Why Israel Is

Question from Jonathan:
So tell me, how do you explain Israel’s continued victory over its neighbors despite being heavily outnumbered?

Answer by SmartLX:
A lot of faith and a lot of help. Many of its inhabitants, and importantly many others around the world, believe they are fulfilling a Biblical prophecy just by having it there. For one instance, the incredible amount of military aid it receives from the United States is due at least in part to a parade of religious American politicians who have accepted its importance in that respect. Thus I’ve previously referred to it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To look at it another way, none of this is lost in the mists of time. You can go back through the entire history of the state of Israel since its declaration in 1948 and research exactly how and why it survived each individual or ongoing conflict. You’ll find that it just had the right resources and political goodwill at the right times. (Sometimes it literally came down to Israeli heavy artillery versus Palestinians throwing stones.) It didn’t need any miracles, or else some actual miracles would have happened on the world stage and been hard to ignore.

A Catholic PSA

Question from John:
1. Do you know that the shroud of Turin was never confirmed as a “miracle” or “real” by Catholic Church?
2. Do you know that Catholics are supposed to believe that they ARE mortal?
3. Do you know that Catholics acknowledge many of their rituals as “tradition” only?
4. Do you know that the strongest teachings in the Catholic religion are about “Free Will” of each human?

Answer by SmartLX (who also added the numbers above):
1. The Church never makes a definite judgement on the shroud, but the last three popes have made the trip to “venerate” it. They could be called out if they said anything definite, so they make the most of it by inviting people to consider it and wonder. Certainty is hardly necessary when the goal is to reassure the faithful.

2. Of course people are mortal according to the Church. Immortality through God and Jesus is the supposed reward for devotion to the church, so they need to emphasise that people don’t have it yet.

3. Many of the rituals are merely traditional because they’re not even claimed to do anything magical, but there are some claims they can’t back down from, like hundreds of thousands of transubstantiation events every week in all the wafers and wine. See article 1376 in the Catechism.

4. Belief in free will is required to even try to justify rewarding or punishing people for obeying or disobeying God with an eternity in Heaven or Hell. It’s still not justified very well.

Eben Alexander’s Adventures In Bed

Question from Halil:
Hello guys,

Recently I read about the Eben Alexander case, a neurosurgeon, who went to Harvard. He claims that he was in a coma, that his brain was 100 percent shut off due to meningitis. I’m sure many have heard of this. There was an article published by Luke Dittrich in 2013 which many atheists took at face value, as they believed that Dittrich proved many flaws in the Alexander story. However, now Alexander himself has come up with a rebuttal, and many of the people Dittrich interviewed said that they were misled by him, and that he changed actual quotes by Alexander.

If this is true, do you believe that Alexander went to heaven? He is a neurosurgeon, and says it could not have occurred as his brain was coming back online. He says that he has had hundreds of patients who have terrible, painful hallucinations when they come back online. Then he says when he was coming back, he hallucinated that his doctor and his wife were trying to kill him. What do you guys think, is Alexander proof of afterlife, or is it possible that even a neurosurgeon is incorrect?

Answer by SmartLX:
Of course it’s possible that a neurosurgeon is incorrect, because neurosurgeons disagree about things all the time (the most common example is how best to treat a given patient) and they can’t all be right.

Anyway, Alexander’s response to Dittrich would constitute proof of an afterlife if Alexander’s response were perfect and Dittrich’s points were the only things keeping it from being a certainty, which isn’t the case. Dittrich’s isn’t even the only major response to Alexander’s claims, because Sam Harris, Michael Shermer and Oliver Sacks chimed in too.

To address your one specific point on the details, Alexander says his patients have told him about having horrible hallucinations while coming “back online” but that doesn’t mean all hallucinations in that state are unpleasant, especially when the few pleasant ones are likely to be characterised by believers as NDEs. That’s a convenient way to explain away any experience that doesn’t fit his claim, including his own experience. And none of this says anything about what dreams may come as the brain is going “offline” before the inactive period.

Hope Is A Plentiful Thing

Question from Jun:
This may be similar to a question already asked about dealing with adversity, but I feel it is sufficiently different to stand on its own: How does an atheist overcome thoughts of despair, of giving up, even suicide, when things look hopeless? Christians turn to passages in Scripture or to prayer. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much.

Answer by SmartLX:
That’s okay, I think Jake answered the last one about this so I haven’t had a go in a while.

Look at it this way: what does God provide that gives you hope and a reason to go on? Whatever the answer, atheists get it from somewhere else because since they don’t believe in God they don’t believe God is the only source of these things. That can be hard to comprehend for people who think God IS the only source, which is why this question crops up regularly, but without a central theist belief a lot of secondary theist assumptions which you might not even realise you make suddenly go out the window.

Purpose, for example, can come from almost anywhere because people choose their own purpose. Even those who believe in God admit they don’t know what God’s larger plan is or how they personally figure into it, so they make their own choices about how best to serve Him. Not thinking that one has a divine purpose isn’t much worse than not knowing what one’s supposed divine purpose is, and allows more freedom in the choice because it can go entirely outside the realm of religion. Many social and political activists choose what cause to support in direct opposition to the mainstream religious dictates of the day, some because they don’t think the deity is real and some because they think the deity actually disagrees with the religion. Whatever is most important to you in life can become your purpose if you throw yourself into it. And if it ceases to be fulfilling or worthwhile, you can spin on a dime and pursue something else.

To tackle the other major point, people looking for a reason not to commit suicide need not only a purpose but a reason to think there is good to be found in the world. The point is worth hammering that if God doesn’t exist, God isn’t the only source of good in the world because there IS good in the world regardless. However you define “good” it’s happening out there somewhere, you just need to look for it. There’s no denying that terrible things happen all the time, but even in the middle of tragedy some of the greatest deeds are found. The Reverend Fred (aka Mr) Rogers often said as his mother said to him that whenever something awful was happening one should look for the people helping.

Another thing atheists see differently is that they think this life is the only one we have. Therefore leaving it prematurely gives no chance of a better subsequent life. Happiness can only be found in this life, so the only way to achieve it is to stick it out.

Young Earth Creationism is So 6000 Years Ago

Question from Cameron:
If the snow rings dating have been proven to be wrong (they represent cold and warm days not years) how could I come to believe carbon dating and other dating types. They seem like all a fraud to me. And like saying that the stalagmites in caves formed over millions of years when I could make one in my garage in just a few months.

Answer by SmartLX:
I assume you’re referring to Kent Hovind’s argument regarding the warm-cold layers in snow cores from Greenland. Here’s Hovind’s own spiel on the subject.

There are plenty of rebuttals online if you care to look as Hovind was saying the same thing for years (almost literally the same; he had a script memorised) but to be as brief as possible, once the snow is packed down under enough layers you might get a maximum of one additional warm-cold layer per year, and not very often. Any other fluctuations are mashed together and lost as the layers flatten. Someone digging a couple of hundred feet will see lots of extra layers, and that’s why the deep cores were taken in the first place: to get the good information down where nature has naturally removed much of the “noise”.

The cores are irrelevant to the accuracy of radiometric dating because they were not used to verify the accuracy of radiometric dating. If you wonder about that, actually look up how it’s been tested. If you simply dismiss all old-earth evidence because you think some of it is incorrect and therefore non-creationist scientists aren’t worth listening to, let me introduce you to the genetic fallacy.

Stalactites and stalagmites can form using different materials and in different circumstances, some of which are fast enough to show results in weeks and some of which are slow enough to take millions of years, and geologists know the difference. Even before you consider these structures, the cave they’re in has to form first, and that can take millions of years too. There’s lots more detail here.

Fátima Recap

Question from Jonathan:
So how do you explain events life Fatima where over 70000 people simultaneously saw a miracle as it was foretold by a little girl, check it out if you don’t believe me it’s very well documented. If that’s not enough for you it also made accurate predictions.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve addressed both of these points quite recently: the mass miracle here and the predictions here. If I’ve missed some detail which you think is important, comment in the appropriate article.

Free Will Hunting

Question from John:
Do atheists have “free will” or is it just everybody else except them?

Answer by SmartLX:
I think we’re all agreed that as a human race the same state of affairs is true for all of us regardless of what we think, so either we all have free will or none of us do.

The reason a lot of atheists reject the idea of free will is that it seems to require a supernatural mechanism within the brain. The actions we take result from the decisions we make, and the decisions we make are determined by the physical state of our brains and the electrical signals within them at the time. To go against all that and avoid the choice which is pre-determined by the external and internal factors beforehand literally requires that the brain go against the laws of physics. Many people who do think we have free will get around this by thinking that the soul influences the brain in such matters, which doesn’t give atheists much confidence that free will is compatible with a materialistic view of the brain. But again, if atheists are wrong then they have a soul like everybody else, and therefore free will.

This scientific perspective on the problem sounds abstract and doesn’t strike people as having any bearing on the decisions they’ve made themselves, so I like to explain it this way instead. We have things that we want and we make decisions and take actions to achieve them – in other words we have will. It’s not free will because it is driven entirely by the things we want, and we can’t decide what to want. The only reason, the ONLY reason we ever act in a way that denies us something we want is because we want something else more. We refuse a delicious cake because we want to lose weight. We don’t pursue romance with someone we desire because we want to avoid rejection, or because we want to preserve an existing relationship. This is not necessarily selfish in the usual sense because what we want most might be for someone else to be happy, or to advance a cause that will benefit a group we’re not in. Nevertheless we are literally slaves to our desires, it’s just a matter of which desire wins out in the moment.

Life, Oh Life, Ooohhh Liiiiife, Oh Life…(doo doo doo doo)

Question from Madnomas:
I just read your response to the question regarding biogenesis. While you gave the only answer you could have, it is severely lacking. To claim that it “is unlikely that the conditions could have been right at least once in the distant past” (paraphrasing) is a gross over reach. If abiogenesis were “not unlikely,” one would presumably be able to predict that the more we learn about the earliest life forms, the less complex these forms would appear, and the more likely the conditions that might be able to generate life would what we’ve found. However, it is exactly the opposite. Even the earliest life is infinitely complex. Not only is life extremely complex but has as its foundation, information. So, as we discover more about early life and the conditions surrounding the early atmosphere, it has only become more improbable, but without mutation and selection to fall back, we have to account for the appearance of information. So instead of casually brush off this extremely potent evidence for a creator, as understandably would for convenience, this is still a monumental challenge for atheism to address. Unfortunately, it’s only becoming more improbable with each new discovery.

Answer by SmartLX:
There is no physical or chemical barrier to an increase in the amount of information on Earth as long as we have the Sun, even before the emergence of life. I’ve explained this briefly here.

The first life was complex but it was less complex than much of modern life, unless you think human beings are no more complex than bacteria. And the Miller-Urey experiment gets a lot of flak but it proved beyond doubt that the introduction of electricity (via lightning) can produce amino acids, so inorganic processes do important work and therefore not all of the complexity had to pop up at once.

Not knowing how something happened is not an argument that it didn’t happen, except for an argument from ignorance. Eliminating every possible method might be evidence for same, but that clearly hasn’t happened as long as there are potentially viable models, and in this case there are lots. And the proposed alternative requires that we assume the presence and participation for an entity not only for which there is no evidence, but about which nothing is agreed upon even hypothetically. It would be much stronger to establish the existence of God without the requirement of faith and then argue that God created life than to support God with apparent creation.

Was Blind, But Now I See

Question from Halil:
Does this experience prove the existence of souls? It is of a woman who was born blind, had a visual NDE, and saw things, including Jesus. There have been studies done which say that the people born blind cannot see in their dreams, but this woman could see in her NDE. What is your opinion about that?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbtoX3Q5OI

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s true, if people are born blind then their dreams are auditory, tactile and olfactory but not visual. Thing is, if people are born blind then they have no basis on which to recognise sight. This woman has been around sighted people all her life and knows the language of visual imagery, and has chosen to use that language to describe what she experienced, but we have no way of knowing whether what she was actually experiencing was sight regardless of what she says.

One very important thing to remember is that we have documented cases of people who have gained sight for the first time as adults, when lifelong conditions like congenital cataracts are discovered and treated. It’s a downright traumatic experience for many, and universally they spend a long time with no idea what they’re looking at. (There’s a good account by an opthalmologist here.) By contrast the woman in your video immediately knew what she was seeing, ws completely comfortable with processing the visual signals and enjoyed the whole thing. It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve seen in real life, because it’s as if her brain was rewired in an instant to process the new signal perfectly. Sounds miraculous indeed.

Out of Body, Back In 5 Minutes

Question from Halil:
Hello guys, I wanted to thank you so far for answering my questions, all answers are much appreciated and most were very logical and rational, which is what I was looking for.

Today I wanted to ask you guys what you think of out of body experiences or OBEs. I am not exactly sure what to make of it. I have read that G Force pilots sometimes have OBEs while they are in flight simulator, as the brain loses blood, oxygen, and is confused. Therefore, from that it would make the most sense to assume that OBEs are a result of a confused brain, struggling to locate exactly where it is in relation to the body. However, I have noticed that some of these OBEs that you read about, from Dr. Jeffrey Long, from Peter Fenwick, sound a bit complicated. For example, people will report floating to another room and obtaining information that they could not have obtained. My aunt had an OBE where she apparently floating outside the hospital, and saw her son with a cigarette in his mouth. Apparently, that was the first time he ever did it, so it was believed that she could not have known that if it wasn’t for the OBE. Other people claim to have left hospitals, gone to a friend’s house, and confirmed later on that what they saw their friend doing actually occurred. One case was interesting where a guy dreamed that his friend died. She actually got into an accident that day, and he didn’t know. Then she apparently had an OBE where she floated to his house and saw him sleeping.

It is experiences like this that make me wonder. They sound too complex for the brain to make up. What are your opinions?

Answer by SmartLX:
Cases where OBEs or NDEs (near death experiences) are claimed to provide the subject with information that was otherwise inaccessible are never successfully pinned down. The accounts remain mere anecdotes, and the ways they can fall through as evidence are myriad. Take your cousin and his first cigarette: for non-smokers there is no urge whatsoever to go out and have your first cigarette in times of stress That’s an urge only smokers get so I doubt very much that it was his first, despite what he told her. Therefore, if your aunt smelled cigarette smoke on him previously, even subconsciously, that would have been enough to inspire that image.

As for the complexity of what these people see, it’s no more complex than the things that happen in dreams. It’s just people walking around doing real things after all, so it’s all well within the capacity of the human brain to fabricate. The only valid way to claim a supernatural occurrence is to establish that there was absolutely no way that the subject could have known a certain piece of information, and even then there’s the chance that it was a fluke. The fact that all you ever have in these cases is anecdotes, often from the family of the subject, does not make for objectivity. No offence. Get evidence on camera, of an event happening and of someone coming out of an OBE and describing it before anyone has a chance to spoil it, and maybe you can get somewhere with one of these.