Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A life without belief is possible - if not preferable!

A few days ago, on the post 'Long live the legacy of Hitch' one of my most regular and popular commentators, @Hilary, wrote a paragraph.  As you know - I like to engage with the topics that people leave as comments, and this one is worthy of further inspection because it gets to the very heart of the difference between those who have faith and those who do not because the faithful simply find it impossible to believe that a life without belief is possible.

Y'know I was thinking, it takes a real lot of faith to be an atheist. When looking all around at the complexity of life and all created things whether animate or not, it must be very difficult not to come to the obvious conclusion that there is in fact a Creator, a Grand Designer, and to go against the grain so to speak, to imagine that actually, all of it happened by mere improbable chance, and not just mere improbable but where the improbability is ridiculously as improbable as to make it pretty much a certainty that such a thing is impossible, then to carry on believing so in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary is nothing short of amazing faith, based on so little as to render it greater by far than the faith needed to believe in a Creator God, or in Jesus Christ for which evidence abounds. So well done all you atheists for having so much faith in so very very little. 

I wondered first of all, which logical fallacies could be found in this paragraph.  I think I only recognise one of them, namely the 'argument from personal incredulity' although several times over.

We are faced yet again with the suggestion that there is abundant evidence for the existence of god, and as usual no actual details about what form this evidence takes.  This is one of the most common claims for god which many atheists find frustrating.

From our perspective there is abundant evidence for the lack of existence of a god, but it is just had to find the final clinching argument to prove it.

Returning to Hilary's comments, we can easily dismiss the idea that atheism is a belief at all.  Atheism is in fact a very specific 'lack of belief' in a very specific type of god.  Atheists have all sorts of personal beliefs, but the one that we must share in order to wear the name 'atheist' is that we do not believe in a god who intervenes in the universe to change physical laws in order to answer prayers.

For this viewpoint there really is abundant evidence, as whenever studies of the effectiveness of prayer have been conducted it seems that God goes on strike - or worse than that it can actually be bad for people to know that they are being prayed for.  (See this link - not part of the evidence in itself, but at least it is a friendly description of that evidence.  Alternatively here is a Wikipedia article.)

Aside from that, the very suggestion that all the 'evidence' of design and beauty leads to any one specific god is utterly illogical.  It is only a matter of upbringing which leads most people to the god that they worship.

As we often say, all religious people are atheists too, but it is just that those of us who admit to being atheists take it one god further.


krissthesexyatheist said...

All faith is not created equal. Team Atheist has 'faith' in the scientific method and peer review. If a theory can't hold up to that then we toss it. Faith in a specific (probably Christian) god, outta so many...that is quite a leap of faith (no testing, no hypothesis, no peer review). Awesomeness,


Happy holidays and happy new year, y'all.

Anonymous said...

If you are willing to follow the evidence, as so many atheists claim as though dogma, then you will accept that the material infinite does not and cannot exist i.e., the material universe had a beginning. The material universe has not always existed. And unless you exist on the fringes of mental stability, you will also agree that matter cannot preexist itself or bring itself into existence.

And, if you agree with what science and philosophy have proven via the scientific means of "knowing," anything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence from something outside of itself.

In the case of our universe, that cause must of necessity be eternal (not having or needing a beginning or cause) and it must be immaterial or spirit.

You must also surely agree with the person commenting above that the odds of every single constant and quantity, every one of which is critical for the arising of intelligent life as we know it being in place at Planck Time 10^-43 seconds by accident is, not a fallacy but simply logistically impossible.

Scientists know the anthropic principle points to a Creator. They know that a universe with a definitive space / time boundary - beginning - points directly to a Creator, and this is the ONLY reason for atheist scientists to manufacture dozens of Atheist Origin of the Universe Mythologies - none of which have the slightest offering of evidence (see infinite universes; baby universes; universes born of imaginary time and space etc.)

These things and much, much more can and should be taken for evidence for a Creator God. If you're open minded, there is some interesting stuff on this subject at:

Walter Knupe said...

@anonymous, your argument started alright in pointing out that the universe needs a cause outside of itself (otherwise that cause would still be part of it) by definition.

however, starting from "in the case of our universe" you began with your destination (your god) and crafted your argument just so that you reach it.

the cause for the unsiverse is not needed to be eternal, and if time and space began with the universe, the term 'immaterial', spirit etc (btw. and even 'before' and hence 'cause' and 'effect') are not defined.

so one could argue that it points to nothing, one should argue it points to nothing yet, i.e. origin unknown and we'll see from there.

a creator is nowhere in the picture.

and for 'the odds of every constant and quantity' beeing just right for life: we know that the odds are above 0% as we have one working example (us) so we're somewhere between >0% and 100%. it might be 100% who knows, but it is for sure not "logistically impossible"

considering it unlikely is a form of self-selecting bias or outcome bias: it is as if you as the winner of a lottery assume that you did not win against the odds but that the numbers were preselected by the guy running the lottery just so that you win.

Lawrence C said...

@ Anonymous,

Two points in reply -

Some philosophies - including Mahayana Buddhism - posit that the Universe is eternal, beginningless and endless. It was never "created".

Also, your argument that the Universe must have a Creator - which for some inexplicable reason is an approachable intelligence who experiences desires, anger, loneliness and love - leads to the logical step that HE must have a Creator, ad infinitum. (as the Turtle Island proponent said to Bertrand Russell, "Don't play your logic games with me young man - It's turtles all the way down!")

Unless, that is, you simply arbitrarily say, "Nope, not gonna play your atheist games. God's it."

Plasma Engineer said...

The anonymous comment started off as a syllogism but just took much longer to reach a conclusion which was based on questionable premises.

Glad I am not alone in that view!

Hilary said...

Ah I think Anonymous put it very well and the rest of you are all merely avoiding the points made with P.E simply as usual attempting to categorise in order to dismiss which is I have noticed a strategy of yours P.E :)

Lawrence C said...

Anonymous put it well, and we are avoiding her points?

She opens by pulling out a huge assumption - that the Universe is finite and floats within some larger ethereal essence - plops it on the table, and literally tells you that if you do not agree with her you are insane.

Hilary said...

Well what you are doing here is merely mocking a very reasonable approach - a sure sign you have run out of arguments!

Atheists do not have any better ideas as to how the Universe came to be, as all ideas are either that the Universe is eternal or it began...both of which cannot explain how it began.

You are as entitled to believe of course that it somehow just popped into existance of course, or was just eternally there...but both of these ideas are hardly what you might call scientific as you would define scientific. They are of course philosophies and beliefs. So it is rather inconguous in dressing your beliefs up in a veneer of science jargon and at the same time mock those of us who believe that in the beginning God created the Universe.

I have no difficulty in believing God to be eternal and to be not simply the first cause of the Universe but also the One who upholds it continually. There is no difference between natural and supernatural. Every breath we breath is a gift from God.

Plasma Engineer said...

Thanks to @Hilary for what I take as a compliment. I hadn't realised that I was categorising, but I suppose that it could be true in some ways. I think it is quite an acceptable strategy for someone who is still learning to spot the common arguments for religious apology and to remember how to argue with them all. I seem to remember that 'the church is built on strong foundations' - my strategy is to prove that these foundations are not as strong as claimed. Perhaps categorisation is the technique that I use as a tactic.

Back to the origin of the universe though.

Is it acceptable to say that I simply don't know how or whether the universe was created, and that this is largely irrelevant to my belief (or otherwise) in a creator god? Not knowing is a perfectly tolerable stance - and to me it is a better stance than that of claiming to know the unknowable.

To a large extent I covered this topic in my post of 6th August 2011, 'Multiverse Agnostic'. I still feel agnostic about the whole creation or existence of a universe.

I think this is a good topic to follow up in another post soon, as I have noticed more and more links between my categories. I'll write something today and post it in a couple of days time.

Meanwhile - just saying what we happen to have no difficulty believing in is not a very logical or useful argument either, is it?

Hilary said...

Ah yes, I would say that "I don't know" is a much better response than creating a philosophical idea/belief and calling it 'fact'. The Big Bang is a belief not scientific fact, and if it were promoted as a creation belief then that would carry a whole lot more integrity than present declarations.

In the same way, Creation science is based unashamedly on faith, which then looks to research supporting evidence. Answers in Genesis declares that it is assumed that in the beginning God created the Universe. I believe eventually every scientific observation will support creationism. However, there are definite quirks in this, which I will return to. Time, light and space are fascinating aren't they.

At the end of the day a Christian will look at the skies, at all creation and see God's Handiwork. An atheist will look and not see God's Handiwork. We all begin with assumptions and then we do our science from there.

I've been studying all about the Sabbath recently actually, as this was the 7th day of creation week according to Genesis. I have a friend who has his roots in 7th Day adventism, and also friends who are Messianic believers and so worship on Friday evening (the start of the Sabbath). The thing I love about being a Christian is that I have so many friends with a wide variety of ways, days and traditions of worship, yet all have as their central belief that Jesus Christ was crucified and was raised from the dead!

Kenny Wyland said...


"We all begin with assumptions and then we do our science from there."

Ah, but the part that I think you, and many other theists, miss is that actual science combats this problem. A single scientist _absolutely_ has a pre-conceived idea and attempts to prove that idea exists. They research, they experiment and then publish their findings... which are then VERIFIED by other scientists who do not have the same initial bias that scientist had.

That's why it doesn't take faith to believe scientific findings, because knowledge gleaned through science strips away individual biases and relies upon independent verification. The scientific community may run with a reasonable hypothesis for a short period of time, in order to experiment with it and verify, but if the community cannot produce verifiable and reliable information then it eventually discards the notion until additional evidence is introduced.

Kenny Wyland said...


This is where you went off the rails:

"In the case of our universe, that cause must of necessity be eternal (not having or needing a beginning or cause) and it must be immaterial or spirit."

You make a HUGE jump here without any basis, logic or evidence. The cause does not need to be eternal. This claim is actually illogical on its face because you demand that the universe had to have a beginning but the thing that started the universe doesn't need to have a beginning. You contradict yourself right out of the gate. Additionally, the cause doesn't need to be immaterial or spiritual. Your unknown causer could be material and create a material universe as well. When you make these unsupported assumptions the rest of your argument doesn't have a foundation.

@Hilary seems to think that several commenters have avoided Anon's points, but I've seen several people directly and specifically refute those points.

Plasma Engineer said...

@Kenny Beautifully succint. Thank you for expressing what I wanted to express in such nice terms. I have taken the liberty of quoting you in my draft of today's post.

Hilary said...

Hi Kenny, unfortunately, it is not entirely true that other scientists verify results and theories. There is a very narrow margin for which I would say this is true. however, research grants are only given to the popular theories of the time, and are not given to equally valid theories to conduct research.

Science sadly is not objective and is mostly governed by politics, money and power. There are several other theories as to the origin of the Unviverse which are from secular atheist groups of scientists but because their theory is not the Big Bang Theory then they are ignored, not given research time or grants etc etc...

A great deal of spin is put on supposed verifications of discoveries by and in the media, when actually the margins of error or huge. Interestingly the latest findings relating to the hopeful discovery of the Higgs has a much greater margin of error than the possible discovery that neutrinos travel faster than light. Normally the level of error for this would be an official discovery, but as of course it is such an important discovery, or possible discovery then they have played it down and asked other labs to investigate. Rightly of course, but what interests me is that who decided whether a margin of error is not enough to merit a discovery? For important, textbook-changing discoveries it seems even a margin of error less than a 'normal' margin of error for a discovery, isn't 'less' enough, however it will be interesting to see whether if they discover what they think is the Higgs particle at a lesser margin of error will be officially named a discovery!

Also, The Divine Creator of the Universe isn't a 'God of the gaps' simply filling in for what we don't know, but He creates and sustains and guides and wants a relationship with all those He has created. We have been created to live in relationship with God, and when we do not worship Him then we worship ourselves or someone or something else. Whatever we have at the centre of our lives is the thing we worship!

Kenny Wyland said...




I agree that money can corrupt the scientific process, just like it can for every other process (political, religious, familial, etc). It doesn't mean we abandon those things, it means we refine them and we add even more verification. It's also incredibly important to distinguish between corrupted scientific findings and uncorrupted ones. If you dismiss all scientific research then you are making the same size error as blindly accepting all scientific research. Independent verification is the key. A corrupt scientist can publish a bad paper. A non-corrupt scientist can refute that paper. If the question at hand is important, it'll attract more attention and more and more independent researchers will weigh in.

Even in the face of money's influence, good science is being performed. For example, a group who denies Global Climate Change funded a study to debunk existing climate science. The researchers found the opposite though, that existing climate data supported the community's consensus that Global Climate Change is happening. This is just one example of scientific research refusing to be influenced by money.

Kenny Wyland said...


I wanted to make one other comment, but the holidays have been crazy.

You said... "Normally the level of error for this would be an official discovery, but as of course it is such an important discovery, or possible discovery then they have played it down and asked other labs to investigate. Rightly of course, but what interests me is that who decided whether a margin of error is not enough to merit a discovery?"

It's an important point! The margin of error for some discoveries SHOULD be smaller than others, because not all discoveries change as much of what we know. The larger the change of our understanding the stronger the evidence must be. For example... if you told me you owned a car, I really wouldn't need to see any evidence to believe it. I live in the US, I've seen a car before, I own a car, everyone I know of driving age owns a car, it's everywhere. If you told me you owned a Tesla Roadster, a very expensive and rare car, I might need a little evidence for that. A photo maybe. If you told me that you owned 50 Teslas, I'd need more evidence. If you told me that all 50 of your Teslas were gold plated and could fly... you're going to need some pretty damn good evidence within a very small margin of error to prove that.

It's natural and normal to demand tighter evidence for some discoveries than for others.