Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

April 16, 2009

Challenge Accepted

Filed under: culture, religion — codesmithy @ 6:27 am

A commenter calling himself Will left the following message:

Guys, just take a look around us…I challenge you to take an honest look at the evidence for evolution, an honest look at the evidence for a worldwide flood, the fulfilled prophecy of the old testament, just because there are many “religions” does not mean that Jesus is not the savior of the world…God does not want our religion, he wants our hearts!

I accept this challenge, although I already find it a little bit insulting.  I have looked at the evidence for evolution, a global flood, and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and have apparently come to the exact opposite set of conclusions the commenter has.

Evolution has been proved, to the extent that any scientific theory can be proved, well beyond any reasonable doubt.  Read Jerry A. Coyne’s book “Why Evolution is True” for an outline.  But, some of the evidence that supports evolution include: the fossil record, atavisms, the flaws in our body plan (vestigial organs like the appendix, causes of back-pain, blind spots, hiccups), the patterns we find in biodiversity with respect to geography, none of which are explained by young earth creationism.

A global flood is completely unsupported by any credible physical evidence.  Since a global flood would presumably leave some traces behind, any story of a global flood is almost certainly false beyond a reasonable doubt.

As for the fulfilled prophecy, this would be strong evidence in favor of Christianity if the predictions were specific, falsifiable and otherwise inexplicable.  Similarly, if praying to one God versus another God or Gods or not praying at all really did cause significantly better outcomes for patients recovering from heart surgery (beyond that which can be explained by placebo), this would be evidence for the power of prayer.  That said, such studies have been done and they have found that prayers have no effect.  Which I think illustrates the fundamental difference between free thinkers such as myself and believers, I accept facts like these and try to modify my beliefs accordingly.  The religious hem and haw, engage in apologetics and generally just stick their head in the sand and drag their feet.

As for Biblical prophecy, Jim Lippard gives a good explanation as to why some atheists, myself included, find the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy to be so un-compelling.

Will is correct though.   The presence of other religions of the world does not imply Christianity is false.  However, these religions make contradictory claims so they all can’t be true.  Thus, the inescapable conclusion is that a good portion of the people on the planet must be deluded when it comes to their religious beliefs.  The question is: what evidence do you have to show that you are not one of the deluded ones?

Some evidence that you might want to consider on answering the question to whether or not you are deluded is if you are rejecting the conclusions of people who clearly are more expert that yourself in demonstrable areas.  Science has proven itself to be the objective leader in improving our understanding about the universe we inhabit.  I, quite literally, owe my life to science.  My father had an appendicitis in college which was long before he met my mother.  In earlier generations, such an infection would have been fatal, but thanks to antibiotics and modern medicine he survived.  This ignores all the countless ways science has improved quality of my life, from the food I eat, to the water I drink, to the books I read, to the computer I use, to the car I drive, etc.  As such, I feel no luxury to pick and choose which parts of science I accept and those that I reject when such conclusions are based on the same method and doing so would be based on mere convenience.  Similarly, I wouldn’t feel the luxury to pick and choose which parts of the Bible I would have to follow if I were to believe it was the inspired word of God and Jesus was his only son while simultaneously being God.  So, tell me, do you save?  Do you think about the future?  Do you love your enemies?  If I were to hit you, would you honestly turn the other cheek?  Do you really think it is ethical to live your life by such teachings?   Do you honestly aspire to?

For Will particularly, the IP address he sent this message from was the United States Air Force Academy.  Do you honestly see no incompatibility to the teachings of the savior you proclaim to follow and your actions?  If not, then please tell me, who would Jesus bomb?

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11 Comments »

  1. hey Codesmithy,

    All i did was read the review and comments about the 90 minutes in Heaven and your challenge summary. You seem like a very intelligent person. your arguments from the review page were noticeably well thought out and good. I never read the book itself. I don’t want to have an argument about anything, these conversations have just fascinated me. These are just questions that I would like to have answered from you with respect. Do you think that it’ll ever be proved 100% about if God exists or not? Obviously there are hardcore theories stating that God isn’t real by the free thinkers; And obviously you know from experience that it can be crazy hard trying to break the faith of the believers. I myself do not know. For ALL that you and I know, there could possibly be some higher being. do you agree? do you agree that there is any number or decimal percent chance that there is a higher being outside our minds?

    Comment by sam — May 14, 2009 @ 2:45 am

  2. Hi Sam,

    Do I think God could be proved 100%?

    Absolutely, all he/she/it would have to do is come down here, perform some miracles, explain away their seeming absence, establish they aren’t an intelligent alien race trying to trick us, etc. Establishing there is a being with a higher intelligence than ourselves is trivial. They would just have to tell us something we didn’t already know. There are millions of things we don’t know about our natural world, and probably many more we haven’t even thought to ask yet.

    So, establishing that there exists a being, capable of communicating with us and possesses a higher intelligence and knowledge about the universe is trivial. The supernatural thing is trickier, but if this being helps us rule out the natural explanations, then the only thing we will be left with is the supernatural.

    Could God be proved 100% not to exist?

    This depends on how you define God. I think merely postulating that a God is omnipotent rules out the possibility that they exist, because the whole idea is rife with paradoxes. One popular objection being: could God create a rock that they couldn’t lift it? This doesn’t necessarily mean God doesn’t exist, it just means our conception is flawed.

    Also, omnipotence guarantees other properties about the being, because once you establish they are omnipotent, suddenly it becomes impossible for the being not to be omniscient (because if they were omnipotent, they could make themselves omniscient).

    If we define God as being Jehovah/Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Does Jehovah exist? Obviously, I don’t believe so, but using the tortured logic of theology I couldn’t say no with 100% certainty because as a rational human being I have to admit there is a non-zero possibility I might be crazy, or a brain in the bottle, etc. However, in any practical sense, I would say the possibility Jehovah is God and actually the creator of the universe and did all the things the Bible said that he did with reasonable accuracy is the same as there being an invisible pink unicorn in the room with me: indistinguishable from 0. That is to say, if Jehovah, Zeus, Baal, Athena, Set, etc. did appear in front of me, I would be forced to conclude I had gone insane or similarly under a misapprehension.

    For ALL that you and I know, there could possibly be some higher being. do you agree?

    If you define God as some higher being, then yes I readily admit that. I actually think it is quite likely that there exists other intelligent life in the universe. They could be more intelligent, or possibly less intelligent but might have a head start of thousands if not millions of earth years. Much like the case for the theistic God, I think the evidence makes it clear that we are not in contact with them.

    But when people talk about a higher being in this sense, they more or less mean a deistic God. That is, a deity that set up the initial conditions and rules and just lets the universe run without any intervention. It is a possibility, but understand that such a deity might be dead, might be unintelligent, might not care about us at all, might not punish us or reward us for the actions of this life, etc.

    In this respect, calling whatever created the universe, God, is confusing and somewhat misleading. But, I want to make two additional points.

    First, whatever it was that caused the universe to come into existence, it is significantly more likely that it was unintelligent and unintentional than it was intelligent and purposeful. This is because every natural process we know of that develops complexity requires time to evolve or organize. A being that is as intelligent as it was ever going to be and eternal, to me, seems to be a contradiction in terms. I mean, it would require spontaneous intelligence, which I think we can all agree is more improbable than gradual intelligence. One could accuse me of applying natural laws where it is unjustified. In my defense, I don’t know what other rules we could possibly apply in assessing the likelihood of there being a deity. Assuming anything different seems like special pleading to me.

    Second, I don’t accept that the “stuff” of the universe had to come from somewhere. As Einstein showed, energy and mass are interchangeable. Consequently, the mass of the universe could be offset a corresponding drop in potential energy. I’m not expert enough in cosmology to explain exactly how this occurs. In fact, I can’t say with total confidence that I’m 100% certain of certain cosmological concepts, like space being curved, or the universe being finite but without boundary. But, I’m more certain that this is closer to an answer to the reason why the universe is the way that it is, than the answers we get from ancient texts, what theology provides, or the non sequitur conclusions we reach employing the argument by design in all its various guises.

    Save intervention, if science does not provide answers to the origins of the universe, there is no reason to think anything else will.

    do you agree that there is any number or decimal percent chance that there is a higher being outside our minds?

    I am going to assume that a higher being is one of superior intelligence. Like I said before, I think it is highly likely that an alien intelligence exists and might be superior to our own. I think one would be hard-pressed to show that humanity has had any communication with this being, or beings. If we had, then the superior intelligence would have a lot of explaining to do if they were to claim they did so in our interest, that is to say humanity seems no better off, and I would argue, actually harmed, as a result of this supposed communication and its eclectic nature.

    Comment by codesmithy — May 14, 2009 @ 7:09 am

  3. I’m talking about the regular Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the cross and everything kind of GOD.
    I find myself very confused,Things aren’t adding up for me. I’ve talked to Christians about it and I’ve talked to Atheists about it and both sides keep making me more and more confused with contradictions and full-proof faiths. I want to listen to what both sides have to say because I currently am in the middle of the two but neither side is helping. Chances are that I’ll probably find out when I die. either by descending or not. I don’t know what scares me more. having nothing happen to me when i die, or having something bad happen to me when I die. I would love to know more than anything. does that scare you? knowing that you might be wrong?

    Comment by sam — May 15, 2009 @ 1:54 am

    • Hello again Sam,

      Being confused is an understandable state. As an atheist, I’m not offering certainty, I’m peddling doubt. Doubt, I find, is the most reliable way to truth. Constantly test your beliefs against reality. Try, as best as you can, to apply the same standard to them all and keep the ones that survive. Be willing to change your mind, but never abandon skepticism.

      I can’t claim that at the end of the day, it will all add up. Cosmology and quantum mechanics still make my head spin despite my best attempts to understand them. However, I’m with Socrates when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living.

      .

      Chances are that I’ll probably find out when I die.

      I’m not so sure of that, because if consciousness exists completely as a manifestation of the processes of the brain, then after the brain ceases to function that is it. There is no you. You’ve been shut off. In this respect, saying that you’ll find out the answer after you die already assumes there will be a “you” that will persist after your biological death.

      either by descending or not.

      Why are you setting up a dichotomy here?

      I don’t know what scares me more. having nothing happen to me when i die, or having something bad happen to me when I die. I would love to know more than anything. does that scare you? knowing that you might be wrong?

      I feel facing annihilation and oblivion is the fundamental existential crisis we face as human beings. Fear and dread wouldn’t have the meaning they have for me if not for anxiety I feel trying to contemplate an eternity of oblivion. The only way I find myself able to fight that fear is rationality. I think I have a good understanding of the reasons for why I feel that anxiety. It also helps me realize how lucky I have already been, how contingent everything is and that acts as a driving force to improve the circumstances of my current life and the lives of others; because it is the only chance we get.

      I don’t lose sleep over notions of Hell. They are so obviously products of human imagination, just like the God of the Bible. But even if I were to actually believe Jehovah, the God of the Bible, were real, I still couldn’t bring myself to worship him. No matter what our sins in life, nothing could justify eternal torment. Everyone in Heaven would be a bunch of amoral cowards for worshipping a being who allowed that situation to persist when He had the power to stop it. It is submission and supplication to a bully, nothing more. In this respect Hell is for free and Heaven is for the slaves.

      But, the Bible is not something I can really take seriously. The is so little going for it and so much against it that if I accepted it, I would also have to accept Zeus or Thor and countless other Gods and Goddesses. This basically means I would be screwed because Jehovah supposedly gets pissed if you worship other Gods, so it would be a no win situation anyways. Thankfully, there isn’t a shred of credible evidence for any of them.

      Comment by codesmithy — May 15, 2009 @ 5:33 am

      • Do you ever allow yourself to think hypothetically? Because let’s just say, “hypothetically” if you were to die and there was a hell and if that hell was as the Bible describes it… Utter and total separation from God and total toment… How would that make you feel to live there eternally? I’m asking for a hypothetical answer. If you knew it would be torment for the rest of eternity would that make you not want to go there, or do you really not mind the eternal torment?

        Comment by Lea Anne — March 3, 2010 @ 3:57 am

  4. what else do you reckon besides the dichotomy of hell or death?

    Comment by sam — May 17, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    • what else do you reckon besides the dichotomy of hell or death?

      Well, just looking at other cultures, we have stories of reincarnation. So, if we start admitting notions of hell (something we have no credible evidence for) then I don’t see why we should leave out reincarnation (another thing we have no credible evidence for).

      As a framework for discussion, I would lay it out like this:
      One possibility is that there is an annihilation of consciousness. This is what you seem to define as death. If we assume there is some persistence of consciousness after the body ceases to function, then there is a question of how much of your “soul” is persevered i.e. your memories, your cognitive abilities, your beliefs, your likes/dislikes etc. The third degree of freedom is what new experiences your consciousness encounters. Probably, the easiest to imagine is just being born as another person.

      In this framework, Hell is one particular outcome with a preserved consciousness, “soul” and particular experience along the lines of Dante’s Inferno. But, there are possibilities like a shared consciousness, a blending of souls and experiencing every aspect of the universe. Or, a persistent consciousness, a modified “soul” and an experience as a cat, dog, another human, or a cloud. Or we could get to live our lives again. Or we could wake up to discover some new reality, like we were part of an extensive simulation. Or, we could just dream.

      Fiction is filled with a multitude of possibilities. Even then, I’m sure our imagination is quite poor on the subject. I’m sure you can come up with more. The annihilation of consciousness is the one I find most probable, and what I believe will happen after I die. Not because I want to, not because I find it the most appealing, but it seems to be the most reasonable conclusion given the evidence; particularly observing people with brain damage and my personal experience (consistent with other accounts) of when I was under general anesthetic.

      The reason why I pick this out is that people who bring up Hell seldom explain how they eliminated all the other possibilities, and if they do, they invariably back fit the evidence starting with the Bible. This is rationalizing pure and simple, and it is one of ways people fool themselves.

      Comment by codesmithy — May 17, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

  5. i gave hell as a worst case scenario kind of thing but thank you for elaborating. were these always your beliefs or were you ever taught anything else?

    Comment by sam — May 17, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    • i gave hell as a worst case scenario kind of thing but thank you for elaborating. were these always your beliefs or were you ever taught anything else?

      I think we are all born agnostics. However, I was raised to be a Christian. As a child, you don’t really have the luxury of not believing what you are told.

      I wouldn’t say I ever believed in God the same way I believed the grass was green. It always took a bit of a hedge. The Bible made it clear that God talked to people and interfered all the time. In today’s world, I didn’t see God offered as the explanation for the happenings in the world, so there was always an incongruity. At the time, I reconciled this by thinking God had intervened more in the past. Some apologists will claim this also. Then I started noticing that many of the Bible stories didn‘t make a lot of sense, particularly the stories surrounding creation and the flood. I mean, why didn’t God notice the snake talking to Eve if He was supposed to be omnipresent and omniscient? Why didn’t God catch Eve before she ate the apple, or before she convinced Adam to eat of the tree? Why were they ashamed of being naked? When they were kicked out of Eden, where did all the other people come from, did they start committing incest? Isn’t that a sin? Then some of the exact same issues cropped up with the flood, again with the same unsatisfactory resolution. That started happening around 7, and it has been a pretty steady erosion since then.

      So, by the time I was ready to be confirmed, I didn’t really believe the Bible any longer. However, I saw the whole thing as a big insurance policy: believe in God and you avoid Hell and maybe go to Heaven. Maybe you’ll never use it, but it is nice to have. I made this point of view clear to my pastor and he told me that wasn’t a good reason to believe, but it didn’t stop my confirmation. I think it was sometime during college that I finally rejected Pascal’s Wager as a reason to go to church.

      I considered myself firmly agnostic until I read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. As he put it, atheism is not a matter of knowledge, but of belief, and it is disingenuous to say that I think the probability of there being a Jehovah versus there not being one are equally likely. I can’t express the improbability of Jehovah quantitatively, but I can express it qualitatively, and He is as improbable as Zeus, Thor, etc. I feel it is accurate to say I live my life according to that assessment.

      That said, I don’t consider what I believe to be the most important thing and I reserve the right to change my beliefs without notice. Nor do I think that not changing one’s mind is necessarily a virtue. In fact, I think it may be a sign that someone is unreasonable.

      So what is important? At the most fundamental level, what this blog is supposed to be about is the process. Not what to think, but how to think. How do we determine truth about the reality we live in? I say skepticism, dialogue, evidence, and reasoned argument.

      In this sense, the problem isn’t really religion. The problem is that we have billions of people on the planet and the technology to make the planet unsuitable for further human existence. Something we are well on the way to accomplishing. As a species, we need to start acting more intelligently. Not believing in bronze age or iron age myths is just one small aspect of that project.

      Comment by codesmithy — May 18, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  6. ” You shall love God before and after anything created” , When Jesus came to earth he left behind 7 tribes… meaning that he left here on earth 7 diffent ways of loving him… Thier is no one true religion thier is no one absolute faith… all thier is… is to follow the examples that he left us…

    Comment by Jason — September 28, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    • Jason, do you have the capability of self-reflection? Are you able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and envision how, what you say will be received?

      I’m not going to do your work for you. So, when you quote something, you should show some intellectual honesty and give the source.

      Jesus left behind 7 tribes? What do you mean by tribe? What evidence do you have for this claim?

      Then you go from tribes to loving Jesus. This is a non sequitur. Even if I grant that Jesus left behind 7 tribes (which I don‘t), that doesn’t mean there are an equal number ways of loving him.

      There are three types of “there:” there, their, and they’re. “Their” is possessive. So, if you say “their is”, it is wrong. It should be “there is.” Also, you spelled it wrong.

      Also, I don‘t care about your conclusion about there being no “true“ religion, or faith. What is important is your reasons for believing that. If your reason is some mangled quote and some nonsense about Jesus leaving behind 7 tribes followed by dubious reasoning, then your reasons aren‘t good. In fact, I would say they’re atrocious.

      So, why do feel compelled to post such noisome garbage? Did you really think there was any way I would find them the least bit convincing? Because, to me, your last post is equivalent to vandalism.

      Comment by codesmithy — October 1, 2009 @ 6:48 am


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