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EllieMurasaki

AlterNet doesn't seem interested in letting me comment, so:

My brother was watching Evan Almighty yesterday, so I ended up watching half the movie, and right after it becomes really blindingly obvious to everyone who isn't the title character that when Evan said God told him a flood was coming and he needed to build an ark, every word was true, the movie ends. We don't get to see any of the consequences, except the obvious that a few hundred (mostly white middle-to-upper-class American) lives got saved because the ark was there when the dam burst, and the equally obvious beginning of proceedings to evict the corrupt congresscritter whose actions are why the dam was weak enough to burst. Never mind the questions of why God chose to intervene at this particular time to save these particular people, when there are lots of times he could have intervened to save lots more people, or to evict this particular corrupt person-with-power, when there's never been a shortage of corrupt persons-with-power. Everybody who watches CNN has just gotten confirmation that God exists (and it fails your test because only one person got the heads-up and that for only one event, but there's still a sharply limited list of purely natural explanations for the climax of the movie), and the movie ends before getting anywhere near considering what that would do to belief systems the world over.

callipsofacto

awesome article, Greta. FYI, the nice word for gullible is 'credulous.'

infophile

Sometimes reading the comments on your posts over at AlterNet can be depressing. It strikes me just how sloppy the thinking of many people is. And it also strikes me that educating people about the methods of skepticism and a little basic logic could be key here.

Reading through the comments, I saw the same basic theme at least three times: The truth of (insert woo here) proves there's a world beyond our understanding. Isn't that proof enough for you? (seen for ayurveda, biofeedback, acupuncture, and some poorer-defined woos in the comments there). Such a simple statement, but so many problems:

1. These woo mentioned are typically not in fact true. The true aspects of them (such as a few ayurvedic treatments or the placebo effect of acupuncture) are easily explainable by science.

2. Even if they were true, it simply means that we don't understand them. It doesn't mean there's an extra realm beyond our understanding, or human thought pervades an energy field throughout the universe, or whatever. Fallacy here: Making a specific claim out of a lack of knowledge. "Woo of the gaps."

3. Even if there is another world beyond our understanding, there's no reason this has to have any connection to any particular god. Again, we're going from a general claim to a specific claim.

Which all adds up to my conclusion: People don't believe in God because of some chain of logic. Something else leads them to it, and this is the logic they come up with to rationalize it.

considertheteacosy

I've always said that if there's an all-knowing, all-powerful god out there, then s/he knows my phone number and is well able to give me a call. Until that happens, I'm gonna assume that either there's no god, or in the unlikely event that there is one, it's every bit as indifferent towards me as vice-versa.

DSimon

Infophile, another pattern I saw in a lot of the Alternet comments was a general disdain for science and logic themselves. One person used the phrase "avoiding the trap of logic" in the process of praising somebody's super-vague "God is love"-type comment.

I don't even know how I'd begin having any kind of discussion with somebody like that.

Cejuan


Greta,

First of all, I love your writing. I'm pretty much in complete agreement with your post and it makes me curious about how you would respond to the following.

I've spent some time thinking about this proof question and the variant that stumps me is "what would it take to prove that god is pure good or that he is qualified to dictate morality?" To me, this is a more important question than whether he exists because his existence alone wouldn't validate religion. I think that in addition to existence, you need to prove this and that the religion speaks for him before you can really claim you have a worthy religion. As you mentioned, its not hard to imagine how his existence or the identity of his authorized representatives could be proven.

I like to think I'm open minded, but I can't think of any such proof for his absolute goodness. Although, I would expect that a necessary part of it would be the lack of any misbehavior.

DSimon

Cejuan, one way would be to discover some kind of objective physical mechanism responsible for goodness and evilness. If that were the case, then to demonstrate that God is a source of morality could be done in a literal sense, by showing that that God is a source of Moralitrons or what-have-you.

Greta Christina

Cejuan: I think part of the problem there is with defining "goodness." There are probably basic values that all human beings share, but how we apply those values, which ones we prioritize over others, and what we do when they come into conflict is rather subjective. We'd have to agree on a definition of "goodness" before we could even begin to determine whether God was good.

That being said: If we did agree on what "good" meant, all we'd have to do was determine what exactly God's actions were, and then evaluate them as we would anyone else's actions. Thus rendering any omnipotent God a total asshat, IMO. The only gods I can imagine being good are the non-omnipotent ones.

infophile

DSimon: It's indeed frustrating. People assume that science and logic can't work because they don't lead to results they already know to be true (rather than questioning whether these beliefs are themselves true). Speaking to them logically will of course get you nowhere. The only thing I can think of to do is to point out everything in their lives they owe to science, starting with the computer they're posting from.

Then they'd probably claim that God is outside the purview of science because... well, just because. Call them on special pleading, and they'll use special pleading to explain how this isn't a case of special pleading.

It all goes back to that old saying: You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themself into.

Maria

The only thing I can think of to do is to point out everything in their lives they owe to science, starting with the computer they're posting from.

I did that once, discussing with a theist, and he answered that 'computers and cars and the like is not science, but technology, and technology existed long before science did' ...

Yeah... what to say... ?

Salix

Matthew 17:60 "...if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

If Christians could move mountains, I'd believe Christianity was true.

"In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."(Mark 16:17-18)

If Christians could do these things, I'd believe.

If Bibles glowed in the dark for no discernible physical reason, and stopped glowing if you ripped out a page or added any apocryphal books or mistranslated things, I'd believe.

kj

Great question! Am still trying to figure out my answers, and have asked it of others, also.

arensb
It could hypothetically, for instance, be accomplished by a highly technologically advanced alien species. But I don't think that would be the simplest explanation.

I think this is a matter of degree: we can do a lot of the things that earlier people thought only gods can do, like create wind on demand (electric fans) or see faraway things (telescopes), or hear the voices of the dead (Jimi Hendrix on my iPod). Or heck, making ships full of cargo come from beyond the horizon.

I can imagine a Star Trek episode where one person says the crew of the Enterprise are gods, and another says they're just highly-advanced aliens. They can both be right: it just depends how high you set the bar for godhood.

So if someone wrote a message in mile-high letters in the sky, would that be a god, or an advanced alien? In this case, I'd say aliens with lasers or other technology to ionize bits of the atmosphere.

What about moving stars around to spell out a message? Again, it could just be aliens with the technology to bend light in a controlled way.

We can keep raising the bar this way and at every stage say it's aliens more advanced than the ones before.

But at some point, the distinction becomes moot. If I'm looking at beings that can create universes and rewind time, then they might as well be gods.

Greta Christina

arensb: Those are good points. I guess the reason I would find "aliens" less likely than "God" is motivation. If aliens did have the technological capability to write in hundred-foot letters in the sky in such a way that everyone read it in their own language... why would they be bothering to pull what would essentially be an elaborate prank? God would have a better motivation for writing his name in the sky than super-advanced aliens would.

But to some extent, I'm drawing the line here to prove a point. Yes, an argument could be made that "aliens" would be a more plausible explanation for the skywriting than "God." But even when I give religion the benefit of the doubt in the evidence game -- even when I say, "If this skywriting thing happened, I would be persuaded" -- it still falls short.

TommyP

Greta, loved this post, but wow some of the responses on alter net made my brain bleed.

Michael

The problem I see with any list presenting "evidence that would convince an atheist" is that it's simply a "god of the gaps" explanation, i.e. there are things science can't explain, so a supernatural answer is needed.

In all of history supernatural "gaps" have routinely been closed up by science. Either we decide to trust the pattern that in time, with sufficient progress, any hole will get a logical scientific explanation, or we must decide to define the size of the gap at which a god would be required to patch the hole.

As for aliens vs god: What's more likely - that in the 13 billion year old universe, among 100 billion galaxies, a being/civilization evolved/developed that could appear to us to be godly, or that from somewhere there came a being that created all of that universe?

Demonhype

Great post, Greta! I'm not hugely in agreement with some parts, though not in disagreement with them either (the space-aliens-less-plausible-than-god, for example). I just need to think about what you said a little more first. You really do have a knack for writing thought-provoking posts!

I particularly like the point you made about how supernatural claims always seem to crumble when assessed by legitimate and rigorous scientific testing (as opposed to the customary pseudo-science). This was something I was aware of when I still believed, though I tended to relegate it to the back of my head and pretend it wasn't actually significant.

I could hardly get through the first page of Alternet comments. Whole novels written and posted with nothing more to say than "Screw you, magic is real, logic is stupid, science is bad, faith is good, God is love, and what part of pure love do you hate, wah wah wah!" ad nauseum. It was like my own mother authored all of those posts.

BTW, she still keeps trying to open up discussion about her beliefs--she still can't stand that I dont' share her beliefs--but I refuse to engage her (I'd like to love and respect my mom in her twilight years), and she recently seems to have learned to drop it. Hooray! :D

(I think it's because of my dad talking to her--for a while, he'd attack me and tell me not to "upset" her, and I'd explain how she's the one who keeps bringing the subject up and then pursuing it. Typical--it's always the unbeliever who is assumed to be the instigator. Pfft!)

Well, anyway, I couldn't manage to do more than skim the pro-wooist comments. Otherwise, my brain might also be bleeding at this point! (Proud and wilful ignorance is painful to witness.)

Bruce Gorton

For me one of the things:

The discovery of a document, written in modern English but accurately dated to the era of say, Jesus, referencing other documents written in the language of the era and where they were hidden.

This at the very least, would demonstrate prophecy. English hadn't evolved yet.

Nathaniel

Ugh. I like your articles, by for the love of all that's non-holy, why do you continue to post on Alternet? The commenters... hurt my brain.

J Myers

Yeah... what to say... ?

Quite simply, that those were technological achievements made possible by science. Sure, "technology" existed before science: we had the wheel, and the stick, and the bucket, and the plow... useful items, sure, but not quite as impressive as the transistor or the combustion engine. Your theist's attempt to divorce science from technological advancement is plainly misguided (and probably dishonest).

themann1086

Greta,

I could see high-tech aliens pulling that sort of prank, assuming that the likes of 4chan exist in their culture :P

DSimon

And upon the Prophesied Day, the true believers waited outside as they were instructed by the Most High Almighty.

And lo! Their faith is rewarded! In one moment there is silence, but upon the next, from the sky emits a wondrous sound! A music of the divine, a song of both wonder and hope! Its very words echo the most important precepts of our faith and fellowhsip:

./~ Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna turn around and desert you ./~

Greta Christina
for the love of all that's non-holy, why do you continue to post on Alternet?

Because they pay me money.

Also because I want my ideas to reach a wider audience. I don't just want to preach to the converted all the time. Muckrakers need to expect some muck. And not everyone who reads AlterNet comments on it: the comments are certainly a toxic pit of hostile stupid, but for that very reason, I think it's probable that the comments don't represent the readership, and that the more thoughtful readers stay out of the comment threads as if their lives depended on it. I have some hope that, over time, some of my ideas will reach some of the readers, in a "water on rock" sort of way.

But mostly because they pay me money.

Nathaniel

Ah. That makes complete sense. Forget I said anything.

Stellar_ash

As someone raised in a christian household and went to church every Sunday and said once how can you say there can not be a god, the answer is 'probably' nothing:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; any sufficiently advanced being is indistinguishable from god.

The "miracle" on the Hudson should have been: The plane, intact, in the middle of a 5th Ave intersection with no injuries. Or no piece of the plane greater than 1 meter survived, while everyone survived, uninjured.

Of course, this does not rule out the '... indistinguishable from god' part mentioned above or answer the question of why god decided to kill a couple of innocent geese to prove a point that could've been made in a much more clear, unambiguous manner.

Eclectic

Cejuan: On that subject, you might find Tim Maroney's historic rant Even If I Did Believe... interesting.

I am not a Christian. In my discussions of this fact with Christians, I have repeatedly run into a major misunderstanding. The Christians assume that if I believed the Bible were true, I would become a Christian; that is, they believe that my reason for not being a Christian is that I don't believe in their god. This is not the case. [...] If I had undeniable proof of the existence of Yahweh, aka Jehovah, aka Adonai, aka El Shaddai, aka Yahweh Elohim, the father of Jesus and the ancient leader of the Semitic peoples, I still would not worship the bastard. If an angel appeared to me and removed my appendectomy scar so I could never deny the reality of divine power, I still would not be a Christian. My primary reason for not being a Christian has nothing to do with my lack of belief in their god. My primary reason is that the Bible is a disgusting book describing the behavior of a god without the morality of the average high school student.

I confess I've never really thought about your phrasing of the issue. It's hard for me to imagine evidence that would cause me to suspend all personal judgment, but I can easily imagine evidence that would convince me that some authority's rulings are correct often enough that I can spare myself the effort of checking up on them in most cases.

But as Tim Maroney says, all of the religious scriptures I've read are full of convincing evidence against the morality of the characters.

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