A Christian Plants His Feet

Question from Vern:
I’m a Christian. I think atheists have the wrong idea. I had a Near Death Experience involving Jesus. He told me the day my wife would have a baby boy, 3 years down the road. Sure enough it happened, he told me it would be a blond boy and sure enough it was. My wife and I have no family we know of with blond hair, so we were surprised. I have also researched Near Death Experiences, and they favour Christianity. This, plus read the Bible if you have not. Many historians and scholars agree that the Bible is true. Many many people witnessed Christ die on the cross, and they met him afterwards. He did rise from the dead. How can you deny it? There is lots of proof including the infamous shroud of Turin, the bible itself, and I met the lord. How can you dismiss it like this? Our religion has more proof than others, look at all the evidence.

Answer by SmartLX:
Everything but the kitchen sink here, it’s a pretty good jumping off point after a bit of a break. So let’s break it down.

– Thanks to some very persistent questioners we’ve covered every aspect of NDEs here: their place in Christian culture, famous claims, medical explanations and denials thereof, the information they impart and so on. Have a read if you want to consider experiences outside your own. From an atheist’s perspective, they favour Christianity basically because Christianity favours NDEs. (There are genetic and also potential practical explanations for your boy’s blonde hair which I won’t get into.)

– When a historian claims that the entire Bible is true, including the supernatural parts, he/she is not speaking as a historian (unless it’s as a really bad one) but as a religious apologist. Most of the arguments about judging the events of the Bible on their historical merit using the criteria of historians are totally invalid because historians have no standard of evidence for accepting supernatural events. Theologians, on the other hand, have to take it as a premise that God and Jesus are real to proceed with any of their work, because you can’t ponder the nature of God as anything but a moot point unless you think there is one. Consider how many of the scholars you refer to are in fact theologians.

– Post-crucifixion Jesus is documented as only appearing to a handful of people, except in just one passage in 1 Corinthians 15 where he appears to five hundred or so. An account of 500 witnesses is not 500 witness accounts. As for the greater argument about his divinity, it’s another popular subject here. Look.

– The Shroud of Turin appears to have finally bit the dust as a genuine relic in just the last few weeks, as reported here. Generally speaking, it goes through periods of high and low credibility based on studies and studies of studies. At the absolute best, it was really Jesus’ burial shroud, but tells us nothing about what happened after his burial as we have no idea where it came from.

– Your supposed personal experience of Jesus is not good evidence for anyone else. When you claim the supernatural you ask people to weigh the reality of the impossible against the integrity of your character and the constant impeccability of your senses and faculties. I don’t know you so I can’t even make that judgement, but it wouldn’t go well even for my dearest friends and family if they made the same claim. There are just too many ways that such an experience can seem real and not be.

If you want to follow up on one specific argument for Christianity, look it up here by keyword. If you think it’s less than done to death at this point, comment and we’ll talk about it.

Again With The Dawkins Video

Question from Mido:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W4e4MwogLo
What is the response to this? Does this refute evoulution?
Please give me a detailed explanation.

Answer by SmartLX:
This crops up every now and again, as if we’re not supposed to have seen it before. Every time it’s an opportunity to shed light on it for more people.

Richard Dawkins let an Australian film crew into his home for an interview. When they asked the question in the video (how does nature create new genetic information) he immediately realised they were creationists in his home under false pretenses and stopped the interview. He let it resume afterwards, basically because they begged him.

The video has been edited by many different creationist propagandists to make Dawkins’ moment of realisation and quiet anger look even more like he was stumped. (Some even insert themselves as the interviewer.) When Dawkins got wind of this, he put out an article explaining what had happened and comprehensively answering the question, to dispel any doubt that he could if he’d been inclined to indulge the creationists that day.

Whether or not you believe Dawkins’ explanation, he’s given the question an answer which you must judge on its own merits by reading his article. If you don’t accept it, comment and tell me why.

No God, But…Angels?

Question from Joanne:
I’m doing an assignment on different religious beliefs on angels and I want to know if atheists believe in angels and what are atheist perspectives on angels? Does each person’s viewpoint differ based on personal belief or is there a general perspective? Also, what arguments/proofs are there to back up the atheist viewpoint on angels?
Thank you so much.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve had an awful month moving house, Joanne, I hope this isn’t too late to help you.

Atheists usually don’t believe in supernatural beings including angels, for the same reason they don’t believe in gods: there’s no good evidence that they’re real. Like with gods their non-existence is not certain, but you need a good reason to positively believe in something so exotic.

That said, through this site I have spoken to some atheists who believe in a few such beings, such as ghosts. They come to these beliefs through personal experiences they interpret as supernatural, even though they don’t sound very convincing to the rest of us. Angels are a special case however, because as defined in the lore of any religion they are created by a god and sent to participate in the affairs of humans. An atheist by definition does not believe in any gods, and therefore would not believe in any creature that can only have been created by gods. So while atheist viewpoints on ghosts, cryptozoology (e.g. Bigfoot) or supernatural forces like karma do vary, their attitude toward angels is a very general one of denial and dismissal.

Served by Steve Harvey

Question from Uriadka:
According to Steve Harvey, atheists are idiots. He claims God changed his life. Any rebuttals???

(Kind of a sarcastic post but I want to see what you guys think of such a bold statement from some Family Feud host.)

Answer by SmartLX:
He does indeed say that, near the end of this compilation. The main reason he gives is simply the argument from design applied to everything on Earth at once. He then focuses on evolution and rattles off (or should I say parrots?) the classic and utterly ignorant question about monkeys. The rest of Harvey’s opinion of atheists is based on his ignorance of our sources of morality, and the implication that we don’t have any.

Steve Harvey is no authority on philosophy of religion, and even if he were it wouldn’t be advisable to merely accept his authority on the subject, so we have to judge his reasons. His attempts to justify his position are all familiar, and not at all convincing, to those who do not already believe. That his position AND his reasons are insulting are not logical reasons to dismiss them, but it sure doesn’t help his case.

We Finally Tackle The Sunrise/Sunset Question You’ve Seen on Posters

Question from Brianna:
How do you look at a sunset and not believe that there is something out there greater than you?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s plenty out there which is greater than me on many levels, and a lot of it comes to the fore in a sunset. The wealth of physics at work in the spectacle of a sunset does not diminish its beauty, nor obviously fail to account for it.

– The Sun itself is bigger than we can fathom even if we know the numbers, and provides nearly all the energy we’ve ever seen used.
– The atmosphere between us and the Sun is comprised of a huge amount of different chemicals (some more than others) each of which has an effect on the colours we perceive in the sky. Even scientists in the relevant field have a hell of a time explaining all the different factors, as Cliff Stoll once wrote.
– A decent-sized cloud in the sky has millions of gallons of water in it, again calculable but more than is comprehensible. Its precise effects on the sunbeams that pass through it could fill a book if you went into detail.
– Our eyes and brains not only register all this, but find subjective beauty in it. The processes that led to this being possible, not least evolution, have toiled for billions of years to get us to this level.

A good word to sum up all of this is sublime. This literally means a sense of something larger or greater than oneself, and atheists have plenty of opportunities to feel this living in the world we share with believers. The big difference is the absence of the assumption, even unconscious, that something greater than humans in any sense must have been designed or otherwise deliberately brought about by an intelligent entity, and this indeed makes all the difference.

When you believe in a god, you see amazing things and automatically connect them to the god; when you don’t, that doesn’t really happen and everything does not look like a self-evident monument to any god. It’s largely a difference in perception based on preconceptions; in short, non-believers don’t see the world the way believers do precisely because of their lack of belief. So (and here’s your takeaway, Brianna) to convert someone you need to instill some belief before pointing out the sunset.

I Asked For Questions, And I Received

Question from Rachel:
1. What is it like to be an atheist? How does it feel?
2. What is it like to celebrate holidays like Easter?
3. What is your favorite color?

Answer by SmartLX:
1. Atheism provokes a few different feelings at different times. Remembering my former Catholicism, it’s a relief to no longer worry about Hell, or else a god working against my aims in life. In a group of mostly (nominally) religious people, which is most groups, it can feel isolating, especially given the possibility that being open about your atheism will immediately turn some people against you. Considering the population at large, I feel a great concern that not only are the majority very likely to be wrong about their gods, but that some of their efforts to please those gods are wasted – or actively harming people.

2. Widely observed, traditionally religious holidays like Easter usually have secular components that anyone can enjoy. Easter has the bunny and the chocolate, Christmas has Santa and the general urge towards parties and togetherness, Halloween has the whole spooky angle and so forth. I make the most of these aspects, and of course the vacation time if applicable, and don’t begrudge the religious their observances.

3. Green, with deep blue a close second. I try not to read into it.

On Purpose, After the Fact (my bad)

Question from Yui:
Hello, this topic I searched but seem to find no direct answer.

What is the purpose/meaning of life for a person who the supreme law is reason? How can we rationally explain life as a human species? If we can, what is our objective purpose as a whole?

Answer by SmartLX:
I just covered purpose yesterday here, but you did write this two days ago. Do check the previous answer, but here I’ll apply my perspective to the specifics of your wording.

To someone who values reason and doesn’t think an intelligent supreme being handed out any laws governing human behaviour, a human being is a product of what has happened before rather than a means to any predetermined end. Without a prescribed purpose one is free to choose one’s own, and that can vary greatly depending on the person but many come out roughly the same based on our shared human desires and empathy for other humans. That about covers it. If you don’t like that a prime universal goal like “please your god” is not replaced with something similarly monolithic, consider that your preferences for the nature of reality do not affect reality itself beyond your own actions.

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

Question from Jared:
First of all I want to apologize if this has been asked before. Unless it’s just my browser, there doesn’t seem to be a search function at the top right of the page as mentioned. (I didn’t see a “devil” or “Satan” tag so I guess it might not have been asked.)

Someone I know has an argument that goes as follows (more or less): “The devil’s ultimate goal is to get people to believe that he and God don’t exist and if you are an atheist, you’re playing into his trap”. How can you rationally respond to that?

Answer by SmartLX:
This is not an argument for God, it is an assertion. Specifically it’s an attempted rationalisation of the very existence of atheism in a universe with an all-powerful god who wants everyone to believe in it and is nevertheless failing to achieve this. The rational response to it is to call it out as an assertion and ask for evidence, not only of the existence of God and the devil but of the devil’s specific intentions. How does your acquaintance know any of this?

The alternative, which you might or might not bring up, is that the ultimate goal of churches is to get people to believe that God and the devil do exist, because new believers bring publicity, money and social and political clout, and if you’re a Christian you’re playing into their trap.

This had not been asked before, but there’s at least some material on Satan here, this piece for example. The search function should appear as a grey magnifying glass in the top right hand corner. If you see it, give it a click. The tags in the tag cloud are not the only ones in use, just the most common ones. If all else fails, Google “ask the atheist” in quotes, and outside the quotes put in your keywords. That’s what I do to find my own stuff sometimes.

On Purpose

Question from Niki:
Hi there again, I have been reading the abiogenesis part of the site and there came into my attention the question of MEANING OF LIFE, ITS PURPOSE, without god.

I am aware of the fact that the religious folks think that if this is all there is, material life and then death once and for all, for good, then there is no meaning of life. I knew you would disagree and so do I.

I have been thinking about this, for a long time, after I had read a book titled PLEASURE, I don’t remember the name of the author that says we are tubes that get born, eat and die, so why then live, and the author says because there is pleasure in life, with which I agree, as the meaning of life and apart from our instinct that keeps us not want to die, thou life can be unbearable for some, I came to my understanding of meaning of life without god and having only this one life, agreeing with the author.

I would compare our life once and for all, with an excursion you have won at lottery or any other way, to which you will go once and that’s it. Never again. So our life would be an excursion from nothingness to life and death would be the return from this pleasant excursion back to ordinary not so nice life or not at all.

So in my view our life is coming from nothing, living, and then going back to nothing, but i have no problem of ‘lack’ of meaning of life, not more than i would have in going to the nice excursion once in my lifetime.

So, according to the thinking of the religious folks that there is no purpose and meaning in life, if it is all there is, once for good and then death, then no one would go to this once in a life time dream excursion, because it will be only once and then never again. And you know it in advance.

Yet you go on such trips once in a lifetime because they are NICE.

And so is life. NICE.

But, what about life which is not nice?

Well, in that case there is HOPE that one day life will be nice. if even that proves wrong and unlikely, due to the insurmountable obstacles, as is ill health or invalidity of one’s body, or other, even worse circumstances of one’s life, then there is the INSTINCT OF SURVIVAL, that had evolved in all living beings over millions of years of existence.

If however one is so unhappy, suicide is not so uncommon and i don’t think it happens in only psychologically ill people. It happens when life is unbearable for whatever reason…

I have a comparison for that one too, the instinct of survival. it is actually the physical ‘want’ of a UNION to stay so. So, what is it that keeps it whole, what keeps all the cells or our organisms together. I am not talking about the ‘glue’ that there is in between of our cells, but about the psychological so to say glue, so, my answer may sound and it probably is, naive.

Something like the COHESION force. because death, with its consequence of the union of cells that once was a body of a living organism, being that now that there is no more of metabolism keeping it going and striving to STAY TOGETHER AND ALIVE, SOMETHING WE CALL SURVIVAL, the forces of ADHESION come about, helped by other organisms that dissolve the body by eating it or otherwise, but if there are no bacteria nor worms there, the body will dissolve anyway, but in much longer time, so, after a time the ex-union of cells that was once our body, is reduced to a heap of minerals in the casket, sometimes not even that, because the worms and germs have eaten us almost all, together with our organic matter and minerals. Only bones will remain because no living organism eats raw calcium that are our bones.

What do you think of this as the answer to the question of

MEANING AND PURPOSE OF LIFE FOR ATHEISTS?

If you have answered this in another discussion, please refer me to it. I tried to find an article titled meaning or purpose of life, but there is nothing. You don’t have a list of articles in alphabetic order here, nor grouped otherwise, I suppose you thought about it but found it inconvenient or time consuming and/or expensive, because you would need a programmer, or maybe not, I am not sure what they do.

Thanks !!!

Answer by SmartLX:
We talk about meaning and purpose in life all the time here. Just put the word ‘purpose’ into the top right search field and you’ll get seven pages of headings, like this.

The basic answer has two parts. Firstly, religious people don’t know the purpose of their lives either, even if they think there is one. Gods are not keen on sharing their plans, and believers may accept literally anything that happens as part of the plan. The second part is that atheists choose their own purpose in life, since they don’t expect there to be a divinely conferred purpose, known or unknown. If life loses all purpose and joy, suicide may occur, but this is true of everyone. Religiosity is negatively correlated with suicide rate in general, but this may be simply because major religions threaten eternal punishment for suicide, rather than giving additional hope to life.

The survival instinct is mostly mental, but elements of it are built into our entire nervous system as reflex actions. Your hand will snatch itself away from a hot stove before the sensation of heat or pain gets from your fingers to your brain. It’s easy to explain from an evolutionary perspective: a greater will to survive results in a greater survival rate in general, and is therefore passed down to more offspring. A species of animal uninterested in surviving or procreating wouldn’t last long, in any era.

Grandma Sees Dead People

Question from Deco:
Ok, so I don’t know if this is really an “ability”, but my grandmother prides herself on having this sort of ESP where she can apparently detect the death of a person while it is taking place. I was skeptical of it, and I asked her a bit about it. She told me that at least 50 times in her life, she has had this sensation or feeling when someone dies. It has come to her in the form of dreams where she will have a dream about a person and being with them in heaven or some form of afterlife, and then she will wake up, and find out at the time of her dream that the person really did die. She has also had what I assume are hypnogogic hallucinations where she will see a person’s face in what she assumes is in the form of a ghost, and then see the devil’s face, and then later find out the person died. One of the weirdest examples is the time that her cousin died. She had a dream of him coming to her and saying that he had drowned. The next day, she found out that he did in fact drown. She has had these dreams with religious imagery, e.g. sometimes she claims Jesus tells her these messages, sometimes it’s family, seeing devils, angels, etc.

I guess my question is, put aside the fact that these claims sound too good to be true, let’s say if she could prove it, would that constitute proof of souls of the passed on communicating with her? Or, could there be another explanation for it that doesn’t require a supernatural component? Perhaps our brains have a method of picking this stuff up that we are not aware of, and her brain interprets the info in a certain way which causes her to dream with a religious background? Or could it be a combination of an active mind, (constantly thinking of people close to her and worrying about them) so sometimes when she has these sensations they are true? Maybe with this she counts the hits, ignores the misses?

Being an Orthodox Christian, I would like nothing more than for this to be true, but I am asking for an atheist perspective here, which is why I am posting it to an atheist community. I have asked many Orthodox Christians and received their opinions, now I want yours. My grandfather says that he has also seen my grandmother get these hits a lot, and he is very surprised by it, but he himself says he doesn’t think it points to the supernatural, even though he admits he cannot explain it. I guess I’m just curious. I don’t want you guys to just dismiss it as “lying” or “fake”, I mean, you can think it is a lie or fake, but I am asking kind of for fun, let’s just assume for a second that this ability were as true as I am claiming, what would you say? Would you then suddenly believe in afterlife and a spiritual realm, or would you still say “I don’t know, but I can’t conclude it is really anything supernatural”?

Answer by SmartLX:
My first question would be, on any of these 50+ occasions, did your grandmother tell anyone else (e.g. your grandfather) that she’d had one of these experiences before checking to confirm? Ideally, did she name the person or give a description before receiving any information from the outside world? (Someone’s always dying somewhere.) This is what would show that she wasn’t just claiming these after the fact.

That’s the all-important skepticism out of the way, and you’ve done a good job of this too by bringing up two possible sources of confirmation bias. So, let’s play with your enormous “if”. If she really were being informed through visions alone of the deaths of particular people, I’d be satisfied that something supernatural was going on, because visions can’t do that via natural means except by pure coincidence. They don’t convey information from outside the person’s senses, they can only work with what the senses are receiving and whatever the brain conjures up for itself, from memory and imagination.

The question would be by what specific supernatural means she was getting it (assuming someone wasn’t in her bedroom subconsciously feeding her the info). Interaction with the souls of the dying/dead would be one possibility, but not the only one. Someone living could be using conscious or unconscious telepathy to send her images of the newly dead. She could be psychic herself, and able to see the faces of those about to die, slightly before or after the time of death, but without help from their souls.

One specific point against the soul hypothesis is that the visions apparently aren’t consistent in their depiction of the afterlife. They could all be different aspects of the same afterlife system, or they could just be contradictory flights of fancy accompanying the real information regarding the identity or appearance of the deceased.

You’ve realised for yourself the difficulty a religious person would face when discussing even a confirmed supernatural effect: actually claiming credit for it on behalf of the “right” supernatural entities from your model of the spiritual world, as opposed to the countless others people believe in, plus the ones no one has thought of yet. Atheists would be challenged if something like this were proved beyond doubt, but in most cases the first thing to go would not be their atheism but rather their materialism. But then, there are already plenty of non-materialist atheists who do believe in ghosts, souls, psychics and so on, because they have a spiritual model in mind that does not include any gods. I’m not one of them, but they’ve written in before.