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 10, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I agree. The strongest argument against atheism is not any of the weak arguments for theism. Consider instead “some atheists are not always nice when they talk about religion.” This powerful ad hominem argument is converting so many atheists that churches now have lines around the block, 24/7.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        It’s good to remember that a pointed criticism of religion by an atheist is not as bad as when religion was in charge. Back then the church burned the atheists for merely existing. I think atheist and witch burning was probably one reason religion has been curtailed in modern cultures. I’m sure not even you would want to go back.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        ooh, and they’re sarcastic with it.

        😉

        cr

  37. Posted January 10, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I sometimes ask believers in an “afterlife” to describe what version of themselves gets to “live there”, and why. This is sometimes more Socratically enlightening than talking about god.

    • Kevin Lawson
      Posted January 10, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      And in the afterlife, will believers get to be with their beloved grandma again? Will she get to be with her first true love before she met their grandpa? Will that first love get to be with his dear old grandpa, who will be with the grandchildren from his first marriage and they will be with their maiden aunt whose fiance died fighting for his beloved comrades in the Civil War? How are all these old dead people going to fit together? The logistics seem problematic

      • rickflick
        Posted January 10, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Good point. And wouldn’t all these people feel mighty guilty remembering that billions of others are eternally roasting in the other place? It would make me opt out.

  38. Elan
    Posted January 10, 2018 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Prager is delusional.
    The Bible is all fantasy and myths written by ignorant frightened men with NO understanding of the natural world and a knowledge of science that is less than an elementary school child of today!
    All religion is severe Delusional MENTAL ILLNESS! A delusion that there is an imaginary MALE Deity who judges and punishes and rewards us for proper or improper behavior is insane!
    The bible is a collection of silly myths written by frightened men who had NO understanding of even the basic science that an grade school child of today has, who didn’t even know of lands outside their little middle east location.
    Humans cannot deal with their animal instincts and SEX, so they make up rules to cope with them and call this Religion. Humans are the only creature that can contemplate their death. They fear death and cannot cope with the thought of it.
    Religion is a COPING mechanism that allows humans to get through the day without the panic that they are just like any other primate on the Earth, except that they know they will DIE and their powerful sexual and violent behavior has to be tamed and controlled or they cannot function as a society.
    Humans wrote the Torah, Bible, Koran and other holy books.
    How can GOD have gender? ..always referred to as a MAN–HE, HIM, HIS, KING etc.? Why would god who created the sun, the earth, and formed man out of dust –need a human woman Mary to create a son? Why would god allow the torture of his son to forgive bad actions of people thousands of years later? Belief in this silly fantasy/fable is a delusion and total insanity!
    Where was god during–Hiroshima Bomb, the holocaust? The WTC attack? On vacation?
    Why would an almighty powerful god need to rest? What did god do on the seventh day of rest, –take a nap, lie in bed in Heaven, read the newspaper, watch football, have sex with his goddess wife?
    Why would a deity want a week old baby to suffer excruciating pain from a scalpel cutting his penis for religious circumcision?


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