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AlterNet... comments... so... annoying.... head.... asplode.


what type of evidence would you be willing to except? i ask because there is a lot of compelling evidence but most atheists are not willing to consider it and dismiss it out of hand.

I haven't read the article yet, but I already smell a lot of "Shut up, that's why".


Tell us the compelling evidence, Jason.


I really tried to read the comments over there, but... there's just so much I can take!

the chaplain

Great post. I love your conclusion and have added it to my collection of atheists quotes.

Greta Christina

Jason: I suggest you take a look at Ebonmuse's The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists. My criteria for what I'd accept as evidence of God's existence are a little different from his, but they're close enough that I'm willing to go with them.

And yes, I'd be interested in hearing about your compelling evidence. Before you offer them, though, please look at the end section of the abovementioned Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists, since it also spells out the kind of "evidence" that theists commonly offer but that atheists find entirely unconvincing.

(I will add to that list: I am unconvinced by the appearance of design in life, since the theory of evolution provides a much better explanation for it than God. And I am unconvinced by the "first cause" argument, since the God hypothesis doesn't answer that question -- it merely begs it. If everything had to be created, then what created God? And if God has just always existed or came into being out of nothing, why can't that be true for the universe?)


I deeply admire your courage, Greta, for wading into that cesspool of irrationality.


i understand your frustration with "religious" people. I even used to be one, but the reality of what you tell me that no matter what so called religion you choose it is all based in faith. I believe that a Loving God Gave His Son to Die for me and you bank on there not being a god and we float around in an eternal abyss. Either way I feel God has changed my life, influenced my decisions, and ultimately saved me from a real evil force trying to hinder God trying to give a second chance to everyone. Whether you accept that or not is your decision. But not every person in the world is a scholar and most Christians live in a clouded faith where they feel it isn't necessary to learn more about their Faith, because Faith is enough, so your arguments regarding someone begin able to not prove something are impossible to prove and even if I solid evidence you would just assume it wasn't real. I've seen people prayed for and healed of health problems I've seen people stand out of wheelchairs that haven't walked in years, but you would tell me it was fake or some "cause and effect". The cause and effect is true, There was a need and God met it. I understand you have different beliefs than I do, and you don't agree with the Faith belief, but remember you are having faith in No God and I simply have faith in the GOD.


Dirtbag2022, do you believe that a stage magician is capable of fooling your eyes and make you see a rabbit coming out of a hat, and a coin disappear in thin air? Or maybe make a whole elephant or an aeroplane disappear in front your ery eyes? Do you believe that the stage magician really did these things by magic, or that it was a miracle? Or was it an illusion? Sleight of hand? Trickery? Set up to look real when in fact it's not? Do you think it's possible that faith healers are capable of such trickery as well?

Greta Christina

What Maria said. Anyone who believes in faith healing and miracles needs to see "Marjoe," stat. Faith healing has been rigorously tested, and it has never, ever been shown to be anything more than a placebo effect at best and outright fraud at worst.

As to atheism being just as much faith as religion: No, it's really not. I know that a lot of believers want to believe that, since that way they can dismiss the evidence and arguments against religion. But there is an important difference. The difference is that most atheists say, "I don't see any good evidence for God... but show me some good evidence, and I'll change my mind." Believers are the ones saying, "Nothing you say could possibly convince me God is not real -- that's what it means to have faith." Atheism is a provisional conclusion based on the available evidence. It is not a refusal to change our mind no matter what. It is not faith.

More on the difference between atheism and religious faith: What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith


mmmmm. Thank you for that one, Greta.


What bothers me about the attitude of believing in supernatural faith healing (be it Christian, Wiccan, New Age mysticism, et el.) leaves one(and the more desperate) open for fraud and hucksterism.

What frustrates me with the faith healing is the magical thinking that faith today heals any more then faith healed 2000 years ago...

Consider (from

“Most cases of faith healing need no cure, since most patients will get better even if they receive no treatment at all (Hines 2003). Some serious ailments like cancer and multiple sclerosis abate for months or years for reasons we don't understand (Nickell 1993: 134). There is an "impressive variety of ... ailments, ranging from back pains to hysterical blindness, [that] are known to be highly responsive to the power of suggestion." The "main requisite for curative effects" is "the patient's belief in the practitioner's assurances." And, having a positive attitude seems to enhance the body's healing capacities (Nickell 1993: 134).

The majority of faith healings are successful because of the cooperation of healer and patient. Working together, believing in the treatment, strongly desiring the treatment to work, not only can relieve stress and bring about the curative effects of the power of suggestion, it can lead the patient to give testimony that is exaggerated or even false in the desire to get well and to please the healer. The power of subjective validation is enormous and essential to many, if not most, faith healings.

The faith healer can't lose. Any treatment he or she gives is likely to get a high approval rating. Most patients will validate their treatments. There will be no follow-up, so there will be few bothersome failures. The healer is likely to be showered with proclamations of gratitude. It is no wonder, then, that the healer comes to believe that his or her method, whether it be invoking God or the life force or some other mysterious entity, truly works. Even obvious failures can be blamed on the patient for not having enough faith in God or the healing method or for not cooperating fully. Also, many patients are afraid to admit they're not better because that would imply that they lack faith or didn't participate properly. They blame themselves if the treatment doesn't work.”

This is the path that leads to bad things happening to good people who decide faith is sufficient...


there is a lot of compelling evidence but most atheists are not willing to consider it and dismiss it out of hand.

Time to back up your huge claim, Jason.

Where's your compelling evidence?
You made a claim about "most atheists", so we need a survey or a suitable random sample. (Anecdotes are not samples.)

I've been asked this question many dozens of times (and have answered, it at length). The only response I've had is more special pleading of exactly the kind Greta wrote about.

I will answer it again (though I am sure the universe is getting sick of me answering it for the fortieth time THIS YEAR):

The short answer is "almost any evidence at all, if it meets a few criteria, and I know before we start what it is we're looking for evidence of".

Here's a longer version, slightly clarified from one I posted on another forum to a similar question from another theist:

First, let's set out what phenomenon we're investigating:

#1 "which god are we discussing? What are its properties?"

#2 "what observations would rule out such a being?"

Given suitably clear answers to those, I will accept pretty much any evidence sufficiently extraordinary to match the extraordinariness of the claimed god, sufficient to rule out alternate non-supernatural explanations, and also sufficient to rule out alternative supernatural ones

[i.e. any evidence sufficiently strong to convince me we found what we were looking for (rather than something else extraordinary or even ordinary), and that we're not just fooling ourselves or being fooled by someone or something else]

In other words, if you specify which god hypothesis we're proposing up front, and what evidence could rule the hypothesis out (otherwise it's an hypothesis without any explanatory value at all), I'll then be prepared to consider evidence for it. Any real evidence. Almost anything that's not just made up in people's heads.

If the evidence is sufficiently extraordinary (including repeats, experiments ruling out alternate explanations and so on) compared the the extraordinariness of the claim (I'll potentially accept almost any reasonable evidence as long as it's essentially all consistent), then I will change my beliefs.


Now your turn, Jason (after you finish putting your money where your mouth is on your claim about atheists):

What observation(s), if any, would convince you god doesn't exist?


Sorry, an editing mistake - the "this question" I just referred to (in "I've been asked this question many times...") was Jason's bit about "what evidence would you accept"; I meant to quote that question just before that sentence.


Hey Greta-

One thing you might be discounting in your pre-conceived notions of us "God-fearing peeps" is that some of us really don't care if you believe in God or not.

In fact, some of us (Libertarian-minded folk) are happy that you have the right and the freedom to feel the way you do in this country.

I find it humorous that your slant on religion relies heavily on the generalization that all God-believers are there to challenge you. Such arrogance!

Quite honestly, I have faith that one day, in your time of need; be it on a hospital bed when you're dying of cancer, or on a plane that is going down or just amongst your family when they surround you on your deathbed, you will think about what lies beyond.

Only then may you truly consider what you have to lose.

See, if religious-folk are wrong about heaven, no biggie. We all end up stone-cold dead, six-feet deep; atheists and religious alike. BUT....BUT, if athiests are wrong, they have f*cked up royally. Eternal damnation. Sweet.



*LOL* OK, D, so you're not a god-believer who would ever dream of challenging the Greta's of the world, eh? I guess that's why you are now here trying to challenge her with... tada, Pascal's Wager!! :-)

If we both die, D, and find ourselves standing in front of Oden... we'd both be fucked, eh? What would you do then? You'd have to spend eternity in Hel instead of Hell.



I don't see any challenge set forth for Greta (or....(ahem)YOU, I guess.) A challenge would insinuate that I care for rebuttal.

I simply accessed the COMMENT box with my comment. Hurray for comment boxes!




I don't see any challenge set forth for Greta (or....(ahem)YOU, I guess.) A challenge would insinuate that I care for rebuttal.

I simply accessed the COMMENT box with my comment. Hurray for comment boxes!



Of course you don't care, D, which is why you ignored me, didn't respond to me, and didn't tell me how much you don't care :-)


I loved the post Greta, but there's something I'd like to add.

For me the God question is a two-part one. First, they'd have to show me evidence for the existence of God. As you point out, it can't be something that can have a much more likely explanation and it can't involve emotional blackmail *cough* *cough* (Pascal's Wager, D).

The second would be even more important. God itself would have to explain why I should follow its edicts. Even if it did create everything in six days, healed the sick, fed the poor, etc. it's also responsible/approved of mass genocide, endorsed slavery, killed innocents (see the first born thing that some Christians think is a great thing), and is described as being the emotional equivalent of a 5-year-old with a bad temper.

Oh, and D...
Not only did you bring up Pascal's Wager, as Maria pointed out (and Greta mentioned in the article), you never addressed why you believe in an original way. It's the same "on your death bed"/"when you're alone"/"when times are hard" projection that theists are always tossing toward atheists.

As an example, let's reverse that. What if I said that I believe without evidence (which is what Faith is) that on your deathbed you will question whether there is a God and if you've wasted your life following pointless dogma originally developed over 2 millenia ago and only further utilized since to keep the sheep in check?

I find it telling that you didn't address any actual evidence for the deity that you believe in so fervently. Instead, you rely on Pascal's Wager, which Greta seems to have thought through much more fully than you have.


I agree Berlzebub. Many theists seem to think that to believe is the same thing as to worship. Not so. If there were real evidence that the Christian god existed, then, yeah, I had to believe in it. So? That does not include voluntary worship in any way shape or form. I think it's scary how they believe in such a horrible character without trying to reject and fight it with all their might! It would be more natural to try to get rid of something like that, one might think.


Speaking of healing prayers:
Why won't God heal amputees?



I've read most of your articles at AlterNet and I like your writing. Your arguments you present are strong and I support you in your battle. I happen to put myself in the theist or deist camp but that matters not.

I am growing tired of using what we believe as some sort of starting point for categorizing people. Especially when this categorization serves in most cases purely political purposes. Nobodies beliefs are so simplistic as to be easily categorized and the decisions to place some sort of hierarchy on beliefs is of course totally subjective. I too hate the special status that many religious arguments seem to think they deserve.

To answer the question in your article about why someone (me) believes in some sort of supernatural force outside our perception that is influencing I'll be as brief as I can. First I dont believe in super or other than natural occurrences or forces. There are things we cant measure (yet) things we cant see and things we may never understand but IMO there is nothing that is separate from nature. So the question becomes how does nature work and possibly why? We must consider seriously that the why has no answer or that the why may be something very distasteful if we were to learn. We all look for whys that make us feel better but the why (if its there) MAY not be nice or good. We are doing very well on the hows but the whys are purely speculative. The question to me is can the hows begin to reveal a why? I think they can. In fact I think we have shown that they can. Now, its true that there are different levels of why and the BIG level of why that is being argued by theists and atheists may elude us for some time, but enough of the little levels of why may add up to a larger level of why that can begin to be understood. I think there are appearances of "possibly purposeful" , currently unmeasurable (or clearly definable) forces at work in the universe. I cant say the evidence is strong but I think it CAN be considered faint evidence. Faint is more than none and you dont look for what you think doesnt exist. Robert Wright begins to address this in his own way in his book The Evolution of God, which I think is quite good.

Theists need to be more forthcoming about the faintness of the evidence and the likelihood of an answer not being in line with the tents of their holy books. They should also be hopeful about some of the evidence from the study of biology and physics that MIGHT point to a purpose and participate in the only process which can help in this They need to stop viewing science as a threat and understand it as a process which CAN reveal truths.

Sorry this got so long.

Greta Christina

Replying to D: First, I'll second what Maria and Berlzebub said. "You'll change your mind when you're on your deathbed" is a terrible argument for God. First, it's not true -- there are, as I've pointed out many times, atheist soldiers and police officers and firefighters. Plenty of atheists have faced death and disaster, and have come through without changing their mind about God. Even if it were true, it would hardly be an argument for God's existence -- quite the contrary, if people only believe in times of crisis, that points to religion being a comforting human construct and not a sincere conclusion based on the evidence.

And as Maria pointed out (plus everyone else who has ever blasted Pascal's Wager into shrapnel): How do you know which God we should worship in order to deflect judgment? What if it's Allah or Odin or Zeus? What if you were a Baptist and God wanted you to be a Mormon, or you were a Mormon and she wanted you to be a Wicca?

(I also want to make a brief tangent here: Pascal's wager? PASCAL'S FREAKING WAGER?!? Probably the worst argument ever made on behalf of religious belief, and we still have to waste our time arguing against it? For fuck's sake.)

But I also want to say this:

Not once in this article did I assume that all religious believers are challenging me or care what I believe. Not once. I said in my conversations with believers, that when I ask believers what they believe, they respond as described in the piece. Not once did I say or imply that these conversations represented all believers. I was discussing a common phenomenon -- but nowhere did I say or imply that it was a universal one.

D, I welcome sincere discussion and debate with believers here. But if you can't read more carefully and take the time to respond to what I actually said, you're not going to be very welcome in this blog.

Greta Christina

Okay, Greg. I'll bite. What is the faint evidence you think there is for the existence of purposeful forces at work in the universe? (Apart from the ones we know about, i.e. human and other animal life on this planet.) What makes you think that?

Bobby Seay

How about the simple fact that people of faith, any faith, seem to heal faster, live longer, and be healthier. I do not have the exact website for those facts, but research it for yourself. Also what about the Shroud of Turin? I read the STUDY done on it in National Geographic in 1980. There is no explanation for it.


Research it for ourselves, Bobby? No, YOU claim these things, YOU provide these "facts".

Shroud of Turin? My goodness... *moans* There is no explanation for it? How about radiocarbon dating showing that it is from medieval times? That is only ONE explanation.

How about you follow your own advice, Bobby? Do some research! Here, I'll help:

Even if the shroud were genuine, what do you think that would prove except Jesus having been in it? That he also then rose from the dead and is god? That doesn't follow, now does it? It would only prove some crucified guy was in it and left an impression, which is ALSO highly unlikely.


I guess I believe in God more than my religion. Mostly I guess, because God seems to answer my prayers for important things. Logically, everything can be associated to normal things, so I have no real proof, but some of the odds of things happening were kind of extreme. Probably a selfish reason, but that is why I believe.



Is there a word limit on the comments. I tried to respond as you asked me and I cant post it. It doesnt say that there is a word limit so I was just curious.


Greta Christina

Bobby: First, that's not true. Those studies were poorly done, and didn't take into account social differences between atheists and believers -- such as the fact that believers have built-in social support networks, which improves health, and the fact that atheists are hated and discriminated against, which is harmful to health. More recent studies that were better done showed that, when you factor out these influences (e.g. by studying atheists who belong to atheist social groups), atheists and believers have about the same rates of health and happiness. (I'm trying to find the link, but it's buried; I'll post it as soon as I find it.) And in fact, countries with high rates of atheism tend to be countries with high rates of both physical and social health.

Second, even if that were true, it wouldn't be evidence that God exists. It would only be evidence that religion is psychologically beneficial, and therefore beneficial to physical health. (For one thing: Why would rates pf good health be higher for *all* believers -- even ones who believe in different gods?)

Anne: What you're describing is what's called confirmation bias -- the human tendency to notice events that confirm our beliefs (and to exaggerate their importance), and to ignore or trivialize events that contradict our beliefs. Believers in prayer notice and remember the times that their prayers are answered, and ignore, forget, or rationalize the times that they're not. There is not a scrap of evidence that prayers get answered; in fact prayer studies showed that sick people who are prayed for don't get better at any higher rate than sick people who don't.

Greg: There shouldn't be a word limit on comments. I don't know why your comment didn't publish -- it's not in my spam filter. In any case, I notice that you posted your reply on your own blog, so I'll point other people to it. If I have time to reply, I'll cross-post here and in your blog.


Oh no someone found my blog. You are probably the first visitor Christine. Thank you.

I guess thats my next step into the blogging world........................visitors.

Joel Monka

The question of evidence is really a two part question- Do I have evidence that makes me believe? Yes. Do I have evidence that would convince you? No.

As we all know, any and all personal experiences that were not captured on film are hallucinations. Proper scientific methodology means denying the evidence of your own senses anytime it runs contrary to conventional wisdom, so I know my reasons for believing are unscientific. But poor as that reason is, it convinces me.

Greta Christina
But poor as that reason is, it convinces me.


Why does it convince you?

Why -- when you know that the mind and the senses can be deceived, when you know that evidence needs to be corroborated for it to be considered valid, when you know that your evidence wouldn't convince anyone other than you -- does it still convince you?

Why -- when considering not what is subjectively true for you, but what is objectively true about the external world -- do you give your own admittedly fallible subjective experience so much more weight than you'd give anyone else's fallible subjective experience?

Why does it convince you?

Bruce Gorton

It struck me with going through the theist responses on that article just how many of them seem to have read the article and then gone straight back to making the arguments the article points out are bollocks.

Bruce Gorton


Pascall's wager fails on so many levels.

First, it is intellectually dishonest. It amounts to a bribe based belief system - you believe it because you are promised a reward for believing it.

Second, it is morally monstrous. If you applied the same reasoning to real world regimes you would end up supporting some of the most evil people on earth because they would torture you if you didn't.

Third, it is logically flawed:

What if there is a God who rewards skepticism and punishes faith? There is nothing to say that isn't the case, never mind whether or not the various other religions out there count as the one true religion.

Fourth, heaven isn't all that attractive a bribe in the first place:

Heaven is a perfect realm, which means anything you did in it would ruin it, which means that after the first hundred years or so you would get bored out of your tree. Next to the eternal purity of heaven, hell sounds, well, heavenly - at least there it could be made better.

I could go on, but I trust you see my point as to why this argument isn't a convincing one right?


It struck me with going through the theist responses on that article just how many of them seem to have read the article and then gone straight back to making the arguments the article points out are bollocks.

Exactly, Bruce. That's why I sometimes despair and think that trying to discuss with a certain kind of believers is more hopeless and meaningless than Sisyphos work... Their brains seems to be made of Teflon! They read words but don't see them. You say: 'This is not logic because of X' and they immdiately retorts with: 'But what about X? HA!' It's very frustrating.

Joel Monka

From Greta, "Why does it convince you?"

Because the fact that senses can be deceived does not mean they must have been deceived, if I have no reason to think so. If none of the obvious reasons to doubt my senses are present, including any of the crowd psychology effects, why does it make sense to presume they were deceived?

If it had only been wishful thinking made exceptionally vivid by stresses or psychological effects I was unaware of, why would the experience have been so different from anything I been led to expect that I could not return to the faith I was raised in, and had to look for new explanations instead? I would have thought that having been raised Christian in a largely Christian country, any religious experiences that were merely stress induced would have led me to a Christian conclussion- or at least some Abrahamic answer- rather than away from it. I mean, how many people go to a Benny Hinn revival, get whipped into a religious frenzy, and then have non-Christian visions? (That's not how it happened, just an illustration)

I'm willing to be convinced. If a new test of some kind were developed that could show my religious experiences to be the artifact of some medical/psychological effect instead, I would return to my previous agnostic state. But absent such evidence, what reason is there for me to reject experiences as (subjectively) real as the computer I'm typing this on? If I reject the evidence of my senses without reason to do so, aren't we entering into the realm of the emperor's new clothes? Other than a knee-jerk "it can't be", why shouldn't it convince me?


But, Joel... Even people who claim to see Jesus in the wood grain of a bathroom door, and think the Jesus woodgrain eyes can make their headaches go away - reason pretty much the same way you do here. Though usually not as eloquently!

Greta Christina
why shouldn't it convince me?

Joel: It shouldn't convince you because there are strong, positive arguments and evidence against religion, and against religious experiences being real perceptions of a real entity or phenomenon.

I've summarized and explained some of my favorites in my Top Ten Reaons I Don't Believe In God. Just a handful of quickies: Because religion has never, ever proven to be the right answer. Because in all of human history, natural explanations for phenomena have replaced supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times... while supernatural explanations have replaced natural ones exactly never. Because the history and variety of religious beliefs and experiences are so wildly different and inconsistent, even contradicting one another -- unlike our perception of the physical reality we know exists, which, when carefully measured, is relatively consistent. Because every single time testable religious claims have been rigorously tested, they've fallen apart. Because over thousands of years, religion has failed to improve in the ability to either perceive or predict the supernatural world that supposedly exists. Because religious hypotheses utterly fail to make accurate predictions about the world. Because religious apologetics look uncannily like contorted rationalizations and defense mechanisms rather than straightforward arguments. Because nobody in the history of the world had ever been able to provide solid, independently- verifiable evidence for their religious beliefs.

I could understand trusting in your own personal experience if there were no good evidence or arguments contradicting it. But there are. A massive preponderance of evidence points to religion being a human construct, made up by fallible human minds.

Given that -- and given that you know that the human mind is fallible and prone to creating weird experiences -- it seems clear that "this experience was a weird construct of my fallible mind" is a much, much more plausible hypothesis than "I was perceiving a real entity or phenomenon."

Sasha Forte

The evidence is rooted in the First Cause idea:

Everything in the material universe is the result of a combination of matter and energy. Anything that is made from a combination of materials will eventually fall apart. We know the universe is not eternal; it is made entirely of combinations.

Before the universe begins and after it ends, what exists? And by
universe, I mean the entire universe, including spacetime itself. Empty space still exists within a manifest universe, just a very cold, lonely and boring one.

If everything disappears, what's left? One possibility is non-existence: absolutely nothing. But absolutely nothing would be absolutely static. How could the material world arise from nothingness of that magnitude? What would be able to disturb non-existence into existence? Think about it deeply, and the idea is absurd. That leaves only one possibility: an immaterial existence that engenders the manifestation of the material world.

What can we posit about such an immaterial existence? It must be able to exist outside of time and space, and it must not be subject to the creative and destructive effects of combination. Therefore it must be absolutely singular, unified and unchangeable. Beyond space, it would be infinite; beyond time, eternal. The manifestation or non-manifestation of the universe would be irrelevant; it would simply continue to be under any and all conditions.

What hard evidence has been found that this is the case?

The best evidence is the testimony of enlightened beings, people who through phenomenal self-control have transcended the ordinary human mind and enabled themselves to comprehend God directly. The character of these men and women far exceeds that of any worldly person I can think of, no matter how brilliant, in any field. They are able to solve the question of God through direct personal experimentation and arrive at a conclusion by their own experience. They are beyond lying, greed, lust or ambition; they are able to conduct their lives without desires, attachments or suffering. Their minds are firmly merged in God.

Not only that, but they actively encourage all humanity, regardless of religion or caste, to undertake the same experiments and experience it for themselves. What is proposed is not faith, although it will certainly help on the long road of spiritual attainment; what is needed is courage, character and resolve. Religion, real religion, is not for the weak and fearful. Only the boldest ever say, "Who cares what happens to me? I want to know for certain whether there is anything eternal and immortal in existence." The findings of these great explorers can't be ignored, because they are the most unimpeachable witnesses humankind has been able to produce.

For more information on the lives and teachings of the great titans of spirituality, I refer you to Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Ramana Maharshi, all of whom lived with the last 200 years, and who produced the simplest, most cogent and rational explanations of God that have ever been

It's easy to scoff that people have only a gut feeling to rely on to justify their belief, but isn't un-belief the same? Aren't you simply relying on your own gut feeling?

(Posted by GC on behalf of Sasha, who had trouble commenting.)

Joel Monka

Maria- thanks! Your Jesus-in-the-woodgrain example illustrates the point I was trying to make. The guy who cures his headaches with the woodgrain Jesus eyes saw Jesus, not Odin or Vishnu. In other words, his religious experience is consonant with his religious training and cultural experiences. Mine have not been; that's why I'm not Christian.

I mention this because many of the ways of explaining away religious experiences that have no obvious drug or medical condition origin involve psychological conditions in which you would expect more conventional kinds of religious expressions- like the woodgrain Jesus. That my experiences are different in no way negates the possibility that there is some sort of psychological effect causing them, I fully realize. But the fact that they are different does make me lean on the side of trusting my senses.

Greta- I did read your "Top Ten Reasons", and was moved to answer them in my own blog . the short version: Most of your points only apply to the Abrahamic faiths; I am not Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The rest would take too much space to answer here, though I would enjoy a one point at a time discussion- but if you read my blog post, I didn't find them compelling. My answers could be wrong, but no one has pointed out where yet.

Greta Christina

Sasha: First of all, First Cause is a terrible argument.

It's true that the question "Where did the universe come from? How could it either have always existed or come into being out of nothing?" is a valid and interesting question, and one we don't currently have an answer for.

But the God hypothesis doesn't answer that question, even in the slightest. The God hypothesis only begs the question. If things can't just have always existed or come into being out of nothing... then where did God come from? And if God always existed or came into being out of nothing... why can't that be true of the universe?

The God hypothesis doesn't answer this "Where did it come from?" question. It just moves the question from being about the universe to being about God. (And then says, "Well, God is magic, so he can do anything, so therefore we don't have to bother trying to answer those questions about him.") It's cheating. It's punting the question.

I've written about this in more detail in my piece,
God Is Magic

As to the testimony of people who have had amazing religious experiences: That definitely does not count as good evidence. The human mind is deeply weird, and it can create very strange experiences under the right mind-altering circumstances... and things like extensive meditation and whatnot (which is what I assume you're talking about) definitely counts as mind-altering circumstances. And the fact that different people's religious experiences are so wildly varied and even contradictory makes the reality of these experiences even more suspect. No matter how nice and good these people are, unless they can produce verifiable, replicable evidence that their experiences were real perceptions of a real entity or phenomenon, then, given the strong arguments against religion, it makes much more sense to assume that these experiences are a construct of the human mind.


Maria- thanks! Your Jesus-in-the-woodgrain example illustrates the point I was trying to make. The guy who cures his headaches with the woodgrain Jesus eyes saw Jesus, not Odin or Vishnu. In other words, his religious experience is consonant with his religious training and cultural experiences. Mine have not been; that's why I'm not Christian.

I did see that part of your first comment, Joel, and I am not buying it. I don't know which religion/god/variant of god you are believing in instead of the Christian god, but I doubt you were completely unaware of whatever you believe instead before. If there was a way to prove that you couldn't possibly have been influenced by anything else than Christinaty and still got visions (or whatever it was)of something else, then I agree it would have been interesting. But most people don't live totally isolated within just a single image, but have access to a lot of images from the cultures around the world. We don't have full control over, and certainly are not able to remember, all the images that we pick up. Yes, it is considerably more common that people see Jesus or Virgin Mary in the pancakes than other deities if they are raised in a Christan environment. But do you really think if a Christian suddenly saw Ganesha in the pancake instead of Jesus I would have thought that the fact that he's Christian alone now makes it more plausible that it IS Ganesha? It's still more plausible that he picked this image up somehwere (whether he remembers it or not) than that there really are an elephant-nosed god.

You are only slightly more uncommon, Joel, but your underlying reasoning are still the same, and you still don't have that big of a reason to believe these things just because of your subjective experiences.


Joel, I will add this. Maybe your visions (or whatever it was) was so unusual that that particular combination of images hasn't even occurred before. It doesn't really matter. The originality of the subjective experience in itself is not proof enough. People come up with rather original ideas all the time. Look at the history of literature, some remarkable strange and original visions have been created and described by humans, some of which we might stand in awe before wondering where on earth that might have come from, and which was quite, quite different from the images they were fed in their upbringing. Creative writers have done this over and over again through history and still does. It's called imagination! Humans have it!

It's not reasonable to lean towards that it might be true because you think it's odd that you got this grand idea and not a more common one. It has to be verified in other ways, or there is no reason whatsoever for anyone else to think your experiences are even remotely connected to reality, and knowing this it shouldn't be a reason for you to think this either.

Congratulations on a truly creative mind, Joel (and I am not being sarcastic at all, I really do mean that) but value that creativity for what it is, and realize it is no good reason to think it describes reality without other verification.

Greta Christina

What Maria said, Joel. Religious experiences that cause people to convert aren't as common as religious experiences that fall within the religion they already believe... but they're not at all unheard of. And there's still no good reason to think of them as anything other than a psychological phenomenon. Just a somewhat more unusual one.

As to your responses to my Top Ten Reasons: I find them terribly unconvincing. But it's four in the morning and I really need to go to bed, so the point-by-point fisking is going to have to wait. (I will point out here, however: My arguments are very much not directed only at the Abrahamic religions. They were very much tailored to cover any belief in the supernatural. I'm a little surprised you didn't see that. But then, I'm always a little surprised when believers say, "Your criticisms aren't relevant to my religion, surely you're not talking about me." Yes. Yes, they are. Yes, I am. I'm talking about all of you.)

Greta Christina

Oh, btw: As promised, here's my response to Greg, which I posted as a comment on his blog:

The main problem with your argument is the assumption that cooperation is universal. It's anything but. Cooperation is a common survival strategy -- but competition, predation, and parasitism are also common survival strategies, not only on the level of macroorganisms but on the microorganism level as well. Cooperation is far from universal.

Perhaps more to the point: There's no evidence that cooperation exists anywhere outside the biology of life. There's no evidence of cooperation between planets, stars, quasars, galaxies, black holes.

Your assumption that, because there are probably dimensions outside the ones we perceive, therefore we are part of a larger organism... that's an unsupportable leap. The universe is larger than we are, and we're a part of it... but that doesn't mean we're part of it in the way cells or organs are part of an organism. Life is a pretty specific way for matter and energy to be structured... and the universe as a whole looks nothing like that structure.

Finally, on a similar note: You seem to be implying that the universe is not only an organism, but is an organism with consciousness. But a preponderance of available evidence points to consciousness being a physical, biological process of the brain. And the universe does not have a brain. It has stars and planets and black holes and stuff. Again: It's not alive.

Joel Monka

There's no reason for you to buy it, Maria; Hells Bells, if I were sent back in time to convince myself I wouldn't have bought it, either. If used as an argument to convince someone else, it's an extraordinary claim with no corroborating evidence whatsoever. You're right that my experiences being different is not proof, but to me it does weaken the argument, and I need pretty strong arguments to deny my own senses. Tell me, what would it take to convince you that the computer you're reading this on doesn't really exist? Would you accept "Well, the mind does wierd things sometimes" as sufficient proof to stop believing that can really see these words?

But the original question was "Why do you think God or the supernatural exists? What makes you think this is true? What evidence do you have for this belief?". Greta asked partially from curiousity; I answered partially to demonstrate that many of us do have a better answer than "I was raised that way". Perhaps it's not a good reason- but it is a reason.


There are outside verification for the existance of my computer, Joel. Or do you want to argue that we can't really be 100% sure of the existance of anything at all? People who claim that don't live like they learn, at least they don't seem terrified about what will happen every time they try to sit down on a chair, or starts to go down a flight of stairs.

If you wouldn't have bought it if sent back in time, why do you buy it now?

and I need pretty strong arguments to deny my own senses.

It is well described just how easy it is too fool human senses, and just how often it happens. That's a pretty strong argument, why do you reject it?

Perhaps it's not a good reason- but it is a reason.

It is not only not a good reason, it's a bad reason.


Joel, would you mind describing what your beliefs actually are, and these experiences? It would be interesting to know exactly what it is we are discussing here. Not a demand, just being curious.


Joel, I brought up stage magicians before as an example, and I'm going to do it again. Let's take just one of the human senses - vision! Any stage magician can easily fool most human's eyes with very simple sleight of hand tricks. I've seen magicians perform such a simple trick once at normal speed, and then perform it once again right after the first one, in slow motion... while describing exactly how he does it, and the eyes of the person in front of him was STILL fooled!

Of course the person from the auidence is aware that that doesn't mean that it's real magic, and that it must be true just because his or her eyes kept insisting on seeing the impossible. Would you agree that it would not be reasonable for this person to now start to believe in magic, but to think it's more reasonable to believe that it's just very skilled sleight of hand, and that human eyes are fallibe in discovering exactly where the trickery is being done?

Now, think about how easily all of your senses can be fooled, and how complex the human brain is, how much imagery it can store, how convincing it can be in its altered states whether caused by drugs or your own inclinations to be suggestive.

No matter if you claim that we can't know anything for sure, you are not being conistent if you agree that it's reasonable to think stage magician's do not use real magic, but think it's reasonable that your experiences are real. If you want to claim that we can't be 100% sure of anything (so that I must doubt my computer) to defend why it's reasonable for YOU to believe your experiences that there are no other verifications for... then you should also believe that stage magicians use real magic and not sleight of hand, no?

Though sometimes when I use this as an example it falls flat on its ass, because wouldn't you know, there are actually people who actually believes that David Copperfield and Chris Angel performs real supernatural magic! Sometimes I truly despair...

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