Drowning, Rabies, Cheetahs, Hepatitis, and Atheism

Hey look, I found some science:

  1. A Proposed Decision-Making Guide for the Search, Rescue and Resuscitation of Submersion (Head Under) Victims Based on Expert Opinion (Resuscitation)
    The really fascinating part, in my opinion, is the difference in survival outcomes between cold water and warm water submersion. One ER doc I met told me about the case of a young girl who was successfully resuscitated after 83 minutes at the bottom of a frozen lake. “It is concluded that if water temperature is warmer than 6°C, survival/resuscitation is extremely unlikely if submerged longer than 30min. If water temperature is 6°C or below, survival/resuscitation is extremely unlikely if submerged longer than 90min.”
  2. Survival after Treatment of Rabies with Induction of Coma (New England Journal of Medicine)
    This is a pretty famous case report, which I only recently learned about after hearing a presentation from one of the authors. It’s basically the first known case of someone surviving rabies without having received immune prophylaxis. You can watch a terrifying video showing the clinical course of rabies HERE. You can watch a documentary detailing this specific case HERE.
  3. Cheetah Paradigm Revisited: MHC Diversity in the World’s Largest Free-Ranging Population (Molecular Biology and Evolution)
    MHC allelic diversity within a species is important for long-term protection against diseases. Even if a given individual is vulnerable to a pathogen, the immunological diversity across a population increases the likelihood that SOME individuals will be protected, and helps to guard against extinction. Humans have thousands of known HLA alleles, but other species (such as the cheetah) have much less diversity. This paper basically shows that free-ranging cheetahs might actually have more MHC diversity than originally thought: “We examined whether the diversity at MHC class I and class II-DRB loci in 149 Namibian cheetahs was higher than previously reported using single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis, cloning, and sequencing. MHC genes were examined at the genomic and transcriptomic levels. We detected ten MHC class I and four class II-DRB alleles, of which nine MHC class I and all class II-DRB alleles were expressed.”
  4. RNA Replication Without RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase: Surprises from Hepatitis Delta Virus (Journal of Virology)
    Hepatitis D is an RNA virus (technically a subviral satellite, since it requires coinfection or superinfection with Hepatitis B). So you would think it would use an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase to replicate its genome, right? Wrong. Turns out Hep D is a unique case. It actually uses host RNA polymerase for the job…and scientists don’t really know how the heck that’s even possible. (Since, you know, host polymerase requires a DNA template). “Hepatitis delta virus (HDV) and plant viroids present an exception which still confounds the conventional thinking. None of them encode an RdRP, and yet they can undergo robust RNA replication autonomously once inside the cells.”
  5. Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to do Terrible Things (International Journal for the Psychology of Religion)
    This study uses a pretty small sample size, so I think it’s important not to overstate the conclusions. Still, the findings are pretty intriguing, and seem to support the Christian view [Romans 1:18-21] that all men possess an awareness of God (even if they’ve suppressed that knowledge…maybe even to the point of no longer being aware that they’re aware). “The results imply that atheists’ attitudes towards God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response.”

12 thoughts on “Drowning, Rabies, Cheetahs, Hepatitis, and Atheism

  1. Many scientific results are counter intuitive, so it should be no surprise that we are sometimes psychologically resistant to the science, and that this should be detectable neurologically. Being an atheist doesn’t make one inhumanly immune to irrational fears. I’m sure all but the most iron hearted atheists can succumb to subconscious ghosts and goblins while intellectually knowing there is no evidence to support them.

    There is plenty of good reason for being subconsciously cautious. The taking of a stick in the grass for a snake has the evolutionary explanation of false positives being of greater survival value than false negatives.

    And of course you must presuppose a God in order to interpret this specific result as evidence of an awareness of God. What you need to consider first is that just because believers believe in God does not mean there is a God. You must know this is true because you too must know of many believers in gods you think do not exist, so you must admit that belief in something is not evidence of its existence. Belief is only ever evidence of belief, not of what is believed. So neither is it evidence of awareness of what is believed.

    About the most you can take from this is that some atheists have residual religiously related anxieties. Not surprising given the influence religion has had in our human history. Not just recent 2000 or 3000 year religions, but a very long belief in non-human forces, the gods and spirits of natural forces.

    We also have our personal childhood spooks. Most religiously indoctrinated kids carry God fearing beliefs with them. My wife struggles to get to sleep if a wardrobe door is left ajar because she was frightened as a child. She knows it is an irrational fear.

    You can say no more than that these atheist succumb to these very old human or childhood feelings despite the very modern rational assessment of human beliefs. If anything this could be taken to refute free will, that necessary condition for sin to be meaningful. They know belief in God is nonsense, but their physical brains cannot shake off their biological and social inheritance.

    I would even suggest that the irrational poorly thought out conclusion is another example brains believing what they want to believe, despite lack of evidence.

    • “And of course you must presuppose a God in order to interpret this specific result as evidence of an awareness of God.”

      Absolutely. But you have to presuppose a *lack* of God’s existence in order to conclude – as you have – that this cannot be anything more than an evolutionary or developmental holdover. We’re both interpreting this result through the filter of our respective beliefs about the nature of reality.

      I think the more interesting (and difficult) question would be to ask why our presuppositions *are* what they are. You’re absolutely, 100% correct that “just because believers believe in God does not mean there is a God.” I hope you would also agree that “just because non-believers don’t believe in God does not mean there is no God.” The mere fact that people hold a belief is entirely beside the point, if we’re interested in the truth.

      The real question, then, is “what does the evidence point to?” I believe that the evidence most compellingly points to the fact that God does, indeed, exist – and that Christianity offers the best and most convincing narrative for how we all got here (and what we’re all here for, and stuff).

    • “all but the most iron hearted atheists” – interesting that you admit to gradations of self-conscious awareness among atheists themselves. Rather inconsistent isn’t it? Among the class that affirms “no God” there are the “iron-hearted” and the non iron-hearted, or can we assume, “soft”?
      And what in their epitimological make up is “soft”? Morality? Self-consciousness? Appreciation of aesthetic beauty? Causality?
      Please. I’d really like it if you can identify this area of “softness” to me.


  2. And you have to presuppose a lack of an evil god, multiple gods, fairies, that astrology does not work, that homeopathy does not work, that all your friends don’t hate you, … ?

    Come now. That’s not how life, or human discovery, works now is it. All the above aren’t even on a person’s radar until someone suggests them, or until the originator invents them. Only then are they considered, evaluated, accepted or not. And the way that works depends on how persuasive the messenger is, and how gullible the receiver is; and when the receiver is not gullible but critical then it depends on how good the evidence and reason is.

    As Christianity arose in the Middle East and the Roman Empire do you suppose there was some pagan human in South America actively presupposing that Jesus is not divine? When a positive claim is made, that there is a God, it is not presuppositionalism to ask for evidence. This is a nonsensical argument you are making.

    Given that there is such a strong history of gods, and in the West and Near East a monotheism of one sort or another built and propagated, this naturally becomes the default belief instilled into children in those cultures. It is only when individuals and groups start to think rationally and look for evidence do they challenge the presuppositions that are being made by the theists.

    I don’t need to presuppose there is no God. I’m not presupposing there isn’t. I’m looking for evidence, but there is none. Belief in God is very clearly a presuppositional belief that is stoked by a religious rhetoric that, failing logical proof and any available evidence, insists of faith in the presupposition.

    I was a believer as a child. I too presupposed my elders were telling me something that was true – a natural response form children, since so many things our elders teach us about life become demonstrably true with childhood experience. The indoctrination to rely on faith for those beliefs that are not so evidently true, such as God and Santa, wears off.

    Superficially it seems odd that so many children and teenagers come to appreciate that Santa is a myth and God is supposed not to be. Of course there’s an ancient and well established history of religious methodologies developed specifically to fight disbelief. Santa, it turns out, is just one more temporarily acceptable pagan belief that must be quashed so as to have no opposition to the one true belief.

    In this age of science the argument for God tends to be wearing thin, with abominably pathetic claims by people like Plantinga, the reliance people like C S Lewis and his atrocious use of logic hidden away by his gift of telling stories – rhetoric at work, hypnotising the gullible.

    Have you read “The god Delusion”? Yes, even Richard Dawkins does not presuppose there is no God, allowing as he does that it is a hypothesis we should consider. But in the business of creating universes humans have no knowledge. You have to reject all basic science if you reject the notion that humans cannot yet see out beyond the opaque microwave background radiation as we look out into space, and therefore back in time. We can’t figure out what happened with the big bang, and can’t be sure it happened at all. All we have is inference from the data we do have, and a lot of mathematical speculation about the deep nature of reality. You think theologians sitting around in churches and theological colleges can do better than a short but productive history of science? You think these ancient religions are the real basis for the nature of reality? Do you presuppose the Mayans were wrong, or is that a post-supposition based on the fact that you already have your own presupposition that rules out all other possibilities? What makes your religious presupposition right?

    But despite all that science the God hypothesis is still on the table, precisely because we can’t look to the creation of this universe for evidence, yet. But then on the table with that hypothesis is an evil God who lets us have a little happiness on earth before tormenting all our souls in hell for eternity. So is the prospect of a committee of gods, each with his own creation project. This universe might be a simple battle between a good god and an evil one. These god hypotheses are limited only by one’s imagination. And religious imagination is abundant and varied precisely because it does not require that there be evidence to back it up.

    From the presupposition, the speculation, that some entity might have created this universe, even more speculation is heaped on that to make the individual gods of each religion. And always these gods are interested in us here on this lonely planet. Not such a preposterous notion back when the surface of the earth was the mortal realm, the heavens were the realm of gods like the sun and moon, and later the invisible monotheistic god, and hell coincidentally resembled the infernos that we actually know exist beneath our feet.

    With the increasing changes in cosmology, from an earth centric, to a solar one, to galactic on to a wider universe, religion has had to adapt. When we laugh at the old stories and point out how absurd they are many modern theists cry “That’s not my God!”, as if critics like Dawkins are unsophisticated in deriding these old literal beliefs. But there’s a heck of a lot of dishonesty in modern religion as it denies its more literal past. Many theologians today tell us, oh, of course all that stuff from genesis wasn’t literal you know, it was always allegorical, because early Christians were far more sophisticated than you silly scientists take them to be. I’m not quite sure how these modern theologians can mind-read the long dead to take what they said and presume they meant something quite different.

    “I believe that the evidence most compellingly points to the fact that God does, indeed, exist”

    What evidence? There is none. Can you give any at all that cannot also be explained without presupposing a god?

    Everything we are told in life we either take on trust or want evidence for.

    From simple school science onwards we can verify scientific claims. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult for us as individuals. I can’t replicate what’s happening at the LHC, but I can follow some of the science literature, and the maths behind the theories to some extent. I can actually design computers, and I find that the physics involved actually works. There are many levels of trust in science, from users who know nothing of the detail but find it works; all the way out to the most esoteric and complex science we have. Unless one lives a sheltered life there will always be a scientist in reach who can actually confirm and explain why the science they do works. Science produces results. You might say that those ignorant of science use it in the ‘faith’ that it works, but even then it’s not really ‘faith’ but merely ‘trust’, a trust that is very quickly lost, and sometimes unjustifiably (MMR vaccine).

    But religion really does rely on faith, blind faith. It is blind in that not only is there no positive evidence supporting belief in God, but all evidence that challenges belief is dismissed or excused by ever more devious invention of apologetics.

    So do you have any evidence we can look at in particular? If you’ve actually presented evidnece before by all means point to earlier posts.

    • “Come now. That’s not how life, or human discovery, works now is it. All the above aren’t even on a person’s radar until someone suggests them, or until the originator invents them. Only then are they considered, evaluated, accepted or not. And the way that works depends on how persuasive the messenger is, and how gullible the receiver is; and when the receiver is not gullible but critical then it depends on how good the evidence and reason is.”

      My point was that our presuppositions will dictate how we interpret a given piece of data. The issue isn’t whether or not we have presuppositions – but rather *where they come from* and *why we hold them*. I wasn’t referring to a “presupposition” as something that must be accepted blindly, but as something that is taken for granted within the framework of a given worldview. So I agree with you completely: the validity of a claim depends on how good the evidence is.

      “I don’t need to presuppose there is no God. I’m not presupposing there isn’t. I’m looking for evidence, but there is none.”

      None? That’s a pretty strong claim. Evidence just means “a fact or piece of information, X, supporting the proposition that claim Y is true.” I think that a more defensible position, for the atheist, would be to say, “the evidence is insufficient to convince me” rather than “there is no evidence”. I mean, there’s *evidence* for all sorts of claims that I ultimately reject (i.e. personal narratives and eyewitness testimony supporting homeopathy and astrology). I reject certain claims, like these, because the evidence that exists is insufficient to convince me. But it would be inaccurate to claim that there’s “no evidence”.

      “But religion really does rely on faith, blind faith.”

      Some forms of religion do, certainly. But I reject that definition of faith, as do most thinking Christians. The Christian definition of “faith” is really much more akin to “trust”. It’s an evidence-based, relational sort of trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness. It isn’t some sort of blind leap.

      “So do you have any evidence we can look at in particular? If you’ve actually presented evidnece before by all means point to earlier posts.”

      I wrote this quite awhile ago. Still a work in progress:


  3. “I mean, there’s *evidence* for all sorts of claims that I ultimately reject (i.e. personal narratives and eyewitness testimony supporting homeopathy and astrology).”

    But that’s precisely why presenting these as evidence is actually presenting evidence.

    That it looked like, and continues to look like, the sun (and other bodies) moves across a stationary sky over a stationary earth was presented as evidence for the earth centric perspective. Personal testimony and eye witness accounts of the sun moving across the sky were common and are still common. But other evidence has been presented that shows this is actuallly incorrect. So now this apparent motion isn’t evidence for an earth centric perspective any more. It never was evidence; it was merely mistaken for evidence.

    Personal narratives may be presented as evidence, but they are never evidence, only a claim. The mistake is to think they are evidence. Suppose as part of a personal narrative someone comes back from a remote site and makes a claim that though this was his first visit he is sure a glacier has melted to the extent that it has halved in size, over what he thinks is a ten tear period. Then a team go off and collect actual data and present the data as evidence. The originator’s personal narrative is not and never was evidence. If the evidence coincides with the claim it does not then make the claim itself actual evidence – the actual evidence is the evidence. If the evidence does not coincide with the claim, then the claim is rejected as evidence *not* because the evidence counters it, but because *it was never evidence*, only a claim.

    Same for eye witness tesimony.

    These play the same role as hypothesese. They are what the proponent *thinks* might be the case. That in some situations, such as belief in God, the proponent is really convinced about it is neither here nor there. It is not evidence for the content of the belief of what was eye witnessed; it is only evidence of the belief of the person, evidence only of the fact that the eye witness believes what they think they saw. It might also be wrong if the ‘believer’ is lying, as in a criminal case if a corrupt policeman makes claims that go beyond what he actually saw.

    All this is the very reason why eye witness accounts are not evidence.

    “I reject certain claims, like these, because the evidence that exists is insufficient to convince me.”

    Then that speaks only of the extent to which you are convinced, not to the strength of any actual evidence presented. Many Young Earth Creationists will not accept the evidence for evolution, because it does not convince them.

    “But it would be inaccurate to claim that there’s “no evidence”.”

    That would be the case for a Young Earth Creationist with regard to evolution, because there’s so much evidence that can be verified. With regard to God, I’ve been at this some time, and have looked at the ‘evidence’ presented by many theists, as have many other atheists.

    “The Christian definition of “faith” is really much more akin to “trust””

    For those Christians that’s fine, as far as it goes. But then why do they believe? What ‘evidence’ is presented to them or by them that they should put trust in it? Is it really evidence?

    Well, let’s look at your examples.

    1) Fine Tuning? No.
    1a) This is not evidence of God. Even if it were evidence of some entity it would not be evidence for your God, because it could be evidence for any of the variations of god I gave last time: good god, bad god, multile gods, … (a list limited by imagination only).
    1b) But it actually fails logically. There is no reason to think different sets of laws could not result in a universe in which life can start and evolve into entities which contemplate the universe. The fine tuning argument claims our laws must apply as-is, and that if you vary one law slightly while holding all others the same there would not be *this* universe. Sure, in our universe with our laws, if one of them had been slightly different then stars would not have formed, then … no us. But what do you know about how many ways there are for a universe to form, and what varieties of universal laws there might be in those universes, and which of those could might or might not produce contemplative life? What exactly is the theological qualification for thinking this?

    Here’s an analogy of the fine tuning argument. A lottery winner wins the lottery and claims the lottery was fine tuned to make him win, so the lottery must be fixed. He neglects to consider all those other people whereby had just one ball bounced ever so slightly differently a different set of balls would have won – with yet a different lottery winner claiming the lottery was fine tuned for him.

    Not only do we not know how many ways a universe might have come together to form contemplative life, we don’t know that there aren’t other such universes operating by quite different physical laws. The whole of the fine tuning argument, as an argument for god is bogus.

    But even if, in the business of cosmology of universe creation, this were the only possible set of laws, then if this is what such universes create then we are a direct function of this type of universe, hence we exist. This tells us nothing about why such a one-type-only universe should exist.

    The religious fine tuning proponent presupposes God does the fine tuning, then notices, wow, the universe is fine-tuned, so it must have been the God that we presupposed that fine-tuned it, therefore God must exist. It’s just a dumb argument.

    “Since each of these alternative explanations ultimately appeal to non-falsifiable faith-based claims of their own, it can be compellingly argued that belief in a Creator provides the most elegant solution to the question of our universe’s existence.”

    Well, what non-falsifiable claims am I making here? My claim that you (or anyone else) don’t know enough cosmology to make claims about how many variations are possible in a universe’s laws is easily falsifiable. You have not compellingly argued anything, and you have presented no evidence whatsoever.

    2) Argument from morality.
    This is a God presupposition at work again. You have to presuppose a God, and then have those morals be dependent on that God (as dictates from him, or built into the universe by him). This is not evidence for God any more than it’s evidence that fairies sprinkle moral dust onto each new born baby, and one’s immoral behaviour, or one’s sin, depends on how much of that has worn off. You are arguing from one observation, that we are moral creatures, and then attributing morality in some way to an association with your presupposed God, and then claiming that these morals are evidence for the God you have to presupposed in order to have your perspective on morals.

    Morals are only evidence that humans behave in ways which humans classify according to a moral standard. There’s no evidence of anything from morals themselves. There are plenty of indicators that morals come from our biological history, since we see many similar behaviours in animals. Humans in a long social development have refined those moral codes, and have invented many different and often conflicting religious traditions to give weight and force to the moral codes those society leaders want to enforce. You only have to look at the history of Christianity within the Holy Roman Empire, the conflicts between Pope and Emperor. That should be enough to see that moral systems vary massively and are tied to power struggles. The theology is just an invention to enforce moral codes that suit the powerful in their control of others, in their maintenance of power.

    And of course there is no evidence for ‘objective’ morality as anything other than a human invention.

    You can’t have it both ways. You can’t use God as a reason for our morality, and then use our morality as evidence for God. You can observe our morality – we have direct evidence that we have moral codes that we live by. Then you can ask for an explanation for us having them. If you wish you can claim they come from God, but then you need evidence for God, but you can’t then use the morals for that. The inference from evolutionary/social origins fits the bill without evoking a God; and you’d still have to acknowledge evolution/social development of morals even if you presuppose a God. The inference from evolutionary/social is present in both cases, so God is redundant.

    3) Religious experience.
    Indistinguishable from any neurologically identified experience, and therefore evidence of nothing other than the experiencer has had an experience, and evidence that he thinks it is religious. Many mental experiences considered to be mystical or religious can be induced, from out of body experiences to hearing voices in the head without an auditory input, to the most intense feeling of a presence (and that presence of course, just happens to coincide with the beliefs of the believer).

    “Taken collectively, the sheer number of reported religious/supernatural experiences provide a reasonably strong argument for the existence of God.”

    Of course not. They collectively tell us only that various mental experiences occur in human brains that are not (superficially) explained by observation of external phenomena. The sheer number of cases where they are shown to be neurological in nature provide evidence of delusion, illusion, error, and physical brain behaviour.

    Again you have to first presuppose there is a God to induce these experience, then attribute the experiences to God, and then use those experiences attributed to God as evidence for God? Don’t you see the presupposition and the subsequence circularity?

    4) There isn’t even a case for a historical Christ that can be considered solid, so this is just (10) in another guise. If you’re claiming divine stuff like resurrection then you’re already claiming (10).

    And without (10), for which there’s sufficient doubt, then this one isn’t evidence, but merely a claim made by authors of the Gospels. Hearsay at best. If you admit this as evidence then you have no reason to reject Muslims claims about Mohammed – at least he is better documented from his own time. And the message he got from God (presupposing a God) was that his was the last and true message from God and that Jesus was not divine.

    5) The success of mathematics.
    This is the same as the fine tuning argument, and just as bad. If the universe wasn’t a combination of regularity and complexity then there would be no natural regular outcomes, and insufficient variability for us to appear. Too much magic is attributed to mathematics. Mathematics consists of nothing other than abstract models that correspond to the patterns of reality. We observe patterns of regularity, identify common aspects and notice common behaviour, and invent axioms (for which we have no explanation), and build structures around them.

    Again, to conclude that this points to God is circular again. You have to presuppose there is a God that creates an ordered universe that fits our mathematics; and then you use that in turn as evidence of God?

    If I presuppose mathematics to be the product of fairies, and then claim mathematics is evidence for fairies, I think you can see how ridiculous it is to use the presupposed entity as an explanation for something we observe, and then use that something we observe as evidence for the entity. Simply pop any ridiculous entity you might invent into that formula and by your standards it demonstrates the entity. That’s why it’s hopeless.

    6) The Preservation of the Jewish People
    Boy this is dumb. What about the preservation of the Chinese people? The North American people? Or any other peoples. What about non-Jewish people from the Middle east? The Greeks? These other peoples haven’t perished. They were simply less xenophobic than the Jews, or were conquered and assimilated. The continuation of the Jews is only evidence of a people that believed very strongly that they were special, different, because through their myths they convinced themselves so. This is evidence of one particularly long genetic line (actually several, with non-Jews genetics mixed in).

    The other problem with all this is that it presumes the Jews were ‘original’ in some sense anyway. To maintain this silly notion you have to deny a lot of evidence from evolution that follows the genetics of the routes taken by many peoples as early humans came out of Africa, on more than one occasion.

    And, if you are making this a claim as evidence for God you have to presuppose the God to make the Jews special. And then you use the Jews as evidence for God.

    7) Archaeological Evidence. This is evidence only that the authors of the myths of the bible included some aspects of their actual environment in their stories. So, you accept that there being a New York City is evidence that King Kong must actually exist, because a story about King Kong contains references to a real New York City? This is not evidence for God.

    8) Fulfilled Prophecy. Don’t you get it? Some ancients make some prophecy. Later generations are looking for it coming true. Over time some events and people resemble the story of the prophecy, so those looking for the prophecy suffer confirmation bias and a myth starts. Gullible people believe it. And we have lift off; we have a religion.

    The John A. Bloom piece is full of nonsense. “It is good to see the idea of a Creator, especially a biblical one, regaining intellectual credibility in these parts of our secular world.” – But it isn’t, except in the deluded heads of these theists. There is not one drop of implication for any God in the notion of the Big Bang.

    “Yes, astrophysics suggests that we need God to start the ball rolling” – It does nothing of the kind. At best it suggests only a beginning for this universe, and even then only according to our limited access to the business of universe creation.

    “Is fulfilled prophecy of value for scholarly apologetics? I would say yes.”

    Well, he would say yes wouldn’t he. He would want to appropriate current scientific evidence for some event as evidence for his God. And many Muslims make all sorts of claims about Islam being prophetic about much modern science. The ‘origins’ idea is quite a natural one that any civilization might come up with. They see people and animals grow from small beginnings. Why not suppose the world grew from some beginning. Seems obvious. Nothing particularly prophetic. As it happens, with no evidence either way, we can speculate away about beginnings or eternities as we please. This speculation is evidence of nothing.

    “As I have tried to illustrate with the example of Tyre, it allows us to engage liberal scholarship and respond to liberal attacks on the reliability of Scripture.”

    But it allows theists only to argue about the accuracy of normal historical events. Archaeological evidence doesn’t tell us anything about the divine mythical aspects of the stories built around real locations. Let’s face it, the Bible would be even less believable had all it contained references of planet Alderaan (of Star Wars). Of course the stories are going to contain some realism.

    9) The Emergence of the Early Church.
    What? How is this evidence for God. If religion’s content, God, is actually mythical then a church isn’t evidence for God but evidence of a myth. You have to presuppose there is a God behind the belief instead of ancient myth. By your own standard you must therefore believe that Greek and Roman religions are evidence for Greek and Roman gods.

    What about the emergence of Islam? Why not accept that? Why not accept evidence of the early mosque?

    10) Jesus.
    Presupposition at work again. You must first presuppose a God in order for there to be someone to send Jesus; and then you must suppose a heck of a lot about Jesus, and accept claims made about him, with no evidence that he actually existed.

    And C. S. Lewis is a fraud. The “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” argument is pathetic. Why are these the only possibilities? Why not the possibility that he is total myth? Or that there was a man roughly matching that of a preacher around that time (and there were enough to choose from)? Or that those that wrote about him were liars and myth builders? And, as I say, the ‘Lord’ bit already presupposes God and divinity.

    You are wise to leave out the ‘Historicity of Jesus’ or the ‘History of Jesus’, because there are no primary or secondary sources to offer as evidence. The first and only references to Jesus are those in the gospels. There are countless arguments about whether there was a real (mortal) person matching any of the stories, before we even get around to the claims about his divinity, such as the resurrection.

    The objection is sometimes raised by theists that, well, there are no primary sources for many characters in history. True, and in those cases those characters are either considered to be completely mythical, or many of the claims made about them are taken to by mythical or exaggerated. It is quite normal to examine the times of some mythical figure, as if he existed, because that’s all we have. But that isn’t evidence they existed; and with those characters we can suspend commitment quite comfortably. The significant point is that Jesus is actually believed to be both a real person, and on top of that divine; and from that follows prescriptions and proscriptions about how we are to behave. Why don’t you take Muslims claims seriously that God’s last message came through him and that Jesus was just a prophet?

    None of it evidence.

    Simply coming up with presuppositions and poor arguments that have been shown not to hold water and then claiming these are evidence for God is not how evidence works.

    P1 Presuppose X
    P2 Assert observation Y is caused by X
    C Therefore Y shows X exists.

    This is not a valid argument, and the premises are not evidence, one being a presupposition and the other a simple assertion.

    I don’t know how many ways I need to explain this complete failure of this presuppositional and circular reasoning; but I often find it needs stating over and over. All the above arguments have well documented explanations as to why they are not evidence for God, and yet theists just ignore the criticisms and keep on stating them. And if theists want to give some seeming fairness to the discussion they throw in a couple of hopeless supposed refutations that never worked in the first place – as you have done.

    As a work in progress it hasn’t progressed any in decades for some, in centuries for others.

    • Hi Ron,

      First off, I apologize that I’m not able to respond in nearly as much detail as I’d like. The next 6 weeks are some of the busiest of my life, so my internet time is limited. But if you’d like to talk this stuff over in more detail, I’m happy to do so when the month of July rolls around.

      In the meantime, here are some abbreviated, off-the-cuff responses:

      “All this is the very reason why eye witness accounts are not evidence.”

      Obviously the evidential value of eyewitness testimony depends on a number of factors (the reliability of the witness, the significance of the claim, etc.). But it’s baffling to me that you would argue that eyewitness testimony cannot count as evidence for an external fact. (For example, if my brother tells me that he saw a groundhog crossing the street on his way to work, this is evidence that there was, in fact, a small furry creature that crossed a specified road at a specified time. It’s possible that my brother is lying, or was mistaken in some way…but setting aside the potential fallibility of eyewitness testimony, it remains undoubtedly true that his testimony (information X) has the net effect of supporting the proposition that his claim (proposition Y) is true.) Again, this becomes a question of *quality of evidence* rather than *presence of evidence*.

      So here I would have to ask: how do you define the word “evidence”? Your statements are clearly incompatible with the definition that I provided, but I’m open to hearing your own definition.

      With regards to fine tuning, I can’t help but observe that your analysis is clouded with a number of naturalistic assumptions- or what has been called “atheistic presuppositionalism”. But I’ve responded to several of your objections in previous posts here:


      and in the comment section here:


      “The inference from evolutionary/social origins fits the bill without evoking a God; and you’d still have to acknowledge evolution/social development of morals even if you presuppose a God. The inference from evolutionary/social is present in both cases, so God is redundant.”

      In this case, how would you define morality? If there are no eternal or metaphysical consequences for acting immorally, how can morals be anything more than just a handy social convention, which we’re free to accept or reject according to our own personal preferences? If an animal forcibly copulates with another animal, we don’t call it “rape” and don’t view it as morally wrong. But if humans are merely animals, and morality is non-objective, then why do we view such actions by humans as morally wrong?

      Furthermore, if “right” and “wrong” are defined solely in terms of human flourishing, then how can one provide any evidence that “human flourishing” is a “good” thing? This brand of ethics is built on a house of cards. Of note: http://nonprophetstatus.com/2013/01/15/michael-shermer-and-bridging-the-isought-gap/

      “Again you have to first presuppose there is a God to induce these experience, then attribute the experiences to God, and then use those experiences attributed to God as evidence for God? Don’t you see the presupposition and the subsequence circularity?”

      Wait, are you saying that only people who already believe in God have supernatural experiences? I apologize if I’m reading that incorrectly.

      “There isn’t even a case for a historical Christ that can be considered solid, so this is just (10) in another guise.”

      That puts you at odds with the overwhelming consensus of secular historians. You have every right to reject the historical Christ, but you have to understand that it’s the historical equivalent of 9/11 trutherism and Obama birtherism.

      Did you have any thoughts on the Shenvi essay, or Dr. Craig’s talk that I linked to?

      (I hope to continue on from #5 later…but I really ought to get back to work.)



  4. katachriston,

    “interesting that you admit to gradations of self-conscious awareness among atheists themselves”

    Admit it? I think it is apparent that there are gradations. That’s the point. We are all humans with different perspectives. It is the theist that is making an unsupported positive claim.

    I’ve met atheists that I’d call ‘faith atheists’. They simply reject all gods and spooky stuff out of hand, without reason or interest. But I’d say their position, like that of the theist, is also unsupported, though it coincides closely with mine.

    “Among the class that affirms “no God” there are the “iron-hearted” and the non iron-hearted, or can we assume, “soft”?”

    No, we can’t assume ‘soft’, unless you explain what you mean by that, and then if it agrees with what I (or we) think I am (or we are). All I can give you is my perspective.

    First, I don’t ‘affirm’ my non-belief as some positive anti-belief dogma. I don’t presuppose anything regarding the matter of universes coming into existence, because I’m not aware any human has that knowledge, yet.

    Anyway, if you’re actually as interested as you say you are then try these:

    Thinking: http://ronmurp.net/thinking/

    Atheism: http://ronmurp.net/atheism/

    Religion: http://ronmurp.net/religion/

    Consciousness: http://ronmurp.net/consciousness/

    The others I’ve not addressed directly in any posts, but have commented on them often:

    Causality: We don’t know why we see the world as causal. Is it actually causal, or are we seeing mere correlations? Time and causation seem to be linked in some directional sense. There’s plenty of philosophical speculation, but that’s all it is. So, the notion that there is some entity, God, that causes a universe to come into existence is just as much a speculation as anything.

    Morality: No evidence that it is objective in the sense of being written in the laws of the cosmos for humans to discover. Without evidence for God there’s no evidence that morality comes from God. All evidence from evolution and the history of how societies have developed and how systems have been put in place to control these societies, and how humans want to know their origins and have imagined a few, then morality and religious authority have been a historic development entirely of human making. But the moral feelings are probably built from evolved feelings that humans have that are not unlike ones that animals appear to have. There’s no evidence for God, and no need for a God to explain human morals.

    Aesthetic beauty? More biological sensibilities honed into their own abstract systems throughout a history of human development. Nothing magical about it. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. There is no inherent beauty in anything. Search “ugly fish” in google and see which one you find beautiful; and if you don’t find any attractive bear in mind that their mates do. It’s a psychological response to neurological pattern recognition. Seeing beauty in other humans is highly social and biological. Seeing beauty in landscapes and in the stars may have something else to do with the way humans see their world. We need to know much more about the brain to get to the real science of beauty, which is a work in progress. The exaggeration (or even exaggerated simplicity) appeals to, triggers, recognitions that stir feelings. The simpler the animal, the simpler the brain, or even without a brain the more this attraction through interaction becomes chemically based. In humans out eyes and ears allow us to sense remotely, so they become the prime mechanisms that stimulate our aesthetic sensibilities. God isn’t needed for any of this, so there’s no need to invent him to explain it.

  5. Hi Matt,

    No problem on any delays. There’s lots to cover and we all have day jobs. I appreciate the conversation.

    I’ll break up the responses into categories.

    Supernatural Experiences

    “Wait, are you saying that only people who already believe in God have supernatural experiences?”

    Depends on what you want to call supernatural. If it includes God, then yes – or non-believers can become believers, if they have an experience they believe is of God (by definition of them believing it is). If the supernatural includes non-God stuff, ESP and such, then one need only presuppose there are these other supernatural forces, have some experience, then attribute the experience to those forces, then claim the experience is evidence of those forces. All flaky reasoning.

    Naturalistic Assumptions

    And as to my naturalistic assumptions, they are just the same as yours, sort of. They need not be assumptions. In these two post I explain why I don’t think they are assumptions, but rather, like axioms of maths, just something we seem to be stuck with, something as yet unexplainable:

    I take it you have the naturalistic ‘assumption’ that you exist as (or, depending on your view of souls, in) a material body. The whole of the claims about Jesus only make sense, as miracle claims, if they are made in a naturalistic context whereby Jesus the man, the physical mortal human body, does something that is quite in opposition to all out naturalistic ‘assumptions’.

    But my objections to naturalistic ‘assumptions’ are, as in my posts, I don’t ‘assume’ them, but tentatively conclude than as a best explanation of what appears to be a naturalistic experience.

    And then my objections to the divinity of Jesus are then based on the failure of Christians to provide actual evidence of his divinity.

    Let’s put naturalism aside. How, in the supernatural business, do you distinguish between Christianity and Islam? The ‘supernatural’ possibilities, once you accept them, become boundless to the point of being meaningless. Whatever claim you might make about a god or gods I could come up with a contradictory god or a contradictory supernatural non-god. What is a supernatural non-god? Well, what’s a supernatural god? The term supernatural is pretty flaky, as a concept.

    “and in the comment section here:…”

    Was this making a case for your point of view? All I read that made sense was by abrotherhoodofman. Did you have anything specific?

  6. Eye Witness Testimony

    Eye witness testimony is unreliable, and the more critical the issue the more carefully it must be treated. The law deals it it as best it can, and treats it differently in different cases.

    In science, lone eye witness accounts count for little. That’s why repeatable experiments and observations are required. That can’t always be achieved easily. It’s also misunderstood, by the general public, when a lone result from a single lab, or maybe from a single scientists (which then amounts to personal testimony) gets published and taken as fact. What they don’t get is that in the field it is acknowledged that it is a lone ‘eye witness’ account. It is not published and accepted as true, in the way that personal testimony often is in religion, or in social situations. It is taken as an interim result that is put out there for others to criticise, to attempt to repeat, to attempt to falsify. Of course, depending on previous results from the same scientists, it may well be that peers understand enough about the detail of the science, and from the experience of dealing with this scientists, that he is a highly credible ‘eye witness’, and they may temporarily give him the benefit of the doubt. But you will nearly always here the caveats being trotted out: “Well, if Dr X’s is results are verified then this will indeed be a remarkable result.” And more often than not the author of any paper reporting the results will load the paper with their own reservations and recommendations on what else needs to be done to confirm the results.

    So, no, eye witness accounts are not evidence; they are only a guide that actual evidence might exist, or not, according to the cridibility of the eye witness.

    What your brother says is not evidence that a groundhog crossed the street as he reported. His report is evidence only that he is making that claim – it would generally be ridiculous to say that, on hearing him say “I saw a groundhog …”, that he did not actually say it. But even then, if you reported what he said to me I have now room to doubt (a) that a groundhog crossed the street, (b) that your brother saw it, (c) that he actually told you he did (here I doubt your report of what he said).

    This latter is the situation we are in with the gospels. We can both read the Bible, so let’s agree that the Bible says what it is reported to say about Jesus. But does the current Bible contain a good interpretation of the original authors’ accounts? Do their accounts report direct witnessing of theirs? Can we doubt they are reporting what was reported to them? Can we doubt their correct reporting of what was reported to them?

    If you think this is uncharitably doubtful of me then I refer you to what is going on right now in the sceptical community. Now bear in mind, these are people who like me are usually very careful with what is said and written. We scrutinise words as carefully as we can and try to be as clear as we can. We tend to question accounts for their reliability, for confirmation, for corroborating evidence. Despite what it seems like from some of the online conversations these are not dumb people. But there is some doubtful eye witnessing going on, and one heck of a lot of misinterpretation. For anyone who is interested try twitter on hash tags #wiscifi and #elevatorgate. There are many good and honest assessments on both sides, but if you dig into the accounts of what was said and what was meant it becomes clear that these ‘eye witness’ accounts are very obviously clouded by personal opinion and feeling. The take home message here is that personal eye witness accounts are really unreliable if there’s the slightest chance of misinterpretation. Of course some outsiders take home a different message, that the sceptical community is imploding – but then their ‘eye witness’ accounts of the debate turn out not to be right either.

    Add all the emotiveness of eye witness accounts of religious experience, in the present, or second, third, fourth, …, hand reports of eye witness accounts from over two thousand years ago, from a time when prophets and gods were common attempts to explain what couldn’t be explained, then eye witness accounts should be dismissed as unreliable. If you don’t reject Christian eye witness accounts then you shouldn’t reject Islamic, Hindu accounts, accounts from all sorts of pagan religions. And if you don’t reject them then you have nothing upon which to base your beliefs.

    “it remains undoubtedly true that his testimony (information X) has the net effect of supporting the proposition…”

    No it does not! Really, it isn’t. This is the claim, the hypothesis. How can the hypothesis support the content of the hypothesis? Other evidence is required to support the claim, to support the hypothesis. This is precisely why the Bible cannot be support for its own claims. When the Bible contains content, as direct narrative or as quoted from a character, that says “this is the word of God”, you cannot then use that claim as evidence for that claim. The Bible cannot be used as evidence that it is the word of God or is inspired by the word of God.

    And it’s really important to distinguish between the evidence that someone thought they witnessed something (if you record your brother’s testimony – that’s evidence that he thinks he witnessed something) and evidence that what he claims happened actually happened (street camera recording). And even then there might be room for doubt.

    If a special effects specialist provided his own recording of his accident at work so he could sue for big bucks then I would think it wise to scrutinise what is presented as evidence; and if found to be fake it is declared not to be evidence of the accident.

    As to quality or presence of evidence it comes down to the following comparison.

    In the case of the effects specialist that fakes a recording of an accident there is a purely pedantic linguistic sense in which you could say, “The tape was presented as evidence [evidence was present, as content of a tape], but the evidence [still present on the tape] was rejected as poor quality evidence.”

    Wouldn’t it be far more honest in that case to say that the tape, while present, and while it contains images of an accident, those images were manufactured and do not represent an actual occurring accident, and therefore there is no evidence of an accident on the tape and in the images on the tape.” The tape, and the recorded images, are still present, but they are not and never were evidence of an accident. It is not the case that there is some low quality evidence. There is no evidence.

    I would agree that there are many cases where we know that what is presented as evidence is sometimes, as a mode of language, expressed as being low quality evidence. This is usually the case where we can’t decide if what is presented should be counted as evidence or not. Let’s say a security cam captures the effects guy’s ‘accident’, and is secure and free of his tinkering. It shows him apparently tripping over something. But with the angles and lighting it isn’t clear if he genuinely tripped. It has a hint of a ‘dive’. This is termed low quality evidence, because unlike a witness account it is a recording of data – we can’t sensibly dispute that it is a recording of the event; but what we are disputing is what it reveals about the claim from the effects guy.

    Here’s a real example. It’s a clip from a British program just this weekend with a segment that highlights ‘dives’ in football matches (get past the comic intro and to the football). It looks like Ronaldo (in white) kicks the other player in the face. But look at 0.25 seconds in. It really looks like there is fresh air between his boot and the face of the other player. This is low to medium quality evidence. It might be evidence that no contact took place, if only we could tell. Or, it might be evidence that there was some contact, though probably not enough for all the dramatics that follow.

    We might need higher definition and higher frame speed to determine that the foot did not touch the face, to have higher quality evidence on film. Note that some of the other angles are so low quality that they amount to not being evidence of contact, though they are evidence of some incident where a player’s foot comes close to another’s. The falling player’s antics are clearly so badly acted they should be discounted as evidence of everything other than his own complicity in an injustice. But irrespective of that, look at the responses of all the eye witnesses, of the impartial referee. Is this all reliable eye witness account? Are all their accounts evidence? Do you think they actually saw what they think they saw?

    And that’s now. With multiple cameras. With about forty thousand spectators. And a referee experienced in spotting high speed player interaction infringements. And still the eye witness accounts are unreliable and the camera ‘evidence’ inconclusive.

    And you want to accept eye witness accounts of mental events as being evidence of God? And not even accounts of witnesses of Jesus, but merely Gospel reposts of witnesses of Jesus.

  7. Morality

    “In this case, how would you define morality?”

    A social system of rules humans have concocted. Possibly, probably, based on our biological relationships, how, like many animals, we co-exist in groups. Many powerful animals have what amount to survival rules that have, from an anthropomorphic perspective, look like our social rules. Many dominant males fight only to a certain extent, not to death; and many socialise this behaviour into mere posturing. Parents look after young. In buffalo herds a female will defend a calf that isn’t her own, against predators. It seems quite plausible that these animal behaviours could be the precursors of our moral feelings, which in turn have persuaded us to build moral systems and codes.

    I take it you don’t think Sharia law is a good idea. Yet many Muslims buy into it. Death for apostasy? Stoning of unfaithful wives? No? These moral beliefs are culturally driven. So are yours and mine. You just attribute yours to God, or to some objective existence to be discovered.

    “If there are no eternal or metaphysical consequences for acting immorally, how can morals be anything more than just a handy social convention, which we’re free to accept or reject according to our own personal preferences?”

    That’s exactly what is going on. Have you not noticed? That’s also partly why there are so many Christian sects, and so much variety within each. How do you explain that many Christians, just as inspired by Jesus as all others, are quite comfortable with gay marriage, while many think it a sin? Why were condoms such a dreadful sin that they could not be used to prevent AIDS, and yet now they are merely a lesser sin? Religions have always made up moral rules to suit the people and the times; often in order to control.

    “If an animal forcibly copulates with another animal, we don’t call it “rape” and don’t view it as morally wrong. But if humans are merely animals, and morality is non-objective, then why do we view such actions by humans as morally wrong?”

    We might not classify animal rape as we do human rape, but try telling a pet owner of a bitch that when some hound tries to mount it. Rape is important to humans because we choose to define it as such, because to the victim and people who care for them they don’t want the suffering. Do you think some raging pillaging Viking cares that he raped his victims? How about those pious Muslims in Syria right now, raping, beheading, torturing?

    There is no morality on the cosmological scale. When an asteroid can come down to earth and forcefully wipe out our planet, do you think that one biological appendage being forced into another biological entity qualifies as something special? Do you think the Sun is outraged whenever a date rape occurs? Will a rape on a beech turn back the tide? There really is nothing wrong with rape on the cosmological scale. Rape for a human individual may be a big deal, a life disrupting experience even, but rape is an insignificant biological act on the cosmological scale. It’s even insignificant on the scale of biology on earth – many more animals of all sorts have copulated forcefully than humans have been raped. It can be the mental personal suffering that is more significant than any physical suffering, because human brains can retain and rerun the complexities and problems of our lives.

    The universe doesn’t give a damn about us. Other animals don’t give a damn about us, until we hurt them. The only entities that care about rape of humans are humans, and not all humans at that. I don’t rape my wife because I love her; but more than that, I’ve been indoctrinated by our society to learn to think of rape generally as a bad idea, because it hurts people. I have an instinct against it, an abhorrence of it, that is probably fuelled by my empathy towards others and my social learning. I don’t need religion for any of this. Religious morality is pious pompous control freakery.

    “Furthermore, if “right” and “wrong” are defined solely in terms of human flourishing, then how can one provide any evidence that “human flourishing” is a “good” thing? ”

    Same as evidence that I think therefore I am. That’s how it seems. Nothing more. It’s all we’ve got. Of course we disagree about what constitutes human flourishing – we are a varied lot we humans. It doesn’t look like it’s written in the stars.

    “This brand of ethics is built on a house of cards.” YES! YES! Exactly!

    Look at Syria right now. Take a look at the videos, on youtube: burying alive, beheading with chain saws, eating hearts, throwing people off buildings to a baying crowd – all with cries of “Allahu Akbar!”. I won’t post the links. Be warned, they are very disturbing. Humans can do such terrible things that, never mind the victims, it can make real physical changes to the brain of the perpetrator. People change doing this stuff. We are very fragile as a species.

    While many feel that religious belief brings salvation from this stuff it clearly does not. And even if it sometimes does, even of a prison chaplain can turn round the life of a killer through believing in Jesus, that does not tell us anything about the truth of what that changed person believes.

  8. Fine Tuning

    “The problem with this “lottery objection” [to fine tuning] is that it discounts alternative explanations, and assumes that we MUST have overcome these astronomical probabilities. But that puts the cart before the horse by presupposing a naturalistic explanation.”

    Quite the wrong interpretation. This lottery example is not an argument *for* naturalism. The lottery objection is precisely accounting for alternative explanations, an infinite many, whatever you can imagine, that refute the fine tuning argumenta necessarily implying there must be a God.

    1) If natural forces could only ever produce a universe which cannot produce humans then we cannot be in such a universe.
    2) If natural forces can only every produce just this type of universe, with just these laws (i.e. a lottery with only one ball, one number), then we are in such a universe by default.
    3) If your God created the universe, and created it so we will be here, then we MUST be here.
    4) If fairies in some ‘greater universe’ created many universes, some with people and some without, all instantaneously, and all fully formed with only the appearance of a history, then we in this one MUST be in one of the universes they created with people in.
    5) If a rather hopeless god intended to make a many universes unable to support life, but screwed up and created just one that could, then we would be in that one.
    6) If natural forces can cause universes to come into existence, and if they can make many different ones come into existence then we MUSt be in one of the ones where all the laws allow humans to be here.

    … any number of possibilities …

    n) The nth imagined possibility

    Now (1) can be safely taken to be not how reality is, when it comes to universes. That we are here is evidence that (1) is false. Pretty reliable evidence, unless you can come up with some way of explaining how we are having this discussion while being in such a universe.

    All the others are possibilities. So, that we are here, with this set of laws, is not evidence of any one of those other possibilities. So the fine tuning argument, that “our universe’s laws are find tuned, hence a fine tuner, hence God(3)” fails, because it is not a good argument, and the laws of physics are not evidence for God – again noting the distinction between the claim to evidence (fine tuning argument) and actual evidence (laws of physics). So, the laws of physics not being evidence for the fine tuning argument’s God, there remains no evidence for God.

    Here’s a video explaining some more of the problems: http://youtu.be/rt-UIfkcgPY. It goes into some detail about why the argument is wrong, in principle, and then goes on to show that it’s not at all clear that the universe is even fine-tuned. So, the laws of physics are not only not evidence for God thy aren’t even evidence for fine-tuning.

    And, while doubting the strength of this ‘speculative science’ based on sound science, consider the question posed, as to what actual sciencey stuff are theologians doing to come up with evidence, other than reading the Bible (or the Qu’ran, or the Tora, …, or the story of Romulus and Remus, …). Noting here that WLC’s ‘objective evidence’ amounts to stories in the Gospels.

Comments are closed.