- 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 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 message 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 (aka 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.
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 (I assume you are a Christian) might tell you, on 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!"
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.
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 experience, and have none for 'creating universes.') Moreover, there need not be a direct cause for all things; there is no direct cause for the radioactive decay of an individual atom, and yet it happens. There would appear to be uncaused quantum "effects" as well. Attempts to use physical laws (real or conventionally-accepted, with the above being the latter) to require the existence of a god tend to ignore that, for nearly all definitions of god, god violates various physical laws. Even if "everything must have a cause" necessitated the existence of a God, "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.
The author doesn't explain why things that existed for ever don’t need a cause while others do. In any case, recent physical theories suggest that the physical Universe is part of a larger Multiverse; which by your reasoning always existed and doesn’t need a cause.
Response: My response would be to say that even if there was a first cause, how is this true proof of God? There are many other possible events that could have caused our universe.
I wouldn't use the "eternal universe" model as evidence. A theist was all too quick to point out that the Second Law of Thermodynamics and recent astronomical observations prove that our universe is not eternal. If the Laws of Thermodynamics apply to the whole universe/multiverse, this would mean that all of the closed systems within the universe/multiverse (and thus the universe/multiverse itself) tend to lose usable energy and that this energy is never recovered or used again. If the matter in our universe was eternal, it would have already reached it's point of maximum entropy, which clearly has not happened yet.
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 this 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." The Big Bang theory does posit the universe as being compacted to a singularity, and this does pose certain problems at such a quantum level because of how matter is understood to work, 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 follow the same types of quantum constraints as matter. You could (in a very simplified view of quantum and relativity theories) have all the matter in the universe converted to energy, and have all that energy contained in no space at all (a singularity) because energy requires no 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. That is, if this is true, then God must assign angels to individually craft each snowflake. There must be a "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 any crystalline structure. Diamonds, for example, are nothing more than a special (and precise) arrangement of carbon atoms in a structure that makes the overall object transparent (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 properties of matter and gravity.
Response: I once read a Jack Chick tract that said that all the atoms in the universe are held together by God. This argument here reaches to the one about complexity. If God has to multitask on everything, what if God got tired and let his guard down for one second? Uh-oh, the universe is destroyed. If one is making an argument this complex, one should check all the angles so it is foolproof.
Response: For any universe to be "complex", the being who created it would have to be even more complex than the thing he created. If God is a "simple" being, then how can he possess the essence or intelligence to create something more complex than himself? So if complexity suggests a creator, then the increased complexity of God only suggests that he would also require a creator (as the argument follows). But the fact is that God must necessarily be more complex only demonstrates that his existence is greatly improbable. Especially if he is infinite, for an infite, complex being would be neverendingly improbable, or more plainly put, impossible.
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.
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 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). The latter 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 human interpretations of "holy" books.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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 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!
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: For any universe to be "complex", the being who created it would have to be even more complex than the thing he created. If God is a "simple" being, then how can he possess the essence or intelligence to create something more complex than himself? So if complexity suggests a creator, then the increased complexity of God only suggests that he would also require a creator.
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?
Response: For any universe to be "complex", the being who created it would have to be even more complex than the thing he created. If God is a "simple" being, then how can he possess the essence or intelligence to create something more complex than himself? So if complexity suggests a creator, then the increased complexity of God only suggests that he would also require a creator.
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 own's 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- not we were created to eat these things (or were 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 acheive? 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 detects a very limited set of chemicals. There is nothing intrinsically special about the number of senses we possess: they differ from one another more by degrees than by kinds. For instance, our sense of touch is much like hearing when it comes to detecting vibrations, and much like sight for heat detection. Similarly, our senses of smell and taste are quite related. Thus, we can just as easily say we are born with three sense as seven (if you reduce touch to pressure and temperature detection, and consider the sense of balance, for example). Finally, there is nothing special about our sense mechanisms when compared with other members of the animal kingdom. We are far outclassed in the abilities we do possess, and we lack even rudimentary detection mechanisms for electrical or magnetic fields.
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.
Just on a side-note, the Anthropic Principle can be used to either help prove or disprove the existence of God (depending on how you use and interpret it), and that its application in the theist/atheist sense is not truly scientific. Science is not about theism or atheism, and I would hesistate to advise the use of the AP in relgious discussion, particularly given the limited frame of reference current-day humans have. Whenever someone does bring this up, this is what I say.
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.
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 it's own or ability to think or act. Life came about through natural selection, and by living organisms. Organisms that could adaption, 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. See the EvoWiki page on a similar, more common argument.
Response: The opening assumption that matter is unable to self-organize is wrong: crystals are a prime example of matter organizing itself. This innate ability of matter becomes important in some theories of abiogenesis, like A. Graham Cairns-Smith's Clay theory.
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.
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: 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: Majority opinion is irrelvant to the facts. Many people may believe a lie- take for example. "Many teenagers believe that marijuana is harmless, drugs are harmful whereas marijuana is not, therefore marijuana is not a drug." Any doctor could tell you of the harmful side effects of marijuana useage. Furthermore, a drug need not be immediately harmful for it to be a drug. But nonetheless, many teenagers may make this claim, even if it is obviously not true.
We should be asking bigger questions. Such as: Is the majority of the people mentioned an expert in said feild? Do they know about the feild they are making claims on? Is it their educational background or profession? Anyone can make conclusions on a subject in physics, but if they are not a physicist, we should be more skeptical of their conclusions.
What is the majority basing their opinions on? Evidence? If no, then we can't say with certainity 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 Shelrock 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 contries, 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, until them, 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; 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. The book of Mark was written by Barnabas' nephew Mark, who was not one of the original Twelve Apostles. The book of Luke was written by Luke of Antioch, who was a believer after hearing the Gospel. Those two books were collections of various eyewitness accounts. Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which was both a collection of eyewitness accounts, as well as a journal of Luke's travels when he helped spread the Gospel.
There is much truth in the New Testament accounts in terms of "normal" historical events that can be verified through comparing contemporary historical works and archaelogy. However, 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.
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.
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.
Response: Those profesies 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?
Reason 34: Biblical history
The evidence from literature & historical studies claim that Biblical statements are reliable details of genuine events.
Response: 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.
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 its the germ theory of disease vs demons and the powers of the air, the preposterous miracles of the roman 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.
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.
Response: Terry Pratchett, of all people, sheds insight onto 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 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 behaviours 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.
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.
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.
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 conversions to Christianity continue today, conversions to other religions and away from organized religion also occur.
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 changes 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. We can not always assume that people join a faith because they believe that it is true.
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.
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.
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: It was also the Bible that said that pi is equal to 3, but I don't see any Christians promoting that theory.
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? Either way, he fails at omnipotence. 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 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.
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 to 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,
- never actually existed,
- not said all of the things attributed to him, or
- been deceived by the lies of others.
See also C.S. Lewis's trilemma.
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 straight-forward 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 Christians look good or reasonable; and twelve reasons why some Christian beliefs are superficially plausible".