- For the book by Guy P. Harrison, see 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.
50 reasons to believe in God is an email that made the rounds of atheist bloggers in June 2008. PZ Myers, on his blog Pharyngula, identifies the original author as Debra Rufini, an author whose recent book contains "an imaginary scenario in which Richard Dawkins gets psychiatric counseling…from Jesus".
What follows is a collection of responses to these purported "reasons".
(Note that the title associated with each "reason" did not appear in the original e-mail and is provided here merely for reference.)
Responses to the message
It is easy to prove to yourself that God is real. the evidence is all around you. Here are 50 simple proofs:
General responses: None of the arguments put forth in this e-mail are "proofs" of God's existence. Technically, most of them aren't even "reasons" to believe. On the other hand, the author did say, "prove to yourself", which is, one could argue, different from proving a claim to someone else. Nevertheless, almost all of the arguments rely on the same handful of logical fallacies, the responses to which can be summarized as follows:
- Disproof of one claim is not proof of another (unless they are exact logical opposites).
- The burden of proof lies with the person making the claim that something exists or should be "believed in".
- Just because you can't figure out what caused something, or can't understand how something works, doesn't mean God did it.
- Arguing that the environment was created to fit the needs of humans is getting the order of causality exactly backwards: according to modern evolutionary theory, humans have evolved to fit their environment.
- If an argument for the existence of God can be used to argue for the existence of any other god, then it can't be a good reason to believe in the particular god of Christianity.
Reason 1: DNA
Whilst agreeing that random patterns occur naturally by chance, DNA however, consists of code, which requires a designer.
Response: A code does not simply require a designer - it requires an encoder and a decoder who agree on its meaning. Or more generally, a code requires a set of understanders. It makes no sense to speak of something being a "code" unless it encodes a message of some sort from a sender to a receiver. That is to say, to call DNA a "code" at all is question-begging. DNA is a chemical which interacts with other chemicals according to well-understood laws of chemistry and physics.
However, if we wish to speak of it as encoding a message, then that message surely comes not from a god but from prior generations of living things. The messages our distant ancestors have left for us are such things as; "this is a good way to make a muscle", "this is how you digest food", "it is a good idea to run away from things that look like this", and of course those instincts that make us a social species such as "punish the wicked", and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".
Response: Not all systems which are known to represent information (a.k.a. code) were known to have been created by a designer. For example, the solar system can be viewed as a system which encodes information, such as the length of a day or the period in which one might harvest crops, or the tidal calendar. While this coded information provides data relevant to the daily lives of the inhabitants of this planet, it is by no means apparent that this information was created by a designer, and it is highly plausible this information is simply the emergent metrics of an unordered assembly of celestial bodies.
Response: And why grant that "random patterns" occur naturally? Isn't everything in the universe under the direct control of God in the author's worldview? If not, then how can God be said to be omnipresent and omnipotent?
Response: Evolution demonstratively can devise codes. In some Evolutionary Algorithms, they have done exactly that. []
Response: The designer IS evolution. There is no reason to assume that a designer must be supernatural, conscious, intelligent, or singular.
Reason 2: Paranormal phenomena
How do you explain the paranormal, such as people witnessing positive or negative sightings, like ghosts or angels? I saw a ghost with a friend of mine — I am not a liar, an attention seeker. Neither was I overtired when this happened.
Response: This is an argument from personal experience and an implicit appeal to personal revelation. It fallaciously presupposes that one's senses, and the interpretations given them, are infallible. One need not be a liar or attention-seeker, or be overtired to misinterpret sensory information.
Humans have evolved a variety of cognitive shortcuts to deal with the mass of information provided by our senses. In particular, we tend to filter sensory input according to a set of expectations built up from prior beliefs and past experience (a fact that magicians primarily rely upon to "fool the eye", especially in close-up magic). In addition, we tend to impart meaning on ambiguous input even when there is no real meaning behind it (e.g., "seeing faces" or "hearing voices" where there are none). There are also real physiological limitations to our senses that result in nearly universal misperceptions such as optical illusions. On a different level, we tend to see causal relationships where none exist (one example of this kind of fallacious reasoning is called post hoc ergo propter hoc). All of these tendencies may have conferred evolutionary advantages in the past — and may continue to do so today — but they can easily lead to the misinterpretation of evidence.
Finally, consider the fact that the very same phenomena that were once attributed to "ancestors" in early human history may have been attributed to angels or demons in the Middle Ages, to witches or the Devil in the 17th and 18th centuries, to "spirits" or poltergeists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and to extraterrestrials in the late 20th century. The sensory stimuli may be the same, but the interpretation is different. Why should we believe the claim that these phenomena point to the existence of a god, especially the god of Christianity?
Response: I don't believe you. We each of us have to decide, from the multitude of conflicting voices around us, what information we are going to accept as reliable. I have no more reason to believe your miracle story than you have to believe the stories that a Hindu might tell you, or indeed that other Christians might tell you. Every religion is awash with absurd miracle stories, and you and I both have to reject the vast majority of them. You are going to have to do better than "My mate and I saw a ghost! For real!"
Response: That you, your friend or anyone had a "paranormal" experience is non sequitur. It by no means implies, let alone proves, an all-powerful, supernatural being. Even if someone was able to measure the event (e.g. electromagnetic measurements, video, sound) it does not prove there is a God. It only proves that "something" was there.
Response: I'll play error's advocate here, and assume the author is being honest, mainly because it doesn't matter if the author is honest or lying. As is noted above, the existence of something unknown or not fully identifiable does not in and of itself negate the laws of nature. Jumping to the conclusion that something not easily identified must be supernatural is simply an error. Anyone who retains any memories of their childhood can quickly recall a strange shadow, ominous sound, or other unidentifiable phenomenon which the primitive parts of their mammal brain was pleased to interpret as a threat, only to find on investigation that it had a completely ordinary, natural cause. The problem is that some people are not able to filter the natural, instinctive tendency to paranoia through the filter of experience of reality. Those who refuse to understand that our ancient ancestors were weak, frightened, little prey animals for whom paranoia was a survival trait will never be able to escape their slavery to animal instinct.
Reason 3: Prayer
Try praying. What good is it when a mind is set to coincidence & disbelief regarding the positive outcome?
Response: This argument is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. It urges the reader to pray, and anticipates that any results of prayer would be easy to dismiss as chance. In essence this is an admission that the results of prayer may not actually be distinguishable from coincidence and chance. On the other hand, using similar reasoning, what good is it to consider the extremely low odds of winning the lottery, or the risks of day trading? Shouldn't we all just jump in and have a little faith? Skepticism helps people live better, more secure lives.
Response: What good is it to have confirmation bias or to commit the logical fallacy of cherry picking? Inevitably, advocates of the effectiveness of prayer emphasize the "hits" and ignore the "misses," as if prayer were involved in any way with the outcome in the first place.
Response: Try praying for what? Prayer will not set a broken bone; prayer will not move a mountain. Prayer has been tested scientifically and it failed. The Templeton Foundation funded a prayer study to find out if prayer helped recovery after heart surgery. The results were conclusive that prayer did not help; on the contrary, it showed that those who knew they were being prayed for actually experienced more complications during recovery. Brain studies have shown that the same areas of the brain are active during meditation and talking problems out with friends, these latter two having greater results in improving on the quality of life. Try praying? I say try a little meditation and have a few drinks at dinner with friends; it will do you a lot more good.
Response: Try praying to what/whom? Indications are that prayer "works" equally "well" no matter where or to what it is directed, placing the source of any efficacy closer to the person praying.
Reason 4: First cause
The law of cause & effect - in order to have an effect, there has to be a cause. Everything is caused by something.
Response: This fails to provide proof for a god, as it requires to define god as the "uncaused cause," therefore negating the original premise. Refer also to David Hume's arguments regarding the inability to determine the cause of an effect through reason alone (we need some prior experience, and have none for "creating universes".) Moreover, there need not be a direct cause for all things: there may be no direct cause for the radioactive decay of an individual atom, and yet it happens. There also appears to be uncaused quantum "effects", as well. Attempts to use physical laws (real or conventionally accepted) to require the existence of a god tend to ignore that, for nearly all definitions of a god, that god violates various physical laws. Even if "everything must have a cause" necessitated the existence of a god, the fact that "energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed" (the First Law of Thermodynamics) would necessitate an un-created/eternal universe. Theists can't cherry-pick physical laws to prove their god's existence. (See also Special pleading.)
Response: Even if there was a first cause, how is this a proof of a god? The only characteristic such a "god" would have is that it was the "uncaused cause" of everything else. You can't say anything about whether it still exists, is intelligent, cares about humanity, or any other purported characteristic of the kinds of gods worshiped by theists.
Response: The law of cause & effect is more accurately described as: 'when an effect is caused, the cause must occur first.' It is a temporal rule defining the terms cause and effect. As stated above, an effect does not require a cause; merely if there was a cause, then it must occur first.
Reason 5: Complexity
Mindless nothing cannot be responsible for complex something.
Response: This is fallacious in its assumption that an atheistic viewpoint requires the world to start from "nothing". It also is guilty of special pleading ("responsibility" is an attribute of intelligence) and is another invocation of the argument from design. Note also that the author's "nothing" includes the entirety of physical, chemical, and other laws of the universe.
For the record, none of the scientific theories about the beginning of the universe posit that there was "nothing" and then there was "something." Big Bang theory describes the early universe as being compacted to an extremely hot, dense region sometimes described as a "singularity", and this does pose certain problems at the quantum level because of how matter is understood to work in our present universe. But it is not even clear that matter yet existed at this singularity; it doesn't have to, either, because matter and energy are equivalents by general relativity, and energy does not require any space.
Response: We know that this claim is factually wrong. According to this argument, complex snowflakes must be made by some intelligence, rather than the "mindless nothing" of physical and chemical forces. In other words, if this is true then God must assign angels (or something) to individually craft each snowflake, and there must be some "Jack Frost" who draws those artistic patterns on our windows when it's cold. Rather than this childish, storybook view of the world, we know that emergent complexity happens all the time, and is an exciting and interesting branch of mathematics and science.
Snowflakes are a special case of crystalline structure. Diamonds are another; a diamond is nothing more than a special (and very precise) arrangement of carbon atoms in a structure that makes the overall object transparent and very hard (unlike graphite or other forms of pure carbon). Diamonds do not require a creator to arrange the carbon atoms just so; they require nothing more than the right pressure to force the carbon atoms into this configuration, and such pressures arise naturally in the Earth as a result of nothing more than the physical properties of matter and gravity.
Response: For any purposefully created universe to be "complex", the being who created it would surely have to be even more complex. Thus if complexity suggests a creator, then the increased complexity required of a creator god suggests that it also would require a creator. This gets into the same problems of infinite regress and special pleading as the first cause argument. The conclusion that the creator must necessarily be more complex than anything in the universe demonstrates that the existence or such a being is greatly improbable, perhaps even "infinitely" so — that is, impossible.
Response: One possible definition of "random" is having no discernible pattern (discernible in principle, not just as a practical matter). Thus, "random patterns" could be argued to be maximally complex (since any simpler pattern could presumably, in principle, be discovered and characterized). But the author has already granted in Reason 1 that "random patterns occur naturally by chance". Therefore, the author must agree that complex things can occur "mindlessly" by chance. So even though a "mindless nothing cannot be responsible for complex something", a "mindless something" can be. This is exactly what is claimed by the currently accepted scientific theory about the origin of the universe: something (not requiring a "mind") caused spacetime to start expanding outward from a very compact state approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Sounds like the author must grant that it is possible that the universe could have come about naturally!
Reason 6: Limitations of science
Science can only be the detector of certain things. You cannot scientifically detect emotion, memory, thoughts etc., though scientifically we must. These things which do not consist of matter are beyond the detection of science.
Response: This is a case of possible confusion on the meaning of the terms used, as well as a use of the god of the gaps argument. We can detect emotions through the physical changes to the body, and we can detect brain activity. To say that memory is not detected 'scientifically' is possibly a dualistic argument, but there is no basis in it. It is true, however, that the scientific method can only detect certain things: specifically, things which have some observable effect in the universe. Either God has an observable effect on the universe, and can therefore be studied scientifically, or God does not, and therefore is irrelevant.
Response: Taking the case of 'memory' further, psychologists long ago learned that if they probe the brain in certain areas, they can stimulate full, vivid, true memories in the subject. This would seem to be a form of 'scientific detection' of memory. In addition there are a myriad of technologies like fMRI and which are used to this effect.
Response: That science cannot detect certain things implies there is a god is a non sequitur. There are distances and lengths of time that we cannot measure (see: Planck Units), and the current scientific belief is that we cannot because they are too small. We cannot detect the surface of extra-solar planets, yet we know they exist. The number 6 does not consist of matter, yet it can be said to exist. We also cannot detect it. None of these imply there is a God.
Response: Even if science was not able to detect emotion, memory or thought, saying we "must" be able to detect them is a mere supposition.
Reason 7: Evolution is only a theory
Evolution has never been proved, which is why we call it the 'theory of evolution'. It's a fairy tale for grown ups!
Response: This is surely an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Modern evolutionary theory is supported by a large number of independently verifiable facts and is used to explain, predict, and manipulate the responses of all manner of biological systems. Where is the corresponding evidence for God (or intelligent design, etc.)? No, in actuality, most religions, with their tales of super-beings and magical events, bear a much greater resemblance to fairy tales than does evolution.
More to the point, however, this is the "Evolution is only a theory" argument, which relies heavily on an equivocation between the common usage of the word "theory" and the scientific one (see Theory for more information). Furthermore, science is not about proofs, but evidence, and the evidence supporting evolution is solid. See, for example, the Wikipedia article, Introduction to evolution (or the full Evolution article).
Finally, even if our current understanding of evolution were completely wrong, it still wouldn't make belief in God any more reasonable.
Response: Gravity is 'just a theory' too. We do not really know how or why it exists, or what exactly causes it. We can, however, observe it, understand it, and make use of that understanding to fly airplanes, launch rockets, put satellites into orbit, etc. I think we could all agree that few theists would question the theory of gravity- why then single out evolution as being 'just a theory'?
Reason 8: Atheism is based on faith
Atheism is a faith which has not been proved. The disbelievers have not witnessed anything to not believe in, whereas the believers believe because they have witnessed. There is no 'good news' to preach in atheism.
Response: Typical claim that atheism is based on faith that God does not exist combined with the claim that religion provides hope. The former is simply untrue (for most atheists) and involves shifting the burden of proof when used as an argument for belief in God. You don't need to "prove" something doesn't exist to lack belief in it. Indeed, lack of belief should be the default position until compelling evidence is offered to justify that belief. The final sentence of this claim is an appeal to consequences; just because religion may have some positive effects does not mean that its claims are true, nor that its tenets should be accepted even for "practical" purposes.
Response: It is simply not true that "believers believe because they have witnessed". No believer alive today has witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus, the saints emerging from their graves, heaven, God, or any of the other myriad things that they claim to be "witnesses" to. Insofar as a religion orders its followers to "witness" to things they have no experience of, it is ordering them to be liars. Thomas had the right idea: when you have put your fingers in Jesus's wound, then you can come back and talk about being a "witness".
Response: In fact, atheism does have "good news" to "preach": atheists need not subscribe to the arbitrary customs and strictures of religious dogma. We don't have to reconcile biblical contradictions nor deal with the hypocrisies of a schizophrenic deity. We can use our own minds rather than submit to competing interpretations of "holy" books by human beings who claim to speak for God.
Reason 9: Atheists are angry with God
How much of the atheist's faith relies on anger with God as opposed to genuine disbelief in God?
Response: The assumption that any atheists are angry at God is an unfounded one and constitutes an ad hominem argument, since it questions the motivations behind atheists' lack of belief.
Response: Ignoring the atheism is based on faith part of the question, the correct answer is: None. One need not be angry at God (or, more properly, those who perpetuate the myth of God) to disbelieve (or, more properly, lack belief).
Granted, there are different kinds of atheists, and people are atheists for different reasons. But if you use atheism to mean either the lack of a belief in any gods or the belief that no gods exist then, logically, no atheists can be angry at God. How can you be angry at something that you don't think exists? Those who are angry at God are, by definition, not atheists but angry theists.
Response: I've asked the theist if they spend much time being angry at unicorns for killing all the faeries.
Reason 10: Atheists need to get a life
Why do many atheists shake their fists & spend so much time ranting & raving about something they don't believe in? If they are no more than a fizzled out battery at the end of the day, then why don't they spend their lives partying, or getting a hobby?! Why don't they leave this 'God nonsense' alone?
Response: This is a straw man argument, and a false dilemma. The author makes no attempt to disguise her grudge against atheists here. Atheism does not prevent hobbies, partying, etc. Furthermore, it neglects that while god may not exist, religions do exist. The adherents to these religions often try to impose the values and practices of their own religion onto society at large. This ranges from denying rights to people because they do not have the same beliefs to forcing their beliefs on school children which has a demonstrably negative effect on the future of these children, their communities, their country and the rest of the planet. For example, scientific advancement cannot take place if one starts off with the premise that the answer to every scientific question is "God dun it." Moreover, it presupposes that a majority of people on the planet believe in a fantasy and that is a good reason to have an active life.
Furthermore, assuming that atheists, indeed, need to get a life, it is not a valid reason to believe in a god, as the subject of the email insists.
Response: The vast majority of atheists have no problem with- indeed, could not care less about- theists and theism. It is the methods theists use that cause the problem. When we see theists use political means to try to force their beliefs down our throats, we are offended, and we do indeed "rant and rave" about this misuse of our political processes. However we, more than any, realize that one must have the convictions of their beliefs. Penn Jillette of "Penn & Teller" puts it nicely in one of his videos when he states something to the effect of "if you are a theist and you DON'T proselytize, I have no respect for you." In other words, if you truly believe in Christianity and yet do not share that belief with me- you are no Christian, and are, in fact, evil by your own definition, since you refuse to 'save my soul' by sharing your beliefs. I have no problem with theists sharing their beliefs when they follow established cultural norms in doing so (i.e., ask if I want to hear it, don't try to force your beliefs and opinions on me.)
Reason 11: Chicken-and-egg paradox
What created God? What came first, the chicken or the egg? I am not going to deny the existence of the chicken or the egg, merely because I don't understand or know what came first. I don't care - they both exist!
Response: Argumentum ad ignorantiam leading to post hoc ergo propter hoc. The egg came first. In fact, eggs preceded all birds. With regard to just chicken-eggs, the egg still came first. Anywhere you draw the line between chicken and proto-chicken is a first chicken that hatched from a chicken egg, laid by a proto-chicken.
This is also a direct refutation of Reason 4.
Reason 12: Improbability vs. impossibility
Improbability is not the same as impossibility. You only have to look at life itself for that backup of proof.
Reason 13: Complexity of human life
How could the complexity of human life possibly evolve on its own accord out of mindless cells?
Response: Argumentum ad ignorantiam. The complexity of life is the very thing that the theory of evolution explains. There are excellent books about it for the lay reader. We know a great deal about how such things "could possibly" work. See also Reason 5.
Reason 14: Complexity of the human mind
How could the complexity of the human mind possibly evolve on its own accord out of mindless cells? Where does our consciousness come from?
Reason 15: Food and drink
What/who knew that our hunger & thirst had to be catered for by the food & drink which we're supplied with?
Response: This is an example of the anthropic principle. It commits the formal fallacy of petitio principii, assuming that hospitable features of our universe were built to support life, rather than considering that life was adapted to the undesigned features of the universe through natural selection. Douglas Adams' analogy about a sentient puddle neatly sums up the problem with this argument.
Response: We did! Humans are not autotrophs (make one's own food). We require energy from other sources such as plants, fruits and animals. This process of eating and digesting is essential not only to life, but also to performing many biochemical reactions within our bodies. We evolved to eat these substances for this very purpose- we were not created to eat these things (nor were they created for us). If this is a "proof" for God, then we could challenge his benevolence. Why did he put plants on Earth that we can't digest? Or why create poisonous foods? Why do many foods from animals require so much physical risk to achieve? Certainly a loving God would not put such dangers on Earth that could threaten his creation.
Reason 16: The five senses
Most of us are born with the five senses to detect our surroundings, which we're provided with.
Response: The "five senses" common to most humans, while adequate for the purposes of savanna apes, are only able to capture the barest fraction of all light and sound waves, and detect a very limited set of chemicals. There is nothing intrinsically special about the number of senses we possess; in fact, depending on how you count them, there could be as few as 3 senses (a "chemical sense" combining taste and smell, "vibrational sense" combining hearing and one aspect of touch, and an "energy flow" sense comprising sight and the temperature-sensing aspect of touch) or as many as 10 (the usual 5 plus senses of temperature, pain, balance, and acceleration, and the so-called kinesthetic sense). Finally, there is nothing special about our sense mechanisms when compared with other members of the animal kingdom. We are far outclassed by various species in each of our sensory abilities, and we lack even rudimentary built-in detection mechanisms for light polarization and electrical or magnetic fields.
Response: And what about those of us who lack one or more senses? Is the fact that many people are born deaf and/or blind an argument against the existence of God?
Reason 17: Goldilocks and the habitable planet, part 1
What/who knew that had Earth been set nearer to the sun, we would burn up?
Response: See next reason.
Reason 18: Goldilocks and the habitable planet, part 2
What/who knew that had Earth been set any further from the sun, we would freeze up?
Response: What? Nothing. Who? No one. When Earth and the rest of the solar system were formed, the development of human life, or indeed life of any kind, was not the purpose or goal. We humans are the only ones (that we know of) who care that we are here. If things were different, they would be different. Perhaps a different kind of life would have developed — maybe even a kind of life that could wonder how or why it came to exist. But if not, there wouldn't be anyone to ask the question in the first place. In other words, it is possible that the correct answer to the question, "Why do things in the universe look like they were 'fine tuned' to support human life?" might simply be, "If they weren't that way, there would be no humans around to ask the question."
Response: There is a wide range of possible orbits suitable for Earth-like life (that is, carbon-based and dependent on water) in our solar system: about 0.95 to 1.37 AU (or 88 million to 127 million miles) from the Sun. The Earth is near the middle of this so-called Goldilocks zone, so it is hugely inaccurate to claim that any deviation from our current position would freeze (or burn) us all up. There is also reason to believe that life is possible in other places in the solar system, such as Jupiter's moon Europa or the moons Enceladus or Titan of Saturn. These "hot spots" are possible because direct warming by the Sun is not the only way for a celestial body to become warm enough to support life: tidal forces caused by gravitational attraction to other "nearby" bodies (like Earth's moon) can be sufficient to heat up the interior of a planet or moon.
Response: There are approximately 200 – 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Around many of these stars there are going to be planets. Most will be too hot or too cold for life, but there will surely be some that are the right temperature just by chance alone. Our solar system has 8 planets (Pluto is no longer recognized as a planet), only 2 of which (Earth and Mars) are in the Goldilocks zone. That makes 2 "successes" out of 8 for our solar system alone. Now extrapolate that to the billions of other solar systems that are presumed to exist in the billions of galaxies in the universe. Even with relatively pessimistic estimates of the sizes of the various Goldilocks zones and the number and kinds of planets that would form in them, there could easily be billions of planets capable of harboring life. See also the Infinite monkey theorem.
Reason 19: Goldilocks and the habitable planet, part 3
What/who knew that had Earth been built larger or smaller, its atmosphere would be one where it would not be possible for us to breathe?
Response: My main response to these points would be that this still does not prove the existence of God. This can be seen as a "god of the gaps" argument.
Reason 20: Complementarity of plant and animal life
What/who knew that we require the oxygen of plants, just as plants require the carbon dioxide of us?
Response: Anthropic principle. These anthropic principle arguments are all phrased in such a way as to assume that the answer must be in the form of a "who"--i.e., a personal God. This is begging the question.
Response: This 'reason' makes the mistake of assuming some inherent worth of humans or reason for humans to exist. The life on earth tends to conform to the conditions of the planet they inhabit. An organism that cannot conform to the required standards is more likely to die, which goes to show why we don't see the abomination known as the Crocoduck, or anything like it.
Reason 21: The tornado and the 747
The concept that life came about through sheer chance is as absurd & improbable as a tornado blowing through a junk yard, consequently assembling a Boeing 747!
Response: The Tornado and the 747 argument also does not take into consideration that a Boeing 747 is a nonliving entity, with no will of its own or ability to think or act. Life came about through natural selection, and by living organisms. Organisms that could adapt, had the will to survive and reproduced. As evolution progresses, organisms have evolved into more complex beings with the ability to communicate, socialize, analyze data and interpret them. Basically life did not come about by chance, as the nonliving 747 has no will to assemble itself whereas a conscious being can think and act to suit survival purposes.
Response: If one is to believe in cause and effect, there is no such thing as "sheer chance", even if it gives a illusion of such. Although there are some unanswered questions regarding the early evolution of life, we can definitely say that life did not arise according to chance. Molecules have ways of attracting each other and forming complex structures because they behave that way naturally. Given enough time and enough success, life can theoretically arise through natural mechanisms.
Reason 22: The invisible and the supernatural
We are willing to believe in physically unseen waves that exist through the air, operating physical forces & appliances to work [sic], yet not supernatural God forces being responsible for the same.
Response: While phenomena like radio waves or infrared light may not be visible to the human eye, they are not analogous to any purported supernatural forces. Natural "unseen" waves manifest in other ways — ways that are detectable and predictable. In short, they are well understood and explained by science, and this is why they can be utilized in technology. The same cannot be said for God.
Reason 23: Self-organization and entropy
Matter cannot organise itself. An uneaten tomato will not progress on its own accord to form a perfect pineapple. It will transform into mould, into disorganisation. The laws of evolution fall flat.
Response: An uneaten tomato does not "transform" into disorganization. It may decompose into simpler organic components by the action of bacteria, fungi or other creatures such as maggots through well-understood biological processes. In fact, these components might then become part of other plants or animals, including a pineapple. This argument is utter absurdity, ignoring the very basics of evolution, specifically that individuals do not evolve, populations evolve. It also ignores the role of reproduction in evolution, the fact that evolution proceeds by small changes over time, the lack of a hierarchical/teleological path for evolution, and so forth. It also conflates evolution and neguentropy, implying that more evolved animals are more "organized" or "ordered" in the thermodynamic sense. It also ignores all of the processes involved in living things acquiring "order", seeing only the end product. It is akin to seeing a tidy office, remembering it being untidy, and disregarding the net increase in entropy caused by the act of tidying it.
See the EvoWiki page on a similar, more common argument.
Reason 24: Darwin's deathbed conversion
Our 'inventor' of evolution, Mr. Charles Darwin had this to say to Lady Hope when he was almost bedridden for 3 months before he died; "I was a young man with unfathomed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions; wondering all the time over everything, and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire - people made a religion of them." Darwin then asked Lady Hope to speak to neighbors the next day. "What shall I speak about?" She asked. He replied; "Christ Jesus and his salvation. Is that not the best theme?"
Response: The story of Darwin's deathbed conversion is an urban myth. Even if it were true (and evidence shows that it is not), it is an argument from authority. We accept evolution not based on Darwin's word but on the evidence supporting the theory, most of which has been discovered since Darwin's death. By the same token, we should not reject evolution based on Darwin's word, even if he repudiated everything he had written on the subject. Similarly, we should not take Darwin's word for it that a god exists (if he did believe that) or that Christianity is the path to salvation. It is also worth noting that Darwin was not the first person to propose evolution as a possibility, or even that natural processes were responsible; he just happens to be the first to produce both a cogent theory for how the process works along with solid evidence supporting it.
Response: Though no evidence exists to confirm Darwin's spiritual views, his background and time in seminary may suggest he was theistic in his beliefs. Similar instances in his writings may support the idea that Darwin believed in a form of god, assuming these same were not simply matters of linguistic convention. If it is the case that Darwin believed in God, then it would be incorrect to use the term "conversion"; one cannot "convert" to what one already believes in.
Reason 25: Morality
Where do our moral values held within our conscience come from? If the atheist is right, why then would we care about what we did?! If there is no God, then we've no-one to be accountable to.
Response: Evolutionary psychologists have proposed explanations for many "moral values" and behaviors that appear to be instinctual; observations of social animals reveal that many have moral codes that are similar to that of humans. Atheists may follow any number of secular or religious (in the case of religious atheists) ethical codes, holding themselves accountable to values or ideals derived rationally, rather than to a deity. Furthermore, the Euthyphro dilemma turns this argument around on the theist: where do God's moral values come from?
Response: To whom are we morally responsible? In moral systems that lack a divine component, we are accountable to those around us.
Response: Most people don't share many of the moral values of the Bible. The vast majority of humans consider rape within marriage and slavery to be wrong while working on the sabbath is considered to be acceptable, which conflicts with biblical morality. The fact that the Bible condemns murder, theft and lying is trivial because peoples and even many other animals that are unfamiliar with the Bible also hold these moral values.
Reason 26: Man vs. animal
If man has evolved from an animal, why doesn't he behave like an animal? Yet man is civilised.
Response: There are many problems with this argument.
- It is based, at least implicitly, on the archaic concept of the Great Chain of Being, in which humans are seen as separate from, and inherently superior to, other animals. In fact, humans are animals. The theory of evolution doesn't hold that they evolved "away from" animals and became something fundamentally different.
- Since evolution necessarily implies change from a previous state, the fact that the ancestors of humans had certain characteristics doesn't necessarily mean that humans must still have those characteristics. Any two animal species will share certain characteristics and not share others. This is the result of the process of evolution and not — as is implied above — a refutation of it.
- Many human behaviors are, in fact, very similar to those found among animals today (especially other primates). Examples include the seeking of food and shelter, the forming of social groups to secure these resources, the forming of pair bonds for reproduction and the rearing of offspring, the protection of family members from others in the social group and of members of the group from outsiders, and communication through sound and gestures. On the other hand, aspects of human behavior that are indeed unique to our species may be attributable to adaptations such as bipedalism or advanced cognitive function, particularly the capacity for abstract thought. Evolutionary theory may actually be able to explain how these characteristics arose.
- Given the history of the 20th century (for example), there is some doubt as to what "civilized" actually means and whether humans can be said to possess that characteristic.
- Finally, as with Reason 7 (and many others), even if the claim above were completely true, it wouldn't justify belief in God.
Reason 27: Chance and ignorance
'Chance' isn't the cause of something. It just describes what we can't find a reason for.
Response: Straw man argument. While evolution contains some aspects of apparent "chance" (genetic mutations), the process of natural selection is the force which drives the process of adaptation. Furthermore, "chance" is not a description of something we cannot find a reason for; that is "ignorance". Chance is a description of systems which operate according to laws of probability.
Reason 28: Limitations of science and logic
Science & logic do not hold all the answers - many people are aware of forces at work which we have no understanding of & no control over.
Response: Argumentum ad ignorantiam and special pleading. If we have no understanding of these forces, then how can anyone be said to be "aware" of them? If we are aware, we must have some small measure of understanding.
Response: Of course science and logic do not have all the answers. That's why we're still working on them. And, yes, it is possible that they do not "hold" all the answers either (i.e., that there may be some things that are simply unknowable based on observation and logical reasoning). But we don't know that. (!) In other words, just because something is not known doesn't mean it cannot be known.
Response: Majority opinion is irrelevant to truth. Many people may believe a lie or simply misunderstand a phenomenon. The history of science, medicine, and mathematics (not to mention politics and religion) are littered with examples of ideas that used to be believed by "most people" and not only are no longer believed today, but have been conclusively disproved. (The Earth is not flat nor the center of the universe; disease is not caused by angry ancestors or bad thoughts; the counting numbers are not the only numbers that are possible; men are not inherently more intelligent than, or morally superior to, women; etc.) Instead, we should be asking bigger questions: Are these people who believe things they "can't understand" experts in a related field? Have they received relevant education or professional experience? Anyone can come to conclusions about a topic in physics, for instance, but if they are not physicists or even have a minute understanding of science, we should be very skeptical of their conclusions.
What is the majority basing their opinions on? Evidence? If no, then we can't say with certainty they have a "proven" claim. Feeling, Emotion, Belief? If yes, then perhaps there is a bias they have preventing them from accepting conflicting evidence or looking upon the subject from other perspectives. Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series, wrote Sherlock as saying "Never theorize before one has data, invariably one twists facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts." Majority opinion can always be based on biases and evidence is required to take any claim seriously.
Is the majority well informed on the subject and all aspects/perspectives on it? You can hardly say that "many people believe in mediums, therefore medium phenomena is true." Really? Have the believers read any skeptical positions? Done any research? Looked for alternative explanations? Just as with evolution, in some countries, the majority do not believe- but are they aware of all the evidence? It's hardly fair to say majority wins when many of the majority may not have all the facts.
Lastly, just because there may be things we do not yet have scientific answers to, it does not mean there is no scientific answer. We just haven't found one yet. It's nothing more than a hasty conclusion to say "Science has no answer, therefore this one is true." It is not so. Perhaps we will find an answer in a year or two from now, or maybe even a hundred. But until then, conclusions should not be made.
Reason 29: Gregorian calendar
Look at the date/year on our calender - 2000 years ago since what? Our historical records (other than the Bible) record evidence of Jesus' existence.
Response: This is an unfounded claim that the Gregorian calendar proves that Jesus existed. The Anno Domini (AD) dating system was not created until 525 AD. It is not independent, contemporary historical confirmation of the New Testament. The current Gregorian Calendar was drafted in 1582 under the direction of Pope Gregory XIII of the Catholic church, and cannot act as evidence of the existence of a man who is thought to have lived 15 centuries earlier.
Response: Look at the names of days and months on your calendar. This proves that the gods Moon, Tiu, Woden, Thor, Frigg, Saturn and Sun, Januarius, the Roman gods to whom the Februa were celebrated, Mars, etc., etc. all exist.
Reason 30: Martyrs
Many people have died for their faith. Would they be prepared to do this for a lie?!
Response: This could only show that purported martyrs believed they were dying for a true faith. It cannot prove that their beliefs are actually true; martyrs may be mistaken. Many people have died in the name of many contradictory faiths. Further, people have given their lives in the name of beliefs such as Nazism, kamikazes or even religious Muslim fundamentalists who blow themselves up for their faith; must we assume these are also true?
Reason 31: Biblical accounts
Much of the Bible deals with eyewitness accounts, written only 40 years after Jesus died. When the books in the New Testament were first around, there would have been confusion & anger if the books were not true.
Response: It may be a stretch to describe stories of events written 40+ years after they supposedly occurred as "eyewitness accounts", when the average lifespan of a human in those times was likely much lower. The truth is that none of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, the earliest dating estimate is 65 C.E. and most are thought to be significantly later. Moreover, the earliest New Testament texts were purportedly authored by early church founder Paul of Tarsus, who was not an eyewitness. Even assuming the events were recorded by supposed eyewitnesses, we could make that argument in favor of many religious texts and other writings which may contradict each other. Does this give us reason to assume the events recorded in books like the Qur'an are also true? And given the many conflicts over heresies, apocryphal texts and other teachings in the early church, it seems safe to say that there was "confusion and anger" over the contents of the books.
Response: Some of the Four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. We do not know who wrote any of the Gospels. There only consensus among critical biblical scholars is "We don't know." However, by examining the text we learn that Matthew and Luke copied (often verbatim) from Mark - meaning Mark was their source, not eye-witness accounts. However, scholars are agreeing that Mark was written as an alleged fiction.
There may be truth in the New Testament accounts in terms of "normal" historical events that can be verified through comparing contemporary historical works and archaeology. However, often times this is not the case. For instance, it is clear that the New Testament is dramatically incorrect about the consensus, eclipse, the story of Herod committing mass infanticide “in Bethlehem and all the surrounding country-side” (Matthew 2:16). While the Bible does contain major historically incorrect events, one could question whether or not the supernatural events that are written in the Gospels took place.
Reason 32: Archaeology
From as early as 2000 BC, there is archaeological evidence to confirm many details we're provided with in the Bible.
Response: This may be true, but there is also a striking lack of archaeological evidence for many important stories recorded in the Bible (see claim #34). Atheists do not claim that the Bible must be entirely false in every respect. What matters when determining if the Bible provides basis for a belief in God is the evidence we can find for its claims of supernatural phenomena, like the resurrection of Jesus. This evidence does not exist. Furthermore, there is evidence to confirm many of the details provided in the Iliad or the average Spider-Man comic, but that doesn't mean that Achilles and Spider-Man exist.
Response: Before the 1970s, many people thought that archeology was an excellent helping tool for the Bible, however this is no longer true. Scholars are questioning the whole model of "biblical archaeology," which starts with the assumption that the Bible is a reliable guide for field research. Indeed, there is now so much contrary evidence AGAINST the historical accuracy of the Bible that the term "biblical archaeology" has been discarded by professional archaeologists and Syro-Palestinian archaeology has been suggested by some practicing in the field as a more appropriate term.
Reason 33: Biblical prophecy
Not one single Biblical prediction can be shown as false, and the Bible contains hundreds.
Response: This is an attempt to shift the burden of proof. The Bible does not contain a single fulfilled prediction which is/was verifiable, non trivial, and was not self-fulfilling.
Biblical prophecy was "confirmed" by those who were already aware of such prophecy and with a vested interest in ensuring that such prophecy had the appearance of being fulfilled.
Further, most of the so-called prophecies have been refuted by Hebrew scholars on the grounds that they 1) Are not prophetic in nature 2) Did not refer to the Messiah 3) Are wrongly interpreted by Christians 4) A combination of 1, 2 and 3. The most blatant example is claim that the messiah was to be born of a virgin based on Isaiah 7:14. Among the many errors in this interpretation is that the word "almah" (translated as virgin) more accurately means "young woman". Although a young woman can imply a virgin, Hebrew scholars have shown that had "virgin" been meant, the word "betulah" would have been used instead. In addition, the form of the adjective "pregnant" implies a past, present, or imminent future pregnancy and not the 700 years until the birth of Jesus. Further, the phrase “she will name” implies that this will be the child's name and not simply what the child will be called (as in a nickname). The child was named "Jesus" and not "Emmanuel" and thus this prophecy was not fulfilled. Similar errors and problems exists with most of the other so-called prophecies.
Response: There are several mundane ways in which a prediction of the future can be fulfilled:
- Retrodiction. The "prophecy" can be written or modified after the events fulfilling it have already occurred.
- Vagueness. The prophecy can be worded in such a way that people can interpret any outcome as a fulfillment. Nostradomus's prophecies are all of this type. Vagueness works particularly well when people are religiously motivated to believe the prophecies.
- Inevitability. The prophecy can predict something that is almost sure to happen, such as the collapse of a city. Since nothing lasts forever, the city is sure to fall someday. If it has not, it can be said that according to prophecy, it will.
- Denial. One can claim that the fulfilling events occurred even if they have not. Or, more commonly, one can forget that the prophecy was ever made.
- Self-fulfillment. A person can act deliberately to satisfy a known prophecy.
There are no prophecies in the Bible that cannot easily fit into one or more of those categories.
Response: This claim is simply false. Perhaps the most strikingly embarrassing unfulfilled prophecy in the bible is Jesus' prediction of his own second coming, to occur within the lifetimes of the people listening to him. There are dozens of others. Its been over 2000 years.
Response: Those prophecies only come true in the context of the bible, which was compiled and edited after the fact. There are many works of fiction where predictions are made that come true in the context of that book or film, does this make the stories true?
Response: Plus, this ignores the vast amount of prophecies from various other religions and faiths, some of which also claim to have hundreds of fulfilled prophecies.
Reason 34: Biblical history
The evidence from literature & historical studies claim that Biblical statements are reliable details of genuine events.
Response: Please see article - Mythicism to learn why history does not support a Biblical Jesus of Nazareth.
Response: Across all claims and statements in the bible, this is plainly false. In addition to the miracles and supernatural events described in the Bible, for which there is no historical evidence, many of the historical claims which could theoretically be substantiated with archaeological evidence are contradicted by modern historians. For example, historians believe there is no evidence for Hebrew slavery in Egypt or the Exodus as described in the Old Testament. Certain events and even individuals mentioned in the bible are mentioned in other documents, and most scholars accepted their historicity. However, there is absolutely no verification for any of the so-called miracles and many of the events are contradicted by more historically reliable sources. For instance, there is not a single mention of the dead rising from their graves in Jerusalem after Jesus' death. An event like this would surely gotten gigantic attention, but not a single person (scribe, poet, historian, scholar, professor, student, tax collector, Roman official, etc.) mentions it - remember, Jerusalem was the center of education at the time and illiteracy was much lower than on the countrysides.
Response: Before the 1970s, many people thought that archeology was an excellent helping tool for the Bible, however this is no longer true. Scholars are questioning the whole model of "biblical archaeology," which starts with the assumption that the Bible is a reliable guide for field research. Indeed, there is now so much contrary evidence AGAINST the historical accuracy of the Bible that the term "biblical archaeology" has been discarded by professional archaeologists and Syro-Palestinian archaeology has been suggested by some practicing in the field as a more appropriate term.
Response: The gospels were written at least 45 years after Jesus supposedly died (if he existed). Fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 BCE Herodotus the Halicarnassian asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years and then he wrote a book about it. Though he often shows a critical and skeptical mind, sometimes naming his sources or even questioning their reliability when he is suspicious or conflicting accounts, he nevertheless reports without a hint of doubt that the following actually happened: the Temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightning bolts and collapsing cliffs; the sacred olive tree of Athens, though burned by the Persians, grew an arm's length in a single day; a miraculous flood-tide wiped an entire Persian contingent after they desecrated an image of Poseidon; a horse gave birth to a rabbit; and a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish! Why doesn't anyone believe this? Herodotus was positively sure of what he reported happened. Why doubt him?
Reason 35: Christianity and science in harmony
From the birth of science through to today, there is no evidence to claim that Christianity & science are in opposition. Many first scientists were Christians; Francis Bacon, Issaac [sic] Newton, Robert Boyle, to name a few, along with the many who stand by their work & faith today.
Response: Many of the arguments in this email appear to promote Christianity by opposing science, but even if we grant that there is no conflict between science and Christianity and that many scientists are Christians, this hardly provides evidence that Christianity is true. See burden of proof. And if we fail to grant that there is no conflict, we recognize many contradictions between the Biblical account and established science.
Response: From the time of Galileo to the latest attempts by creationists to push their agendas in schools, science and faith have always been in opposition. Whether it's the germ theory of disease vs. demons and the powers of the air, the preposterous miracles of the Roman Catholic Church, heliocentrism vs. angels moving the stars about, lightning rods instead of sounding the church bells, science has never had to back down: it has always been religion that has had to preserve itself by "reinterpreting" its texts.
Response: This argument assumes that the definition of a scientist is "someone who advanced our scientific knowledge during or after the 17th century Scientific Revolution", conveniently ignoring the many scientific advances made by cultures that predate Christianity. For example, the discoveries of leverage and controlled ignition (ie - fire) are generally considered to have been pretty important.
Reason 36: How vs. why
Science can explain 'how' something works, but not 'why' something works.
Response: This argument is essentially meaningless. To science, 'how' and 'why' are the same thing. 'How' speaks of the mechanism, 'why' speaks of the cause. If a domino knocks another domino over, the 'how' is by transfer of energy, the 'why' is explained as Newton's three laws of motion.
Response: Terry Pratchett, of all people, gives an insight into this. The question "why" presupposes that there is a story to be told. A narrative. Science is a different way of knowing, and one of its discoveries is that the language of the universe is not that of story and legend, but that of mathematics. It's something that a lot of math-phobes have a hard time accepting.
Reason 37: Science changes
Science is constantly recorrecting [sic] its findings. Past theories contradict certain beliefs which are held today. Our present 'discoveries' may change again in the future to rediscover how we originally came into existence.
Response: A willingness to reconsider theories in the face of new evidence is essential to any process that seeks the truth. Science is strong precisely because of this, rather than despite it. In addition, religious groups, even those considered extreme or fundamentalist, often change their teachings in response to social concerns. For example, the Church of Latter-Day Saints abandoned polygamy in order to gain statehood for Utah. Mainstream Christianity is guilty of the same revisionism: In 1633, Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for promoting heliocentrism, which directly contradicts biblical "evidence" of the organization of the universe. It wasn't until 1992 that Galileo was officially vindicated in a declaration by Pope John Paul II. Did God change the arrangement of the heavenly bodies in the intervening centuries? Or was the Catholic Church simply wrong because they were using a completely unreliable source of knowledge? Ben Franklin was accused of heresy by Catholics and Protestants alike, for developing the lightning rod, which was considered an effort to stifle God's wrath. Today, however, virtually all structures, including churches, are fitted with lightning protection.
Response: When science changes, the new theory generally explains both the new facts and the old. For example, Einstein's theory of relativity, which shows relative speed, changes the rules while at the same time making it quite clear that Newtonian physics is still a very good approximation for a lot of things. On the contrary, when society changes in such a way that religions have to "reinterpret" their own scriptures, the original interpretations are no longer valid. The prior behaviors of followers are then written off as heretical, as, for example, in the case of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. See also: no true Scotsman.
Response: The truth is always changing and evolving. Humans, both individually and collectively, only have a limited understanding of how the world is. Whether or not we admit it, our view of our world is one made up of a lot of assumptions, however educated they may be. The fact that science and the interpretation of religious beliefs keep changing is proof of this. The fact that science and religion are constantly changing should not be a reason to dismiss either one entirely. We should dismiss our own personal assumptions/beliefs regarding the object in question, and not the object itself.
Reason 38: Abiogenesis
Evolution describes the way life possibly started, yet doesn't explain what made life start & why. Scientific questions fail to do that. Even if evolution were proved, it would still not disprove God.
Response: The biological theory of evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life; it describes how the diversity and complexity of life found today arose from simpler organisms. However, science could explain how life began on Earth if a credible theory of abiogenesis or panspermia emerges in the future. Though there is currently no generally accepted and evidence-supported theory of how life arose on Earth, scientists have demonstrated that abiogenesis is possible (such as in the Miller-Urey experiment), and there are a variety of hypotheses which are more parsimonious than one invoking a transcendent God. While a consensus theory of abiogenesis or panspermia would not disprove the existence of God, the burden of proof is on those who assert the existence of supernatural phenomena.
Response: The author is entirely correct in maintaining that proof of evolution would not be disproof of God; however, as can be seen in many other "reasons", she seems to be unwilling or unable to recognize that disproof of evolution is likewise not proof of God.
Response: Scientists haven't answered all of the questions of the universe. I admit this. However, this fact is not a reason to believe in God. This fact doesn't have anything to do with God.
Response: Evolution is true and it does disprove the existence of the god of the Jewish and Christian Bible. Evolution shows there was no creation since there was no creation then there was no Garden of Eden then there is no first sin. Since there was no first sin then there is no evil in the world. Since there is no evil in the world then there is no reason for there to be a Jesus Christ and no reason for him to give his life to wash away our sins with his blood. So with evolution there is no god of the Bible or its false religions.
Reason 39: A bad lie?
The two people who discovered Jesus' empty tomb were women. Women were very low on the social scale in first century Palestine, so in order to make the story fit, it would have made far more sense to claim that it were male disciples who had entered the tomb. But it wasn't - we're left with the historical & Biblical truth.
Response: Let me get this straight: because women had low status and because it is written somewhere that some women claimed something that would be really great (from the author's perspective) if it were true, therefore the claims must be true? Wow. That's an amazing logical leap. (To be fair, historians do sometimes use such "countersupportive" evidence as positive evidence of historical claims — for example, Bart D. Ehrman's analysis of which sayings of Jesus in the Bible might be historically accurate relies in part on whether each quotation shows Jesus or his message in a positive or negative light — but a good historian would never go so far as to argue that this makes the claims true.)
Response: While the Gospels describe Jesus' tomb being found empty by women, the Gospels also give accounts of the resurrected Jesus appearing to his male disciples. The Gospels were also written and promulgated by men. The resurrection claim does not rest solely on the word of low-status women. Even if it did, this would hardly be sufficient reason to deem it true; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Moreover, the account is hearsay and contradictory accounts of this event are given in the Gospels.
Response: Aside from this claim highlighting sexism initiated by religion, in particular christianity, this would also put the rest of the mesopotamian Gods who's myths mimicked jesus' myth, including the women part, as more likely to be true, doesn't it?
Response: One of the key components fo the Pauline epistles is the equality of all believers, be it man or woman, slave or free man. Since the Pauline epistles were known to Gospels writers, it is plausible, if not likely that this belief in equality was actually the motivation for creating a story where the once low-status women were now "equal" to men.
Reason 40: Near-death experiences
Think about Near Death Experiences. It's naive to believe that they all are induced by chemicals or drugs. How do we account for a blind person having this experience, coming back to describe what they had never before seen, a person telling the Doctor that there is a blue paperclip on top of the high cabinet, which they couldn't have otherwise known, an african [sic] man being dead in his coffin for 3 days, coming back to life to tell of much the same events which took place as those of many others? We never hear of the witnesses describing "a dream". We're not silly - we know the difference between even the most vivid of dreams to that of reality.
Response: It is not naive to seek physiological or psychological explanations for unusual experiences a person may have while their body is recovering from life-threatening trauma or disease; in fact, studies have shown that NDEs can be induced through drugs or trauma, and are almost certain to be a physiological phenomenon. It is naive to immediately presume something supernatural is occurring. Why are these bizarre claims about paperclips and Africans rising from the dead not substantiated? If credible evidence existed of a man being actually deceased and rising three days later, this would be unprecedented news quickly publicized to every corner of the globe by every kind of formal or informal media. If this actually occurred, present the evidence. Science demands more proof than a mere assurance that one asserting a shocking revelation is "not silly." See also the Skeptic's Dictionary entry on the subject.
Response: Why do you, necessarily, need eyes to experience visual information? When I dream, my eyes are closed yet I 'see' things. Either all my dreams are magical journeys to the furthest edges of reality, or my brain can generate visual information independently from my eyes. I choose the latter.
Reason 41: Biblical skeptics
There are many skeptics who didn't believe in Jesus before his crucifixion, and who were opposed to Christianity, yet turned to the Christian faith after the death of Jesus. Just as the many who continue to do so today.
Response: This is a form of argumentum ad populum. At one stage the majority of the world believed the earth was flat. These are anecdotal accounts of people who could be mistaken. While it is true that conversions to Christianity continue today, conversions to other religions and away from organized religion also occur.
Response: The reason why the first Christians converted could have been more of a political move than a spiritual one. In first-century Palestine, the Jewish people constantly sought a messiah to free them from Roman rule (and dozens of messiahs stepped up to the plate, each promising salvation). For instance, Simon bar Kochba gathered a very large group of followers, because he promised the Jewish people salvation and freedom from the Romans.
Response: This argument does not take into consideration that people may have alternative reasons for changing their religion (or lack thereof) besides believing. People may change religions to suit a new marriage, or perhaps they lost a loved one and need some form of comfort. Perhaps they are trying to please persistent family members or just enjoy the Christmas carols and architecture and enjoy the sense of community. Most Native American children who were kidnapped by missionaries converted simply to survive, all the while maintaining their old traditions and cultures. We can not always assume that people join a faith because they believe that it is true.
Response: This also does not take into account the many christians who later became Atheists, which is a huge number.
Reason 42: Einstein quote
Albert Einstein said; "A legitimate conflict between science & religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind".
Response: Albert Einstein also said, "For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions." Argumentum ad verecundiam. Lameness does not affect factuality. Besides this, Einstein used the term "religion" in a specific, nonstandard way, defined here: "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. 'If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it'." It is this admiration for the structure of the universe that Einstein thought essential to science.
Response: Einstein's authority is irrelevant once we can examine his reasons for this assertion. The talk containing this quote reveals that Einstein relied on religion to define goals and science to execute them. Since religion is not the only potential source of worthy goals, Einstein's use of the term 'religion' was incorrect (though possibly useful rhetorically).
Reason 43: The tomato thrower
A speaker in Hyde Park who was attacking belief in God, claimed that the world just happened. As he spoke, a soft tomato was thrown at him. "Who threw that?" He said angrily. A cockney from the back of the crowd replied; "No-one threw it - it threw itself!"
Response: This unsubstantiated anecdote about a believer assaulting an atheist with a vegetable is actually a form of the unmoved mover/uncaused cause argument, implying that atheists are foolish not to believe in a higher power that created the universe. This argument does not solve the problem of the first cause; it merely shifts the burden onto an unproven supernatural being. If God is not caused, then it cannot be said that all things must have a cause. Whether it be the universe itself, for atheists, or God himself, for the believer, all must admit the existence of something whose cause is as yet undiscovered. Atheists hope to continue discovering causes through reason; theists merely give up. Theism cannot claim this as an advantage. If we are to take this anecdote at face value, we must also question the morality of the presumed theist who both assaulted the speaker, rather than refute his claims, and then either lied about the assault or failed to confess and apologize.
Furthermore, the public assault of an atheist by means of a possibly self-actuating, suicidal vegetable is hardly a compelling reason to believe in a god, as the subject of the original email suggests.
Reason 44: Occam's supernatural razor
It is easier to believe that God created something out of nothing than it is to believe that nothing created something out of nothing.
Response: This is another form of uncaused cause argument employing Occam's Razor, but an explanation that requires the existence of an unseen, omnipotent supernatural being can hardly be simpler than one that relies on observable natural principles. This argument also prompts the question, how did God arise out of nothing? It also presupposes a straw man form of the Big Bang theory of cosmology. Theists often claim that the Big Bang suggests that "nothing became something," when in fact it says no such thing. In fact, there is no scientific reason to think that the matter and energy of the universe had to be created (which would be a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics) and have not merely always existed in one form or another.
The point is, answering the question with God raises more questions then it solves. In fact, filling the gap with God or universal invisible sky pixies is not even a solid answer, it is merely just solving a mystery with another mystery and gets nowhere.
Reason 45: How-vs.-why Hawking quote
Stephen Hawkins [sic] has admitted; "Science may solve the problem of how the universe began, but it cannot answer the question: why does the universe bother to exist?"
Response: Spurious. Whatever reason the universe exists, the Bible does nothing to answer this question. All it does is provide a claim of 'what' was created, and 'when', vaguely (and incorrectly) answers the 'how' (magic) but it in no way answers the 'why'. If it even makes sense to speak of the universe as if it chooses to exist, why it does so would not be the subject of science, which deals with what can be naturally observed. This should be considered a problem of philosophy.
Reason 46: With God all things are possible
We cannot confuse God with man. With God in the equation, all things, including miracles are possible. If God is God, he is Creator of all, inclusive of scientific law. He is Creator of matter & spirit.
Response: It is precisely because supernatural explanations allow "all things [to be] possible" that they are useless when it comes to determining the true causes of observed phenomena.
Response: Is it really true that with God all things are possible? Can God create a stone large enough that even he can not lift it? Either way, he fails at omnipotence. Can God change his omniscient mind? Either way, he fails at omnipotence and omniscience, even free will. The argument is also special pleading, it gives God a status of being immune to the laws of science but how is this possible? God is NOT made up of matter? Ultimately this argument is only an attempt to "dodge the bullet".
Reason 47: Evolved vs. evolving
If we are the product of evolution - by sheer accident, chance, then we are still evolving. Does it just so happen that we exist here today with everything so finely tuned for our living. as we now have it?
Response: Anthropic principle. And, in fact, we are still evolving, as are all living things. As for "finely tuned", most of our planet's surface is uninhabitable by or inhospitable to humans (frozen wastelands, oceans, deserts), and the vast majority of the universe is fatal to humans, so how can "everything" be said to be "finely tuned for our living"?
Reason 48: The Missing Link
Could it possibly be that the missing link does not exist?!
Response: False dichotomy. The falsification of evolution would not be evidence of a god, and inability to find a particular missing link is not falsification of evolution. The "missing link" itself comes from a misunderstanding of evolution, and has more in common with the Great Chain of Being than anything scientific.
Response: The famous Missing Link between humans and ape ancestors has also been found. Not merely one example, either, but many different stages. This is another example of the God of the gaps argument. What's more, even if the "missing link" were really missing, that does not prove it does not exist. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Response: The Missing Link argument claims that we are still missing the fossils to prove evolutionary descent. However scientists are discovering more fossils by the year, each giving more insight into how evolution works and how relationships are established. This argument does not take into consideration the other things besides fossils which prove evolution, such as genetics.
Reason 49: Open your eyes
God has proved himself to us in numerous ways, all around us. The atheist needs to put his glasses on. What more can God possibly do if man has shut his eyes to him?
Response: Special pleading, petitio principii. If God is omnipotent, there is no limit to what more he could do. Even if our eyes are "shut to him," an omnipotent being could certainly open them.
Such a claim is also prejudiced against the blind. What if someone has no eyes to see God's works? Are blind people, by definition, atheists?
Response: Argument from non-belief. Why doesn't God speak directly to the entire human population? Or visit "physically" every once in a while? In other words, why isn't God's existence more obvious, based on direct, observable and irrefutable evidence and not theoretical guesses and feeling?
Reason 50: Liar or Lord?
Jesus Christ is either who he says he is, or he is the biggest con man history has ever known.
Response: False dichotomy. He could have also...
- been insane,
- liar or lord? How about Legend.
- that is, Jesus never actually existed
- not said all of the things attributed to him
- misinterpretations of what he actually said
- intentionally misrepresentation of what he said by people with their own religious or political agenda
- been deceived by the lies of others.
See also C.S. Lewis's trilemma.
Response: Furthermore, even if this were a true dichotomy, there is no compelling reason to rule out the "liar" option.
Response: All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people, not from himself. W. Trilling argues that "not a single date of his life" can be established with certainty; other scholars think the quest for historical jesus is hopeless. "The question must also be raised as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel." -Bishop John Shelby Spong. There also lies the problem that the Scriptures have been purposely altered, mis-translated, contain evident fictions, forgeries, an such, that we cannot reasonably say that we know what Jesus said or did, let alone establish if anything we know about him is true. We can barely establish if the Jesus, as portrayed in the Bible, actually historically existed.
Response: My typical response is to remind the speaker that they themselves have already taken this liar/lord test on hundreds if not thousands of others who have make the exact same claim. And obviously found them all to be liars. Why not one more?
Of the "50 reasons" given, the following do not say anything about evidence for God at all:
- 19 arguments against atheism/science/rationality and for non-religious paranormal ideas: 2, 5-10, 13-14, 21, 23, 26-28, 36-38, 40, 48
- 8 non sequiturs that make a statement and hope that the reader draws a connection to God (mostly bad fine-tuning arguments): 12, 15-20, 47
- 5 statements that simply assert God against all objections, giving no real "reason" for belief: 3, 11, 22, 46, 49
- 4 appeals to famous scientists: 24, 35, 42, 45
- 1 story that attacks atheism through straightforward ridicule: 43
- 1 appeal to morality that claims that faith is good without showing that it is correct: 25
The remaining twelve arguments are mostly either about the Bible or of the type that say "this is all here because God put it here."
Fifty arguments probably sounds like a pretty impressive number. But a more accurate (and far less catchy) title to this email would be "Twenty-four attacks on our enemies who promote science and reason over faith, fourteen vague statements that try to make theists look good or reasonable, and twelve reasons why some Christian beliefs are superficially plausible."