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Proofs for the NON-existence of God


By Nanook - Posted on 14 November 2010

[Nanook is talking with Father Vincent.]

Intro

"OK Father. I’ve got a tough one for you. Are you ready?”

"With you, I never know if I’m ready. BUT! Sure. Go for it bear cub.”

"Does God exists?”

"Does God exist? You sure you don’t want to choose a tougher question?

Actually, you picked a good question. I mean that honestly. Discussing this question in an honest way is a great way to learn a lot of things. But I’m glad you started this discussion early in the day. There are a lot of elements to it. So, are you ready for a very long discussion?”

"Somehow, every discussion with you seems to end up being long. But, I guess, none of the questions I’ve been asking are simple. OK. Let’s go for it.”

“So, what is your own proof that God exists?

“Simple. Just look around at the world. How could all the wonders we see be possible without God? Isn’t that proof enough?”

"What you are saying is what most people in our country would say. The problem is, when you analyze that answer critically, in a scientific way, or philosophically in a logical way, it doesn’t hold up. So, my answer is no. Not enough proof.”

"What????”

“Sorry Nanook. Not enough proof. As you said, this is a complex issue. Do you want to understand why?”

"Ummm . . . well . . . I guess so.”

“OK. So, let’s unravel the problems.”

Proof of a negative

“One way to go at this would be to rephrase the question more precisely. For example, ‘can we prove that God does NOT exist?’ I’m sure you’ve heard that ‘you can’t prove a negative’, right?”

"Right. That’s a known fact.”

"Well, let’s just say that most people BELIEVE that’s a known fact. However, it’s just one more casualty of Single Sentence Logic. To be precise, first you have to define NEGATIVE in more detail. Here’s an example. Say you flip a coin and it lands HEADS UP. Do you think you can prove, logically, that it’s NOT tails up?”

"What???? Sure. I mean, there are only two choices: heads up or tails up. So, if the coin landed heads up, it can’t be tails up.”

"Precisely! AND, you just proved a negative! That is, you proved, for this toss of the coin, that the negative result, i.e. tails up, did NOT occur.”

"Hmmm . . . I see where this is going. It’s like our discussion about absolutes. People have just grabbed on to the ‘can’t prove a negative’ concept to simplify their life. Me included. There’s actually more to it.”

"Right. Here’s another example. A person is brought into court accused of a crime. His defense attorney says he’s innocent. He wins the case. What has been proven?”

"OK. I see that as well. We can say he was proven innocent, which is a positive statement. But maybe he wasn’t proven innocent. Maybe there wasn’t enough evidence. So the jury didn’t convict him. All we can say is that he was judged NOT guilty. That is, we just proved another negative.”

"Precisely! Where, in this case, the term proof is equivalent to judging. And the court case is a more complex example where the two situations may not be completely mutually exclusive. That is, with the coin, there were physically only two choices, excluding that it can’t land on its side. In the criminal case, however, the jury decided that there was not enough evidence to convict the person. But they don’t admit that the person is innocent either. That is, there are really two separate things going on. One is whether the person is ACTUALLY innocent or guilty; the other is whether, according to the trial RULES, a verdict of innocent or guilty can be reached.

So when we talk about PROVING that God DOES NOT EXIST, we have to be more specific about what the negative is that we are trying to prove, and what the process is that we are using to define PROOF and make a judgment. Some alternative ways of stating the God Proof question could be: can we prove, based on a visual SEARCH, that a supernatural being called God does not exist; or can we prove, based on physical EVIDENCE, that a God could never have been involved with the formation of the earth; or can we prove, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, that the earth, as we know it, could have come to be, without a God as defined in either an Old Testament or New Testament Bible.”

"OK. I see where you’re going. And if you then rule out the DENIAL DEFENSE, you can actually get some practical answers to this question.”

“Precisely! So, let’s expand the details a little. While the words in the question, ‘does God exist’ seem pretty trivial, there are actually a couple of elephants in that living room. Think a second. Try to figure them out?”

"That’s a funny way to put it. But asked that way, a blind man can see the two elephants: GOD and EXIST. SO, we obviously have to be more clear about what we mean by God, and what we mean by exist.”

God - need for people to own the word

“Precisely! So, let’s talk a little about this word GOD. Richard Dawkins has a good paragraph to start us off.”

“Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal.

Weinberg is surely right that, if the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is 'appropriate for us to worship'.”

“Do you understand what this is all about?”

"I think so. ‘God’ is one of those trigger words. It has very positive connotations and generates very strong emotions for most people. So, everyone wants to ‘OWN’ it. Even when people have very different beliefs about what their concept of God is, they still want to use the word ‘God’ to describe their personal viewpoint. Dawkins explains why this just results in chaos. If this is not challenged, the word will eventually be meaningless. So, for our discussion, we have to be precise about what we mean by the word ‘God’.”

God defined - general concept

"Precisely! Dawkins goes on to describe the damage done in regard to the concept of God by very prominent scientific figures like Einstein. Einstein was known to be an atheist. But he often referred to God. Once, when asked to be specific, Einstein replied, 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings'. This is not at all what most people believe. Let me read some basic definitions from Dawkins:”

“A THEIST believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even think of doing them).

A DEIST, too, believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs.

PANTHEISTS don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.”

God and Einstein

“Summarizing about Einstein, he said:”

“There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' … are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. 'God does not play dice' should be translated as 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.' … Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense … Let me sum up Einsteinian religion in one more quotation from Einstein himself: 'To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.' “

“Carl Sagan also had a good summary for this:”

“. . . if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. [But] This God is emotionally unsatisfying. . . it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

“Do you see the problem caused by scientists, who don’t believe in a ‘theist’ God, when they use the word God?”

"Sure. People have a lot of respect for scientists like Einstein. When they hear him use the word God, they immediately assume he means the same thing they do. That way they get to own both the word ‘God’ and their association with a great scientist.”

“So, why aren’t these scientists straightforward about what they believe? They are very smart people. They must surely know the difference?”

"Good question. I don’t know.”

"It’s a little early in your life for you to appreciate the reason yet. You are still very idealistic about civilization. The reason they don’t come clean is because of FEAR. While the hunt for witches in the world has simmered down, the existence of people with the same underlying illogical and hysterical mentality has not. All through the war, and into the mid 50’s, there was a hysteria in this country about Communists. Part of this hysteria linked Communism with ATHEISM and polarized Christians against atheists. For a scientist or politician in today’s world to state they are an atheist is equivalent to professional suicide.

So, let’s agree then, the God you are asking that we try to prove exists is a ‘THEIST’ God. This is the Catholic God that you know, who is actually a mixture of the Old and New Testament descriptions, plus a good dose of later additions.”

"OK. Sure. That’s what I mean.”

Existence defined

Now for the word ‘EXISTS’. Do you want to take a shot at that?”

"NOT A CHANCE!”

Father Vincent broke up laughing.

“Come on. I don’t have a closet full of boots to stuff down your throat. I’m also a priest. So if you foul up real bad, I can give you instant absolution!

. . .

No response, huh? OK. Let’s put the dictionary on the hot spot:”

“Exist: from Latin: exsistere to come into being, from sistere to stand

1. to have actual or real BEING; ‘The world exists, whether you like it or not.‘; especially to be a real, actual, or current thing, not merely something imagined or written about; to be present or found in a particular place or situation.

2. to have life or animation; live.

Being: 1. the quality or state of having EXISTENCE

2. a living thing”

"That’s the dictionary for you. To EXIST is to be. To BE is to exist.”

"The encyclopedia actually does a little better:”

“Existence: In common usage, existence is the material world we are aware of through our senses and instruments. In philosophy the word has a broader meaning and includes categories, ideas, and abstractions.. . Aristotle developed a complicated theory of being, according to which only individual things, called substances, fully have being, but other things such as relations, quantity, time and place (called the categories) have a derivative kind of being, dependent on individual things."

"I had a hunch this was going to be a nightmare.”

"And a very good hunch that was. So let me offer a summary. I think the whole concept of existence can be divided into three realms. Two are the ones that Aristotle talked about. One is the material world – things we can become aware of through our senses, or by extension of our senses using instruments made of material objects. The second is a world of concepts that we can envision through thinking.

The third is an existence that I’ll call SUPERNATURAL.”

"This is starting to have a familiar ring to it.”

"Precisely! We talked a lot about the supernatural problem in relation to absolutes. I defined ABSOLUTES OF EXISTENCE: matter exists; energy exists; the interactions of matter and energy exist. Concepts exist; ideas exist. But the KEY POINT, that I stated was that an ‘absolute of existence’ EXISTS FREELY by itself, independent of what we call it or how we experience it. They could exist even if there were NO HUMANS.

Absolutes of Definition, on the other hand, even if they are absolute once created, do not exist freely. They depend on humans, or at least some higher level of consciousness, to be created. That said, the whole Eskimo view of this opens up a new way to look at it. The Eskimos believe that words and stories become beings. But let’s skip that for now.

So, this gives us a way to look at existence – which is whether it exists FREELY or DEPENDENTLY.”

"Ah! Now I see where this is going. Aristotle’s first case describes things that exist freely, by themselves – matter, energy and relationships like the diameter of a circle to its circumference. His second case is things that exist symbolically, based on structures created by intelligent thought.”

"Very good. So, now, how do we deal with the supernatural group?”

"Well, I guess both of these types I just described could also exist in a supernatural realm. So, what makes them different??? I guess, they are just in a ‘state’ beyond material things.”

Connection between natural and supernatural

"OK. That’s a good start. Basically, supernatural existence is similar to natural existence, having free and dependent characteristics. It is just in some ‘state’ that is beyond natural existence.

Now, let’s explore this last point as well. If the supernatural is beyond natural existence, then why would we even pay attention to it?”

"Ah ha! Good point. The only reason we would need to be concerned with the supernatural at all is if there were some crossover between the two realms.”

"Right! And THAT is also the KEY OBSERVATION that gives humans a shot at doing any kind of proof. We are stuck in the natural world. For the supernatural realm to have any influence on us, something in our world has to be changed because of some action in the supernatural realm.”

Indirect test for God

“Hold on. This is starting to sound like the discussion we had about truth, when I came up with the idea of getting God to cooperate.”

"Precisely! And that’s because, when we talked about truth, we had already jumped one step ahead of the question we are now trying to address. When we were talking about truth, we had already assumed that God existed. Now, we are challenging that.”

Direct evidence must exist

"Neat! So, is my indirect method going to useful here?”

"In fact, you’re the hero of the day. God hasn’t been known to cooperate any better in proving His existence than He has helping determine truth. However, even without intending to cooperate, God, during his ‘supposed’ interventions into our natural world, must have left some evidence along the way. Do you see why?”

"Sure??? I mean NO??? I mean SURE!!! I mean … I mean, I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about!”

Father V cracked up.

"I totally understand.” And he kept laughing.

"OK. I’ve collected my thoughts. So, what you’re saying is, if God was involved creating the earth, creating humans, and intervening with their everyday activities then and now, that there should be some evidence of this interaction. And if there isn’t any evidence of this, then it doesn’t matter whether He exists or not. Because if there’s no evidence it either means there is no God, or if there is, He doesn’t really interact with our world and life.”

"Precisely! Now you’ve got it.”

"Hang on. This is actually stupidly trivial. Another way to say what you just said is, if God is involved in our world and our lives, we should be able to see that.”

Science applicable to explaining the supernatural

“Precisely! And we should be able to see signs of God’s intervention in a very big way. In fact, because the effects HAVE TO BE visible or tangible in our world to be meaningful, that means our SCIENTIFIC METHODS should be applicable to discovering them. Right?”

"Hmmm . . .”

“This is just one more place where society has been in denial. Because of the strong religious involvement in government, challenging religion would be political suicide. This also applies to college professors, who society blindly believes have intellectual freedom. But this situation is slowly coming under attack. Let me read from a book called God: the Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger.”

“In my. . book, Has Science Found God? I critically examined the claims of scientific evidence for God and found them inadequate.”

"OK. Too bad. But it was a good try. Maybe we just need better instruments.”

“Patience Lad! The man has more to say.”

“In the present book, I will go much further and argue that by this moment in time, science has advanced sufficiently to be able to make a definitive statement on the existence or nonexistence of a GOD HAVING THE ATTRIBUTES that are traditionally associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. We now have considerable empirical data and highly successful scientific models that bear on the question of God's existence. The time has come to examine what those data and models tell us about the validity of the God hypothesis.”

"Now we’re talking. This I want to hear.”

Problem statement - Stenger’s rules

“OK. If we are going to do this right, we have to set some ground rules.

The first requirement should be to restate the problem in positive form to avoid the ‘can’t prove a negative’ problem. So, let’s use a trial statement just to get started:”

"OK. God exists. This is our hypothesis.”

“Very good. Science has in fact attempted to address that hypothesis many times. And, to date, the answer has always been the same: there is NO CONCLUSIVE PROOF that God exists. But, let me ask, why should this be a job for science? Shouldn’t the burden of proof fall on the religions that are making the claim that God does exist?”

"Sure. And I already have the answer.”

"You’re in rare form this morning.”

"It’s what I said before. Just look around at the world. How could all the wonders we see be possible without God?”

"And, as I said before, this response doesn’t hold up under analysis. So, let’s continue to unravel the problems.

To rigorously analyze your statement, we need a few more ground rules which are just the usual scientific safeguards. I’m going to summarize these from Stenger’s book.”

“1. If someone is going to do a, quote, ‘scientific study’, the protocols must be clear and rigorous. All possibilities for error should be identified. The investigators, not the reviewers, carry the burden of identifying the possible error sources, explaining how they are minimized, and providing a meaningful estimate of the effect of each error. A positive result can not be claimed unless all the errors are small enough to make it highly unlikely that they are not the source of the claimed result.

2. The hypotheses being tested must be established clearly and explicitly BEFORE data taking begins, and not changed midway through the process or after looking at the data. ALL of the test data must be used. No ‘data mining’ for favorable data is allowed.

3. The people taking and analyzing the data, must do so without any prejudgment of how the results should come out. This can be achieved by single or double blinded methods.

4. The hypothesis being tested must contain conditions for failure. That is, those making the hypothesis have the burden of providing examples of possible results that would falsify the hypothesis. To prove a hypothesis successful, they must demonstrate that none of the falsifications have occurred.

5. Reported results must be independently repeatable.”

"Sure. This is standard testing protocol. We had to learn that and apply it to lab work at school.”

“Well to you it may be ‘standard’. But when emotions are involved and there is a need for people to ‘win’ their point of view, it becomes more like a DEBATE, which is a contest, rather than a search for truth.

Multiple religions problem

We explored some details of the definition for EXIST. Now let’s examine the definition of God. And, again, this is the Catholic God that you know, OK?”

"Sure.”

"Whoa! What do you mean sure? Aren’t we out of the pan and into the fire already?”

"What????”

"When we question the definition of God, we run right smack into something referred to as the MULTIPLE RELIGIONS PROBLEM. Let’s start with your proposed proof, ‘how could all the wonders we see in the world be possible without God?‘ Look at that proof from the standpoint of all the religions in the world. Do you see any conflicts?”

"OK. I hadn’t looked at it from that standpoint. What you’re saying is, there are many religions in the world that believe in God. Many of these say his presence is perfectly clear from just looking at the wonders of the world. So, if God is so clear, how come they don’t come up with the same definition of God?”

"Precisely! VERY serious problem. And think back to our discussion of the soul. The soul is a KEY element of religious thinking. But, from worldly observations, people come up with radically different descriptions of the soul. Let’s put the multiple religions problem off till another time. It’s actually a whole discussion by itself. But note, you already have a serious challenge, or falsification in ground rules language, for your proof. Agreed?”

"OK. Strike one on me.”

God definition

“Continuing with the Catholic definition, from the definition I quoted for a THEIST, we can get these specifics:

Supernatural; intelligent; creator of the universe; still involved controlling creation; intimately involved in human affairs; answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; performs miracles; sets moral rules. Any additions?”

"Sure. God is infinite; God is all powerful; God is all knowing; God is all perfect; God is all loving; God is all just.”

Problems with the basic definition - Catholic encyclopedia

"Come on, Nanook. Didn’t we disprove all of those this morning?”

"I know. I’m just trying to follow the rules and be thorough.”

Problems with infinite attributes - Catholic encyclopedia

“OK. Fair enough. Let’s deal with them right away. Let me expand on these ‘omni’ traits a little by reading from the Catholic Encyclopedia.”

“When we say that God is infinite, we mean that He is unlimited in every kind of perfection . . . His infinity is deducible from His self-existence. For a self-existent being, if limited at all, could be limited only by itself; to be limited by another would imply causal dependence on that other, which the very notion of self-existence excludes. But the self-existing cannot be conceived as limiting itself, in the sense of curtailing its perfection of being, without ceasing to be self-existing.”

"OK so far?”

"Ught-O???? I smell dirty boots on the way.”

"Precisely! Because these traits are already in very deep trouble. You know the words OMNIPOTENCE and OMNISCIENCE?”

“Sure. Omnipotence means all powerful; omniscience means all knowing.”

“Omnipotence fails because it is LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE on its own as we have shown. Omniscience also fails inherently because it conflicts with other attributes and properties assigned to God.”

"What????”

"OK. Slow down. Let’s review the logic. Sure we can SAY a supernatural being is omnipotent, but can that in fact be true?”

“No. The example we discussed was the paradox about the immovable object and the unstoppable force.”

"Right. The trick question about God building a mountain so high he can’t move it?’ If God is ALL POWERFUL, he must be able to build a mountain so large it can’t be moved. But, if God is ALL POWERFUL, he must also be able to create a force so strong that no object can resist it. How did you resolve this paradox the other day?”

"The resolution was understanding that the initial assumption was faulty if it was stated without qualifications. So how does omniscience get into trouble?”

"If God is omniscient, He must already know the entire course of history. Then what would happen to His own freewill? It would be gone because history is already set in stone and He wouldn’t have the ability to make new choices. His omnipotence would also be gone because he couldn’t exercise His power to do anything new? Do you see what I’m saying here?”

"I think so. I think this is a perfect example of Single Sentence Logic. If you start out believing that God is OMNIPOTENT, which means ALL POWERFUL, then you think you can list anything and expect that He could do it. That can actually work one item at a time. Build the super mountain - DONE! Create the super force - DONE! But, as a system, the list crashes. I guess God just forgot to make logic so that anything could happen. Which leads to an interesting absolute: the existence of mutual exclusivity in logic. I wonder if God created that?”

“Good question. I think it’s a deal breaker. If God created mutual exclusivity, he would automatically limit what he could do, thereby turning off his own omnipotence. He couldn’t get heads and tails at the same time, for example. So, mutual exclusivity and a perfect God can’t actually exist at the same time. They’re MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.”

We both broke up laughing.

"Sorry about that. Another absolution please!”

Bertrand Russell – responsibility for sin and all knowing God

Let me read something to you from a book by Bertrand Russell: Why I am not a Christian, page 29:”

“If God knew in advance the sins of which man would be guilty, He was clearly responsible for all the consequences of those sins when He decided to create man."

“To answer this question, we would have to answer the questions of Freewill and predestination. Luckily, we did that this morning. But, for the current discussion, let’s say that we have accepted that there was a need for the creation of both good and evil. The next question is ‘why couldn’t God just create them? Why all the drama? Dawkins talks about this.”

“But it [evil] is an argument only against the existence of a GOOD God. Goodness is not part of the definition of the God Hypothesis, merely a desirable add-on.”

"Whoa! This is very interesting. He’s saying why does God have to be good.”

“Correct. Let me keep reading.”

“Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they'd like to be true. But, for a more sophisticated believer in some kind of supernatural intelligence, it is childishly easy to overcome the problem of evil. SIMPLY POSTULATE A NASTY GOD - SUCH AS THE ONE WHO STALKS EVERY PAGE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.”

"I remember us talking about this. The God described in the New Testament was so different from the God described in the Old Testament that many early Christians believed there must be two Gods.”

"The way the Church deals with this is to use words like ‘justice’ to rationalize the God of the Old Testament. But, ultimately, the requirement for God to be ‘ALL GOOD’ means there has to be another mechanism besides God to dispense evil.”

"ENTER THE GREAT SATAN!”

"Precisely! Or using Dawkins’ words: ‘… if you don't like that, invent a separate evil god, call him Satan, and blame his cosmic battle against the good god for the evil in the world.’

What do you think about that?”

" This is actually pretty confusing. Dawkins uses the phrase ‘evil god’ for Satan. I’m sure he did that on purpose.”

“Precisely! Do you remember our discussion about God being the ONLY God?”

"Sure. You mean about all the Saints and angels and stuff?”

"Precisely! That’s what Dawkins was hinting at here.”

"Now I’m confused. But there is a devil, who is responsible for evil. Didn’t we agree on that?”

"No. I don’t think we did. And society is confused about this as well. If there is a devil, and he causes evil, then man CAN’T be held accountable for doing evil. And saying that the devil ‘tempts’ man doesn’t solve the problem. So, the devil can’t be used to justify the sins of man. Dawkins understands that. So, he envisioned that instead of believing that God is the ONLY God, who always existed, and that He created the devil, why don’t we just believe that both God and the devil are more or less equal and that both always existed? Or that God has two opposite natures. Either approach would solve a lot of problems - sort of like the Eastern religions believe that both yin and yang came into being simultaneously. Or, alternatively, in Dawkins’ words: ‘… postulate a god with grander things to do than fuss about human distress. Or a god who is not indifferent to suffering but regards it as the price that has to be paid for free will in an orderly, lawful cosmos.’

Mystery of faith

So, what do you think the theologians have to say about all of this?”

"I’m sure I know.”

Father V and I smiled. In unison, we said out loud: “IT’S A MYSTERY OF FAITH.”

“I bet you think what we just said was a joke.”

"Of course.”

“Think again. Back to the Catholic Encyclopedia.”

“When, in speaking of the Infinite, we attribute all conceivable perfections to Him, we must NOT FORGET that the PREDICATES we employ to describe perfections derive their meaning and connotation in the first instance from their APPLICATION TO FINITE BEINGS; and on reflection it is seen that we must distinguish between DIFFERENT KINDS OF PERFECTIONS, and that we CANNOT WITHOUT PALPABLE CONTRADICTION attribute all the perfections of creatures in the same way to God.”

"Do you understand this?”

"I don’t believe it. In 500 words, they just essentially said ‘it’s a mystery of faith’.”

"Precisely! They essentially say the words and concepts humans use are based on our finite understanding, which cannot be applied to God. And because of their finite basis, there will be contradictions. But if WE knew what God knows and understood the concepts in a ‘perfect’ way, the contradictions would disappear.”

Mystery of faith tied to magical thinking

"Amazing. Magical thinking!”

"What does that mean?”

"It’s a phrase I learned from George. It’s a characteristic psychiatrists use to judge mental illness. When patients believe things will happen that so obviously can’t happen, it’s called Magical Thinking. When the expected things don’t happen, the patients get disconnected from the real world.”

“Well, that pegs Mysteries of Faith perfectly because we can never get them to match reality. While I’ve got the book open to this section, let me read something else Dawkins says in relation to God’s infinite attributes.”

Church says the bible is not literal truth

“Yet sometimes men are led by a natural tendency to think and speak of God as if He were a magnified creature -- more especially a magnified man -- and this is known as anthropomorphism. Thus God is said to see or hear, as if He had physical organs, or to be angry or sorry, as if subject to human passions … The same reasons that justify and recommend the use of metaphorical language in other connections justify and recommended it here, but NO THEIST OF AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE EVER THINKS OF UNDERSTANDING LITERALLY THE METAPHORS HE APPLIES, OR HEARS APPLIED BY OTHERS, TO GOD, any more than he means to speak literally when he calls a brave man a lion, or a cunning one a fox.“

“Do you see what caught my attention with this passage?”

"Yeah! I think so. Single Sentence Logic. Sure, it kind of makes sense that people would use limited human concepts of infinity loosely to define God in everyday conversation. No average person would believe that these common terms can adequately define God. But they ignore that this becomes denial when careful thinkers can’t do any better. But I also think I see a second thing you might have seen. What does it says if we apply that explanation to the BIBLE ! ! ! !”

"Precisely! In that case, the phrase would be, ‘no theist of average intelligence ever thinks of understanding literally the metaphors he reads in the BIBLE about God.’ “

"Which, in other words, means it doesn’t matter what the Bible or the theologians say, people don’t expect it to make sense.”

“Precisely! They don’t believe it can make sense. Which means, all the talk about the ‘literal interpretation’ of the Bible as a foundation for our belief goes out the window. The same applies to anything religious leaders say. ”

"Just add that to the Catholic ‘pick and choose’ attitude and you’ll understand why I’ve always been so confused by the Bible and the Catechism.”

God defined – realistic parameters

“Tying this back into our original goal, we cannot associate absolute perfections with God, because they lead to contradictions. Furthermore, the average believer doesn’t really expect them to work anyway and can’t understand how they could. So, here’s how our definition is stacking up so far:

God is supernatural; intelligent but not infinitely so; powerful creator of the universe but not infinitely so; still involved controlling creation; intimately involved in human affairs; loving at times; harsh at times; answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; performs miracles; sets moral rules.

Now let’s look at a few more requirements from the Catholic Encyclopedia.”

“God is a SIMPLE being.. . EXCLUDING EVERY KIND OF COMPOSITION, PHYSICAL OR METAPHYSICAL. . . It is clear that an infinite being cannot be substantially composite, for this would mean that infinity is made up of the union or addition of finite parts”

“Do you see that this is a plain contradiction in terms? For example, can’t you see a problem for the trinity here?”

"Take it easy Father. It’s a Mystery of Faith. It’ll all work out.”

”God is eternal. There is no past or future for God -- but only an eternal present. In God ‘there is no change, nor shadow of alteration’. God is Immutable.”

"Do you know why God created time?”

“Come on. Be serious.”

"Come on yourself. Why did God create time?”

“OK. I haven’t got a clue.”

“So that everything wouldn’t happen all at once!”

I could see he didn’t want to laugh. But he couldn’t help it.

“Come on. We’re making good progress. Tell me what you think about each of these:

God is Omnipresent. He is everywhere at once, and also everywhere outside of space and time.”

"OK.”

Sex of God

“God is a male.”

"OK. Whoa! Not so fast.”

“What do you mean, not so fast. Isn’t God always presented as being male?”

"Sure. But I always wondered about that myself. The angels are portrayed as both male and female. But they are just like humans.”

“This is a very big problem. If God is a supernatural being that is ‘everywhere at once’, how could He be limited by a human male form? Would He have a female partner? What kind of supernatural process would describe the union of these two beings? Would their union produce a process inside the female that had to grow over time? Would any of God become part of that? If so, how could God be immutable? Would that process ultimately produce a birth?”

"The more you list out things related to these infinite traits, the more bizarre it gets. And they sure don’t agree with God not changing over time. ”

“Precisely! But you’ll be burned at the stake if you deny it.”

“So? What are we going to do with all of these attributes?”

"We have to leave them out. Each one of them causes conflicts with other attributes. If there is no past or future, and only an eternal present, then there can’t be TIME. If there’s no time, then there can’t be any motion or change. If God is omnipresent, I guess we need to ask is He also homogenous? Because if He is completely uniform everywhere, then how can He also be on places like mountain tops, or walking the earth as a human? If God is immutable, then how does he tell us in the Bible that he repented making man, and wiped him out? Something has to give here?”

"OK. So, you’re saying, if we use any of these attributes, the game is over before we start?”

"Right. We would have to give up right away. The logical vocabulary and processes we know as humans, that apply to the reality that we know, are not capable of explaining these traits.”

"Well, maybe we need some ‘certified’ theologians here to help us out.”

"Yeah, RIGHT! And if you rule out logic, what’s left: Loony Toons! So, here’s what I suggest we do. Let’s back off on the infinity stuff and just list the important attributes as if they have realistic limitations. Fair enough.”

“Sure."

**God – a working definition

"So let’s create a working definition for God: Supernatural but capable of interacting with the natural; intelligent but not infinitely so; powerful creator of the universe but not infinitely so; still involved controlling creation; intimately involved in human affairs; loving at times; harsh at times; answers prayers at times; forgives or punishes sins; performs miracles; sets moral rules; exists eternally but acts with time scales; is omnipresent, but not uniformly so; has an immutable core, but can change within His time scales.

I’m sure you already see that changes are still going to be needed. But, this is where we start. And our goal is, for a number of cases, to determine, for THIS specific God, DOES THAT GOD EXIST.”

"Sounds like a winner.”

Scientific control

“One more thing before we dig in. As good ‘scientists’, we need a CONTROL. Do you know what that means?”

"Sure. It’s easy to fool yourself with data. So, a ‘control’ is a related subject that addresses the same material but that you expect will show NO effect from your tests. If it does show an effect, then you should review your approach.”

"Precisely! So, let me pose a control question. A challenge that always comes up against religions is that the whole basis behind their claim for God is just to support the power position of their religious leaders. So, let’s make that our standard control question. That is, when we ask, does some case provide a proof for God, we should also ask: does this same case support the power position of religious leaders.”

"And if it does, we should very carefully examine any claims for the success of that case.”

**Classical Proofs

St. Thomas Aquinas

“Precisely! So, to begin with, let’s look at some of what are referred to as the great classical proofs. Here are 5 given by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century that were summarized by Dawkins.”

1. The Unmoved Mover. Nothing moves without a prior mover. So there must have been a prime mover.

2. The Uncaused Cause. Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. There must have been a prime cause.

3. The Cosmological Argument. There must have been a time when no physical things existed. But, since physical things exist now, there must have been something non-physical to bring them into existence.

4. The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God.

5. The … Argument from Design. Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer, and we call him God.”

Prime cause

“These five 'proofs' don't actually prove anything. They are actually pretty easy to dispute. Let’s start with the first three because they are just different ways of saying the same thing. All involve an infinite regression to some beginning. That is, the answer to a question raises a prior question, and so on ad infinitum. Do you understand these proofs?”

"Sure. I agree. They are all the same. They essentially say that everything we see had to come from somewhere. There had to be a beginning. God was that beginning. That makes sense.”

"IT DOES?”

"Sure. None of what we see could have magically appeared by itself. Someone had to create it. NO?”

"And that’s the most common explanation we find in the world. But, if you believe that none of this stuff we call matter, which is relatively simple in composition, could magically appear by itself, then HOW CAN YOU EXPLAIN GOD magically appearing, Who is much more complicate?”

"What????”

"How do you explain God? Where did God come from?”

"God always was and always will be.”

"I know. That’s what you learned in catechism. But now it’s time to get serious. How can you say, on one hand, that EVERYTHING we see, all this SIMPLE material stuff, to EXIST, must have been created? But then, on the other hand, say that God, who must be much more COMPLEX than any material thing, to EXIST, DIDN’T have to be created? Don’t you see the contradiction?”

"You mean, if a complex thing could always exist, then why can’t simple things always exist? I never really thought about that. It makes my head spin.”

“Let me read a quote about this from Dawkins. Page 155.”

“Time and again, my theologian friends returned to the point that there had to be a reason why there is something rather than nothing. There must have been a first cause of everything, and we might as well give it the name God. Yes, I said, but it must have been SIMPLE and therefore, whatever else we call it, God is not an appropriate name (unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word 'God' carries in the minds of most religious believers)."

"And then, for these simple objects, natural forces take over that let them self assemble into more complex structures.”

“Precisely!”

Infinity- why we can’t understand it

"The reason most people can’t UNDERSTAND infinity is that humans don’t have the mental brain structure to understand it. Most humans can only ‘picture’ in their mind, concepts structured from things which have been formed through experience as perceptions. When we try to envision the universe physically going on without end, or time without a beginning or end, our mind has nothing to build the image with. It just hangs and causes mental distress. The infinity problem has remained so obscure because it can’t be resolved by perceptual images. We can talk about it, define it mathematically, or draw analogies; but not grasp it as an image. The word ‘infinite’ itself is a negation. It states that something is NOT finite. It does not present a concept itself. Let me show you some tricks to help you understand this problem better.

For example, imagine a color chart that goes from red to violet like a rainbow. You can look at each of the colors all the way along the chart. Words we give these colors draw the colors to mind: red, yellow, green, blue. Now, try to imagine colors beyond the chart. What does ultra-violet look like? How about X-rays? What about infra-red or radio waves? The color scale provides mental images for perceptions you have had. But it gives you nothing to construct images beyond the scale. If you try to envision beyond violet, your mind usually just sees darker violet. If you try to go beyond red, you usually envision darker red. There is no way for you to have perceptions that are distinct like red, yellow, green and blue.

Another example is sound. Try to picture the sound of a note on a piano. Any note. Go ahead. Hum it to yourself. You’re pretty good at humming. Now, start going higher in pitch. Keep going. Tell me what happens.”

"It’s funny. Eventually what happens is the sound jumps back to a similar note, like one or two octaves lower and then starts going up from there. The cycle keeps repeating.”

“Precisely! The same perceptions are used over an over again. You don’t get something new and distinct like the difference between your sensation of a low note and a high note. And how much higher can real sound go than people can hear?”

"Well. People can hear sound frequencies over the range of about 30 to 14,000 cycles per second. But crystals can produce sound waves with frequencies over 14 million cycles per second. Loud speakers can generate sound below 0.03 cycles per second. So, the range we can perceive is less than one millionth of the known spectrum of sound.”

“Mathematics gives us a better chance to analyze infinity. Each integer number has a number before and after it; there is no beginning or end. But how do we intuitively deal with these numbers. If I write down the numbers 1, 3, 8, or 200, you can immediately imagine them. And from experience, they have emotional content attached to them. However, once we start dealing with numbers like 4337292435629, that have a lot of digits, they can only generate the image of BIG. This is comparable to some primitive tribes that don’t have individual names for numbers above 10, because they can’t count them on their fingers or toes. Anything bigger than 10 is just BIG.

The same mental limitation happens when we try to imagine time or space without limit. NO one in history has presented a way to explain infinity in a way that the current human mind can envision it. So, challenges or proofs that relate to it are very tricky. BUT, mathematically, we can analyze it, and many mathematicians have done so. The importance of those analyses is that they are done on a logical, consistent basis. This is not the case when theologians are involved. The theologians hypocritically apply a different set of rules to God than they do for everything else. They assume that God can be infinite, and therefore always existing. But they deny that same possibility for everything else. They decide the answer before they do the test. Bad logic. Here’s the way Dawkins explains this.”

“All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.”

Argument from degree

“Let’s look at the other arguments.”

“4. The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God.”

“Here’s what Dawkins says about that.”

“That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion.”

“Do you see the fault?”

"I think so. St. Thomas Aquinas started with the assumption that God must have optimum POSITIVE qualities. Dawkins challenged that by selecting a negative quality but presented it in a positive way. For example, Aquinas could have come to a very different conclusion about his view that humans can be good or bad. He could have said, ‘so the maximum BADNESS or evil cannot rest in us. We call that maximum evil God.”

“Precisely! Using that method, all St. Thomas Aquinas was doing was using this argument to justify the properties the Church had chosen as positives. Let’s look at argument 5.

**Argument from design - the blind watchmaker

Paley’s argument

“5. The Argument from Design. Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer.”

“The argument from design is the only one of Augustine’s arguments still in regular use today. It essentially says that evolution cannot explain the world we see. It was expanded by William Paley's in his book Natural Theology. To most people, on the surface, it sounds pretty solid. Even Darwin, when he was young, was stumped by it. Darwin eventually discredited it.

Richard Dawkins, in another book, The Blind Watchmaker, talks about this. Let me get that. Here it is. Page 4.”

“ .. eighteenth-century theologian William Paley …. published in 1802 … the best known exposition of the “argument from Design”… “In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever; … But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground … I should hardly think of the answer I had given before … its precision and intricacy of design would force us to conclude.. that the watch must have had a maker.. who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction and designed its use.
The existence of order implies an architect. That everything has a ‘purpose’ implies planning for coordination."

“But Dawkins easily disproves this. He says, to consider nature without order is a self-contradiction. The rock, which Paley dismissed has order in it’s crystals. The common dirt that we walk on is part of an extremely complex biological and chemical process. In fact, any situation that we can categorize, describing it with a word that categorizes it, automatically creates order. The word PURPOSE is just another definition for the words ‘order’ or ‘relationships’. It is not an explanation for how those relationships came to be.

Dawkins also goes on to explain that the interaction of objects with their environment, which we might call their purpose, is not unique and inherent in them alone. It is dependent on the environment they find themselves in. For example, we might say the purpose of the ‘eye’ is to see. But the eye of a bird is different from a human which is different from a bee. Each works in a different way and produces a different result. Therefore, any object possess the ability to express itself with an infinite number of purposes. This is a far cry from the unstated assumption that a watch must only have a single purpose. Let me continue reading. Page 5.”

“Paley compares the eye with a designed instrument such as a telescope… The eye must have had a designer… The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false … A true watchmaker has foresight; he designs his cogs and springs and plans their interconnections with a future purpose. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind … It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight … at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."

“Do you understand why Dawkins said the analogy between a telescope and the eye was false?”

"Well, I don’t know about planning for a ‘purpose’, but I do know, if such a planning process was involved, the execution wasn’t so great. The human eye, while having great abilities, is pretty poorly designed. The optic nerve, instead of attaching at the rear of the retina, comes right through it causing a blind spot in our vision. In the process of attaching to light sensitive cells across the retina, the nerve fibers cross right over them, greatly reducing their sensitivity. Cats and dogs don’t have this problem. Birds have special adaptations that give them magnified vision 6 times greater than humans. I can go on and on.”

“Precisely! And how can we be talking about a design produced by an ALL KNOWING being with all the shortcomings we see.

Attributes of supernatural design

Nietzsche talked about this in his book Beyond Good And Evil. Page 8.”

“In moderation ‘according to nature’ you wish to live? Oh noble Stoics! How your words deceive! Nature (is) immoderately wasteful, immoderately indifferent, devoid of intentions, devoid of compassion, devoid of justice, and fruitful, desolate and uncertain at the same time …"

"So, you’re saying, anyone who looks at the, quote, ‘wonders of nature’, and believes they are perfect is just blind! They’re in denial!”

“Precisely! Single Sentence Logic – narrow mindedness. That’s what Nietzsche was telling us. The natural world is a food chain where each creature wreaks carnage on another one just to survive. The result of this carnage, in humans, we call disease and war. Stenger expands on that. Page 70.”

“…the whole realm of scientific observations lead to the same conclusion: the universe does not look designed.
Estimates of the number of biological species on Earth range as high as one hundred million. Species on the order of ten or a hundred times this number once lived and have become extinct. Without getting into the current situation, where scientists and environmentalists fret that an increasing number of species may become extinct because of the degradation of the environment by humanity, these data can be best understood in terms of mindless natural selection. The large number of species results from the many, largely random attempts that evolution makes to produce a solution to the survival problem; many failures are to be expected as the bulk of these solutions fail. Many successes are marginal, leaving the species open to eventual extinction. We also now know that mass extinctions have occurred several times as the result of natural catastrophes, such as meteorite strikes or geologic disruptions.
The other place where evidence for the absence of beneficent design can be found is in the short, brutal existences of most life forms. A common misunderstanding holds that Darwin's discovery of evolution led to his loss of faith. Actually, it wasn't theoretical musings but his lifetime of careful observations of nature. On May 22, 1860, Darwin wrote to American botanist Asa Gray, ‘I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasps] with the express intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.’
…In the language of science, the empirical fact of unnecessary suffering in the world is inconsistent with a god who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Observations of human and animal suffering look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God."

“If you want to really understand his point, rethink this question by taking a whole different approach to examining this argument. Instead of trying to justify what we observe in nature as perfection, imagine what kind of human you, as an engineer, could envision if you were all powerful.”

"Yeah! I have. For starters, I’d design all creatures to get their energy from sunlight like trees. That means no creature lives off the substance of any other creature –no more killing, no more sickness, no more starvation, no more death.”

“Precisely! How easy can it get. And you aren’t even beginning to be an all knowing being.

Question of Purpose for entire life forms

But there is an amusing defense against the Argument from Design that essentially turns Paley’s ‘watchmaker’ example upside down. That is, if life forms have, in fact, been designed, then can we explain the purpose for all of them? Specifically, what is the purpose, from a religious standpoint, with regard to man, of having species come into being and then disappear, if they never affect the human race? That is, if the earth was created primarily as a home for man, then what would be the purpose of creating creatures that never affected man?”

"Hmmm… You mean like the dinosaurs?”

“Sure. But the people who deny evolution also argue that dinosaurs never existed. So, let’s not go back that far. All we have to do is look at the thousands of species that died out over the last 5000 years. Many of those show large evolutionary changes in multiple directions. An example is moths. They evolve new colors to match changes in forests due to things like fire or weather changes. What would be the purpose for a supernatural designer to create them in a world designed for humans, if they just came and went and humans never encountered them?”

"OK. I understand. He said a watchmaker designs his cogs and springs and plans their interconnections with a future purpose. If the creatures were designed for a world that itself was designed for humans, then what could be their purpose if they die out and never affect the world of humans. It’s just a waste of time.”

Irreducible complexity

“Precisely! Let’s look at a few more interesting approaches to support supernatural design. Stenger discusses one proposed by Michael Behe and William Dembski. Page 55.”

“Behe's fame rests on his … popular-level book, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. There he introduced the notion of irreducible complexity, which occurs when a system is reduced to several parts and can no longer function when any of the parts is removed. Behe argued that the individual parts could not have evolved by natural selection since they no longer have any function on which selection can operate."

"By this he means, the eye can be reduced to parts like the retina, iris and lens. All of them are needed to make up the eye as a system. But evolution can’t explain how each of them could evolve to their current state independently, right?”

“Right. But, again, it was narrow minded. He just didn’t have all the facts.”

“Thoroughly refuting Behe's argument evolutionary biologists have listed many examples in nature where an organic system changes functions as the system evolves. They have provided plausible natural mechanisms for every example Behe presents, many of which were well known (except to Behe) before Behe ever sat down to write.

The manner in which the parts of living systems change function over the course of evolution is one of those well-established facts of evolution that Behe and other proponents of intelligent design choose to ignore. Biological parts often evolve by natural selection by virtue of one function, and then gradually adapt to other functions as the larger system evolves.

Many examples of organs and biological structures that are understood to have arisen from the modification of preexisting structure rather than the elegance of careful engineering can be found in the biological literature. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould made this point in his wonderful example of the panda's thumb. The panda appears to have six fingers, but its opposing "thumb" is not a finger at all but a bone in its wrist that has been enlarged to form a stubby protuberance handy for holding a stalk of bamboo shoots, the panda's only food. Behe is a biochemist, not an evolutionary biologist, and was Unaware when he wrote his book that the mechanisms for the evolution of "irreducibly complex" systems were already discussed six decades earlier by the Nobel Prize winner Hermann Joseph Muller and have been common knowledge in the field since then. Behe cannot even be forgiven for simply falling into the God of the gaps trap. He did not even find a gap.

…Eyes provide such obvious survival value that they developed at least forty times independently in the course of evolution. Neuroscience has identified eight different optical solutions for collecting and focusing light, although all share similarities at the molecular and genetic levels. The physics and chemistry are the same; few ways exist for detecting photons. But, because of the important role of chance and local environment in the evolution of complex systems, different solutions to the problem were uncovered by random sampling of the varied paths allowed by evolution. In short, the structures of eyes look as they might be expected to look if they developed from purely material and mindless processes chance plus natural selection - as these processes explore the space of possible survival solutions.”

“Enough fossils and variations of living creatures have now been found to show all the intermediate steps of evolution for complex animal systems.

Catalytic Closure

For completeness, let me mention just one more version of the Argument for Design. There have been claims that the first occurrence of life itself can not be accounted for by the theory of evolution, so the theory must be wrong. What do you think about that?”

"Stupid statement. The Theory of Evolution was never intended to explain everything about life on earth. It just conveniently explains most of it.”

“Precisely! Stenger provides a simple explanation for this ‘first occurrence’ question.”

“Biologist Stuart Kauffman has long argued that self-organization plays a larger role in the evolution of life than previously thought …He proposes that life originated by a chemical process known as catalytic closure and visualizes a network of interlinked chemical reactions becoming self sustaining. Although Kauffman seems to imply that self organization is some new, holistic law of nature, in fact nothing is needed besides basic, purely reductionistic physics and chemistry.”

"You mean, pure chemical reactions have been found that combine to reproduce themselves.”

“Precisely! Under the right conditions, crystals can start forming without the presence of a ‘seed’ crystal. Self-organization of complex chemical compounds have been observed that could be the precursor to primitive life forms.

Summary for design

So, let’s let Dawkins summarize this for us. Page 157.”

“One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artifact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable…
Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that - an illusion.
We don't yet have an equivalent … for physics… We should not give up hope of … something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology."

"Hmmm… But maybe we now do have a possible theory like that: my idea about the space lattice!”

“Hmmm is right. Bill told me a little about it. Very interesting.

**Modern proofs

So, now, let’s talk about how the discussion keeps going today with modern thinking.

Difficulty telling a planned and evolved universe apart

If we are trying to decide if the universe is planned by an all knowing being or it is just unfolding through natural selection, shouldn’t there be an obvious difference in how the two universes would appear?”

"I sure think so.”

“Let me read what Dawkins says about this.”

“. . . a universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence. I accept that it may not be so easy in practice to distinguish one kind of universe from the other. Nevertheless, there is something utterly special about the hypothesis of ultimate design, and equally special about the only known alternative: gradual evolution in the broad sense. They are close to being irreconcilably different. Like nothing else, evolution really does provide an explanation for the existence of entities whose improbability would otherwise, for practical purposes, rule them out.”

“Comments?”

"Sure. I see where he’s going. On one hand, Dawkins says a universe put together by a SUPERIOR intelligence, by any logic, should be very different from one that somehow comes into being by some simple random chemical process. Given the religious explanation, where this superior intelligence is supposed to be ALL KNOWING, ALL PERFECT and ALL POWERFUL, and the scientific explanation, where the universe is based on very crude processes with primitive components, the difference should be very, very, very large. But then he states that, ‘it may not be so easy in practice to distinguish one kind of universe from the other.’ I hear that, but I don’t see how he could say it. The difference should be drastic. And to me, the answer is obvious. An all knowing, all powerful being would not have designed things so poorly. So what’s the problem? Why is it so hard for people to see and admit which situation we are in?”

Fear and denial prevent knowing reality

"Nanook. Listen to yourself. Isn’t this view of the world very different from the one you had when we first started our discussions?”

"Hmmm…”

“So, why is it so hard for people to see this difference? Simple. Because of IGNORANCE, FEAR and DENIAL.”

"OK. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

"Sure. The logical case, that we live in an evolved universe with evolved life forms, is as clear as any logical argument can ever be made. But if the facts and logic are DENIED, straight out, with totally irrational arguments, and society can’t see that, then there is NO method of any kind that can resolve the issue based on truth.”

"We’re living in an insane asylum.”

“Precisely! The result is that the issue will, instead, always be resolved through force. Let me read a summary of this from Stenger. Page 53.”

“As we will find several times in this book, some scientific arguments for the existence of God once had considerable force, and it was not until recently - within the last century - that accumulated knowledge not only eliminated these lines of reasoning but also turned many of them on their heads to support the case against God…
The discovery of human ancestors, the DNA and anatomical connections between humans and other animals (and even plants), and the use of animals in medical research falsify the hypothesis of a God who created humans as a distinct life-form.
The fossil record, the existence of transitional species, and the actual observation of evolution in the laboratory falsify the hypothesis of a God who created separate "kinds" or species…”

“With all this new proof, the question then is, why does society put up with it? Why doesn’t society reject current views of religion just like they rejected the Egyptian religion, Greek religion and Roman religion which are now euphemistically called MYTHS? That’s what Ben, George, Bill and I have started to explain to you. And the answer includes: Single Sentence Logic, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Denial Defense, all driven by??? DRIVEN BY??? Come on Nanook!”

"By FEAR.”

"Precisely! Recall the basic value I presented for studying the Seven Deadly Sins: the seven deadly sins are the key to understanding why humans have so much trouble doing the right things. One of the biggest denials in Christianity is the animal nature of humans. Because of fear, humans desperately need to believe we are special, and therefore have SPECIAL PROTECTION. We have to separate ourselves from the animals. We call this need: being self-righteous. That’s the big reason Christians reject evolution. They need to break the tie with animals. But the tie between humans and animals is as clear as any logical argument that can be made about anything.

Geological record denied

There is also the problem of the geological record. Scientists go out and study clay deposits in soils, rings in ice cores and rings in living and dead trees. The record is extremely clear and precise. We can physically count the years back in time for hundreds of thousands of years. We can measure rainfall amounts, temperatures, atmospheric gas content and other things. But, the religious response is blindly: ‘geology is NOT TRUE. The Bible record of human generations puts the creation at 4004 BC.’ When challenged to explain the geological record, the religions simply say, ‘God put artifacts in the ground simply as amusements’.”

"Hmmmm . . . . I never thought about it this way. If we accept the Biblical account related to creating animals, we still have to explain the geological record. But, as ridiculous as it seems, I guess, for whatever reason, God could have put as much amusement into the rocks as He wanted.”

"Sure. He COULD have done that. But, there are always consequences to every action. It takes many very convoluted arguments to explain why God would create such a charade. What do you think? Could this all be a big charade? Could this all be a big LIE!”

"A LIE??? Well??? Ugh??? I don’t know?”

“Look Nanook. The implications of what you’re saying are immense. If the earth and everything in it is a billion year charade, then we have NO BASIS on which to do any science? Is the rainbow a charade? Is gravity a charade? Is the expanding universe and the speed of light a charade? If we accept the charade argument, we have no basis to look at anything in that history as guidance to the future. And if we have no basis to trust that the future is a continuation of the past, there is no purpose for planning our future beyond the Apocalypse. Do you see how serious this claim is?”

"Wow. Now I do. And I also see where it is aimed at. If you accept that argument, the only alternative to any actions we take in life is to believe the words and authority of the religious leaders. Because they are saying the entire world that we know is fake. Each religious leader is saying the only thing we can believe in is HIM, even if so many of them disagree with each other.”

"Precisely! This is just a huge power play. That’s the huge LIE. And it goes WAY beyond just the theory of evolution. It covers the entire existence of matter.

DNA tracking of human expansion – problem of black skin

But NOW, there’s a new challenge for the religious denial of evolution that is much harder to get around than the fossil record. That’s the DNA trail. Current maps showing the migration of humans based on DNA tracking, show that the origin of humans was in Africa. The migrations out of Africa took multiple paths. Only one of those paths passed through the land described in the Bible where the Garden of Eden was supposed to be.”

“But, couldn’t Eden have been in Africa?”

“No. Absolutely not. For two reasons. First, if we accept the Bible story, it tells us approximately where Eden was. Let me read that.”

“Gen 2:10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 2:11 The name of the first [is] Pison: that [is] it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, . . . 2:13 And the name of the second river [is] Gihon: the same [is] it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 2:14 And the name of the third river [is] Hiddekel: that [is] it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river [is] Euphrates.”

"Now I say approximately, because the only river from this list still known by name is the Euphrates. But research on this question pretty much puts the Garden of Eden near Israel.

The second reason Eden couldn’t be in Africa is that the humans, that were the source of modern western man were NOT BLACK!”

"Hmmmm. .. Of course. If Eden was in Africa, Adam and Eve would have been black?”

"Nanook. Every assumption we make has many consequences. And this one has HUGE consequences. If Adam and Eve were black, and, per the Bible, man was made ’in our image, after our likeness’, then all those pictures of God in the Vatican need a paint job. We also have to explain how the tribes of Israel all turn out to be white, and only after a few thousand years? And we have to explain how the time scale of the DNA record, which points to a single ancestor, puts that ancestor around 60,000 years ago.”

Logical rejection of the Bible based on physical complexity of fossils and DNA

"Well, I admit, I don’t know much about the DNA studies, but why doesn’t the argument about the fossils being a charade also apply here? I mean, all the DNA studies are done on fossils, right?”

"Oh NO! Totally not right. The DNA studies are done by taking samples from live humans who live in isolated places around the world. Both the Biblical, and scientific assumption is that the first ancestors of those people got where they are as humans spread around the globe. They carry genetic markers that clearly make them unique and also determine how long ago their ancestors settled there. AND, that’s the big challenge for religion. These people, and their ancestors, by the admission of the Bible, have been here on earth ONLY SINCE THE CREATION. And for religion to deny evolution, it has to deny that animal genetics change.”

"I see. To explain this, religion would have to claim that, in addition to making up the charade of fossils, God has continued the charade by continuously modifying human DNA in live humans.”

"Precisely!”

"WELL!!! Maybe he is!!!!”

"But if that is so, then the only conclusion we can come to is that EVERY form of examination of the world, scientific or not, is TOTALLY USELESS! Because all observations would be just chasing God’s charade. If that’s so, then all the scientific principles and laws are just the explanations of a huge game, and not related to any true universal reality.”

"Hmmm . . . OK. I agree. It’s a big problem. But, still playing devil’s advocate, what if we assume that God has some reason for setting up this game that we call existence in such detail. So, why can’t we just go along and play the game, like Schnook says.”

“Because, the religions themselves reject that. They say we have to ignore the game and listen to their holy books.”

"Oh wow! I think we just closed the last chapter on the holy books! Their claim to value is obviously faulty either way. Do you see why?”

“NO. But now ‘I’ really want to hear this!”

“If you assume that God doesn’t exist, then the holy books don’t have any foundation to stand on.

If you assume that God does exist, and that he is playing some complicated game with us, then we should whole heartedly play that game. But that also means rejecting the holy books, because they totally fail to provide explanations for so many major parts and rules of the game.”

“NANOOK! YOU’RE A GENIUS!”

"What???? Thanks Father for the pat on the back. But I DON’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!”

“Fair enough. But you’re still missing the point. What’s so PROFOUND about what you said, is that we can now move forward from this point WITHOUT having to prove whether God exists or not. Eventually, mankind will find out. But either way, whether God exists or not, the course we should follow would be the same one.”

"What???”

“Think about it. In either case, the geological record and DNA record are the best reality we have. If they are real, we should follow them to understand the long billion year history of a developing material planet. If they are NOT real, but are the pieces of a very grand supernatural game of charades, we should also follow them to try to understand and play our part in this game. What they are clearly NOT is the simple description of life presented in any known holy books.”

"Whoa! You’re right! This is profound. Let’s keep going.”

"Limits of God concept - reached evolutionary limit

“Good. But remember our original goal. So, lets look at your observation from a different perspective - the future.

Given the rate of change in current society, technology is going to take us into a much different world. If God is immutable, and the world defined by religion is what was set down 2000 or more years ago, how can religion deal with change? Let me read you a quote from Julian Huxley, Man in the Modern World: The Uniqueness of Man.”

“The particular situation that confronts the religions of Western civilization is this: the concept of God has reached the limits of its evolution, from magic to personal spirits to gods to A God. The advance of natural science, logic and psychology have brought us to a stage at which God is no longer a useful hypothesis; being pushed into an ever greater remoteness, a mere first cause or vague general principal.”

“So, what’s missing in this view?”

"What we’ve mentioned many times. The Bible, or divine communication, should be full of unfolding mysteries that keep lighting the road ahead of us to new places of peace and harmony. Instead, we find exactly the opposite. Religion is always holding us back.”

"Precisely!

***Arguments from behavior

There are a whole set of proofs called ‘arguments from behavior’. That is, many people claim that since humans do certain things, there must be a God.”

"This I have to hear. I mean, a lot of people get drunk too. And I’d hate to admit how many times a bunch of stupid Boy Scouts went out and tried to ride some cows.”

"I can see this topic isn’t starting off on too sober a note.”

"Good for you, Father! Good joke!”

"Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that these kind of arguments are proofs. Let me describe just a few.

Argument from purpose

The ‘argument from purpose’ states that there must be a God because, if there wasn’t, life would be empty, pointless and futile - a desert of meaninglessness and insignificance. Do you see any problems with this?”

"No. Not really.”

“This statement makes me feel pretty sad. I feel very sorry for the people who believe this because they are in for a lot of disappointment.

First, this whole group of arguments is based on a hidden assumption which is buried right in the statement. That is, they ASSUME that IF GOD DOES NOT EXIST, THE TRAITS THAT ARE LISTED WOULD NOT OCCUR. The hidden assumption in the argument for purpose can be re-stated as follows: ‘if God does not exist, then life MUST be empty, pointless and futile - a desert of meaninglessness and insignificance’.

But, for people who do not believe in God, this is not always what they experience. There are many cases where they feel this statement does NOT describe their lives. That is, they feel their lives are NOT empty, NOT pointless, NOT futile, NOT meaninglessness and NOT insignificant. And they believe this for reasons that are totally based on a material existence.”

“I can also see a hidden reverse assumption for the statement. That is, start from the assumption that God DOES exist. If so, we need to turn the listed traits around. The reverse assumption would then be: ‘if God does exist, then life would NOT be empty, NOT be pointless, NOT be futile, NOT be meaninglessness and NOT be insignificant’.”

“Precisely! And I know many people who believe in God but still find emptiness, pointlessness, futility, meaninglessness and insignificance. So, the argument is not proved.

Argument from Magical Thinking

A variation on this is a belief by people that they can escape disappointment and hardship in life just by believing in God. I call this ‘ the argument from Magical Thinking.’ Here’s a simple example.

People get disappointed when their ice cream falls off the cone onto the ground. Since they don’t like that, they make up an argument that makes it God’s responsibility to make the pain go away. For example, there must be a God because, if there weren’t, ice cream scoops would fall off their cones.”

"I know you made that up to be obviously false, but you’re saying it shows the underlying principle people use to construct these arguments.”

"Precisely! I know you think this example is facetious, but it’s accurate. Can a safe approach be obtained without God’s intervention? Sure. Put cages on ice cream cones to prevent the scoops from falling. Can a life be happy without God? Sure. A person finds and follows a noble goal. Does believing in God stop pain? No. Believers will still have ice cream cone mishaps and blame them on the devil. And, believers still experience emptiness, pointlessness and futility in their lives from time to time. So, does either argument prove God? No.

Argument from morality

A similar argument is the argument from morality. That is, there must be a God, because if there weren’t, the world would be immoral. What do you think?”

"I think we discussed that notion to death yesterday. Not proved.”

Argument from conscience

“Here is an argument from conscience. The fact that humans have a sense of moral responsibility implies a superior lawgiver that this is aimed at.”

"OK. Slightly different wording, but the same basic approach. The ‘superior lawgiver’ is God. So, reworded, this says, ‘there must be a God, because if there weren’t, humans would not have a sense of moral responsibility. We discussed this as well. Clearly, some non-believers do have a sense of moral responsibility and some believers don’t have a sense of moral responsibility. Or, if they do, they ignore it and disobey both civil and religious laws.”

Argument from Ubiquity

“Here is an argument from ubiquity. There must be a God, because if there weren’t, why would every culture in the world have religion?”

"Making them harder, huh?”

“Hang in there. Think – every culture – are all religions the same?”

"Oh yeah. I see it. Apples and oranges. Sure, all cultures have practices that we call RELIGIONS. But they are very different. Many of them don’t even believe in one God. Many have very different concepts of what their gods want of them. So, saying every culture has ‘religion’ ignores all these differences.”

“Precisely! The hidden assumption here is that people are assuming that ‘every culture in the world has a religion LIKE THEIRS’. It’s not so. Not proved.”

Argument from Authority

Anarchy

“Here is an argument from authority. There must be a God, because if there weren’t, the world would dissolve in anarchy.”

"We showed that yesterday. This argument fails on two fronts. First, there are nations like Russia and China that don’t base their structures on religious teachings. Second, during the whole period of the Christian Dark Ages, Europe was under the unifying rule of the Catholic Church. But it WAS a period of anarchy. The argument is Not proved.”

"This argument has a follow-up goal. If a nation or tribe accepts this argument, the next step the religions will take is to use the argument to assign some humans to be God’s voice on earth. Otherwise, how would people know what God wants.”

"Ah ha! The justification of POWER.”

"Precisely! We then get, ‘there must be the Pope and the Cardinals and the Bishops and the Priests, because if there weren’t, the world would dissolve in anarchy.”

"I guess, if the first form makes sense to some people, then the second one will also.”

“Precisely! But this argument ran into another big problem. Along came individuals like Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Copernicus, and Galileo. People listened to them because they also provided statements that gave explanations for why things happened in the world. The problem was, their views were not founded on religion. Instead, they challenged religious claims. AND they were not easily dismissed because their statements WERE PROVABLE! And it is this process that continues to challenge religious truth. In a recent poll, Stenger tells us ‘…only 7 percent of the members of the US National Academy of Sciences, the elite of American scientists, said they believed in a personal God.’ People in our society listen to these scientists. This causes change.”

"So, why haven’t I heard about this? Why isn’t there a much broader statement about it?”

“FEAR. Let me read from Stenger again.”

“Nevertheless, most scientists seem to prefer as a practical matter that science should stay clear of religious issues. Perhaps this is a good strategy for those who wish to avoid conflicts between science and religion, which might lead to less public acceptance of science, not to mention that MOST DREADED of all consequences - LOWER FUNDING.”

"Every time I hear this I can’t believe it. This is the GREAT U. S. of A. The land of religious freedom.”

“Nanook. This IS the great U.S. of A. But it’s really the land of LIES.”

Revelation

“Here’s another version of the authority argument. There must be a God, because if there weren’t, how could the Bible be the Word of God?”

"Neat. I have never heard a better example of ‘out of the pan and into the fire’. This is the chicken and the egg. I thought a person had to believe in God FIRST. Then they could believe that the Bible tells us about Him. This argument uses a belief in the holy WORDS first, that then become a proof for God.”

“Precisely!

Righteousness

Here is an argument from righteousness. All of the things our religious leaders tell us must be true. Because if they weren’t true, then they would be telling us lies. And if we thought that, we’d be showing disrespect for our honorable leaders. This we can’t do. Therefore God must exist.”

"You have to be making these up. This is so obviously backwards.”

“I wish you were right. But this is how our esteemed religious leaders think. And the average person goes along with it.

Argument from superiority - Escape of animal nature

Here is an argument from human vanity. There must be a God, because if there weren’t, humans wouldn’t be superior to animals!”

"This is getting to be fun. I want to make up a proof. There must be a God, because if there weren’t, Italians wouldn’t be the best humans. And, of course, if I ask my relatives, they’d say the hypothesis has been proved. I mean, isn’t the Pope Italian?”

“And you thought my ice cream cone proof was contrived! But, there is also an ironic twist of wisdom in your example. It has actually been used by almost every culture on earth. Let’s change ‘Italians’ to Egyptians during the time of the Pharaohs. And envision a religious leader saying this to the Pharaoh - with a ‘wink’ in his eye! Ah! The Pharaoh knew exactly what he meant. PRESTO! A god was born. And guess what? The god looked like the Pharaoh. He wore Egyptian clothes. He spoke the Egyptian language. His moral code identically matched that of the Egyptian leaders. If you apply the same logic to an African tribe, they also have a god. But now, the god has black skin and wears African clothes. We find the same match in South America and India. How can this be? Do you see what’s going on?”

"Sure. In every case, the god has at least most of the features and beliefs of the local leaders and animals they are familiar with. And, I guess, it’s the same with Christians. Jesus came to earth and took the form of a common Roman of the time. God looks like a western European in paintings.”

“Precisely! So, who was created in who’s image? Think about a counter example. Don’t you think any religion would easily have had more converts if they had a 60 foot tall god among them with a head that looked like the sun?”

"Hmmm… I never thought of that. But, I think it would have achieved instant results.”

“Precisely! But there has never been a 60 foot giant around to rally his people. They did try to achieve that by building 60 foot high statues of the gods. But no religion could make up a God that didn’t explain what people actually saw in the world. And all the religions had was humans to play the part, no matter how wild they dressed them.”

"Don’t some religions claim their gods look like elephants?”

“Sure. But not western religions. Western religions, driven by false pride to be special, don’t want to admit the relationship between humans and animals. They want to deny this. So they CREATE an association between man and gods with superior power and traits, who look like humans. Then they claim the people were created by these gods in the “image and likeness” of those gods. Bertrand Russell summarized this in his book Why I am not a Christian:”

“It is flattering to suppose that the universe is controlled by a Being who shares our tastes and prejudices.”

“So, are we done with the arguments based on how people behave?”

"Very interesting. How easy it is for people to fool themselves this way.”

Arguments from fear

“Now let’s look at the primary driver of human emotion: FEAR. It would be surprising if this wasn’t the source of a lot of proofs.

Pascal’s wager - the insurance defense - God given up except in desperation

One of them is called Pascal’s Wager. Let me read a description from Dawkins. Page 103.”

“The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal reckoned that, how ever long the odds against God's existence might be, there is an even larger asymmetry in the penalty for guessing wrong. You'd better believe in God, because if you are right you stand to gain eternal bliss and if you are wrong it won't make any difference anyway. On the other hand, if you don't believe in God and you turn out to be wrong you get eternal damnation, whereas if you are right it makes no difference. On the face of it the decision is a no-brainer. Believe in God."

“So? Do you buy it?”

"Well? On the surface, it sounds pretty reasonable.”

“I agree. And a lot of people fall for it and approach religion this way. But, alas, in the light of a little analysis, it doesn’t work! Think. Single Sentence Logic!”

"Hmmm . . . Oh yeah. In fact, now I see a lot of holes in it. For starters, there’s the ‘which God’ are you talking about question. Then there’s the ‘multiple religions’ denial going on. As soon as a second preacher comes into town with a new God, the wager breaks down. Second, as part of his first proposition, Pascal ends the sentence saying, ‘if you are wrong it won't make any difference anyway.’ Single Sentence Logic is right. It might not make any difference from the standpoint of not going to heaven or hell, but what about life on earth? If, to show BELIEF in God, you had to join a monastery and live your life on bread and water, or be thrown to the lions at a young age, it sure would make a difference in your life.”

“Precisely! So, let me read what Dawkins had to say about this.”

“There is something distinctly odd about the argument, however. Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy. At least, it is not something I can decide to do as an act of will. I can decide to go to church and I can decide to recite the Nicene Creed, and I can decide to swear on a stack of bibles that I believe every word inside them. But none of that can make me actually believe it if I don't. Pascal's wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not be of the omniscient kind or he'd see through the deception. The ludicrous idea that believing is something you can decide to do is deliciously mocked by Douglas Adams in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, where we meet the robotic Electric Monk, a labour-saving device that you buy 'to do your believing for you'. The deluxe model is advertised as 'Capable of believing things they wouldn't believe in Salt Lake City'.

… suppose the god who confronts you when you die turns out to be Baal, and suppose Baal is just as jealous as his old rival Yahweh was said to be. Mightn't Pascal have been better off wagering on no god at all rather than on the wrong god?”

The Denial Defense

"Is there a way we see this type of argument actually practiced?”

“Sure. It’s probably the most prevalent form of argument we see. It’s the DENIAL DEFENSE! Even with the overwhelming evidence against religious claims, people hold on to the very last shreds of evidence they have about their religion as proof that the whole pile of evidence against it is wrong. And why do they do this? Because they’re overwhelmed by emotions when they think about eternal punishment. It’s straight out FEAR.”

"I can completely sympathize with that. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve lain awake in anguish thinking about it.”

***Arguments from experience

Intro

Up to now, we have been trying to test the concept of God through logic. Now let’s switch to another approach: personal EXPERIENCE. How would you define that?”

"Experience means things we can detect with our senses.”

Prayer

“Good. So for our first approach, let’s talk about PRAYER. What do you think about that?”

"I pray all the time.”

"OK. And does it help you?”

"That’s a good question. Sometime it works great. Other times, I’m not so sure.”

"Give me an example of a time when it worked for you.”

"OK. When ever I lose something, I pray to Saint Peter. I say, “dear Saint Peter, come around; something’s lost and can’t be found.”

"OK. And then what?”

"I keep saying it until I find what I’m looking for.”

"Did you ever think that you could just keep looking until you found it and not say anything?”

"Well, no. I never thought about that.”

"So, the question at hand is about prayers. Do they work because they make some connection to a supernatural being, and gain supernatural intervention in our world on our behalf? Or do they work because they just keep you focused on the task until you work out a solution yourself. Your experience is a perfect example. Saint Peter isn’t even the right saint to pray to about lost things. You should be praying to Saint Anthony. But that begs the question, which is, ‘does praying work at all?’ There has actually been quite a bit of research done on this topic. Let me read about some of it from Dawkins.”

“Darwin's cousin Francis Galton was the first to analyze scientifically whether praying for people is efficacious. He noted that every Sunday, in churches throughout Britain, entire congregations prayed publicly for the health of the royal family. Shouldn't they, therefore, be unusually fit, compared with the rest of us, who are prayed for only by our nearest and dearest? Galton looked into it, and found no statistical difference.”

"Hold on. Are you saying that people have scientifically tested the effects of praying?”

“Precisely! Let me keep reading.”

“Prayers were delivered by the congregations of three churches, one in Minnesota, one in Massachusetts and one in Missouri, all distant from the three hospitals. The praying individuals, as explained, were given only the first name and initial letter of the surname of each patient for whom they were to pray. It is good experimental practice to standardize as far as possible, and they were all, accordingly, told to include in their prayers the phrase 'for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications' .

The results, reported in the American Heart Journal … were clear-cut. There was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not. What a surprise. There was a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who did not know one way or the other; but it went in the wrong direction. Those who knew they had been the beneficiaries of prayer suffered significantly more complications than those who did not. Was God doing a bit of smiting, to show his disapproval of the whole barmy enterprise? It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence: 'performance anxiety', as the experimenters put it. Dr Charles Bethea, one of the researchers, said, 'It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?' “

“Let me read another history, this time from Stenger’s book. Page 94.”

“Surely, with the millions of prayers being submitted daily, totaling billions in recorded history, some objectively verifiable . . .positive evidence should have been found by now!
Of course, prayer by or in the presence of a patient plausibly could have some purely natural beneficial effects, such as helping relax an ill person, lower blood pressure, and so on. However, this effect is small at best and indistinguishable from other forms of relaxation that contain no religious or spiritual element.
. . . many popular books and articles have been published claiming that science has shown that prayer has positive healing value. But, once again, we find that none of the reports is convincing… Every published claim of a positive effect of which I am aware fails to satisfy one or more . ..methodological conditions . . . .With all the publicity that attends to prayer studies, it is highly unlikely any good quality study has been missed."

“But, to show how important it is to be very tough on experiments, the following study was published, with solid data, but largely as a challenge to those who are too lenient with their results.”

“Can Prayer Change the Past? … a study reported in the British Medical Journal in 2001 … [reported] that praying for patients reduced their length of stay in hospital (P = 0.01) and duration of infections (P = 0.04 ). If this was not remarkable enough, the prayers were actually performed AFTER the patients had left the hospital, implying that the power of prayer extends into the PAST as well as the future. . .”

"Hold on now! You’re saying the prayers were said AFTER the patients got out of the hospital? This is nonsense.”

"Why? Didn’t the Catholic Encyclopedia say that for God, there was no time? So, why can’t prayer work retroactively?”

"OK. Hold on now. If you believe this, then you can believe that a person killed in a car crash might also be saved retroactively by prayer.”

"Sure. Why not?”

"Because it’s not logically possible. For example, let’s say ‘Mary’ dies in a car accident on a Thursday. Then all her friends go to church and pray for her on Saturday. And because of the prayer, on the previous Thursday, she is retroactively saved. Her car swerves at the last instant and she doesn’t get in an accident. Then what happens on Saturday?”

"I guess, her friends don’t go to church to pray because there is nothing to pray about.”

"Right! Then why should Mary be saved on Thursday if no one goes to church and no one prays? See. That’s where the logic breaks down. This is the classic problem of time travel, AND, Single Sentence Logic. Sure, in one sentence, we can say ‘prayers on Saturday saved a life the previous Thursday’. But then we have to explain how that event changed the entire universe. Mary didn’t die; her car wasn’t wrecked; the tow truck didn’t come; the car wasn’t repaired; the police didn’t come; the policeman didn’t miss his kids ball game; his kid got a home run and became a major league player, and on and on. See what I mean. If you change just one small thing in the past, the whole of life is affected.”

"Precisely! I just wanted you to think it through out loud so you could see how impossible the situation would be. If prayers worked in the past, then millions of people would use them that way, and the flow of life would be total chaos. We could pray that Jesus wasn’t crucified, for example. If we prayed hard enough, would God stop the crucifixion? But, if he did, there would then be no Christians. So who would have done the praying? What if we prayed for Adam and Eve and God stopped Eve from eating the apple? As soon as Eve didn’t eat the apple, would the whole human race disappear!”

"This is kind of fun to think about, even if it’s total nonsense.”

"That’s why I brought up this example. This report caused a lot of controversy. What Leibovici was trying to show was that the randomness of small amounts of test data, just due to chance, could produce results that seemed sound, but were completely FALSIFIABLE. That is, the test results, even thought they had good statistical values, could still produce a provably wrong answer. And how can we prove it was wrong? Because we don’t have a logical explanation to explain how anything can work BACKWARDS in time. The ultimate point being, we have to be very strict about thinking we’ve found proof. And to date, NO rigorous study has found proof that any prayer works.

Because this is such an important issue, let me read about two more studies.”

“The Duke Study… In a three-year clinical trial led by Duke University physicians, the effects of intercessory prayer and other so-called noetic therapies such as music, imagery, and touch therapy were examined for 748 patients in 9 hospitals in the United States. Twelve prayer groups from around the world were involved, including lay and monastic Christians, Sufi Muslims, and Buddhist monks. Prayers were even [sent] to Jerusalem and placed on the Wailing Wall. Patients awaiting angioplasty for coronary artery obstruction were selected at random … and sent to the twelve prayer groups. The groups prayed for complete recovery of the patients. The clinical trials were double blind: neither the hospital staff nor the patients knew who was being prayed for.

The findings, reported in the journal Lancet, showed no significant differences in the recovery and health between the two groups. The result for touch therapy was also negative, while the other techniques showed "some promise."

It is notable that this study was not conducted by a bunch of ‘closed-minded skeptical materialistic atheists’ but rather physicians of religious faith who personally believe that alternatives to conventional scientific medicine are worth pursuing. There can be little doubt what, in their hearts, they wanted to see. The lead author, Mitchell Krucoff, was ecstatic when the FIRST results started coming in. . .he told a media outlet:

‘We saw impressive reductions in all of the negative outcomes - the bad outcomes that were measured in the study. What we look for routinely in cardiology trials are outcomes such as death, a heart attack, or the lungs filling with water - what we call congestive heart failure - in patients who are treated in the course of these problems. In the group randomly assigned to prayer therapy, there was a 50 percent reduction in all complications and a 100 percent reduction in major complications.’

But as the significance of the data improved, the situation turned out otherwise. Since he signed the paper, Krucoff is now apparently satisfied with the published conclusion that NO EFFECT OF PRAYER HAS BEEN OBSERVED.

A coauthor of the Lancet paper was Harold Koenig, who directs the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University in which Krucoff and other coauthors are participants. Koenig is the author of over a dozen books on healing and faith. There can be no doubt that Koenig, also a person of faith, would like nothing better than to announce the discovery of evidence for the supernatural healing power of prayer. But Koenig is an honest and competent scientist who is not going to make such an announcement until the data warrant it. I have communicated extensively with him and find we have little disagreement on the fact that, after extensive experimentation, any positive benefits of prayer and other religious exercises that may be currently indicated can be understood in terms of physical processes alone. He is also in agreement with Bishop's and my refutation of the claims of efficacy for retroactive prayer.

The STEP Project… Perhaps the definitive work is the mammoth STEP project (Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer), a collaboration of six medical centers, including Harvard and the Mayo Clinic, lead by Harvard professor Herbell Benson. This study, lasting for almost a decade, involved 1,802 patients who were prayed for over a fourteen-day period starting the night before receiving coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

The patients were randomly and blindly divided into three groups: 604 received intercessory prayers after being informed they might or might not receive such prayers, 597 did not receive prayers after being informed they might or might not receive such prayers, and 601 received intercessory prayers after being informed they definitely would be prayed for. None of the doctors knew who was being prayed for in the first two groups. Two Catholic groups and one Protestant group carried out the praying. It apparently did not occur to the investigators to also include a group of atheists thinking nice thoughts.

The published results showed that in the two groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52 percent (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51 percent (304/597) of those who did not. Complications occurred in 59 percent (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52 percent of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer. Major events and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.

The authors concluded that intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery … but CERTAIN knowledge of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications. The later effect somewhat surprised the investigators, who speculated that these patients may have experienced higher anxiety, perhaps thinking they were so desperately ill that they needed to be prayed for.

As was the case for the special powers of the mind termed "psychic," studies of the supernatural powers of prayer have so far produced no convincing results. If prayer were as important as it is taken to be by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, its positive effects should be obvious and measurable. They aren’t. It does not appear - based on the scientific evidence - that a God exists who answers prayers in any significant, observable way.

Miracles – faith healing

Your turn. What would you pick as an example of a direct experience related to God.”

"Well, I guess, miracles.”

“Excellent choice. And what do you mean by a miracle?”

"I guess, a miracle is a pretty rare event that can’t be logically explained through a known material process. It would include things like people surviving serious car crashes or being cured of ‘incurable’ diseases.”

“And what evidence do we have that miracles occur?”

"Well, we can see the results. Say, a person is sick. They go to Lourdes in France and get cured.”

“Excellent example. I know a lot about that. So, now let’s be a little more rigorous about this. How do we know these people are sick in the first place? And how do we know they were cured?”

"Hmmm… I guess we depend on people telling us they know someone who was sick that got cured.”

“Precisely! The basis of our experience with miracles is testimony by witnesses. So the questions become: do we know that the person really was seriously sick to begin with, do we know that they were cured, and can we prove that the cure was caused by supernatural intervention?

This topic is something generally referred to as FAITH HEALING. Let me read a discussion about that from The Demon-Haunted World. Page 233:”

“In 1858, an apparition of the Virgin Mary was reported in Lourdes, France; the Mother of God confirmed the dogma of her immaculate conception which had been proclaimed by Pope Pius IX just four years earlier. Something like a hundred million people have come to Lourdes since then in the hope of being cured, many with illnesses that the medicine of the time was helpless to defeat. The Roman Catholic Church rejected the authenticity of large numbers of claimed miraculous cures, accepting only 65 in nearly a century and a half (of tumors, tuberculosis, opthalmitis, impetigo, bronchitis, paralysis and other diseases, but not, say, the regeneration of a limb or a severed spinal cord). Of the 65, women outnumber men ten to one. The odds of a miraculous cure at Lourdes, then, are about one in a million; you are roughly as likely to recover after visiting Lourdes as you are to win the lottery, or to die in the crash of a regularly scheduled airplane flight-including the one taking you to Lourdes.
The spontaneous remission rate of all cancers, lumped together, is estimated to be something between one in ten thousand and one in a hundred thousand. If no more than 5 percent of those who come to Lourdes were there to treat their cancers, there should have been something between 50 and 500 "miraculous" cures of cancer alone. Since only three of the attested 65 cures are of cancer, the rate of spontaneous remission at Lourdes seems to be lower than if the victims had just stayed at home. Of course, if you're one of the 65, it's going to be very hard to convince you that your trip to Lourdes wasn't the cause of the remission of your disease. . ."

"OK. Let me see if I have this right. Over the last, say, 100 years, almost 100 million people went to Lourdes to try to cure some illness. Only 3 cancer cures have been substantiated? But we know that the expected number for society in general would have been from 50 to 500? This is amazing. I didn’t know this.”

“So, how can we claim this is due to divine intervention?”

"I guess you’re saying, it’s just as easy to explain by facing up to our lack of complete knowledge about what causes cancer in the beginning.”

“Precisely! In fact, it’s 16 to 160 times easier to explain, using the math, by just facing up to the fact that we don’t know all the facts about cancer yet. And as our knowledge of disease improves, we are able to explain more and more of the events people called miracles in the past, particularly related to the psychosomatic influence on disease. So, with more and more miracles being shown to have an explainable material cause, why should we keep accepting claims for supernatural causes when they don’t even match common experience?

The afterlife

"OK. Let’s switch to another experience based example: the afterlife. This is important, right?”

"The AFTERLIFE! I’ll say. This is probably the number one big one. To be with God forever in heaven.”

"So, let’s do some exploring. Let’s ask: can we prove that heaven even exists?”

" This is going to be fun. But, I don’t see how it’s possible.”

"Remember, once we start exploring how the supernatural interacts with the material world, there should be some observable consequences. Some philosophers have some interesting ideas about that. Let me read from Dawkins again. Page 102.”

“For many if not most believers, the greatest appeal of religion is the promise of eternal life. St. Paul said, ‘And if Christ not be risen then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also vain.’
In his classic work The Illusion of Immortality, philosopher Corliss Lamont surveyed all the aspects of the subject of immortality, from theological and philosophical to scientific and social. He points out that the exact nature of the immortality that is preached in Christianity, as well as in other religions, is not at all clear, with many different doctrines being presented over the ages. Part of the problem is one that we can recognize from the earlier discussion on the brain. What is it exactly that survives death? We have seen that neurological and medical evidence strongly indicates that our memories, emotions, thoughts, and indeed our very personalities reside in the physical particles of the brain or, more precisely, in the ways those particles interact. So this would seem to say that when our brains die, we die."

The soul - Reconstitution of the body

"But this comment doesn’t address the soul. On the other hand, we pretty much decided yesterday that we couldn’t even define the soul, never mind show any proof for it.”

"Correct. The soul is just as big a can of worms. But let me keep reading.”

“Historically, the Catholic Church has taught that the full body is resurrected. The Apostles' Creed, adopted in the second century and still recited, states that there will be a resurrection of the flesh. The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century asserted that the ‘identical body’ will be restored ‘without deformities.’ St. Augustine declared that ‘the substance of our bodies, however disintegrated, shall be entirely reunited.’

This doctrine would seem to satisfy any objection raised by recognition of the physical nature of mind. God simply reassembles us - brain and all - and the brain contains our personalities. Presumably, in heaven we will look as we did at eighteen …”

“What do you think about that?”

"Whoa! Eighteen? All of a sudden I can see problems all over the place. Sure, I guess this story is what I’ve always been told. We would go to heaven and look YOUNG. But, I never heard an age stated. Now that an age has been stated, no matter what that number actually is, I can envision a whole raft of problems.

I was told we are also supposed to know about our whole lives and about all the people we ever met. SO, what happens for people who were divorced and get remarried? What wife do they have? Or what about someone who died when they were two years old? Do they just wander around heaven babbling and wearing diapers?”

“Precisely! Let me keep reading.”

“… but we can hardly expect the same brain that was in our bodies at that age. Heaven forbid! I guess we get the brain we die with, so we have all our memories. But, then, what if we die with Alzheimer's disease?”

"Yeah! That’s what I thought too. It really get’s complicated quickly. Let’s say someone got into an accident and was paralyzed. But, because of that handicap, they developed great skills like being a wheelchair racer and lived a long and happy life. How do they appear in heaven? Do they have a wheel chair in heaven? What about people who were wrongly accused of a crime and spent their whole life in prison? What mind do they get? What friends do they get? And what about people who get organ transplants? And what about insane people, or blind people, like Helen Keller, who did great things as a blind person?”

“Precisely! Do we wear clothes in heaven, or is it a nudist colony? How do we pick them? Do some people get more than others?”

"Good questions. I was always told that if I wanted things like baseball in heaven, then it would be there. But, does that mean, some teams win and others lose? Do people bet on the games? How do we pick uniforms?”

“Constructing any logical description of heaven, based on Christian religious teachings, is an impossible task. The eastern religions do a much better job with Nirvana.

Ghosts

But, ignoring all these details about what heaven is like, we are told by many religious people, that they actually can directly communicate with the dead. Let me continue reading.”

“The scientific question is whether there is any evidence for life after death. As with ESP and other proposed super powers of the mind, despite numerous claims over the years, no claimed connection with a hereafter has ever been scientifically verified. And, as with those special powers, we can easily see how a connection should have been verified in controlled, scientific experiments.
Consider the case of psychics or mediums who claim they have the power to speak to the dead. Such spirits surely would have access to a deep store of information from which some observable phenomenon currently unknown to science can be extracted that could not have been in the psychic's head all along. For example, suppose a psychic informs his client that her dead mother told him where to find a long-lost engagement ring - behind the kitchen stove. If the ring is then found at that place, it would indeed seem to be miraculous.
However, before accepting this result as confirmation of the extraordinary hypotheses of life after death and the psychic's power to communicate with the dead, you have to rule out all possible ordinary explanations. For example, the psychic may have visited his client at home at some earlier time, seen the ring sitting alongside the sink where it had been removed to wash dishes, and surreptitiously dropped it behind the stove (yes, psychics have been known to cheat). That, and similar possibilities, would have to be ruled out first. But, if properly designed, experiments proving immortality are in principle possible. All that has to happen is for the psychic to receive information from his contact in the other world that he has no way of knowing ahead of time, say, the exact date of the future earthquake that levels Los Angeles."

"So, you’re talking about GHOSTS!”

“Precisely! One of the best chances for us to test the afterlife is the claim for GHOSTS. Many people have reported mystical experiences that included SEEING or HEARING what they thought were supernatural beings. These kind of visions are a primary explanation for material included in the Bible. The problem with this kind of claim is that these experiences are usually not shared by multiple people and can’t be duplicated. So they can’t be examined to determine if they are delusions or not. But we don’t have to totally reject them. In many cases, the observations also claim there were RESULTS that can be examined. For example, a ghost caused a chair to move or candles to wave, or lightning to strike or the earth to open up. In those cases, there are material results that can be evaluated against some criteria. But every objective analysis done so far has quickly came up with the same answer: NO PROOF. Many thousands of investigations have been done. Camera’s have been set; listening devices and trip wires used. Trained observers camped out. There is not one single case where a credible investigator has brought back any evidence.”

“So, missing hard evidence, what about people’s observations?”

"Well, first of all, most of the investigations have been done at places where observations were claimed. And when the observers analyzed the situation, there was usually a pretty clear material explanation. The most common one is what they call a FLOATING GROUND. Do you know what that means?”

"Ha. Sure. My buddies and I used to go ghost hunting on Halloween. We saw this all the time. It’s simple.

In American household electrical systems, we have 110 volt and 220 volt power. Notice that 220 is twice 110. How this works is that the street transformer has two 110 volt circuits that are joined together at one point. Let’s call the two circuits A and B. The wire at which they are joined together is called the ‘ground’. That’s because it is usually connected to a rod driven into the ground. So you get 3 power wires coming into the house: one for A, one for B and one common called ground.

The house is usually wired so half the plugs and lights are wired between A and ground. The other half are wired between B and ground. Everyone is happy. But, now and then, the ground wire from the street breaks. That means the ground in the house isn’t hooked to the street anymore. Its voltage can then just float around and be anything. The result is, you are going to get strange flickering lights.

You’ll be sitting reading under your favorite lamp and someone will turn something on in another part of the house. Of course you don’t know that. If your lamp is connected to A and they also connect to A, then your lamp will get dimmer because A will load down. But if they connect to B, your lamp will get BRIGHTER. When we’ve seen this, it can get real crazy because sometimes, two or more houses are connected together. So, if the neighbor turns something on, your lights are going to get dimmer or brighter. It’s the brighter thing that usually ‘spooks’ people.

"And that’s how most ghost sightings get solved. People with a lot more technical background than average go to the site and locate a simple cause for the observation. Have you ever seen a ghost yourself?”

"Well, I thought I did, when I was a kid. I used to have nightmares all the time. I couldn’t touch the floor by my bed because of all the monsters I thought were hiding under there. Then, one day, I had a talk with my Uncle Charlie. I asked him if he believed in ghosts. He was a very funny guy and pretty sharp about things. I think he knew I was scared. He said, ‘sure, I’ve seen a lot of ghosts. Why? Are you seeing any ghosts around here?’ I told him I was. He then told me a story about the ghost of Colonel Franklin.

I lived on Franklin Street, so this was interesting to me. He told me that Colonel Franklin died in the revolutionary war right near our house. They named the street after him. But he only had a minor bullet wound. So he thought he got cheated and shouldn’t have died. So he refused to go. He told me, the thing I needed to know about Colonel Franklin was he a very funny guy and always liked to play jokes on the other soldiers. So, I didn’t need to be afraid of him. In fact, I should try to get involved in his jokes, because that would amuse him.”

"This is a very funny story. So, did you do it?”

"Yeah. When I’d see a strange light in the middle of the night, I knew it was him with his lantern. So I’d use my flashlight, under a handkerchief to try to fool him. When he’d squeak a door, I had an old door hinge I’d squeak back. We’d play a lot.”

"Did you ever actually see him?”

"Well, not at first. I asked my father to get me some books about the revolution. Once I knew what uniforms they wore, I’d see Colonel Franklin in my dreams. And he told me he would use his sword and keep any other ghosts away.”

"And, now that you’re not a kid anymore, what do you think about all of this?”

"I think I had a pretty wild imagination. Once my mother left a bathrobe hanging on the back of a chair. I woke up in the middle of the night and was sure it was him. As car headlights went by, I actually thought I could see his face and watch his mustache move when he talked. But now that I understand the physics behind all of these observations, I can easily explain them. Houses creek when they heat up and cool down because all the wood and pipes expand and contract. Light casts shadows.”

"And that’s what researchers almost always find. When it comes to physical evidence: no proof. But, let’s talk for just a minute about some simple logical problems with ghosts. When we die, what options do we have about where we’re going?”

"You mean, like heaven, hell or purgatory? And it’s not like we have any choice about what happens.”

"Right. So, how is it that some people are allowed to hang around back here on earth in spirit form? Do they have some kind of quality control problem in heaven with their admissions process?”

"But we see a lot of movies where this happens. So, I guess people believe it can happen.”

"And, just what elements of a person go to heaven?”

"Yeah. That always bothered me about this topic as well. Until judgment day, all the bodies are supposed to still be in the ground. What goes to heaven is our soul. But I never heard that the soul had to look like the body. And what about clothes? What wardrobe does a soul get to take when they go? I’d think that if a soul had to wear the same clothes they died in for all eternity, then a lot of women would always have to be dressed in their best clothes, even when they were asleep.”

"Ugh . .. for example, I guess.”

"And then there’s the problem of physics. Ghosts can pass through walls. That should mean they don’t interact with physical matter. Then how do they move things? If they have no weight, and float through the air, how do they push hard enough on floorboards to make them squeak? They have clothes and often carry lanterns. Are these spirit objects? How does a spirit object make light, which is a material property? I understand how they do all the special effects in movies. But movies don’t have to portray reality.”

"All of these issues are the reason I have a hard time believing in ghosts.”

"But, don’t the Eskimos believe in ghosts?”

"No. Not ghosts, specifically. They do believe in spirits. But the spirits themselves don’t have form. For a spirit to come back to earth, it has to inhabit a creature. So, a bear may be the spirit of some Eskimo’s dead brother. But it is a true bear. And it acts like a bear. Just because you thought it had your brother’s spirit, you would not take a chance that it wouldn’t kill you.

So, the evidence for ghosts seems to be primarily evidence for human imagination. You should . . . .”

"I know, I know: ‘talk to George about that’.”

Bible contradictions

“One of the most significant challenge to an afterlife for Christians is that the Bible actually has passages that deny it, to offset those that proclaim it. Let me read a passage from Ecclesiastes. Chapter 9, verses 9-10.”

“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for THERE IS NO WORK, NOR DEVICE, NOR KNOWLEDGE, NOR WISDOM, IN THE GRAVE WHITHER THOU GOEST. (King James Version)”

"So, I guess we’ve struck out with Ghosts as well?”

“Precisely! And the whole issue of finding physical evidence for an after life.

***Arguments AGAINST the existence of God

So. Now let’s turn the tables around. So far, we’ve explored the strong arguments in favor of the existence of God. Now let’s look at the strong arguments against His existence.

Problem of evil and the devil

As I mentioned before, the problem of evil remains the most difficult obstacle to a logical proof for the existence of God. I am bringing it up again now because a scientific approach to this question is also possible. Why? Because bad things such as crime and suffering are observable and measurable in the world. The problem with evil arises because it conflicts with the assumptions of God as being ALL GOOD, ALL POWERFUL, and ALL KNOWING. Stenger summarized this as follows.”

“1. If God exists, and evil exists, then the attributes of God must be consistent with the existence of evil.

2. The claimed attributes of the Christian God are not consistent with the existence of evil.

3. Therefore, the Christian God cannot exist.”

To understand this, we need to go back to morals some. Do you remember our final observation about that from yesterday?”

"Sure. Morality is pluralistic. One form applies for religious people; another applies to non-believers. If we are going to be fair with a God proof, I guess we have to look at both sides.”

“Precisely! Let’s try this with the following description from Stenger. Page 217.”

“Many of the same empirical facts about human behavior … which lead us to conclude that good exists independent of God, also apply to the case of evil. Evil does not seem to require the existence of God. As philosopher Kai Nielsen writes, ‘God or no God, torturing… innocents is vile. More generally, even if we can make nothing of the concept of God, we can readily come to appreciate. . . that, if anything is evil, inflicting or tolerating unnecessary and pointless suffering is evil, especially when something can be done about it.’ “

“And then he makes his key point.”

“An omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God can do something about it.”

"OK! Now I see where you’re going. If we assume a no-God position, then we would easily agree with this. On the other hand, if we assume a God-exists position, we’d be forced to use the ‘mystery of faith’ defense because we couldn’t logically defend God based on what we see.”

“Precisely! See how valuable our model for separating out religious and non-religious morality is. Let me keep reading from this section.”

“Now, an easy escape from the argument from evil can be achieved by relaxing one or more of the three Os. [ omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient ] For example, we can imagine a God who is not omniscient. Such a God would not always know when evil happened and so could not act to avoid it. Similarly, a God who is not omnipotent may be unable to always stop evil. The latter possibility was the answer Rabbi Harold Kushner gave to the problem of evil in his best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Such a God can have a pleasant, human face, such as George Burns in the film Oh, God! Burns, playing God, admits he isn't perfect. He says he would do things differently the next time he creates a universe. For one thing, he would not give the avocado such a large pit.”

"So, this is sort of a way for a Christian to keep most of their faith. They just need to back off on one of these three Os.”

“Precisely! Stenger talks about this.”

“Theologians have attempted to solve the problem of evil by pointing out that pain is a necessary part of life. Let's exempt such pain from our definition of evil and limit it to unnecessary pain. While pain warns us of disease and injury and prompts us to seek treatment, why must that pain persist, often unbearably, after treatment fails and we await death?

Another reason given for suffering is that it helps us to be compassionate. As theologian Richard Swinburne has put it, ‘If the world was without any natural evil and suffering we wouldn't have the opportunity. . . to show courage, patience and sympathy.’

[But] As should be clear to anyone who simply sits down and reads the Bible or Qur'an, the God described in these scriptures is hardly benevolent by normal human standards. Still, if you make Euthyphro's choice, then whatever God does is good by definition. In that case, for example, genocide and slavery are good.

… we saw that the Old Testament condones slavery. It also sanctions genocide: ‘Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither you go, lest it become a snare in the midst of you. You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Ashe'rim’ (Exod. 34:11-13, Revised Standard Version).

Indeed, in the Old Testament, God admits he IS the source of evil: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things’ (Isa. 45:7).”

"So, you’re saying, we should evaluate this statement from two standpoints: a God-exits Christian viewpoint and a secular viewpoint.”

“Right. So, how does it strike you from a religious standpoint?”

"Well this doesn’t only apply to me. I don’t know any Catholics who would still support slavery or genocide and call them good.”

"Precisely! But now, you’ve just opened another can of worms. Christianity is actually a moving target. On one hand it claims that God is fixed - immutable. But on the other hand, the basic beliefs radically change with time. And sure, the Pope says he has the authority to make changes. But why didn’t all of the needed changes just show up somewhere in Scripture to begin with? For example, ‘In the future, eating meat on Friday shall become a mortal sin.’ Let me keep reading.”

“We are once again confronted with the undeniable fact that our instincts about good and evil take precedence over supposed divine commands, when those commands offend both the common sense and the reason that has been cultivated over the centuries as humankind has gradually and incompletely evolved from brutish predecessors.”

"OK. We’re just going to go round and round with this issue. And that’s what I said at the beginning. It’s just so confusing.”

“Right. To us, starting from a RELIGIOUS FOUNDATION, it is confusing. But to an atheist, it’s a very different story. Stenger again.”

"In the language of science, the empirical fact of unnecessary suffering in the world is INCONSISTENT with a god who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. [But] Observations of human and animal suffering look JUST AS THEY CAN BE EXPECTED TO LOOK IF THERE IS NO GOD.”

"Sure. That makes sense.”