Einstein once famously asked this question. Although he was not a "believer" in the theistic sense, Einstein was fond of formulating questions about the universe in guise of what would god do if the universe had been created by an intelligence. It was merely a ploy used to explore some of the deepest questions of physics.
The question does raise an interesting set of additional questions. If god is timeless, at least before the creation of the universe, then it must have been the case that all of god's decisions, thoughts and knowledge, existed simultaneously in a timeless state. So how is it then possible for god to have willed the universe into existence? How could god, exercising his free will, go from a point of indecision - to decision - on whether or not to create a universe, as well as what kind of universe to create? If god is timeless he cannot have had such a transition, because that would require time.
You don't know how many times I've heard Christians use this verse from Psalm 53:1 as a way of "demonstrating" that I'm somehow a fool. It allows theists to say "My Bible says you're a fool for not believing in god so that proves you're a fool. Ha ha." I always tell them that if I were to make up my own religion I too would include admonishments that preempted any desire to disbelieve.
Many believing Christians put so much emphasis on the written word of the Bible, especially the inerrantists. To them, the Bible truly is the word of god and it therefore must be true in its entirety. So if the Bible says the fool denies god, then it must be true, because the Bible said so. What wonderful logic they employ. Even if a theist believes the New Testament probabilistically demonstrates Jesus to have risen from the grave, it still doesn't entail that every book of the Bible, and every verse in it is therefore true. That's the mistake fundamentalists make that liberal Christians don't. Every verse in the Bible has to be assessed on a case by case basis and if it is not backed up by archaeological evidence and extra-biblical sources, it should not be considered historical.
For a long time I hated Twitter, just like Facebook. I just didn't see the point. But realizing how convenient it is to follow someone you respect, I decided to make an account. I haven't been tweeting all that frequently but that will change.
Fresh off from debating my Evolutionary Argument Against God on debate.org, a site that I stumbled upon recently where you can debate virtually any issues with a network of other debate enthusiasts, it is still in the voting period and I am currently down 3 points. I wanted to see what kind of responses I'd get that could challenge this argument to see if others could point out any weaknesses in it, and one thing about debating that I hate became apparent. Sometimes a debater will try to latch onto one specific technical aspect of the argument and use that to try to win the debate.
For example, the title that I used to debate the EAAG was "Evolution And The Traditional Notion Of An All-Loving God Are Incompatible". My opponent tried to use this as saying that evolution as a process, might not require suffering and that I was under the burden of proof to show that it does. I wasn't expecting that as an objection to the argument since it is pretty self-evident to anyone who knows about evolution that it is necessarily pernicious.
My opponent accused me of not offering enough proof of this although in the last round I did offer an explanation of the evolutionary process and how it requires suffering. He totally skipped over my explanation and simply asserted that I had not proved that evolution requires suffering. His whole case was also made on the position that it's possible that evolution can occur without suffering, and that all animals have souls, and that god can't foresee the future and so he can't be held responsible for the suffering evolution produced - a preposterous claim, and one he made no arguments backing up.
I've been watching a lot of videos and trying to read up on New Testament criticism lately as this was previously one area I knew very little about. Richard Carrier is one of the most prominent mythicists out there and he makes probably one the most compelling cases against the historicity of Jesus. I officially remain an agnostic as to whether Jesus really lived or not but I love the debate over it. Here, Dr. Carrier lectures on some of the reasons why he thinks Jesus never existed.
I was reading an interesting article a while back that argued that the recent precipitous decline in religiosity in the US and of people affirming faith in Christianity is not due to the arguments of New Atheists like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, but rather is due to the rapid increase in public acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage.
The argument goes like this: as more and more Americans embrace a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, they find themselves increasingly at odds with the church, and as churches across the country refuse to progress and accept a more tolerant approach on homosexuality, this is causing a rapid falling out with the church, especially amongst younger people. It seems plausible. Since 81 percent of Americans under 30 support same sex marriage, why would a young person want to sit in a church and spend time listening to a pastor or a priest lecture them on the evils of homosexuality, abortion and other hot button issues that even the majority of Americans as a whole support?
In the always entertaining world of apologetics it's chock full of colorful characters whose arguments are so bad they almost seem like parodies (Who'll forget Ray Comfort's Banana Man blunder?). There is a field of presuppositional apologetics rightly called presuppositionalism, where you're supposed to win the argument by presupposing that god's very existence is necessary right from the start. That brings me to an idiot presuppositional apologist called Sye Ten Bruggencate who's website proofthatgodexists.org claims to be able to "prove" to you that god exists just by using logic.
His tactic that he claims can prove god exists says that in order for you to use reason, logic and to even think, god must exist as a prerequisite for that to be even possible. As you can tell it makes awfully large claims but his evidence is lackluster. On his website, you are given a series of multiple choices asking you whether absolute truth exists. The only choices available to you that steer you to the conclusion make you agree that logic "is unchanging, ... not made of matter, and ... is universal." Hmmm, what else is like that?
Several years back I found myself sitting alone in a Starbucks coffee shop in Manhattan killing time. I had no idea that I was being watched. The young barista working there came up to me and smiled. She said she thought I was cute, and then offered me her phone number. I was pleasantly surprised since these kinds of things didn't happen everyday. I accepted her offer and eventually left. I remember her smiling to me as I walked out.
Several days later I either called or texted her and we decided to meet in Union Square Park, right across the street from the Starbucks. Like many first dates, it was awkward, but this encounter was even more so because we didn't even know each other at all. So we spent the day walking around the city, talking, and getting to know one another. We ended up in a Barnes & Noble sitting on the floor, looking at pictures in magazines and making gross jokes about the people in them.
She was a southern girl, with a slight accent, from Georgia - right outside of Atlanta if I can remember properly, and came to New York to chase her dreams of becoming an actress. (Oh how cliche.) I wasn't familiar with the ways of the south all that much but she was very easy going and we got along. She told me she thought I was cute and decided to be brave and go for it. I remember her telling me her thoughts before doing so. The worst that could happen, she told me, would be either that I was gay or taken, and that in either case she'd be risking humiliation. I praised her courage.
YouTube comments can be pretty harsh, but they can also be fun if you've got a few minutes to "debate" with ridiculous theists. It seems both sides of the god debate are fond of uploading their propagandist videos. I was watching a video that seems like a science documentary that suddenly turned into preacher in one of those mega churches blabbering on about how god reveals himself in the beauty of the universe. Oh the argument from beauty.
I challenged a creationist commentator on the assertions he was making about god since he obviously didn't know what he was talking about. Since I like giving people a taste of their own medicine, I employed a few tactics that theists often use. Read how he gives up as soon as I ask him a tough question that really all theists should be able to easily answer.
Creationist: If there was no God then the universe could not have existed. Its too big to just come out of nothing. You cant have something out of nothing. Im not preaching any faith. But what I do believe is that some supernatural agency is responsible for all that exists. This powerful and wise being is inaccesible, reachless, unattainable. Its existence is seperate from the entire universe. It has no beginning and no end, its timeless.
Me: A timeless disembodied mind is by definition, non functioning, and therefore non existent.
Creationist: If time's beginning is concurrent with the beginning of the universe, as the space-theorem says, then the cause of the universe must be some entity operating in a time dimension completely independent of and pre-existent to the time dimenion of the cosmos. This conclusion tells us that God is not the universe itself, nor God is contained within the universe.
Me: How can time exist before time? You seem to be proposing the idea that god exists in time, if so, does he have an infinite past? As far as I know, there's only one kind of time, and that's time. Your theory to me sounds unexplainable, and I can conclude from that, that it's impossible and unbelievable.
I was rereading Christopher Hitchens' best seller God is Not Great recently and going over some of the arguments he makes. I first read his book in the summer of 2010 when I was on vacation in Asia after I graduated college, and since then I've acquired a great wealth of information learning about religion and debating with theists.
One interesting thing about Hitchens' approaching to the debate was that unlike Richard Dawkins, Hitchens was not all that concerned with disproving god. It was religious belief, and its ill effects that Hitchens was primarily after, not so much the ontology of god. That's why when he debated religious opponents, he did a much better job when the debate was centered around the social effects of religion such as, "Is Christianity Good for the World?" or "Is the Catholic Church A Force for Good?" or "Is Islam A Religion on Peace?" However, since Hitchens wasn't a scientist, or even a philosopher technically, when the debate was entitled, "Does God Exist?" he sometimes didn't fare as well because when it came to disproving god's existence, one needs a considerable amount of knowledge of cosmology, physics and biology.
Who really bears the burden of proof when debating? Traditionally, debates are either centered around a proposition or a question, and whoever argues in the affirmative bears the burden of proof. I would essentially agree with this principle because when it comes to debating the existence of god, usually it's the theist making the affirmative argument and I've consistently noticed an abject failure by most theists to demonstrate the truth of their theological beliefs.
However, although the person arguing the affirmative bears the initial burden of proof, any counter argument made should be backed up with evidence as the burden of proof lies on them to make the counter argument plausible. For example, if a debate is centered around creationism, and one makes the counter argument that evolution can explain away the need for a creator, then the evolutionist has the burden of proof to explain and show the evidence for evolution, or at least be able to produce evidence when prompted.
Also, the standard for the level of evidence required to back up a counter argument should be about equal to the level of evidence that was produced for the original argument. So if the evidence produced for the affirmative argument was circular, fatuous, or illogical, then the person making the counter argument need not stress over producing exceptional evidence. As Hitchens said, "What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
Growing up, I felt an inner-disgust whenever I heard anyone speak of fate. The notion that there was some sort of spiritual force dictating events and making things happen according to some grandiose plan, made me want to vomit. I was adamantly opposed to such possibilities and happily preferred to be ruled by chance and chance alone. To me there was no grand purpose, there was no such thing that anyone could call fate, everything just happened by chance and coincidence.
Through my ongoing study of physics and philosophy, I am now somewhat reconsidering my attitude towards fate. And the main culprit behind why is due to the strong possibility that we live in a completely determined universe. If we do, then "chance" events are not really by chance, they were determined to occur, and they could have never been avoided. No other possible scenario could have unfolded. This means that if two people were to meet in a way that looked like a chance encounter, it was in real a sense fate that brought them together. Not fate guided by some conscious spiritual force, but fate guided by the laws of physics.
There have been times in my life when I've met somebody special, like a girl that I dated, where the circumstances under which we met made it seem magical - as if all the pieces fell right into place. It almost did seem as if fate was working behind the scenes. Previously, I'd never allow myself to entertain such notions in the past, but now I am reconsidering that we might all be truly fated in everything we do.
I've been somewhat obsessed recently about nothing. In fact, I can't get nothing out of my mind. The reason why is because us atheists are accused of believing that 'nothing' somehow created everything, and this is supposed to make us all sound so absurd that we'll all somehow become Christians in order to restore our sanity. That's the dream of every Christian at least.
I'm a big fan of physicist Lawrence Krauss. I don't always like what he says about philosophy, but I admire his science cred and his antitheistic attacks on religion. When I read his book A Universe From Nothinghe describes as best he can what physicists know going back as far as we can. In the early universe, as you get closer to the singularity, the laws of physics get fuzzy. General relativity breaks down and quantum mechanics takes over. But even then we cannot yet today fully describe the singularity itself because the equations that describe it contain infinities. It might for all we know be an actual infinity, but until we can describe quantum gravity, there will remain mysteries about the singularity. One thing is for sure, theology sure isn't going to offer us any help.
One of the criticisms of Krauss' book from my favorite punching bag William Lane Craig is that he says the quantum vacuum that we can describe the foam out of which the early universe sprang from is not technically 'nothing'. In response, in Krauss' lectures he tries to go back as far as he can to nothing as it might be possible. But, if indeed our universe is the beginning of all of time and space, and there is no other universe preceding it, then we'll never really be able to go back to a point where nothing truly exists, because as long as there is time, we will have something.
I came across a website recently where you can debate in a formal written setting on a wide variety of issues. Being a lover of debating, I couldn't wait to enter the arena so to speak. It's called debate.org and it allows you to set up your own debate on almost any topic and respond to the challenges of others. My favorite topics are religion and philosophy or course so I plan to give many theists hell in the coming months and years.
I'm currently debating my Evolutionary Argument Against God with a theist. I've been really eager to hear challenges to this argument as I am very confident it is logically valid and rock-solid. But, I could be wrong. I could be overlooking a fatal flaw in it that only someone else can point out. That's why I'm so eager to debate it. And you wouldn't believe the things my opponent is using to try to circumvent its premises.
If your interested in watching the show unfold, the link to my debate over my Evolutionary Argument Against God is here. And if you join debate.org and have three debates, you will be able to vote on the winner.
What is it that exists that makes you who you are? Could you really just be a complex, agglomeration of atoms and molecules with the evolved ability to know you exist? Is the universe or multiverse all that exists, entirely encapsulated within what we could call the natural world?
Why do we sometimes feel that our emotional responses to our environment are indicative of some higher spiritual dimension that exists? If materialism is true and we are just a complex assortment of atoms – atoms that were made in the hearts of stars and we are “star stuff”, made from the very universe in which we live in, then mankind is what you could say, one with the universe.
Over the past few days I have been debating with a couple of creationists on a Christian website. What drew me to the website was that there was a post criticizing Bart Ehrman's tactics and his interpretations of scripture. I honestly wanted to hear some criticism of him from Christians to get the other side of the argument. On the site I left a comment and over several days it turned into a debate with several creationists over cosmology, evolution, scripture and god. It was me against 3 creationists but I held my own I can tell you that.
The World Science Festival recently wrapped up here in New York. They gather world renowned scientists and philosophers where they are sometimes pitted against one another to hammer out scientific concepts and theories.
Here is a program about the nature of time, one of my deepest areas of interest:
The other day I went to a philosophy Meetup group in Manhattan to mingle with other philosophy-lovers. It always guarantees good conversation, especially when enhanced with strong drink. The topic was "The Big Three - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle". It lead to some interesting conversations about the Euthyphro Dilemma - my favorite one-liner and I think the single most useful bit of philosophy that the ancient wisdom of the Greeks have left us.
What amazes me however when conversing with philosophically minded people in a big, secular, liberal city like New York, is how deeply permeated moral nihilism is. With this one guy I was talking to on morality, I simply asked him what would be morally good. He responded by saying "I don't know. I couldn't tell you that." I pressed further asking him to just give me his opinion of what would be morally right, and again he said, "It's what anyone does, there's no such thing as right or wrong."
I've been recently writing about the concept of hell. It intrigues me for rather obvious reasons being an atheist. Since some theists believe that hell is just the eternal separation from god, I wonder then how it could even be practical. For example, many atheists (but not all), have rejected god out of their lives either because of the flimsy evidence supporting god's existence or from the revulsion caused by the character of god himself, or both. So if hell is the eternal separation of god, then god is really just giving the atheists what they want.
Most theists think that in the afterlife you will exist in a physical form like in the body you had on Earth in some sort of metaphysical reality. So hell would appear to those living there as a physical place but with the total absence of god's presence. But how is that any different from the actual world we live in now because I don't sense god anywhere? What would a day in hell be like? By all accounts it would appear to be exactly the same as life on Earth. There'd be violence and suffering, but you'd get to do whatever you want, and so you'd be able to indulge in whatever vices your heart desired.
I'm just about as anti-religious as you can get. I'm completely opposed to virtually all forms of religious belief. I think living by faith is a horrible thing that is destructive to humanity and that all people should live evidence-based lives using critical thinking, science, reason, and a little skepticism.
That being said there should be some etiquette involved when opposing religious belief. Militant atheism should be like a switch that is turned off most of the time and only turned on when faced with a theist of the militant type or when opposing a law or rule that discriminates against non-believers. Atheists should not ever be standing on corners with blow-horns, ranting about there not being a god to annoyed passers-by. We should not be confronting believers with those in-your-face tactics that theists are so fond of. We should however, be open about our non-belief but in the right way.
So I've thought of a few suggestions on rules of etiquette when it comes to expressing non-belief publicly. Although this is a "Gentleman's" guide I do not intend this to be from a male's perspective only. These suggestions are gender-neutral (I just liked the way Gentleman's Guide sounded).
If you define 'nothing' as the total and complete non-existence of anything, then how could something that doesn't exist, exist? In other words, how can non-existence exist? If nothing somehow could exist, wouldn't it actually be something?
What properties does nothing have? Well, presumably it has no properties at all. What limitations does nothing have? Well, since it has no properties it might have no limitations. But having no limitations seems like a property to me, as does having limitations.
I came across a website the other day that spoke about the "absolute truth" of the Christian doctrine and in it, it asks the skeptical non-believer a few questions that seemingly can't be answered unless you accept the belief that god exists. So, reproducing them here, I decided to take a quick crack at them. My answers are not meant to be an in-depth discussion on the order and structure and meaning of life, but rather quick, easily digestible, sound-byte answers.
1. Why do we have personalities? If there is no personal God who "shared these bits of His personality with us," where did we get them?
It's hard for me to take serious the notion that each of our individual personalities is a part of god. How would you then explain psychopaths and sociopaths who cannot feel empathy for the pain of others and may even get sexually aroused from the pain of others? Are they made in the image of god too? Our personalities are shaped by our genetics that we inherit, and the unique experiences we have growing up in our environment. These two factors "customize" us into who we are and make us all unique individuals.
There's no doubt that we all bring to the table our world beliefs. When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, if you already believe in a god who can work miracles and violate the natural order, you're going think the chances that Jesus rose bodily from the dead are pretty damn high. If you're a naturalist however, any alternative natural explanation besides an actual resurrection is more probable and more likely given that you don't believe miracles are even possible. So when it comes to reported miracles we each come at them through our world views.
I'm by no means a biblical scholar, but lately I've been reading and watching debates about the historicity of Jesus' death and resurrection. When it comes to the mythical Jesus idea versus that he was an actual living person, I'm honestly an agnostic. I have no idea whether or not the story of Jesus is based on a real life person. I'm willing to say that there probably was a person that Jesus was based on; whether or not this person was called Jesus, I don't know.
Not all Christians believe that hell is an actual place of torture. Some believe that hell is really just the eternal separation from god, which is supposed to amount to hell. But if hell is indeed a place where the damned are tormented, then how can we say that the commandment to love god is truly a free choice given the alternative?
It's like imagining that someone puts a gun to your head and demands your wallet. You technically have a free choice to either give that person your wallet or not, but considering the prospects of being shot if you don't, can you say that it really is a free choice?
I ask this because many Christians will say that the purpose of life is to know god and freely enter into a loving relationship with him. But if god has prepared a torture chamber for us just in case we "freely" reject this relationship, then couldn't we say that it wasn't really a free choice, but one possibly coerced by fear?
If god really did want to create a world where his creatures could freely chose to love him, then wouldn't it have been more practical if there was no such thing as hell? It seems to me that if there wasn't the threat of hell looming over you just in case you didn't want to love god, then people who chose to love god would truly being doing it out of their own free choice. To me, once the threat of hell enters the picture, the choice to love and worship god can't truly be said to be "free".
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.