Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God")

[This is one of my favorite of my own papers, and perhaps exhibits some satirical influence of Malcolm Muggeridge. It was originally uploaded on 14 January 2002]


Atheists constantly tell us that "the knockout [scientific] proof of atheism just around the corner." We've heard this grandiose claim for almost 150 years, about, e.g., (1) the origin of life, (2) the origin of DNA, (3) all the missing links, and (4) extraterrestrial life. Now it is asserted that cosmology and the beginning of the universe will be soon explained comfortably under atheist assumptions, just like all the other things above have been (???).

Many counter-replies could be given, of course, such as: How did gravity and quantum mechanics and natural selection come to be in the first place? They still derive from the Big Bang. How did they evolve? And what remarkable potentialities were present in the Big Bang itself to make such a thing occur? What do "most nontheists" believe about how the universe came to be, and about its seeming "design"?

Well-known cosmologist Stephen Hawking feels "that the beginning of the universe should be governed by the same laws that held at other times." Well, he can have this predisposition all he wants, but that is not science; rather, it is the bias he brings to his science, and a mental process which has been much written-about by scientific observers / philosophers of science such as Steven Jay Gould and Thomas Kuhn.

When someone (even a scientist) says that "God caused the Big Bang," I agree that that is not a scientific statement, but by the same token, when Hawking and others want to apply uniformitarianism to the Big Bang, and even "before" it, with no empirical evidence whatever for such a claim, then they are not doing science either, but rather, expressing their arbitrary metaphysical preferences. Hawking's god, then, is uniformitarianism and the potentiality of matter to do anything and everything with no Ultimate Design superintending it. This is yet another axiom held in faith. It can't be proven to hold everywhere and at all times, before and after the Big Bang, etc.

Atheists are currently denying that what they believe about the actions of matter in a universe without God is "pure chance" or "randomly colliding atoms," as their earlier forebears might have boldly and proudly described it. Logical positivism is now decidedly out of fashion. But this is ultimately only semantics and avoidance of the relevant philosophical issues.

Natural "laws" (themselves metaphysical abstractions in a large sense, even though they have to do with matter) still have to attain their remarkable organizing abilities at some point. One either explains them by natural laws or by humbly bowing to divine teleology at some point as an explanation every bit as plausible as a scenario which boils down to materialism any way you cut the cake (everything is explained by material processes).

Matter becomes god in the atheist/materialist/naturalist view, as far as I am concerned, and this is patently obvious, because in the godless universe, matter has the inherent power to do everything by itself, which Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, being their ultimate Creator and even Ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

Quite obviously, then, since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design. Indeed, this is faith of the most un-rational, childlike kind. It is quite humorous, then, to observe the constant charge that we Christians have the blind, childlike, gullible, fideistic faith, rather than "rational, intellectual, sophisticated" atheists who possess it in far greater measure.

photo

Babylonian idols, c. 18th-16th century B.C.

Ancient polytheist idolaters are put to shame by the trillions and
trillions of gods of modern atheist idolatrous polytheism


Such belief is, in effect and in substance, closely-examined, a kind of poytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, which puts to shame the pagan worship and incredulities of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other primitive groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish. The polytheistic materialist is far, far more religious than that: he thinks that trillions of his Atom-gods and their distant relatives, the Cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, of their own power, possessed eternally either in full or in inevitably-unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Deo-Atomism ("belief that the Atom is God"). The omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, ubiquitous (if not omnipresent) Atom (especially trillions of them) can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason which we can understand (i.e., why and how the Atom-God came to possess such powers in the first place). The Deo-Atomist worships his trillions of gods unreservedly, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He is what sociologists call a "true believer."

Oh, and we mustn't forget the Time-goddess as well. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. The Time-goddess might be said to be the highest in the ranks of the Deo-Atomist's wonderfully-varied hierarchy of gods, since she is one, rather than trillions (sort of the "Zeus" of Deo-Atomism). One might call this belief Deo-Temporalism.

Deo-Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it "must be" what it is. How is this at all different from monotheism, where certain things are taken for granted as basic beliefs? There is no epistemological difference. The atheist's and materialist's or positivist's or naturalist's religion is Deo-Atomism; mine is theistic Christianity. Matter is their god; a Creator Spirit God is mine. The Deo-Atomist simply reverses the error of the Gnostics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Deo-Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only "evil" (metaphorically-speaking), but beyond that: non-existent.

In a certain remote sense, on one level, the Christian reacts to such profound religious belief with the thought, "Who am I to endanger by rational argument such a sublime fideism and Absolute Trust in a Teleological Argument vis-a-vis trillions of Atom-gods? I can only stand in awe of such Pure Faith."

Deo-Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism.

Some Deo-Atomist utterances even have the "ring" of Scriptures, such as an appropriate humility urged in man's opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if material or spatial largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. One Deo-Atomist told me that "order is in the eye of the beholder." That reminded me of the biblical Proverbs (perhaps he was the Deo-Atomist equivalent of Solomon).

Of course, in Deo-Atomism, each person is gods too, because he is made up of trillions of Atom-gods and also lots of Cell-gods, so there are lots of gods there indeed! When you get trillions of gods all together in one place, it stands to reason that they can corporately perceive the order of which any one of them individually is capable of producing. So within the Deo-Atomist faith-paradigm, this make perfect sense. But for one outside their circle of religious faith, it may not (just to warn the devout, faithful Deo-Atomist that others of different faiths may not think such things as "obvious" as they do). The Deo-Atomist manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without mere explanation.

In other words, the "why" questions in the context of Deo-Atomism are in and of themselves "senseless." And the reason why that is (i.e., for the Deo-Atomist), is because the question impinges upon the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Deo-Atomist possesses. If the question of "Why does God exist?" is senseless, then it follows straightforwardly that likewise, the question, "Why do the Atom-gods and Cell-gods and the Time-goddess exist and eternally possess the extraordinary powers that they do?" is senseless, meaningless and oughtn't be put forth. One simply doesn't ask such questions. It is bad form, and impolite in mixed company. We know how sensitive overly-religious folk are.

Instead, we are asked to bow to the countless mysteries of Deo-Atomism in humble adoration and awed silence, dumbstruck, like the Magi at the baby Jesus' manger, offering our "scientific" and "philosophical" allegiance like they offered gold and frankincense and myrhh. The very inquiry is senseless and "intrusive." And so rational examination is precluded at and from the outset. It is, indeed, an ingenious, self-contained system: hopelessly irrational and self-defeating; ultimately incoherent, of course, but ingenious and admirable in its bold, brilliant intellectual audacity and innovation, if nothing else. In other words, it is an immensely enjoyable game to play, like much of modern philosophy-cum-religion.

Evolutionary mutations as Teleology offer a particular example of this particular religiosity; akin to the Christian Divine Providence. Occasionally, it is true, a mutation (99.999% of the time harmful) is beneficial to the organism. Thus, a mistake in a process that is almost always a mistake is the "stuff" and mechanism and cause of the "progress" of evolution. The entire spectrum of biological diversity and evolution begins in such a causal fashion. This is the Deo-Atomist teleology, and an amazing and faith-filled one it is, as always. Deo-Atomism might go by many names, but when the rubber meets the road, it is all pretty much the same: Boundless Faith in Matter-gods, Cell-gods, and the Time-Goddess.

As an example of a devout, pious Deo-Atomist believer, consider Stephen Hawking:

"It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics," he told an audience, which included Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees. "Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 40 years and I'm happy if I have made a small contribution. I want to share my excitement and enthusiasm."

He added: "Based on the no boundary proposal, I picture the origin of the universe as like the formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water. "Quantum fluctuations lead to the spontaneous creation of tiny universes out of nothing. Most of the universes collapse to nothing, but a few that reach a critical size will expand in an inflationary manner and will form galaxies and stars and maybe beings like us."

Hawking's words constitute a fine statement of the pure faith of what I have been calling Deo-Atomism. But what is the cosmic analogy to water in his boiling water scenario? And if universes come from nothing, how is that not absurd and not unthinkable? What is his empirical proof for such a scenario? By what observation did he arrive at this?

Hawking believes his bubble universe scenario with, admittedly, no direct scientific evidence (it is merely coherent with other of his beliefs), and no way to explain it step-by-step in any compelling matter. It is entirely tentative. So he is exercising the blind faith of Deo-Atomism. Christians don't claim to have exhaustive explanations for every process we believe in. But it ain't required because religious faith is not science.

I find it exceedingly humorous that many scientists and atheists (many, Deo-Atomists) are so concerned about separating religion and science (to the extent that science would literally die if a miracle were acknowledged by a scientist AS a scientist), yet when it comes to something clearly within the religious, theological, supernatural realm (a purported miracle), they continue to demand scientific explanation as if they have forgotten all about their strenuous, Chicken Little attempts to separate science from God and theology altogether!

I won't bow to this double standard. It is simply one more strain of the religion of scientism, which is a crucial component and aspect of Deo-Atomism. I don't worship science or the atom or my own brain. I worship God. And if God didn't possess some attributes I didn't fully understand or comprehend, I submit that He wouldn't be God. That would simply be an idol that I created, that I completely understand, as it is no higher than what I can conceive it to be: a "God" made in man's image, rather than vice versa.

If materialist scientists would like to take back their position on science vs. miracles (an absolute dichotomy), then we can (at least attempt to) offer scientific explanations of every miraculous occurrence, as Christianity and science would then comprise one grand, unified theory of nature.

Until then, Deo-Atomists ought to stop asking for scientific explanations in the name of theology, when they can't even give scientific explanations (pertaining to origins and teleology) in the name of naturalistic science for many of their beliefs, yet simultaneously claim that this is not merely a matter of religious or metaphysical belief, and that any other alternative religious/metaphysical belief (namely, theism and creation) is impermissible as unscientific. Take the beam out of thine own eye. Metaphysician; heal thyself . . .

33 comments:

Mark said...

Dave, you misunderstand what it is to be an atheist. An atheist has an absence of belief in God(s).

It is a recurring theme for the religious to paint atheists as just another type of religion.

That is incorrect.

Dave Armstrong said...

Why don't you make an argument, then, against my paper. Show me how there is no faith involved, in terms of ironclad belief in axioms, just like us religious folk (indeed anyone whatsoever) do.

I want to get back to some interaction with atheists, after I get a few projects completed.

I get in the mood every few years.

Fred said...

"since all these marvels which we observe in the universe are attributed to matter, just as we attribute the same capacities and designs to God's creative power, from our perspective, matter is the atheist's god, in which he places extraordinary faith; more faith even than we place in God, because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. Yet atheists manage to believe this anyway because they refuse to acknowledge a God behind all the Design."

I do not "acknowledge a God behind the design" because:
a) There is no basis for believing the universe has been designed. The appearance of design is often an illusion, such as the illusion of the constellations in the night sky.
b) There is no rational basis for assuming there is a god to whom anything can be attributed. The "god explanation" is not something which needs to be disproven when seeking to advance science. Not only is "god" a useless hypothesis in explaining the natural world, it's even worse - it has historically been an inhibition to scientific advance.
Similarly, I'll be you refuse to acknowledge the role of "the force" (Star Wars) in the history of man, and the shaping of the universe. There is an equal weight of objective evidence in your "God" and "the force."

because it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone.
Modern physics (cosmology, quantum mechanics, particle physics, string theory...) are indeed extremely complex fields of study and indeed there are plenty of elements that are not fully understood. But the complexity of the field, the gaps in our knowledge, and indeed the likely errors in current theories do not, in any rational way, imply the presence of a supernatural actor behind it all. It only implies there is more work to be done.

Show me how there is no faith involved, in terms of ironclad belief in axioms, just like us religious folk (indeed anyone whatsoever) do.

I believe most scientists, and atheists, cringe at the suggestion that they have "faith" in their science. But it's really just semantics. "Faith" is a commonly used term that can mean "hope" or "trust" - and neither connotation implies ironclad infallibility, as when used in a religious sense. A parent has faith that their child tells the truth, but such faith doesn't make the parent blind to the obvious lie when the child speaks a falsehood.

You can label a scientist's conviction "faith," and this may be stronger than the parent's faith in a child. A scientist may have a strong conviction in a scientific theory, a conviction stronger than the parent's because it is a conviction built on on rationality, not on hope or trust, and certainly not on the myth of "revealed truth. A scientific theory is a provisional model derived from observation. It provides a framework for explain these observations; it is also a model that can be refined or supplanted when non-conforming observations come to light.

In contrast, a religious faith is a firm belief that something is true. It is not based on observation (it can be contrary to observation), but on emotion. It is not provisional. Rationality may be imposed on faith, after the fact, but it is not derived by logical inference - unlike science.

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks for your input. It's very revealing indeed.

Randy said...

There is no basis for believing the universe has been designed. The appearance of design is often an illusion, such as the illusion of the constellations in the night sky.

This does not compute with me. You say there is an "illusion of design." Isn't the fact that it looks designed a basis for believing that it is designed?

There is no rational basis for assuming there is a god to whom anything can be attributed. The "god explanation" is not something which needs to be disproven when seeking to advance science. Not only is "god" a useless hypothesis in explaining the natural world, it's even worse - it has historically been an inhibition to scientific advance.

You are confusing philosophical categories here. We can pray for rain and when it rains we say God has answered our prayer. But that does not mean we deny the rain came as a result of a high presure system hitting a low preasure system and creating precipitation. Both explanations are correct. So we don't try and use God as a substitute for doing science.

But the complexity of the field, the gaps in our knowledge, and indeed the likely errors in current theories do not, in any rational way, imply the presence of a supernatural actor behind it all. It only implies there is more work to be done.

Of course not. Nothing a scientist could do is going to prove there is or there is not a God. OK, maybe the investigation of miracles might play a role. But mostly studying the material world is not going to prove anything. Did God come to earth in the person of Jesus? What experiment are you going to do that will help answer that question?

In contrast, a religious faith is a firm belief that something is true. It is not based on observation (it can be contrary to observation), but on emotion. It is not provisional. Rationality may be imposed on faith, after the fact, but it is not derived by logical inference - unlike science.

You don't know many religious people, do you? Believers and non-believers can be emotional or rational. People are different and accept or reject God based on their own process.

I would say that the wholesale rejection of all morality or all supernatural experience or all world religions is basically irrational. There is always an emotional/spiritual dimension to that kind of dismissal.

Fred said...

Sorry, I have to break this up into several posts. For clarity, my original comments are in italics, yours are in normal text, and my new responses are in bold.

First a general comment: I see one key communication gap we're having: my use of the terms "rational" and "irrational," so let me clear this up. I'm using the term "rational" to mean something derived from logical reasoning, like a mathematical theorem. "Irrational" means it was not derived in this way; it isn't necessarily CONTRARY to reason, it simply wasn't derived by means of reason. This is relevant to science, because science is inherently a discipline based on reasoning. In contrast, art appreciation is not "rational," and that is not a denigration.


There is no basis for believing the universe has been designed. The appearance of design is often an illusion, such as the illusion of the constellations in the night sky.

This does not compute with me. You say there is an "illusion of design." Isn't the fact that it looks designed a basis for believing that it is designed?

It's certainly not a rational basis for believing, because the appearance of design does not mean that something WAS designed. As I alluded with the constellations: many separate, primitive cultures believed the "design" of the constellations implied they were placed there by a god. One of the main problems with identifying something as "designed" is that it is a subjective evaluation; there are no objective criteria for earning the designation.

There is no rational basis for assuming there is a god to whom anything can be attributed. The "god explanation" is not something which needs to be disproven when seeking to advance science. Not only is "god" a useless hypothesis in explaining the natural world, it's even worse - it has historically been an inhibition to scientific advance.

You are confusing philosophical categories here. We can pray for rain and when it rains we say God has answered our prayer. But that does not mean we deny the rain came as a result of a high presure system hitting a low preasure system and creating precipitation. Both explanations are correct. So we don't try and use God as a substitute for doing science.

Our understandings of the natural causes of rain are based on entirely on rational analysis (i.e. objective observation, logical deduction, hypothesis testing, and revisions). To attribute a weather event to "God" is irrational because it is based on an assumption lacking any objective basis. I don't see any usefulness in doing this. It doesn't help explain, predict, or control the weather.

Fred said...

But the complexity of the field, the gaps in our knowledge, and indeed the likely errors in current theories do not, in any rational way, imply the presence of a supernatural actor behind it all. It only implies there is more work to be done.

Of course not. Nothing a scientist could do is going to prove there is or there is not a God. OK, maybe the investigation of miracles might play a role. But mostly studying the material world is not going to prove anything. Did God come to earth in the person of Jesus? What experiment are you going to do that will help answer that question?

Agreed, and I'll add that there are an infinity of possibilities that cannot be disproven. But I was disputing Dave's comment that "it is far more difficult to explain everything that god-matter [sic] does by science alone." His statement implies that interjecting the supernatural makes it easier to explain "everything." The only sense in which this is true is if you insist that ANY explanation, regardless of how counter-factual it may be, is better than NO explanation. I disagree 100%. I favor a theory, even if incomplete, that is based on objective analysis over one that is based on an assumption pulled among the infinity of possibilities.


In contrast, a religious faith is a firm belief that something is true. It is not based on observation (it can be contrary to observation), but on emotion. It is not provisional. Rationality may be imposed on faith, after the fact, but it is not derived by logical inference - unlike science.

You don't know many religious people, do you? Believers and non-believers can be emotional or rational. People are different and accept or reject God based on their own process.
On the contrary, I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools for 12 years, took theology classes and almost everyone I know is a believer. I hope my definitions of "rational and "irrational" have cleared up the issue you raised.


I would say that the wholesale rejection of all morality or all supernatural experience or all world religions is basically irrational. There is always an emotional/spiritual dimension to that kind of dismissal.
I don't reject morality, and in the strictest senses I don't reject the supernatural; I don't deny the possibility that there is a supernatural. I also don't deny the possibility that George Lucas is right about the Force, or any of an infinity of possibilities. What use is it to blindly accept a mere possibility, with no reliable observational basis? Even if one arbitrarily chooses to accept the hypothetical premise that there is a real "supernatural," what is the usefulness ? Does it allow more things to be explained (vs conjectured)? I'm more interested in truth than the false comfort of a complete, but totally erroneous, view of the world.

Fred said...

"Well-known cosmologist Stephen Hawking feels "that the beginning of the universe should be governed by the same laws that held at other times."

"when Hawking and others want to apply uniformitarianism to the Big Bang, and even "before" it, with no empirical evidence whatever for such a claim, then they are not doing"

You are misunderstanding Hawking. He is not saying that the laws of physics, as we know them, are applicable to the universe during and prior to the big bang. Instead he is suggesting that the true underlying laws of physics are constant. The laws of physics we teach in physics classes toay may be localized, special cases rather than the universal laws he speaks of.

To understand this, consider Newton's "law of Gravitation," a formula for computing the force of gravity between objects. This erstwhile "law of physics" successfully computes the paths of stones thrown into the air and even of rocket trajectories, however it breaks down in certain circumstances: it predicts no gravitational affect on light, and it does not accurate predict the orbits of the planets. It would be wrong to say that different laws of physics apply in these cases. The truth is that Newton's equation is wrong - it is not a law of physics; it is merely an approximation that works within some well established constraints. Einstein's gravitational theory is an encompassing "law" that does accurately predict the planetary orbits and the path of light around massive objects. But it is possible that Einstein's theory, and other "laws" of physics, break down under the conditions prior to, during, and shortly after, the big bang. Such a breakdown does not mean different rules apply. Analogous to gravity, it means we need to search for a more comprehensive explanation that works during the early conditions as well as it does today. These are the laws to which Hawking referred: the truer laws that explain both the early universe and the present, just as Einstein explained the role of gravity around massive objects, while also accurately predicting the path of a stone thrown into the air.

If this is "uniformitarianism" it is a very open version. It certainly does assume that physical laws apply now, and always have, but it allows that we may not yet know what all these laws are. Is this a prejudice, or is it the rational approach? The earth has turned on its axis every day of my life, so far. It is rational to assume this phenomenon will repeat itself tomorrow. Unless additional data suggests otherwise, it is always most rational to assume the universe works the same today as it did yesterday and will tomorrow. Does religion provide a reason to think otherwise?

Consider scientific progress to date vs religious understandings of the universe. Science has continually pushed the boundary of what it could explain, driven by its "prejudice" that a physical explanation existed. Meanwhile, the religious explanations of origins has been one of continual retreat. Traditionally, religions have always been able to point beyond the boundaries of our scientific understanding of the universe and assert HERE is where God comes in. Religions pointed to the diversity of life on the planet as "proof" of God. Then the Theory of Evolution pushed God farther out. But the earth, how could it have gotten here unless it was placed here by the hand of God? How could the stars have simply appeared, or the Galaxies? Cosmological theories offer natural explanations for all of these, pushing the need for a "God explanation" ever further out. The fact is, the "prejudice" that physical explanations exist has served us well, has not led us astray. One cannot say the same thing about a "religious prejudice" which has often led to faulty reasoning (earth as center of the universe; role of the "Great Flood" in geology). Regardless of how openminded you may be about science, it should still be obvious that religious faith has never provided a fruitful path to understanding of the physical universe. Science has.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Fred,

I don't have the time at the moment to delve into the garden-variety atheist issues, but in the near future (after I finish up two book projects and some audio stuff) I hope to be able to devote some significant time to it. I get in the mood every couple of years.

My favorite sub-category of discussion there is critiquing the deconversion stories. That makes folks awful mad, since we Christians are always supposed to be dummies and opposed to reason, and therefore not have any constructive criticism to be considered for more than a minute. So when we offer that what is left to do but . . . get ridiculously angry?

But there are always exceptions to the rule, and I'll continue to seek them out.

Randy said...

I don't have time for a long reply either. I do think the rational/emotional comments get to the heart of our differences. I think Catholicism is basically rational and atheism is basically emotional. You seem to think the other way around. I get that.

The arguments for God that you refute are not really very strong arguments. The strongest ones from creation focus on man's non-material qualities. Principly man's desire for beauty, truth, and moral goodness. How can such desires evolve from a material world that has no notion of beauty, truth or goodness? That is a rational question to ask. We can conclude that we are perceiving something more than the material world. That is not an irrational conclusion. It can be the best way to explain the world we observe.

Then there are miracles. The main one is the resurrection of Jesus. You can reasonable conclude that that event happened. Simply examine the evidence. Of course there are many more. So many that it becomes very hard to rationally defend a world and life view that does not allow for miracles. The evidence is simply against you. So the atheist must ignore the evidence and appeal to pure emotion.

Fred said...

Dave - With all due respect, I think the basic flaw in your writings about atheism is that you don't have a good understanding of the atheist viewpoint. I was trying to convey such a viewpoint in my postings, and in doing so I've tried to avoid denigrating a religious viewpoint. You have not, as far as I can tell, refuted core atheism. You've refuted some strawman arguments, and some superficial emotional attacks made by some atheists.

To be honest, I don't think atheism can be logically refuted, but I'd be happy to explore this with you if you like - either publicly, through your blog, or privately via email.

My background: born and raised Catholic, 12 years of Catholic school. I began having doubts in high school and this progressed to agnosticism and atheism over the course of the years. I actually spent a long time trying to find rational reasons to be a Catholic, but never found any. The more I looked, the more flimsy the basis seemed to be. This does at least mean that I am not hostile to religion or faith, and continue to have a fondness for Catholicism because of my background.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Fred,

Like I said, I hope to make some time in the near future for some atheist-Christian dialogue, after I get a bunch of current projects done.

The things you bring up are too vast of a discussion to give short answers to, because there is a mountain of premises and evidence and facts and reasoning to bring to bear. So I haven't tried.

But if you check back here in a month or two, you'll see some interaction with atheists and agnostic positions.

We are exactly opposite: you can't find any reason to be a Catholic; I've never found any sufficient to convince me to become an atheist.

Fred said...

Randy: The arguments for God that you refute are not really very strong arguments.

My objective was to convey the rationality of an atheist viewpoint, not to refute a belief in God. An atheist contends there is no objective evidence of God. I'm aware of no one who rationally determined there is a God after examining a set of facts and drawing inferences and conclusions. Every believer I've come across begins with the assumption their beliefs, then rationalizes. The actual basis of their beliefs is invariably instruction they received as children, when they were most credulous and impressionable. Conversely, atheists typically arrive at their contention rationally, often after questioning such childhood stories and evaluating their beliefs as objectively as they can.

The strongest [arguments] from creation focus on man's non-material qualities. Principly man's desire for beauty, truth, and moral goodness. How can such desires evolve from a material world that has no notion of beauty, truth or goodness? That is a rational question to ask. We can conclude that we are perceiving something more than the material world. That is not an irrational conclusion. It can be the best way to explain the world we observe.

Let me see dissect your syllogism: "Beauty, truth, and moral goodness" exist; are immaterial, and therefore there exists something more than the material world. This is true in a sense: the (immaterial) abstractions of our minds exist. However our minds are part of the material world. You seem to mean that beauty, truth, and moral goodness exist outside of humanity. This does not follow. All 3 are human concepts, abstractions of our observations and emotional reactions. The closest thing to external "truth" that I see is that the universe operates with causality and logic: one event leads to another, and truth can be derived by logical inference from accepted premises. Beyond this, truth is subjective (your "truth" differs from a Muslim's). "Beauty" is an abstraction of our subjective/emotional reactions, reactions that likely have a survival value. "Moral goodness" clearly has a survival value to self and species. You can choose to believe that your listed abstractions exist outside of humanity, but recognize it as a choice rather than an inescapable conclusion.

Then there are miracles. The main one is the resurrection of Jesus. You can reasonable conclude that that event happened. Simply examine the evidence.
What objective evidence exists that Jesus was resurrected? Even the biased reports in the Bible are of questionable authenticity. E.g. the oldest manuscripts of the oldest Gospel (Mark) ends with an empty tomb, not a resurrection. But was there really an empty tomb, or was even this an embellishment? Even if there was, what actually did happen to the body? Why is it rational to assume resurrection rather than natural explanations for a missing body? (I also have to ask why Christians are not universally told the facts about the text of Mark?)

Of course there are many more. So many that it becomes very hard to rationally defend a world and life view that does not allow for miracles. The evidence is simply against you. So the atheist must ignore the evidence and appeal to pure emotion.

Many miracles you say? I've never seen any credible evidence that a true miracle (an impossible event) has occurred. There were certainly many "miracles" reported in biblical times - and not just in the bible. What objective, credible evidence exists that any of these really occurred?

My cynicism about miracles is borne from the false miracles I've been exposed to in the past, such as the faith healing of tent revivalists; Pentocostal's speaking "in tongues. I've often heard people label low probability events as "miracles" (e.g. the rare, spontaneous remission of a cancer). But I'm open to examining credible, objective, evidence. You say that the weight of evidence supports the existence of a great many miracles. Show me.

Fred said...

Dave: "We are exactly opposite: you can't find any reason to be a Catholic; I've never found any sufficient to convince me to become an atheist.

I hope you see that we are actually the same. My wish is that believers and non-believers would get better at treating one another with respect. There is intelligence on both sides.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Fred,

I hope you see that we are actually the same. My wish is that believers and non-believers would get better at treating one another with respect. There is intelligence on both sides.

I agree. I have always tried to be courteous and respectful with atheists (while I have often -- not always -- been insulted by them). I don't think they are stupid, just wrong. They suffer from false premises or false conclusions drawn from true premises (bad logic), just like anyone else who believes in a falsehood. But does that make them fundamentally unreasonable? It's a big discussion, but I don't think so. Adopting a position that is unreasonable does not necessitate the person adopting it being perfectly unreasonable.

But your statement above seems to contradict your earlier one:

I'm aware of no one who rationally determined there is a God after examining a set of facts and drawing inferences and conclusions. Every believer I've come across begins with the assumption their beliefs, then rationalizes.

Am I a reasonable person or not (if indeed we are so alike)? You seem to say yes in the first statement above and no in the second one. If you want to treat Christians with respect, then acknowledge that we can give reasons for our side, too. You just happen to disagree with them, just as I do, yours. But that doesn't make us inherently, inevitably, inexorably irrational and gullible, etc.

In other words, honest disagreements don't entail insulting of each others' intelligence and basic reasoning ability.

Again, you seem to agree in your latest statement, but many others of yours suggest the contrary.

Randy said...

An atheist contends there is no objective evidence of God. I'm aware of no one who rationally determined there is a God after examining a set of facts and drawing inferences and conclusions.

All I can say is you don't get out much. Read some stories. Lots of people were convinced of God's existence by examining evidence. Lee Strobel comes to mind. CS Lewis, John C Wright, Jennifer Fulwiler. Try this:

http://www.conversiondiary.com/2009/08/asking-god-for-sign.html

Conversely, atheists typically arrive at their contention rationally, often after questioning such childhood stories and evaluating their beliefs as objectively as they can.

Really? Have you read Dawkins or Hichens? Wildly emotional. Hichens says when he was 9 years old suddenly he just knew God didn't exist. Would you credit a theist who said something similar as making a rational decision?

Religion gets intertwined with many other issues for both atheists and theists. There is family, morality, self esteem. It is hard to set them all asside and be rational. I do believe many Catholic thinkers do a good job of that. Our blog host is a good example.


You seem to mean that beauty, truth, and moral goodness exist outside of humanity. This does not follow. All 3 are human concepts, abstractions of our observations and emotional reactions.

That is one logical possibiity but it does lead to some untenable consequences. Essentially asserting that everything that seems to give life meaning is an illusion. That is just our brains generating random observations that are not really there. Is that the most rational way to deal with such observations? It seems like you are just throwing out data you don't like by saying the human brain generated it out of nothing for no reason. Is that what scientists do? Or do they try and come up with a theory that explains the data.

The closest thing to external "truth" that I see is that the universe operates with causality and logic: one event leads to another, and truth can be derived by logical inference from accepted premises.

So why do you beleive this? You just decided the human brain generates powerful intuitions that can safely be ignored. Now you are saying your intuition is trustworthy on this point. Interesting.

Randy said...

What objective evidence exists that Jesus was resurrected? Even the biased reports in the Bible are of questionable authenticity. E.g. the oldest manuscripts of the oldest Gospel (Mark) ends with an empty tomb, not a resurrection. But was there really an empty tomb, or was even this an embellishment? Even if there was, what actually did happen to the body? Why is it rational to assume resurrection rather than natural explanations for a missing body? (I also have to ask why Christians are not universally told the facts about the text of Mark?)

If you don't like the New Testament documents you need to throw out almost all historical research. Basically it is more rational to trust them because we have many copies of them. We have many accounts of people believing the story and changing their life based on the belief. We have the first witnesses chosing to die rather than recant.

You assume that nobody in the first century thought of trying to explain the missing body in another way. You are not the world's only skeptic. People are and have always been reluctant to believe. They not only believed but were very convincing witnesses so many more believed. That is because the evidence was real. Jesus did appear to them. They really did receive power to do the miracles described in acts.



My cynicism about miracles is borne from the false miracles I've been exposed to in the past, such as the faith healing of tent revivalists; Pentocostal's speaking "in tongues. I've often heard people label low probability events as "miracles" (e.g. the rare, spontaneous remission of a cancer).

It is easy to falsify a miracle. It does not matter how many people do it. It does not mean true miracles don't happen.


But I'm open to examining credible, objective, evidence. You say that the weight of evidence supports the existence of a great many miracles. Show me.

Really? The evidence is there if you look. Peter Kreeft says:

If I were an atheist, I think I would save my money to buy a plane ticket to Italy to see whether the blood of Saint Januarius really did liquefy and congeal miraculously, as it is supposed to do annually. I would go to Medjugorge. I would study all published interviews of any of the seventy thousand who saw the miracle of the sun at Fatima. I would ransack hospital records for documentated "impossible", miraculous cures. Yet, strangely, almost all atheists argue against miracles philosophically rather than historically. They are convinced a priori, by argument, that miracles can't happen. So they don't waste their time or money on such an empirical investigation. Those who do soon cease to be atheists -- like the sceptical scientists who investigated the Shroud of Turin, or like Frank Morrison, who investigated the evidence for the "myth" of Christ's Resurrection with the careful scientific eye of the historian -- and became a believer. (His book Who Moved the Stone? is still a classic and still in print after more than sixty years.)

Maybe read this:

http://www.seattlearch.org/FormationAndEducation/Progress/112003/Cabrini_20031106.htm

Stuff is out there. Much of it documented to the nth degree. If you look you will find. Many rational skeptics have walked that path.

Fred said...

If you don't like the New Testament documents you need to throw out almost all historical research.
I fully accept unbiased historical research of the Bible. But unbiased research of the text provides no objective evidence that the writings are factual.

Basically it is more rational to trust them because we have many copies of them.

There are many copies of the document, because the believers revered the stories and deemed it important to spread the word. It does not logically follow that their beliefs, which led them to transcribe the bible (often with errors), proves their beliefs are correct. It's not even a standard that you can universally apply: every religion has many believers, and there are other documents with multiple copies.

We have many accounts of people believing the story and changing their life based on the belief. We have the first witnesses chosing to die rather than recant.

Although believers may attribute a person's metamorphosis to God, there's no evidence of such an external intervention. Clearly some people change without turning to scripture or God. It's also true that many people who turn to scripture/God end up failing (my guess is the divorce rate of Christians as about the same as that of atheists). This syllogism becomes: after turning to God people sometimes change (sometimes they don't change, and sometimes people change without turning to God); therefore God changed them so there must be a God. Doesn't work.

We have the first witnesses chosing to die rather than recant.
The 9/11 hijackers died for their faith. Japanese Kamikaze's died for theirs. In all cases, this proves that these people had very strong beliefs. It has no bearing on the inherent truth of their beliefs.

Fred said...

You assume that nobody in the first century thought of trying to explain the missing body in another way. You are not the world's only skeptic. People are and have always been reluctant to believe. They not only believed but were very convincing witnesses so many more believed. That is because the evidence was real. Jesus did appear to them. They really did receive power to do the miracles described in acts.

Listen, I don't even know if there actually was an empty tomb - the crucified were typically burned or buried in mass graves. There is no objective report about this, just the biased report in the Bible. My point about Mark ending with an empty tomb was to demonstrate that the Bible includes embellishments. It's tough to trust such a document.

Regarding the reliability of witnesses, Joseph Smith produced 11 witnesses who signed affidavits asserting they had seen the golden tablets containing the Book of Mormon written in "Reformed Egyptian." Why don't you believe these witnesses?

The society in Biblical times was highly superstitious and highly illiterate. The audience was receptive to stories of miracles, and the message of divine justice and everlasting happiness would certainly have its appeal. But acceptance of the stories by multitudes of the credulous is far from being objective evidence in the truth of the Bible.

Regarding miracles, I looked in Wikipedia for some info regarding Fatima. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Miracle_of_the_Sun
It is pretty obvious that had the sun truly danced around the sky, that would have had rather severe consequences to the orbit of the planets, the energy coming to earth, and it would have been impossible not to notice these consequences all over earth. Since theses consequences did not occur, clearly the sun remained in its usual position in the solar system, and there was some sort of visual phenomenon. Could it have been a supernatural event? I don't see anything to rule that out, per se, but the fact is that some natural explanations have been suggested (see the article).

I have previously read about the Shroud of Turin. The Vatican has allowed only very limited testing, and it has been equivocal. There's enough doubt in the results to allow a miraculous interpretation, but not enough evidence to make this an inescapable conclusion.

I am willing to look into additional miracles, but I must point out that the two I've mentioned here suggest to me that you may be overly eager to identify events as miraculous. Both the Shroud and Fatima COULD be miracles, but unless the evidence is firm, and the event is otherwise impossible and unexplainable, then it's not proof. It's like the multitude of testimony about UFOs - many insist they've seen them and there are many unexplained phenemonena - but these are certainly not proof that we have visitors from another planet. So please give me one or two of your best shots. If these are convincing, I'll ask for more.

Randy said...

I fully accept unbiased historical research of the Bible. But unbiased research of the text provides no objective evidence that the writings are factual.

I don't know there is such a thing as unbiased research of the bible. Does anybody out there have no opinion of it positive or negative? I would wonder about such a person. I also wonder if "inbiased" is a code word meaning I throw out all the opinions I don't like.

every religion has many believers, and there are other documents with multiple copies.

I generally don't doubt the historical accuracy of these documents. If there were very few witnesses one might question whether it makes sense to believe them. If it is widely reported that there were a large number of witnesses then the most rational thing to do is accept that the event happened. Especially when these reporters have nothing to gain from lying.

Although believers may attribute a person's metamorphosis to God, there's no evidence of such an external intervention

I am not talking about a vague internal change. I am talking about people choosing to become Christian at great personal risk. I assume they were behaving rationally. They would not do that based on just the word of someone they didn't know. They claimed to have seen miracles. That fits with their reaction.

The 9/11 hijackers died for their faith. Japanese Kamikaze's died for theirs. In all cases, this proves that these people had very strong beliefs. It has no bearing on the inherent truth of their beliefs.

But we are talking about eye witnesses. They saw Jesus alive after he rose from the dead. How do you make somebody believe that if it isn't true? Why would they die for it if they didn't believe it?

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Fred,

You skipped over my questions.

Also, do you believe Jesus existed?

Randy said...

Listen, I don't even know if there actually was an empty tomb - the crucified were typically burned or buried in mass graves. There is no objective report about this, just the biased report in the Bible

You keep using words like objective and biased. Those are subjective. I would suggest they are logically circular. Here is what I mean. All the writing from the period that references the resurrection is lumped together. They are labeled biased and unobjective simply because they support the Christian view of history. So what you are asking for is an eye witness account of the resurrection from a non-Christian. Think about that. If somebody saw Jesus risen from the dead why would he not be a Christian? So you are asking for a piece of evidence that we should not logically expect to find.

Randy said...

Regarding the reliability of witnesses, Joseph Smith produced 11 witnesses who signed affidavits asserting they had seen the golden tablets containing the Book of Mormon written in "Reformed Egyptian." Why don't you believe these witnesses?

These are men that Joseph Smith had a lot of control over. So they had motive to lie. They may have seen something. I don't know. But they are not qualified to assess whether it was the book of mormom written in reformed egyptian.

If Jesus was dead He could not be controling the diciples. Plus they were totally qualified to know who it was they were talking with and eating with.

The society in Biblical times was highly superstitious and highly illiterate. The audience was receptive to stories of miracles, and the message of divine justice and everlasting happiness would certainly have its appeal. But acceptance of the stories by multitudes of the credulous is far from being objective evidence in the truth of the Bible.

You don't know history so well do you? The Jews were the one nation that did not embrace Roman paganism. They were the opposite of a receptive audience. If you tried to get them to change their religion they would stone you or maybe have the Romans crucify you. But they were not fools. If a man was born blind and was suddenly able to see they knew that was a big deal.

The truth is most Jews don't believe right up until this day. This was not a mass hysteria. It was a few people swimming against the tide because they were sure they had encountered God.

Randy said...

It is pretty obvious that had the sun truly danced around the sky, that would have had rather severe consequences to the orbit of the planets, the energy coming to earth, and it would have been impossible not to notice these consequences all over earth. Since theses consequences did not occur, clearly the sun remained in its usual position in the solar system, and there was some sort of visual phenomenon. Could it have been a supernatural event? I don't see anything to rule that out, per se, but the fact is that some natural explanations have been suggested

Even if you buy the natural explanation, however improbable, you need to explain why the children knew it was going to happen. I can see how someone can say it is the work of Satan and not God. I can't understand how someone can say nothing supernatural occurred. Those kids were told something and that something was obviously real. Not something the locals at Fatima had seen before.

I am willing to look into additional miracles, but I must point out that the two I've mentioned here suggest to me that you may be overly eager to identify events as miraculous

Not at all. I agree with you that many of these are either frauds. The Catholic church does too. She investigates miracles and is highly skeptical. But there are miracles that any skeptic would accept. Not one or two but thousands. They have been happening throughout history. So they are rare but if you want evidence it is there for you. You can spend the rest of your life digging into it. So don't complain God has not given you proof. He has given you a choice but He has not left you with nothing to base a positive choice on.

Fred said...

Dave: But your statement above seems to contradict your earlier one:

Fred: I'm aware of no one who rationally determined there is a God after examining a set of facts and drawing inferences and conclusions. Every believer I've come across begins with the assumption their beliefs, then rationalizes.

Dave: Am I a reasonable person or not (if indeed we are so alike)? You seem to say yes in the first statement above and no in the second one. If you want to treat Christians with respect, then acknowledge that we can give reasons for our side, too. You just happen to disagree with them, just as I do, yours. But that doesn't make us inherently, inevitably, inexorably irrational and gullible, etc.


Fred (new): Indeed, I think you are both rational and intelligent, not to mention passionate. I read some of your posted papers and see a lot of sound, clear logic. The logic works, if one accepts your premises.

Belief in God is irrational, based on definition 6 of "rational" at (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rational). Such a belief is not derived from reason. This belief appears to be your unquestioned premise, this "leap of faith" to which many refer. As I stated, I haven't encountered anyone who logically concluded there is a God from an unbiased starting point (unbiased regarding the existence of God in the first place).

Fred said...

Dave: "I have always tried to be courteous and respectful with atheists (while I have often -- not always -- been insulted by them). I don't think they are stupid, just wrong. They suffer from false premises or false conclusions drawn from true premises (bad logic), just like anyone else who believes in a falsehood."

If you have the time and inclination, you are more than welcome to find flaws in my premises or conclusions. I will do my best to be be courteous in my replies.

In another place you asked if I believe Jesus existed. I think he probably did exist, although the information we have about him is probably mostly myth.

Fred said...

Randy: All I can say is you don't get out much. Read some stories. Lots of people were convinced of God's existence by examining evidence. Lee Strobel comes to mind. CS Lewis, John C Wright, Jennifer Fulwiler. Try this:

http://www.conversiondiary.com/2009/08/asking-god-for-sign.html


OK, I followed the link. Like all the conversion stories I’ve seen, her’s is based on emotion, not logic. She writes, “The more I went through the motions of believing in God, the more the world started to make sense to me.”

The abstract process of things “making sense” is not a logical argument, there are no inferences being made. She assumed there is a God, and this fit her psyche.

I have read a little about CS Lewis, and it appears his conversion back to the Christianity of his childhood was also based on emotion not logic.

If you are so convinced there is a conversion based on pure logic, rather than emotional reaction, find it and post it here. Be careful: Just because someone states that they “concluded” God exists doesn’t mean their conclusion was a logical inference from a set of facts.

Randy: “Really? Have you read Dawkins or Hichens? Wildly emotional. Hichens says when he was 9 years old suddenly he just knew God didn't exist. Would you credit a theist who said something similar as making a rational decision?”

I have read a few things of Dawkins, he is pretty off-putting with his hostility but seems generally rational in his atheism. If Hichens indeed arrived at atheism in exactly the way you described then I fully agree: this is irrational.

Randy: “[regarding beauty, truth, and moral goodness]That is one logical possibiity but it does lead to some untenable consequences. Essentially asserting that everything that seems to give life meaning is an illusion.”

It’s not an illusion, it’s a construction. Life has meaning if we seek to create meaning.

Randy: “It seems like you are just throwing out data you don't like by saying the human brain generated it out of nothing for no reason.”

I’m not saying these concepts developed “out of nothing for no reason.” Behaviors and abilities usually evolve because of their survival value. Moral goodness clearly has survival value to ourselves and to the species. What is untenable about this? You apparently suggest that moral goodness could not exist without a God. Why not?

Randy: So why do you beleive this [closest thing to external "truth" that I see is that the universe operates with causality and logic]? .”

I assume causality is a universal law because I have observed it and have never encountered exceptions in which causality failed to operate. The accuracy of pure logic has been presented to me mathematically (you start by constructing truth tables, as I recall). It would be fair to say that the basic rules of logic are my basic premises. I’m open to these premises being challenged, if there is a credible challenge (not just a hypothetical, “what if?”)

Fred said...

Fred: I fully accept unbiased historical research of the Bible. But unbiased research of the text provides no objective evidence that the writings are factual.

Randy:I don't know there is such a thing as unbiased research of the bible. Does anybody out there have no opinion of it positive or negative? I would wonder about such a person. I also wonder if "inbiased" is a code word meaning I throw out all the opinions I don't like.

Fred (new): I'll grant that no one can be 100% unbiased, but I'm talking specifically of the gross "bias" that leads to the circular argument I've heard from other Christians: 1) assume the Bible is factual 2) cite passages of the Bible that support the contention that the Bible is factual; 3) conclude the Bible is factual. In my experience, it always boils down to this.

Fred: every religion has many believers, and there are other documents with multiple copies.

Randy: I generally don't doubt the historical accuracy of these documents. If there were very few witnesses one might question whether it makes sense to believe them. If it is widely reported that there were a large number of witnesses then the most rational thing to do is accept that the event happened. Especially when these reporters have nothing to gain from lying.

Fred (new): Then you believe in Muhammed's miracles? There are reported to be many eyewitnesses. See: http://www.sunnah.org/history/miracles_of_Prophet.htm
Doesn't this prove Muhammed was God's prophet, and that the Q'uran is the word of God?

Fred said...

Fred: With regard to the Bible: how many witnesses are there, and who are they? There are 4 canonical Gospels and Biblical scholars generally believe none were written by a disciple of Jesus, but were based on an oral tradition. How much did the stories get distorted and embellished over the decades before they were committed to paper?

What about the witness of the Ebionites? They lived during the time the Gospels were written, and believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah, a wise teacher, but not divine. They rejected Paul of Tarsus, and apparently felt that he corrupted the true message of Jesus. If you're relying on witnesses, recognize there were witnesses with a very different testimony than presented to Christians today. It is not disputed that the eventual "orthodox" Christian movements destroyed the writings of the Ebionites and other sects that had testimony divergent to theirs. Today, we're left with little more than the testimony that supports the "orthodox" point of view. Relying on the testimony of the orthodox-approved witnesses is equivalent to a civil court ruling in favor of a party who presents his evidence, but conveniently destroys all contrary evidence.

Fred said...

Fred: Although believers may attribute a person's metamorphosis to God, there's no evidence of such an external intervention

Randy: I am not talking about a vague internal change. I am talking about people choosing to become Christian at great personal risk. I assume they were behaving rationally. They would not do that based on just the word of someone they didn't know. They claimed to have seen miracles. That fits with their reaction.
Fred (new): The so-called risk that Christians were under may be a bit exaggerated, but I certainly accept that there were some who died in support of their faith. As I said previously, willingness to die for one's faith proves the person has a strong, sincere faith - not that his beliefs are true. The demonstration of such firm faith would attract some people to a faith that promises rewards in an afterlife. Obviously, there wasn't a mass conversion of the entire Roman population to Christianity, so it only had to attract a fringe set of people. None of this is evidence that their beliefs were true.

Martyrs of any faith may very well be behaving rationally, within the world-view of their religious beliefs. The core beliefs are irrational, not based on reason, but their behavior is logically consistent with their beliefs.


Randy:....But we are talking about eye witnesses. They saw Jesus alive after he rose from the dead. How do you make somebody believe that if it isn't true? Why would they die for it if they didn't believe it? We don't have eyewitness accounts, we have accounts written decades after the events occurred by people who heard about them after they'd been related orally for decades. How can one know what embellishments were made to the oral accounts before they were committed to paper? We know embellishments occurred AFTER they were committed to paper.We also know there were conflicting accounts circulating that paint a very different picture. For example, read the Gospel of Thomas and see if you can find support for Jesus' resurrection and divinity. You can read a description of it on wikipedia. The text is available at http://users.misericordia.edu//davies/thomas/Trans.htm.

Fred said...

Randy:(regarding Fatima): Even if you buy the natural explanation, however improbable, you need to explain why the children knew it was going to happen. I can see how someone can say it is the work of Satan and not God. I can't understand how someone can say nothing supernatural occurred. Those kids were told something and that something was obviously real. Not something the locals at Fatima had seen before.

Why do you consider a natural explantion to be improbable? Do you insist it MUST be a miracle? And do you think the sun physically jumped around,or do you buy my argument that it must have been purely visual. If it was visual, and it didn't happen physically, then it was clearly an illusion. A miraculous illusion doesn't seem so very miraculous since illusions are not uncommon.

Regarding the children knowing about it in advance: they may have observed on on an earlier day.

Fred said...

Randy and/or Dave - This blog is not a very effective way to debate specific points because of the way it's constructed and the need to quote ourselves and each other to make the context clear. If you'd like to take this to email, you can email me at: f r e d o n l y at g m a i l dot com. (trying to avoid having my email address picked up by automatic spammers)

Remove the spaces, change the "at" to @" and the "dot" to "."

Fred said...

Miracles

Blood of St. Janarius
- My first reaction to this alleged miracle is that it seems like such a frivolous miracle. What benefit is achieved to humanity by having this material liquify every so often? On the surface, it is certainly an interesting phenomenon - as interesting as a difficult trick by a stage magician. The natural explanation is obviously that this is a chemical reaction of some sort. I have read that such reactions have been simulated by others. For example: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/science_and_the_miraculous_blood/#When:15:36:10Z

Fatima - I've done more research on this and found some interesting issues:
1) Pope Benedict is not convinced of the miracle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/06/27/MN7921.DTL
2) The 3 "secrets" of Fatima were pretty silly, and of no value to the world. How impressive that it "predicted" the end of WWI and beginning of WWII. Not so difficult as soon as you realize the prediction was only revealed by the (then) adult children in 1941.
3) I posted one hypothesis about what might have caused the optical illusion, but recently read another: the problem was that people were staring directly at the sun! Try doing that and see if perhaps the sun might appear to jump around.

Blind baby (Mother Cabrini)- I read an early account of what transpired. The nurse who administered the silver nitrate solution went to check on the baby several hours after he'd been delivered. At that time she noticed sores on the child's face and swollen eyes. She ran to where she believed the eyedrops had been placed and found a bottle of 50% silver nitrate. She jumped to the conclusion that this ass the bottle she had used, and that this was the cause of the baby's condition. All the doctors that came in simply commented that there was no hope: such a silver nitrate solution would cause irrevocable damage. They did no additional tests to see if there might be a different cause. They did no more than a superficial examination of the child; no one removed the bandages from the eyes to examine them. The fact that the condition cleared up on its own implies there was indeed a different cause: the nurse was mistaken about the bottle. But of course, worried people would be so delighted at the positive turn of events, they wouldn't have done any investigation into what actually happened. The nuns who prayed to Mother Cabrini were looking for a miracle to attribute to her, the founder of this hospital whom they knew personally. I do wonder how many other times they prayed for a miraculous recovery, but were disappointed.

Shroud of Turin It's interesting that the Church actually allowed some limited testing of the material, and this showed the shroud dates from the middle ages. It is amazing to me that despite this, there have been people who make excuses for the test results, such as saying the material tested was from a patch (despite the fact that care was taken to avoid patches). Although the testing of a few threads is not conclusive proof, it does show that the weight of evidence is against it authenticity. And yet people who wish to believe it is a miracle will continue to do so. See: http://www.skepdic.com/shroud.html

Dancing Handkerchief - Two years ago I saw David Copperfield in Las Vegas. He performs an amazing trick: a handkerchief dances between his hands, touching neither. He demonstrates that there are no strings, wires, or magnets. I can't explain how this is done. Clearly that doesn't mean its a miracle. We KNOW it's a trick. It appears to me the only difference between David Copperfield and the alleged miracles is that there are gullible people who wish to believe the cause is miraculous, rather than the rational explanation that the illusion (or lie) that it most probably is.