Belief in religion and other non-scientific concepts
does not necessarily make you more "open-minded".
Often it means you are very closed-minded indeed.
This video is a brilliant short course in why people use logic and evidence,
and how that is different from other ways of forming beliefs.
If you ever wondered why people don't think your God exists, watch this video.
Why did it take over 3 billion years to get to Homo sapiens?
Why make parasites at all?
Why make predators of humans at all?
Religious people have no answers to these questions.
The history of life on earth only makes sense if no one was watching.
No one was in charge.
No one intended for humans to come,
and no one made us come.
That's the only theory that can
possibly explain all the wasteful extinctions,
pointless detours, awful parasites,
bad design flaws,
and long roundabout way of getting to humans.
Eddie Izzard comedy routine sums it up:
Why is there nothing from God in the Bible,
such as telling us the world is round and spins?
Why does God never intervene? Why didn't he flick Hitler's head off?
Why 4 billion years of messing around before making humans?
What was the point of the dinosaurs? They dominated the earth for 200 million years,
but all they did was eat and shit.
They didn't even worship God.
Why did God take so long to make humans?
If the history of the earth is one hour,
the dinosaurs only go extinct in the last minute.
Homo habilis only emerges in the last 2 seconds.
Modern man emerges in the last tenth of a second.
(Each minute is about 75 million years.
Each second is just over 1 million years.
A tenth of a second is just over 100,000 years.)
Smart tweet about gay marriage, 4 Feb 2013.
But it can be applied more generally:
For somebody who loves humans so much, God really seemed focused on dinosaurs for 180 million years.
God's decision not to provide humans with evidence of his existence
is bizarre and inexplicable.
Why doesn't God just make his existence obvious?
Why would it be such a bad thing if we all knew for sure he existed?
Why does he hide?
Why does he provide vague, partial and fragmentary evidence?
Why not provide either good evidence,
or no evidence at all?
It makes no sense to want humans to follow you,
and then provide them with such poor evidence that you exist.
God is either stupid, or he likes playing tricks with humanity.
Why won't God heal amputees?
(or via here)
- Why are all miraculous "cures"
those which have a perfectly valid alternative explanation?
Why does God never perform an unambiguous miraculous cure?
The God Detector
- Why mess around with amateur eyewitness reports of undocumented miracles,
and supposed events that happened in ancient times
before cameras existed?
God can reveal his existence unambiguously.
Why doesn't he?
Why does he want us not to believe in him?
"If only God had proved His existence instead of using His magic to create cancer........Bad god. Naughty god."
Why does the devil not appear?
OK, let's imagine that, for some reason, God does not want us to know he exists.
Why does the devil not ruin those plans?
The devil could appear and tell us he exists and God exists,
thereby ruining God's plans.
Why does he not do that?
"God Only SEEMS Nonexistent!"
A smart video on the eternal question
- Why doesn't God just make his existence obvious?
Edward Current might be good on religion, but
is a naive leftist on foreign policy.
Look at this
where he draws moral equivalence between free democracies
where people like him are executed.
He even thinks
Iran has elections.
In Section X, "Of Miracles",
Hume provides the classic rule
for a follower of reason
to judge all stories of miracles:
The idea that the person reporting the story is mistaken
must be more fantastic than the idea of the miracle.
As Hume puts it,
"no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle,
unless the testimony be of such a kind,
that its falsehood would be more miraculous,
than the fact, which it endeavours to establish"
When considering a fantastic story -
such as a miraculous cure,
an alleged Apparition of Mary,
the Virgin Birth,
Christ's alleged miracles,
or stories of miracles in other religions
- we should apply this rule,
is the possibility that the person reporting the story is mistaken
more fantastic than the story itself.
Clearly the answer in these cases is no.
So no rational person can believe in any of these stories.
Hume's rule clearly makes sense.
And yet applying it would make the whole world deists at most.
only survives because people
simply ignore Hume's argument.
The "Jewish minx" quote:
in a debate of May 7, 2007,
presented a quote, allegedly from Hume, summing up the argument:
"I think it was David Hume who put it slightly vulgarly, this was again about the virgin birth I think: which is more likely, that the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie?"
C.S. Lewis argues that Jesus must either be a liar, a lunatic, or be telling the truth.
He claims the first two are impossible, so concludes that Jesus must be telling the truth.
David Hume long ago answered Lewis' argument:
First of all, these are not
the only 3 options.
A simple alternative option is "Misquoted".
But even if we accept for the sake of argument that these are
the only 3 options,
by the Hume argument
it is clear that "Liar" and "Lunatic", however implausible,
however virtually impossible,
are less, not more, implausible than the supernatural explanation of "Lord".
However unlikely it is that people at the time
were deceived about Jesus being divine,
working miracles, rising from the dead, and so on;
however unlikely it is that they would be willing to die for false beliefs;
and however unlikely it is that false beliefs could spread so rapidly
across the world,
it is still more, not less, fantastic to believe that he
was divine, and a god and a supernatural world exists.
That is Hume's law, and it shows us that there is no religion on earth that
has sufficient evidence to follow it.
In fact, the religion of
shows that it is not very unlikely at all
that false beliefs could spread rapidly across the world,
and have people willing to die for them.
Catechism of perseverance
- You should believe in God because if you're wrong, you lose nothing.
Whereas if the atheist is wrong, he loses the chance of salvation.
Problems with Pascal's Wager:
only works if you half-believe in God and an afterlife already.
You have to believe, for example, that it is a priori likely
that a God would reward belief and punish disbelief.
What if God punished belief, though?
Knowing nothing about God, that is just as likely as the alternative.
To believe that it is a priori more likely
that a God would reward belief
is to already believe in something.
Another problem is that of picking which God to worship.
Pascal's Wager is often promoted by Christians.
But non-Christian gods might exist,
and punish Christians for not believing in them.
Why don't the Christians apply Pascal's Wager to Zeus, Thor, Osiris,
Krishna and Allah?
Aren't they being inconsistent?
In summary, Pascal's Wager
has nothing to say to unbelievers.
It only works if you believe already.
Reverse Pascal's Wager:
I thought of a new argument:
If God does not exist,
a reverse Pascal's Wager might be the best bet.
That is, it is safer not to believe.
Whoever is doing this reconstruction
(our descendants, or aliens)
will be more likely to bring back people who would understand the situation - people like
Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov and Marvin Minsky and Hans Moravec and
Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin.
They would be far less likely to bring back people
like Pope Pius IX and Moses and Mohammad
and their followers.
So believing in God and an afterlife means you don't get an afterlife!
Being an atheist means you do!
It also means that Jesus
lost his chance of an afterlife by being religious!
And every Islamic suicide bomber
is losing their chance of paradise by following Islam!
After 322 years,
demolishes Pascal's Wager in
Homer the Heretic (1992).
Saying he no longer wants to go to church:
"And what if we picked the wrong religion? Every week, we're just making God madder and madder." Search
You can buy it here.
The problem with Pascal's Wager
is that it only considers the section outlined in red.
"Faith is often the boast of the man who is too lazy to investigate."
- F. M. Knowles
This pretty much
sums up my personal experience.
If religious people really believe in gods and souls
and afterlives and such things
then they should be endlessly interested
in issues like
the origin of humanity,
the origin of life,
how the brain works,
and the possibility of artificial intelligence
- instead of being generally uninterested in
Lack of curiosity about the world is to me
one of the hallmarks of a religious person.
"Every one of the world's "great" religions
utterly trivializes the immensity and beauty of the cosmos.
Books like the Bible and the Koran get almost every significant fact
about us and our world wrong."
"the universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe inspiring. The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organized religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited."
Atheism is pretty normal
among scientists like me:
Leading scientists still reject God,
Edward J. Larson
and Larry Witham,
Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 (1998).
- A survey finds that
over 90 percent of top scientists do not have a belief in God or souls.
Survey of Fellows of The Royal Society
by R. Elisabeth Cornwell and Michael Stirrat (in preparation as at 2006).
Only 3.3 per cent agreed strongly with the statement that a personal god exists,
while 78.8 per cent strongly disagreed.
"Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery!"
Damn, I wish he wasn't a communist mass murderer,
because I really like this quote.
God, if he exists, is clearly far more cruel and uncaring than
a human would be in his position.
Most normal people, it seems to me, are better (nicer, more caring)
Consider the following:
God lets the most unbelievable human evil take place,
when the slightest alteration could stop it.
e.g. A heart attack for Hitler in 1932,
or for Lenin in 1916.
He lets a million disgusting parasites
to cause torture, agony and death to
billions of innocent humans and animals.
He could have stopped the evolution of malaria.
He chose not to.
What a cruel, unfeeling bastard God is.
Our dead loved ones are alive (supposedly) in his care.
And yet never, this side of the grave, will he ever permit us to talk to them.
Those we love, those we miss so much that it hurts,
those we long to talk to, and who must long to talk to us,
are imprisoned by God.
He could let them talk to us, to give us the ultimate comfort that they still exist,
that our loved ones are still alive in some way.
But he refuses.
He will not let them communicate with us.
What a cruel bastard God is.
Religions claim that if we pray to God, good things might happen on earth.
That we could pray for good health,
or financial success,
or sporting success,
or exam success,
or even lost property,
and he would actually listen,
despite the fact that he doesn't answer the prayers of children
being tortured and killed.
Such a god, who answers trivial prayers, and doesn't answer other life-and-death prayers, on a whim,
is not a god worthy of worship.
When people say they are praying for someone's success,
I don't find it comforting.
I find it disturbing to imagine that such a God might exist
- that would answer those prayers
but not prayers from slaughtered families during the Holocaust.
(Brian Keith Dalton)
about all the evil God decided to allow.
God is far more cruel than a human would be in his position.
Stephen Fry on the cruelty of God.
"Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you.
How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault.
the god who created this universe .. is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac.
Yes the world is very splendid but it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children
and make them blind, they eat outwards
from the eyes.
Why, why did you do that to us?
You could easily have made a creation in which that didn't exist.
It is simply not acceptable.
So you know atheism is not just about not believing there is a god, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of god is it?
It's perfectly apparent that he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever."
Head of the Presbyterian church in Ireland replies to Fry, Irish Times, 4 Feb 2015.
He says it's ok.
Evil in the world is because humans are being rightly punished
for a sin committed by an imaginary person.
"God created a perfect world but that it was after the perfection that God had created that man fell and imperfection then took over."
So God gives cancer and parasites to children because he is punishing Adam!
That makes God even more of a cruel maniac bastard!
Children being taken to be killed by the Germans at Auschwitz, 1944.
God never tries to stop such things. Only humans try.
The Auschwitz Album.
The conundrum of prayer
by Heather Mac Donald, June 5th, 2009.
On God not answering prayers:
"who can possibly imagine a reason why God wouldn't respond to prayers to save an officer's life, but would respond ... to get someone out of debt, say, or to cure someone of illness?"
As she says, humans are better than God:
"It is humans who work with passion and commitment every day to try to save their fellows (and a range of other creatures) from suffering and sorrow. ... They do so out of love and compassion, while God, who could restart an exhausted heart in an instant, demurs. The only source of love on earth is human empathy. Transferring our own admirable traits onto a constructed deity just obscures the real human condition: we are all we have, but that is saying a lot."
"Ass-lick god and he'll let off a few he was gonna kill this year- there's a nice god".
"God, all-knowing, all-powerful, and really, really lovable, occasionally lets people die in horrible car accidents. It's all part of his mysterious but - be sure of that - well thought plan.
But, here is the really good news - apparently, sprinkling a few gritters with holy water makes god kill even less people for the good of us all, fancy that!"
"Indeed he could do with those reminders, which is why we need barking mad old men in frocks to ask God to reduce the number of mothers, husbands, sisters and sons that he would otherwise have pulverised this winter ... Praise the Lord for he isn't killing and maiming as many people as he did prior to 2003. What a God!"
This rather brutally sums up the problem.
I think Quinn is largely wrong,
but Dawkins doesn't do a good job of asking him hard questions.
"God" made matter:
Quinn claims that science
"doesn't explain .. how matter came into being in the first place.
That, in scientific terms, is a question that cannot be answered and can only be answered,
if it can be answered fully at all, by philosophers and theologians.
But it certainly cannot be answered by science
and the question of whether God exists or not cannot be answered fully by science either".
These are simply assertions for which there is no evidence.
(1) We do not know the limits of future science.
(2) Many concepts of God have already been disproved by science
over the last 300 years.
People keep inventing new, more slippery ones.
(3) Theology has never answered any questions ever. It is a non-subject.
(4) Quinn's answer, that something called "God" made matter, is no explanation at all,
for it fails to explain what made God.
If the answer is "Nothing made God",
then why not use that answer for matter?
As a comment says:
"matter is immediate and undeniable; God is not at all evident and is easily deniable.
It is far more reasonable to say that man created God than that God created matter."
Quinn claims that:
"an atheist believes we are controlled completely by our genes and make no free actions at all".
He is confused.
Most cognitive scientists
cannot see how
in the pure, technical sense,
if our brains are physical machines
(i.e. all effects must have a chain of physical causes),
but no one disputes that
it feels like we have free will
what we have is indistinguishable in practice from free will.
What everybody means colloquially by "free will" exists,
even if technically it may not.
Or does Quinn claim that it does - that our brain really operates independent
Instead of answering the question -
of showing how physical effects in the brain can occur with no physical cause
(i.e. neurons firing for no physical reason) -
Quinn just says it feels like we have free will, therefore we do.
There are two different definitions of "free will" in this debate.
Dawkins addresses the first, that we can rebel against our DNA.
He denies what Quinn attributes to him:
"I certainly don't believe a word of that.
I do not believe we are controlled wholly by our genes."
Like Darwin himself, Dawkins urges humans to rebel against evolution.
Evolution made us, but that doesn't mean we have to respect it.
We're in charge now, not blind and cruel nature.
The very conclusion of Dawkins' most famous book,
The Selfish Gene
(1976), runs like this:
"We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and,
if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination.
We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines,
but we have the power to turn against our own creators.
We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."
If Quinn is not aware of this, he is not very well read.
Dawkins, though, here does not address the second definition of "free will"
- as to whether free will technically exists
(if our rebellion against DNA is simply a product of material causes too,
if we include the entire previous history of the universe).
Dawkins doesn't ask Quinn the hard question above:
Does he believe in uncaused effects in the brain?
Do neurons sometimes fire for no physical reason?
Do all animals have these uncaused effects in their minds?
Does all life?
Would alien life have uncaused effects?
When did uncaused effects start in history?
Did Homo habilis
have this "free will"?
Did the Australopiths?
When did it start?
Did one day a mother not have it and her child have it?
Could science in theory observe such uncaused effects in the brain today,
and thereby prove dualism
Finally, Quinn argues that the democide of the
should be attributed to atheism,
and it is unfair to go on about killings for religion
while not also talking about killings for atheism.
But wouldn't it be fairer to say that
Stalin and Mao killed for the belief system of communism,
rather than for atheism?
It is not unfair to talk about
killings for Christianity,
since Quinn is a Catholic,
and the Catholic church claims a line of continuity with
the blood-soaked medieval Catholic church,
and other violent killers like
(who is glorified even today by Quinn's church).
Whereas atheists like Dawkins and I
claim no continuity with
the deranged, evidence-free cult of communism.
Where was God's church in the Middle Ages, Quinn should ask himself.
And how could God support a rapist and butcher of innocents like Moses,
Quinn should also ask himself.
There is a
an atheist whose opinions on religion I share,
but whose politics is sometimes ill thought-out
(though not at all as bad as Dawkins),
a theist whose ideas on politics I respect,
but whose ideas on religion I don't,
As I say, Harris' politics aren't at all as bad as Dawkins.
I can't imagine Dawkins saying to Prager:
"I strongly suspect that you and I have similar views of the risks posed to civilization
by the spread of Islam. We probably draw some of the same lessons
from the failures of multiculturalism in Western Europe"
Harris has one great rebuttal to Prager,
as Prager presents tired old "arguments" for belief,
which is that the Islamists say the same thing:
"A further irony, of course, is that the civilizational threat that worries us both
- Islamic fascism
- is purely the product of religious faith,
held for precisely the reasons (or pseudo-reasons) you defend.
Let me assure you that "sophisticated" Muslims resort to the same rationalizations
that Francis Collins does to prop up their belief in mighty Allah.
Indeed, your "awesome beauty of nature" is one of the chief rationales for faith found in the Koran.
How many more people will have to die because of this Iron Age response to the beauty of nature?"
If there is no God and no afterlife, is life meaningless?
If your life ends at death, and even
might go extinct one day,
does that make life meaningless and pointless?
Here's a few things to consider:
We can imagine something worse:
There may be no God and no afterlife, but what does exist is still better than the void
- where no humanity exists at all, or even no life, or no universe.
The "anthropic principle" - We can imagine something better:
We are imaginative creatures, and we can easily imagine
a reality which is far, far worse than the present reality
(a void where nothing exists).
Likewise we can easily imagine a reality that is far, far better
(a caring God that re-unites us all in heaven after death).
So consider a sort of
- No matter what reality is, we can imagine something better.
And then complain that reality is not as good as what we can imagine.
The real problem may be that,
many of us were brought up to believe that the imagined reality was true,
and we are now disappointed and
that reality is not as good as what we imagined.
But if you never thought the imagined reality was true in the first place,
you would just listen to the story of God and heaven and say:
"Yeah, reality is not as good as something we can imagine.
That's not surprising. We are imaginative creatures."
And then you would be positive, not negative.
You would say:
"Let's get to work on making reality more like this
wonderful thing we can imagine."
And science may actually do this some day (see below).
In other words, we are miserable because of our imaginations,
not because reality is so bad.
Note that this "anthropic principle" holds even if God exists.
Because we can still imagine something better
(e.g. a God that doesn't allow suffering on earth).
So even if God exists, we can still complain that reality is bleak,
and not remotely as good as what we can imagine.
Humans may never die out:
Even if we are stuck with present reality,
human extinction is not guaranteed.
We are not like other species.
We might be the first intelligent creatures ever to evolve in the universe.
We might find in the future ways of changing the nature of space or time
(or escaping from the universe)
so that the civilization that started on earth will never die out.
Our descendants may be personally immortal:
Even if we are stuck with present reality,
personal human death may not be inevitable.
Personal immortality is probably coming in the future.
Our descendants will live forever,
and distributed backups will keep them safe from destruction.
Or future science may discover a way, by analysing the current state of the universe,
reconstructing all past events and all previous matter.
It may seem that that matter and that information is
but maybe future science will discover that is not strictly true.
All humans in history can then be brought back to life in the future.
So the religions aren't entirely wrong.
After every human dies, they cease to exist for several thousand years,
and then they exist again, in a kind of heaven on earth.
Think how surprised Carl Sagan is feeling "now"
(or rather not now, but in a thousand years time)
when he wakes up in "heaven" after death.
has also suggested that
in the future computers will be able to run simulations of all intelligent life that has ever lived.
So in one (in fact, many) of these, you will exist again.
The future is open-ended:
So even if you kill yourself right now in despair at life's pointlessness,
you may wake up in a thousand years in a heaven that never ends.
As long as humans do not go extinct,
the future is open-ended,
and all sorts of incredible things may happen
over the next few centuries and millenia of science.
And even if humanity itself goes extinct,
other intelligent alien life could evolve in the future, and they could
So Carl Sagan may wake up in 10 billion years time in an alien-built "heaven" for humans.
As long as the universe exists,
with its potential for evolving new intelligent life,
the future is open-ended.
Who knows what might happen.
It would be very parochial to imagine that intelligent life in the universe
will always look similar to
"Reality was before you. Reality will be after you.
Reality is all you'll ever have. Enjoy your moment in this green & blue sun-warmed place."
- Richard Dawkins, 10 June 2014.
"I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth - that we always make it just for the skin of our teeth - but that we will always make it, survive, endure.
I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching oversized braincase and the opposable thumb - this animal barely up from the apes - will endure, will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets - to the stars and beyond - carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage, and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart."
- Robert A. Heinlein,
"Our Noble, Essential Decency", 1950s.
Who I block:
I will debate almost anyone.
I love ideas.
I will not debate (and will block) people who do the following:
(a) Make threats.
(b) Accuse me of crimes.
(c) Comment on my appearance.
(d) Drag in stuff about me not related to the topic. (My professional career, my personal life.)
(e) Complain to my employer.
Yes, people do all these things.