Mark Humphrys (politics)


Religion - Atheism - Arguments


Using logic and reason

The existence of God

Belief is about lack of curiosity

The cruelty of God

Praying to God for things


Is life meaningless?

Science and Religion


The Bible in its Own Words

Atheism - Arguments

I am an atheist. I believe that no God or gods exist.

It would be wonderful if some of the gods described in human mythology and theology existed. It would be appalling if some others existed (e.g. the Old Testament god, or the Muslim god).

Sadly in some cases (and thankfully in others), there is no evidence for any of them. They are all just stories, inventions of our imagination.

The problem with Pascal's Wager.
It applies to all gods. You have to believe in Allah and Baal and Ganesh too, in case they punish you.
See full size. From See terms of use.
Another cartoon here.

Using logic and reason

"Open-mindedness". From QualiaSoup.
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.

The existence of God

The history of the world

Eddie Izzard comedy routine "Religion, Science, The Bible, And Dinosaur-Churches" sums it up:


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.)
From here.

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 evidence

God's decision not to provide humans with evidence of his existence is bizarre and inexplicable.

"God Only SEEMS Nonexistent!"
A smart video on the eternal question - Why doesn't God just make his existence obvious?
From Edward Current.

Seriously, God, why not talk to us.

Great Eddie Izzard quote.
Come on God, talk to us.

David Hume on miracles

From here.

The "Trilemma"

In particular, David Hume provides an answer to the "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic" argument (or "trilemma") centuries before the much lesser mind of C.S. Lewis.

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:

C.S. Lewis' problem is that he believes in all this supernatural world already. So he finds any theory that omits it to be improbable. He finds supernatural explanations probable and natural explanations improbable. And he cannot imagine people who think differently. His argument only makes sense if you believe in Jesus already.

How could a "Liar" or "Lunatic" start a religion that people are willing to die for?
C.S. Lewis thinks that is impossible.
But in fact, the religion of Islam 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.
From the Catechism of perseverance (1850).

Pascal's Wager

After 322 years, Homer Simpson 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 for clips. You can buy it here.

The problem with Pascal's Wager is that it only considers the section outlined in red.
Found here.

Graphical version (with terrible spelling) shows the problem.
Found here.

Belief is about lack of curiosity

The cruelty of God

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) than God. Consider the following:

  1. 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.

  2. He lets a million disgusting parasites evolve, 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Sketch by Mr. Deity (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.
See transcript: "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."

Posted here during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
Go on, Pope Francis, what is the answer?
I have never heard a theologian properly answer this kind of question.

Children being taken to be killed by the Germans at Auschwitz, 1944.
God never tries to stop such things. Only humans try.
From here in The Auschwitz Album.

The end scene of Granpa (and here and here).
Granpa dies, and God won't let us ever talk to him again.
From Dailymotion.

Praying to God for things

This rather brutally sums up the problem.
Found here.

Brilliant commentary on praying for things.


Richard Dawkins v. David Quinn

David Quinn is on the right in Ireland, and like many other people I read on the right, I agree with much of what he says on politics, but disagree with his (traditional Christian) ideas on religion.

With the atheist Richard Dawkins I have a similar situation - I agree with him on religion but disagree with his (traditional left-wing) politics. So it is interesting to hear a debate between David Quinn and Richard Dawkins, on RTE Radio One, The Tubridy Show, 9 Oct 2006, especially given that religious people think he destroyed Dawkins.

I think Quinn is largely wrong, but Dawkins doesn't do a good job of asking him hard questions.

  1. "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."

  2. Free will:
    • 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 (e.g. Minsky) cannot see how free will can exist 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 - that 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 of causality? 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 true?

  3. The cosmological argument:

  4. Killings for atheism:
    • Finally, Quinn argues that the democide of the communists 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 Moses (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.

Sam Harris v. Dennis Prager

There is a similar debate between an atheist whose opinions on religion I share, but whose politics is sometimes ill thought-out (though not at all as bad as Dawkins), Sam Harris, and a theist whose ideas on politics I respect, but whose ideas on religion I don't, Dennis Prager.

More Irish debates on Dawkins

Is life meaningless?

If there is no God and no afterlife, is life meaningless?

If your life ends at death, and even humanity itself might go extinct one day, does that make life meaningless and pointless?

Here's a few things to consider:

  1. 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.

  2. 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 anthropic principle - 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, like in Pascal's Wager, many of us were brought up to believe that the imagined reality was true, and we are now disappointed and miserable 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. You may already be immortal:
    • Perhaps even some of our generation will be immortal. Brain scanning or brain freezing may finally become viable before we die.
    • Or future science may discover a way, by analysing the current state of the universe, of reconstructing all past events and all previous matter. It may seem that that matter and that information is lost forever, 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.
    • Frank Tipler 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.

  6. 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 reconstruct us. 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 intelligent life right now.
    • The future (after 10,000 AD)

We can always imagine something better.
Strip from here.
See all strips by user cplwubby.

"Tell Me There's A Heaven" (1989) by Chris Rea.

"What you get with a basic life".
Comedian Louis C.K. points out how great it is to be alive.

The poem "Japanese Maple" by Clive James.
Written in 2014 after he was diagnosed with terminal illness. He died in 2019.

"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.

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