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The Story So Far

ATA was created in 2006 for the Rational Response Squad, famous for the Blasphemy Challenge and their Nightline debate with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. In 2009 we archived the original site and moved to a new platform, which is where we are today.

I’m here to answer any questions or challenges you might have for atheists in general, along with site founder Jake. We’ve been around long enough already that it’s worth checking whether your question has already been answered, but we’re happy to tread old ground for new readers.

Welcome to Ask the Atheist. Ask away.

Edit: A couple of things if you’re new. Comments are fully moderated and your first post must be approved, so give it time to appear. If a new contribution is reliant enough on an existing answer, especially a recent one, it will go under that answer as a comment. It’s no judgement on you or your writing, we just like to keep discussions in one piece.

SmartLX

Lightning for Dramatic Effect

Question from Jacob:
Hey, this is going to be a short one. So I heard that lightning allegedly struck the Vatican just moments after the former pope resigned. What are the chances of that happening?

Answer by SmartLX:
Lightning did strike the Basilica, there’s video of it. The chances are “in fact quite high” according to this article on this exact subject. The dome and spire are the top of a very tall structure with no comparably tall neighbours, and no protection against lightning strikes, so if there’s a thunderstorm it’s a prime target. It rains an average of 6 days out of February in Italy. While the lightning bolt was a remarkable coincidence it certainly wasn’t prohibitively unlikely.

NDEs: When Hell Gets Repetitive

Question from Alexia:
Hellish NDE consistency, potential proof:

Here is Timothy LaFond’s depiction of hell after he was electrocuted and had a near death experience: “Besides the screaming of other people in torment, there were also demons. Yes, there really are demons! I could see their grotesque faces. They came up to me and taunted me with indescribable horror and fear — yelling in my face with such intense volume; things like: “We’ve got you now!” Laughing and sneering at me saying, “We fooled you! We got you now!” … followed by hideous, evil laughter. ” “I somehow managed to cry out to God during this time, pleading, “Oh God – help me!” Again, “God – help me!” “He heard my plea. The right hand of the Lord touched me. I felt His fingers and thumb on my shoulder and He pulled me out of hell. He set me free from not only from the torments of hell,”
[URL removed]

Now this testimony by Joe Hadwin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn-PKUPYCg4&t=1002s

also sees demons who say “I’ve got you now” 9:10 in the video

14:06 he cries out to God, and his hand comes and saves him.

These are only 2 of many similar cases. Evil demons mocking people, beating them up, then they call out to God and a hand rescues them, how is this similarity so possible? How can so many people hallucinate this? They also claim to speak telepathically to God always.
Doesn’t this prove hell somewhat?

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry Alexia, the first link to Timothy LaFond’s testimony threw up malware red flags so I won’t share it. Folks can find it by putting “precious testimonies timothy lafond” into Google without quotes, at their own risk.

It seems that your only argument for the reality of Hell is the similarity between accounts. As I’ve written before, this is not a strong argument because of the other possible reasons for it:

“One, the standard NDE story is by now traditional and very well-known. If someone who’s at least familiar with it has an ordinary dream or hallucination during a life-threatening situation, it is likely to follow the same pattern as it’s what the victim expects on some level. If there is no memory or a fragmented memory of the period, the existence of this very specific expectation for the experience can shape a memory over time until it fits very well. And if someone just makes up an NDE story, they will deliberately follow the pattern to match the expectation of their audience.

“Two, people going through the physical and mental states associated with near or temporary “death” are likely to have similar physiological reasons to experience certain things, even if they’re not fully understood. The white light in the distance, for instance, is consistent with temporary tunnel vision caused by lack of blood or oxygen to the eyes, growing brighter when the supply returns. Scientific American went into this six years ago.”

Search this site for the keyword “nde”. There have been a flood of questions lately, so there’s a lot to read on the topic. I think you’ll find it informative as a whole.

The Cosmological Axis of Evil: not nearly as awesome as it sounds

Question from James:
Has there been any discussion on here about what’s known as the cosmological “Axis of Evil” which shows that earth’s ecliptic plane is aligned at the center of the universe and therefore contradicts the Copernican Principle? Isn’t this phenomenon well documented by scientific data?

Answer by SmartLX:
Not until now, but I didn’t have to look far to get the general idea. Some data suggests that there is something very special about the way the Solar System is aligned, perhaps even put-there-deliberately level special. That data is suspect, and ambiguous even if accurate. So…documented, yes, established, no.

From Hollywood to Hell: “I was on my knees and I was like, ‘God’, I was like…”

Question from Vlad:
I am currently battling with my fear of evil spirits/demonic beings, when I came across this video. It is about a former Victoria secret model who lived in LA, was into hanging out with the wrong crowds, non religious etc. One day, she experiences an episode.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jImC9ixn_70&t=436s

It’s only 7:05 to 13:00.

I just really want some opinions of atheists, this video has given me problems sleeping, because it seems so genuine, and I don’t think the girl is lying. She doesn’t mention any drugs, so it seems nothing could have caused her to have this episode. Please please please leave me your opinions, I need this!

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry it took so long to get to this in the circumstances, Vlad.

I wouldn’t guarantee she’s not lying, even after she says all those times that she’s not (seriously though, the direct segue into the hard sell for her book doesn’t help her case), but I’m willing to accept that she might believe what she says. The important thing to remember is that people who aren’t lying aren’t necessarily right either.

The woman had a whopper of what you rightly call “an episode”. (The additional word “psychotic” comes to mind, though it may or may not apply.) Others thought so at the time, because she was eventually admitted to hospital, passed out and woke up on a white bed. We hear nothing about what the doctors told her about her physical or mental condition, what drugs she was on and what any drugs were for, etc. (Particularly important point: she doesn’t deny the influence of drugs, she just doesn’t mention them.) All this and it was also nine years ago, which is time enough to convince oneself that just about anything was real, especially if one’s faculties at the time were impaired.

This was, no one would argue, a well-rehearsed story if nothing else. Whatever impact it’s meant to have, it’s been refined to hit that mark squarely, and from what you wrote it sounds like it has. A story about going to Hell while possessed by a demon is going to trigger your imagination to conjure the worst possible images you can of these things, using your own brain against itself. Immerse yourself in something else before considering this again; you cannot reclaim your objectivity while you’re in the depths of this thing. Just try to climb out for a while.

The Divisible Brain

Question from Ratburn:
In 2017, two scientists did tests with split brain patients, and even with the left and right hemisphere severed, there still seemed to be a unified consciousness. Here is the actual study:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28122878/

Here is an article which elaborates on it:

http://theweek.com/articles/728869/medical-mystery-splitbrain-patients

Would love to get some insight.

Answer by SmartLX:
The implication here is that split-brain subjects behaving more normally than first thought possible may contradict materialism, as two separate halves of the brain are still somehow communicating and functioning as one consciousness. Red flag right off the bat: this is an argument from ignorance if one were to make it directly, because the mere absence of an explanation is used to assert the influence of the supernatural. Even if it sounds convincing subjectively (not to everyone, by the nature of subjectivity) it can’t be called logical until every natural possibility is ruled out. In this way it’s similar to the mysteries of consciousness itself.

That said, here are some points that make it sound less convincing.
– From the article: once the main link is severed, “the hemispheres have virtually no means of exchanging information” (emphasis mine). If there is any means at all, it will be working overtime to compensate for the lost connection as much as possible. This is what the brain does to cope with any injury, as described in this article from Carnegie Mellon University.
– The classic experiment is to put objects in different hands for the subject to describe. A lot of the writing is ambiguous about whether the opposite eye is blocked off for this; if the side of the brain that controls talking gets any information for itself it may be able to learn to process it independently.
– See this response from Neuroskeptic: the subjects had been brain-split for decades, giving every opportunity for the brain to knit itself back together, functionally or structurally, any way it can. The author of your article is one of the authors of the study, which admits this.

A Scattershot Against Science

Question from A:
“science is religion… people think gravity is proven, it has never been proven, and name the experiment that “proved” it, or at the very least, wasn’t disproven…… as nikola tesla said “science has substituted experiments for math, and it has no relation to reality”…. then u have things like cancer, that have easy cures…..

and the earth is flat……. i suggest u all thoroughly look into it, science is satanism… funny how the quantum physicists say we r in a simulation now, due to experiments like the delft quantum entanglement experiment or the double slit anomaly…. “future humans put us in a simulation” they try everything to take god out.. they admit (orion missions, 2013) we can’t get by the thermosphere or the vab.. the wires alone get fucked by heat and radiation.

chicago skyline from 60 miles away? not possible on a 24901 mile round ball….. seeing from end to end on a 100 mile salt flat? not possible…. v2 rocket from white sands new mexico, 65 miles high, no curve, yet in 1935, explorer 2, 13 miles high was the first picture of the curve………eh?

u think they r using science to just lie about stupid shit? nooooo….. they warped ur perception. the greatest deceiver in the world convinced us the world was different itself. ptolemy and copernicus r still being argued over int he science world lol…. waka that lying jap physicists says “we look like we r the center, BUT I CHOOSE NOT TO BELIEVE THAT” WATCH THE PRINCIPLE, he says that in that documentary lol”

Can someone explain?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes I think I can explain. You have a deep mistrust (possibly even paranoia) of science in all its forms, and have chosen to accept and disseminate the specific material which purportedly discredits science to attempt to persuade people to abandon their confidence in science and trust only in God. This leads you through multiple pseudosciences and conspiracy theories, from easy (but supposedly suppressed) cancer cures to the simulated universe to the flat Earth to geocentrism. This journey arms you with multiple reasons to trust God over science which are good enough for you but not nearly good enough for others who see the issues with your material, so you remain resolutely reassured while failing to persuade anyone else, most or all of the time. This must be terribly frustrating for you, whenever it actually registers.

From Morality to Politics in 17 Words

Question from Ted:
Why do atheists have now morals and why do they vote for a crooks like Hillery Clintons ?

Answer by SmartLX:
I normally apply some proofreading to questions, but the density of mistakes in such a short question was so remarkable that I’ve preserved it as-is.

Atheists have morals, they just don’t get them from the Bible. Actually, some of them do, because many moral statements in the Bible are perfectly sensible even if the God taking credit for them isn’t real. Besides that there are all kinds of philosophical bases for a system of ethics, and people not tied to a particular scripture are free to use any or all of them.

According to the Pew Research Center the religiously unaffiliated (which includes but is not limited to atheists) voted for Clinton over Trump 68 to 28. That said, the Hispanic Catholic vote was within one percentage point of that, Jews voted even more strongly for Clinton and the other faiths combined went very much the same way. Trump appears to have appealed to white Christians and almost no one else. It’s hard to convince people who don’t believe in the Christian God that Trump is His chosen candidate, and even if you do believe but you’re in a minority it’s hard to accept that God would choose such a flagrant enabler of bigotry.

Fátima again… (Fátimagain?)

Question from Jacob:
Hey. So I am gonna ask about Fatima again. Yes I know I talked about it In detail before but I haven’t talked about the 3rd secret much. I previously mentioned that Pope John Paul’s assassination attempt happened on the Fatima anniversary. Apparently on the same hour as well, what is the chance for that? I believe that the pope fulfilled the lady’s task for Russia in 1984 and 7 years later the Soviet union collapsed. I should probably also mention that Putin strongly favours the orthodox church that is also devoted to Mary.

Answer by SmartLX:
The assassination attempt was on the exact Fátima anniversary because the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca was obsessed with Fátima. This was obvious to those who saw him in prison afterwards, and at the trial where he appealed to the Vatican to release more information about it. The timing was no coincidence, let alone divinely guided coincidence. It was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course Putin favours the Russian Orthodox Church, the most powerful denomination in Russia. Russia went largely Christian when Communism collapsed, as we’ve discussed, and any political leader who wants to appeal to the faithful will go through the majority church. There’s nothing surprising about this.

A Hindu Gets A Christian NDE

Question from Kamil:
This is the story of Dr Rajiv Parti. I want to know if this story proves Christainity, as it happened to a Hindu man who was raised in India, yet saw Archangels Michael and Raphael.

Parti had prostate cancer. The operation to remove the cancerous cells left him with complications: impotence, incontinence and chronic, excruciating pain. He became addicted to painkillers, and depression soon followed. Two years passed yet the complications remained. Because he couldn’t control his bodily functions, surgeons implanted an artificial urinary sphincter.

That’s when the real trouble began.

Within 48 hours, Parti’s entire pelvic area turned red and swollen. He developed a 105-degree fever. Sepsis had set in. An ambulance rushed him from Bakersfield to UCLA Medical Center, where doctors administered antibiotics for the infection and morphine for pain.

The next morning, Christmas Day 2010, the medical staff performed emergency surgery. General anesthesia was administered. But 15 minutes later, when they inserted a catheter to drain his urinary bladder, the pain was so intense that it triggered an out-of-body experience.

Parti saw himself floating above the scene. He observed the surgeons cutting him open. The smell was awful, and to counteract it, he was aware of the nurses applying eucalyptus-scented water to their surgical masks. He heard conversations taking place, even a joke told by the anesthesiologist.

Simultaneously, Parti heard a conversation occurring between his mother and sister in India. They were discussing what to prepare for dinner that night: rice, vegetables, yogurt, legumes. He saw them sitting in front of a small electric heater, his mother in a green sari, his sister in a blue sweater and blue jeans.

“I would like to say my awareness then went to a serene, happy place,” Parti says. “But no.” Instead, his mind went to a dark place where a great wild fire was raging. Lightning flashed in black clouds, and entities with crooked teeth and horns scurried around. “I was in a hellish realm.”

There, Parti realized his sins. “I was not kind to my patients. When I met someone, I always asked myself, ‘What can I get from this person?’?” He was especially harsh toward those he perceived to be lower in social or professional status. He saw how many people he’d used, how many toes he’d stepped on to get ahead.

He remembered a former patient, a 75-year-old lady with arthritis. “She wanted to talk to me. She wanted a little touch on the shoulder, because her husband was dying of cancer.” Instead, he dashed off a prescription and walked out of the room. In the hellish realm, he felt deeply sorry. He wished he had done things differently.

Then his father showed up and shepherded him to a tunnel. Crossing the tunnel, the dark hell was replaced by “the light of a thousand suns that did not hurt the eyes.” The light, Parti understood, was pure love, and he was being given a second chance to go back and change his life completely.

Awakening in the recovery room, he wanted to get down on his knees. He verified the joke he’d heard with the anesthesiologist, who reasoned, “You must have been light on anesthesia.” He confirmed facts with his family – back in India, his mom was indeed wearing a green sari that Christmas evening, and yes, she and Parti’s sister did sit around the heater discussing dinner.

In his experience, he met with two archangels, who are Christian, and was shown hell, also very Christian. I am wondering, how does a man raised Hindu see such Christian imagery? Does this demonstrate Christianity to be true?

Answer by SmartLX:
Generally speaking, if you’re hallucinating due to pain or any other medical effect you might see anything that’s in your brain, not just that which is foremost. This was an educated man in pluralistic Indian society, where Christianity is the third largest religion behind Hinduism and Islam (and ahead of Sikhism). He was aware of many elements of Christianity which then figured into his vision. If he’d been from somewhere Christianity is not widely familiar, this would carry a bit more weight.

The evidence he presents for the veracity of his out-of-body experience is the corroboration by his anaesthesiologist and his mother and sister. We have only his word for these corroborations, but even if he did confirm it with them neither claim is unambiguously supernatural. He would know some of his family’s favourite clothes (in particular, if someone likes jeans they wear a lot of them) and typical diet (also typically Indian Hindu vegetarian diet). Hearing the anaesthesiologist’s joke might well have been a failure of the anaesthetic, or else the anaesthesiologist could have told the same joke near Parti before he went under.

It’s worth reading specifically the 3-star reviews of his book about the experience on Amazon. At this level you get comments from people who don’t necessarily reject the NDE claim out of hand, but take issue with differences between Parti’s account and Christian doctrine about what’s actually going on in Heaven and Hell. If you want to accept Parti’s claims as evidence for Christianity, you must also accept them as contradictions of or wholesale additions to certain claims in scripture, such as what becomes of people with specific occupations.

High Heaven

Question from Vlad:
This is a video which uses the bible to try and justify belief in heaven. It is a 20 min film, and most of the facts presented are of little value, but the first two min and forty five seconds make an interesting argument, I would love your opinions of it, just watch to 2:45 and I would like to know if you ever came across this argument. How would people at the time that the bible was written have known that we live in a vast universe? The scripture basically states that God and heaven exist outside our universe. Even today, a person trying to say heaven exists would say that “God and heaven exist outside the universe”. Whether that is true is one thing, but it is interesting that people of that period could come up with that. I would love your opinions. Thanks

Answer by SmartLX:
Before I start, the visuals in this first part of the video contain CGI footage from the film Men in Black in a way I do not think constitutes “fair use”, so if anyone wants to file a takedown request I think they might be justified.

Scripture says God and Jesus are above, or higher than, the sky or heavens. It says nothing about the size of the universe, only that God is physically above all known space. Specifically above in every passage quoted, not outside or beyond. This makes no sense in the context of a universe, which has no up or down outside of an individual’s position relative to the specific gravity of a large body like a planet.

So without any reference to how big the universe is (though one look at the night sky will give anyone the impression that it’s big, even if you try to condense it into arbitrary “spheres” like early astronomers did) there’s not much here in terms of divine knowledge of scientific fact. All that remains is an assertion that God is too high in (or above) the sky to see. That seems intuitive, since none of us can see Him when we look up. Scripture carefully places God and Jesus somewhere we can’t easily check for them, making it very difficult to prove the negative and letting believers imagine them being just past the reach of their eyes.