Comprehending Nothing Without God

Question from Topher:
First time asking here, so I have a lot of questions, and I apologize in advance…

[snip – SmartLX]

Thanks!

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve moved your questions into my section for easy reading, without editing them. The answers will be the quick-and-dirty ones because we’ve covered them many times before. Search the site for keywords like “origins” for a lot more material.

How often do atheists doubt that God doesn’t exist?
Depends entirely on the atheist. Some never do, some occasionally do, some actively wish a particular God existed but can’t bring themselves to believe. I am fairly confident that there are no gods based on the conspicuous lack of good evidence, but I recognise it’s not intellectually defensible to be certain.

Do atheists believe nothing is self-existing?
Depends on the atheist but none of us have experienced true nothing, we’ve always been surrounded by something. It’s very hard to speculate on the nature of nothing when it’s never been observed.

If nothing is self-existing, why is there something?
If there was once nothing and now there’s something, it’s because “nothing” was unstable. Matter and antimatter can emerge from a space where neither previously existed, balancing each other out by keeping the net matter/energy at zero. That’s the best hypothesis so far, if a something-from-nothing scenario is considered.

Doesn’t anything require something?
Not based on the above phenomenon. Apart from that though, we are in no position to say what is required to create matter and energy because everything we see consists of matter and energy that has existed since the Big Bang, merely converting from one form to another over time. Perhaps it has been like that forever, even before the Big Bang.

At the very least the natural laws are self-existent, right?
We have no idea what they are contingent upon, if anything. If there are multiple universes the natural laws for each might be completely different. Every universal value we think of as constant might suddenly vary by 50% next week, for reasons we wouldn’t have time to discern before we were destroyed by the resulting cosmic upheaval.

If there was no time or space pre- Big Bang, how or why were there natural laws if there were?
Continuing the thought just above, perhaps there weren’t, and what you think of as natural laws are dependent entirely on (or emergent from) the presence of time, space, energy and matter.

Scripture gives you simple answers to questions like these, or at least gives you the confidence to assert certain answers. You have no assurance that your answers are correct except the insistences of the text itself and your fellow believers, so while you do not need to consider them further you are merely rolling their uncertainty into the all-encompassing assertion that God took care of everything. Atheists simply admit they don’t know, and are content from day to day with not knowing because as long as we don’t believe in creator gods the only alternative for us is self-deception.

Muslim Exorcism as Medicine

Question from Morrisozio:
Demon possession exists and it occurs. No doubt. There were and there are lots of people (personally known to me) who are ill, and blood used to come from ears and noses. Doctors were never able to cure these so called hidden diseases. They always stated they didn’t find anything. Everything seemed fine. While these poor patients keep suffering. However, when they have been religiously healed, all problems disappeared, since the demons inside were forced to leave. One of these healing was even done in hospital, without the permission of any doctors. Can you imagine that? The medical science has been challenged!!!

Some psychologists say that unknown powers exist which control human minds, which are beyond our comprehension.

In addition, Arab exorcists, since they are already rich, do healing for free. In fact exorcism is also used as something acceptable in these Muslim Sharia countries.

Could you give any reply? Please a proper reply, even short one is okay, but don’t reply with words like “coincidence”, “lucky”. How come that these type of physical and mental problems can be cured by religious healers or TRUE exorcists (not the fake ones) and not by physicians?

Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
I have only your word for any of this, so it’s not much to go on and it’s not very powerful as testimony given the extreme claims.

I find it hard to believe, first of all, that doctors were of the opinion that patients bleeding from the nose and ears without physical injury “seemed fine”. If a physical injury was present, on the other hand, everything might well be fine afterwards with or without an exorcism. But discussing the details is not very useful without specifics in the claim.

Generally speaking, a miraculous cure needs three things to be effective as evidence for a miracle:
1. evidence that the illness was present in the first place,
2. evidence that the illness is now gone, and
3. a consensus that no conventional medical treatment that was also given to the patient/victim could have treated the illness effectively.
In my experience, the one most often missing from these claims is #1.

I have no doubt that Islamic exorcism or ruqya is popular and encouraged in countries with self-proclaimed Sharia law, even if it performs no better than a placebo. Muslims are subject to fear campaigns trying to convince them that Western medicine aims to poison or defile them, and choosing Islamic spiritual treatments is touted as a way to demonstrate one’s faith and also support fellow Muslims financially.

Cornering the Market, Continued: The NDE Niche

Question from Kamil:
After emailing back and forth with a near death experience expert, I got a figure that from the NDEs he collects, about 13% of NDEs that people have include seeing Jesus. There are not too many Islamic NDEs, but there is yet to be one where a person encounters Muhammad. There are a few Hindu NDEs which differ from Christian ones, but again, almost no mention of Krishna. Would you say 13% of NDEs seeing Jesus would give Jesus more of a chance of being real than the other deities? I have heard that Islamic people may be quiet on encounters with Muhammad as it may be seen as taboo to mention a Muhammad encounter. however, I have seen testimonies of people dreaming about Muhammad and mentioning it, so I’m not quite sure how “taboo” it would be. My question is, if there was never a single NDE of Muhammad but NDEs with Jesus, does this mean Christianity has a better chance of being true? Also, I have seen forums on this topic, and no one can seem to figure out why Muhammad never shows up in NDEs. I do know that Christians on the web will proudly point this out and say “We see Jesus, others don’t see their deities, so we are correct!”. I would like to know an atheistic standpoint on this.

Answer by SmartLX:
I concur on two points. All the research done so far has failed to come up with a statistically significant amount of NDE claims involving Muhammad, and as shown here some Christians do point out Jesus’ supposed monopoly on NDE appearances as support for the reality of his divinity.

Firstly, at 13% of all NDE claims it’s not much of a monopoly. Jesus is not a part of the vast majority of NDE claims even by Christians. Even if it’s really Jesus, he’s not making good use of his omnipresence. But more importantly, when all appearances by Jesus in all claims made so far aren’t enough to convince non-believers due to the lack of good evidence any given claim provides, it means little to point out that other religions do not have the same claims. “Oh, your rivals don’t have this same support that isn’t any kind of support anyway? Well whoop-de-do.”

A more likely reason for the discrepancy than the occasional genuine presence of Jesus, expanding on what I wrote here and here, is that this form of NDE is an almost exclusively Christian cultural meme at this point in time. People are aware of prior claims, so if they have an experience that gives them even a fuzzy feeling of a divine presence (often attributable to medical effects) they will subconsciously shape the memory to fit the expectation. And of course if they’re making it up entirely they will custom-tool it to the memetic specifications.

Now if a recognisable Jesus appeared to someone who had never heard of Jesus, that would be something. But it would also be nearly impossible to prove after the fact, as I’m sure we’ll explore if anyone has a claim like that to share.

The Least Verifiable NDE Claim Yet

Question from Ned:
Does this psychic woman prove Jesus?

https://iands.org/ndes/nde-stories/iands-nde-accounts/494-face-to-face-with-jesus-the-christ.html?highlight=WyJqZXN1cyIsImplc3VzJyIsIidqZXN1cyIsIidqZXN1cyciLCJqZXN1cydzIl0=

Answer by SmartLX:
No.

If anything in this story were true, it would be amazing, but there’s no evidence that it is, so that doesn’t begin to approach the criteria of proof that Jesus is alive and curing people. There are no names in the story, not the author, not the doctor, and not the “psychic” woman, so there’s absolutely no way to find out whether any of it happened. Like another recent account the hospital is named – the Veteran Affairs Medical Center – but firstly this may or may not be the one in Portland, Oregon, and secondly hospitals are not forthcoming to the general public on the details of their ex-patients. Just because Forrest Gump went to the White House, which is a real building, does not mean Forrest Gump was a real person.

As it stands, there’s just nothing here.

Another Christian Worldview Class Begins

Questions from Juvencio:
What is revealed about human purpose in Genesis 1-3?

How might these questions about human nature, purpose, and flourishing be answered by those holding a pantheistic or atheistic worldview?

Answer by SmartLX:
These are questions from the Christian Worldview course which call for an atheist perspective, and many come here because they aren’t otherwise aware of an atheist they can talk to about these things. We’ve covered a lot of what’s required here (covers human nature and purpose) and here (covers flourishing and human nature according to Genesis). In fact at this point I think ATA counts as a proper cheat sheet, so take care your classmates aren’t bringing in the same answers.

Nasir Siddiki, Jesus, and Shingles

Question from Spivak:
I would love to know your impression of this video, do you believe it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1DL9ANF-m4

Answer by SmartLX:
For those who don’t feel like watching, Nasir Siddiki claims that he called out to Allah and Muhammad for help as he was dying of an extreme case of facial shingles combined with chicken pox. Jesus answered instead, he got better, and after 90 minutes in the shower his blisters were all gone and he doesn’t have a mark on him. (To save you a search, shingles leave scars and bad shingles leave bigger scars.)

That’s a straight-up medical miracle, for which there is no evidence presented but his own testimony. He does name the hospital, Toronto General, so this would be on record there if anyone has the ability to check, but doctor-patient confidentiality probably makes that difficult. I do note that the only appearance by his doctor is via the guy playing him in the re-enactment.

To establish an impossible cure there has to have been evidence that the illness existed, and was as severe as described, in the first place. Here’s a relevant story I don’t get to tell often: a Native American healer named Bobby Runningfox once touched my friend’s abdomen and announced that he had cured a small cancer. It had not been detected before his act, and whether he was genuine or not one would not expect to detect it afterwards. So as far as anyone can say, he touched my friend and did nothing.

The other similar claim that comes to mind is the minor character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who accuses a suspected witch: “She turned me into a newt!…I got better.”

There’s another interesting angle on Siddiki which has nothing to do with the medical aspect, brought up by this video. A Muslim has gone through another video where Siddiki tells the same story, and attempted to debunk the claim that Siddiki was actually a Muslim before the event. This responder does the same with many such “ex-Muslim” videos, and frankly appears to be reaching in some parts, but perhaps someone more familiar with Islam can say if there’s anything to it.

Cornering the Market on Divine Visions

Question from Spivak:
I had a question regarding proof of Jesus. People always say the bible or the quran are not reliable proof of Jesus or his existence. My question is, what about all the personal testimonies people have of seeing Jesus. There are many people who make claims that they met Jesus, or Jesus helped them in a particular time. More specifically, I have read and watched accounts of Muslims, Hindus, etc who say they had a problem for ex: they were about to die, they called out to Allah or Krishna, and wouldn’t get an answer. Yet, when they call out to Jesus, they see light, and he comes and saves them. He also tells them bible versus which they later confirm exist. There are healing testimonies, dreams, near death experiences, somehow, it seems no other deity really comes up in these kinds of potentially supernatural experiences other than Jesus. Does this mean Jesus is the most likely deity to exist?

Video examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PExVfzRsKU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjzdG2tNPgw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSUBn99mTkM

there are many more examples where that came from. There don’t seem to be testimonies of other faiths meeting other deities. Does this seem convincing for Jesus?

Answer by SmartLX:
We’ve often covered the implications of claimed personal experiences of the divine, and how they have little reason to mean anything to anyone who doesn’t already believe. Here I’ll focus on the supposed imbalance between claims of visits by Jesus and claims of other deities. There are a few potential and very likely reasons for this imbalance besides Jesus being the only real godlike entity that makes house calls.

The most obvious reason is the media sources available in the Western world and the English language, both of which have an immense Christian majority. Accounts of Jesus are written out, recorded, published and distributed because there’s guaranteed to be an audience for them. This is helped along by the engines that rely on people’s faith being continually reassured: televangelism and Christian Right political advocacy to name two.

The religion with the next most adherents worldwide, though with nowhere near the amount of English-language media profile, is Islam. It’s not surprising that there are no stories of visits by Allah, because it’s a matter of doctrine (see here for instance) that we’re not capable of comprehending or withstanding Allah’s presence while alive. As for Muhammad, Muslims take it practically for granted that he can appear in dreams (they have to take care that it’s not their Devil “Shaytaan” in disguise) so it’s no big deal when he does and they’re not so driven to proclaim it to the world.
That leaves Hinduism as the only other religion with more than 500 million followers, and it’s got even less profile in the West. From what I can gather it happens plenty for Hindus as well; many yogis, gurus, monks and priests have their own stories about how Ganesha or Hanuman appeared to them, but only their own congregations hear the tales.

That’s probably the big takeaway from this topic: only Christianity has the infrastructure in place to widely proclaim everything that happens to anyone as a miracle and a vindication. By and large people of other religions just rejoice and get on with it.

Sometimes a Question Reads as One Long Snarl

Question from “Progress. Forward.”:
Are you a communist? Atheism is an indirect, cowardly assault on the Constitution. Your overlords think they can eliminate God-given Rights by destroying God with a pathetic religion for low testosterone, limp wrist pussies.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m not a communist. Communism dictates atheism because it declares religion “the opiate of the masses,” a drug to keep them from feeling the pain of their oppression and overcoming it. It’s a means to an end and theology doesn’t enter into it. (And once communism gets going, it usually functions as a pseudo-religion itself.) I’m an atheist simply because I don’t believe in gods. I run a site about it rather than keeping it to myself because I think people would be better off without their faith in gods, on balance.

I’m not an American either (I assume you are), so I have very little stake in your Constitution. I do know God is not mentioned in it, nor in the Bill of Rights – only in the Declaration of Independence. Your rights as an American citizen are not dependent on the existence of a god, even though most of the founding fathers apparently believed in one. They wrote those rights into secular law, and thus human beings endowed each other with enforceable rights regardless of what they believe.

Atheism is not a religion. It is instead a rejection of the position of belief in any god. No commandments spring from this rejection, nor an origin story for the world. Atheists must look outside of religion for their guidance and core values, and fortunately secular philosophy is a rich field.

As for the “low testosterone” part, I probably prove this in your mind just by not attacking you in kind. It seems an insult for its own sake, being entirely divorced from the subject matter. I hope it made you feel better.

M-M-M-Miiiiike Licona

Question from Violeta:
I am wondering if you have heard about Mike Licona? He is a Bible scholar who claims he has absolute proof that Jesus rose from the dead. He claims thousands of people saw him, and that group hallucinations of thousands is impossible. He debated Matt Dillahunty a few years ago and used those arguments. He is very highly respected in the Christian world. He also has rebuttals to all these atheist articles saying “Jesus never existed”. He claims there is tons of proof of his existence, and that he had to rise from the dead. What are your thoughts on this?

Answer by SmartLX:
I wasn’t familiar with Licona before your question, but that debate with Dillahunty is online. From it we can tell a few things:

– Licona has poor standards of evidence. Unsupported anecdotes count for him, for instance, while not convincing anyone new.
– Licona is perfectly content with a blatant argument from ignorance as his central theme: if there is no current natural explanation for an event (even a supposed event), he’s happy to not only posit but assert a supernatural cause.
– Licona only wants the idea that Jesus’ appearance to the large crowd after his death was real to be measured against the idea that it was an impossible mass hallucination. Two responses to this from me. Firstly, since I’ve been covering the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fátima a great deal in the last several months, I know that a phenomenon that only some people present even claimed to see can be claimed as a more universal experience after the fact. Secondly, we do not have accounts by the hundreds of people claimed to have seen Jesus, only one account that says they were there, and that account is subject to suspicion.

This is all very familiar, to me at least. If you search this site by keywords for any of Licona’s major arguments I think you’ll find they’re already covered. He has redefined “absolute proof” in order to claim he has it, when by the standards of others he has nothing of the sort.

I Think We’re Good on Near Death Experiences Now, Thanks

Question from Kamil:
Question about Howard Storm: some reasons not to believe, but other reasons it may be true.

1) he is supposedly dead, and in spirit form, yet he has nerves and can feel the cold floor or his hands making fists.

2) his experience takes place in the hospital room and the rest is in the hallway of the hospital. It is just a long dark road. He probably didn’t pay attention to how the hospital looked, so his brain had to fill in the gaps of the way it looked.

3) the demons mock his hospital gown. Why would his “soul” be wearing his hospital clothes?

4) These shadow looking demons are attacking him. Anyone could interpret this as anything. However, Storm assumes he is in hell, therefore he thinks of Jesus, and this makes his experience automatically religious.

The only things I don’t get are:

1) How could his experience be so detailed?
2) he talks about having infinite knowledge, and says everyone’s NDE is different to suit them and their beliefs.
3) He asks detailed questions about the USA economy and future wars and gets answers
4) he sees 80 new primary colours

Usually, I find accounts so detailed like this could be fabrications because the more detailed it is, the less likely it seems to be true. However, in this case, I think he seems genuine. I don’t think he lied about his whole experience. He did become a church reverend. It’s just that his account was so detailed. Is it possible he really believes he had the experience, but that he added stuff to it later to make his story more convincing? I just wonder, maybe he believes he saw demons, Jesus and all, but maybe he added bits about his detailed questions and answers?

Also, what do you think are the odds his story was real?

Answer by SmartLX:
Straight to your “don’t get” list:

1) The detail is unverifiable, in both the sense that we have only his word how detailed it was and the sense that the details themselves cannot be verified. Lots of people can write a detailed story. They’re called writers.
2) This flies in the face of the argument several people have brought here, that NDEs are more believable because they’re consistent. Regardless, it’s an explanation of a fact he would have known beforehand, namely that people’s NDEs do not always line up.
3) He gets answers, but how many have proved correct? If any have, what were the chances? Did he tell the story after any predictions came true, giving him the chance to retcon the predictions? My piece on prophecies may help you analyse this aspect of the story.
4) Another unverifiable claim. Think about this: if you hadn’t been taught as a child which were the primary colours, how would you determine it? How would you recognise a fourth colour as another primary if it showed up?

The event occurred in 1985, so even if it was a complete fabrication to begin with he might believe a lot of it now. I doubt it was a complete fabrication, so a kernel of belief formed in an extremely vulnerable moment can grow and extend to all kinds of ideas. The strength of his belief has many potential sources besides truth, so be careful about letting it inspire belief in you.