Why Fight the Young Earth?

Question from Jerry:
I very often hear about if the Earth is ~6000 – ~10.000 years old or if it is billions years old.

But I don’t understand how this is an argument, just because in the Bible it says God created the heavens and the earth and all live on the Earth in 6 days.
So.. if Adam would do scientific research on the universe and the planet, would the planet look like its only a couple of days old?
I can’t imagine how that would look like, because scientifically, a 6 day year old planet would look nothing like a planet, more a ball of lava.

So If God created the Earth to be habitable, it would HAVE to be a billion year old planet, there is no other choice. So of course the planet looks old, even if it’s created just a second ago.

So many atheists use the evidence for an old Earth as an argument against Creation. I don’t see how it has any argumentative value though.
I’m wondering what an atheist’s response to this is.

Thank you ever so much 🙂

Answer by SmartLX:
Young Earth creationists (YECs) do say that God created the Earth more or less the way it is, without working through the lava-world phase over millions of years. As you say, there’s strong evidence for an old Earth (geological, astronomical, radiometric, etc.), so a young Earth would have been created with all that evidence essentially falsified. This is the problem though, because why would God go to so much trouble to deceive us into thinking it was so old? Especially if we’re supposed to take the roughly six thousand year history of the world in the Bible seriously?

Of course the problem with any anti-religious argument that goes, “Why/how would God do this?” is that it’s possible to assert as gospel (sometimes literally) any answer which explains it away. The Earth looks old because God’s testing our faith, for example. Thus faith is insulated from any attempts to make their beliefs sound silly, and plot holes in scripture can be ironed out.

The main point of this particular battleground is that young Earth creationism follows on from Biblical literalism. The Bible says the world was created in six days, and that there have only been a small number of generations of humans since then, so that’s the way it was. There’s no good reason to believe it except if you want or need the Book of Genesis to be literal. Outspoken YECs try to convince nonbelievers that the world is young so that they will accept that God created it, because supposedly nothing else could explain a young Earth. Even if they fail, they often succeed in reassuring other Biblical literalists.

To give their position a respectable veneer, in order to appeal to nonbelievers and impress believers, YECs need to make it look like it has secular scientific support, which means presenting scientific arguments that the Earth is young. The proper use of the real evidence that the Earth is old, rather than to jump straight to advocating atheism, is to simply counter these arguments by YECs, and the evidence does so very easily. Thus there is no intact evidence for a young Earth, YECs are reduced to claiming God made the world look old, the young Earth becomes a mere assertion and it cannot serve as a solid premise for arguments for the existence of the God of Abraham. Thus you can believe in a young Earth if you want but it won’t get you anywhere with those who don’t already agree with you.

A Relationship with the Divine

Question from Samson:
I am studying philosophy and worldview and I’m currently working on an assignment where we are meant to explore this question:
“What is the relationship between humanity and the Divine?”

If you aren’t sure how to answer the particular question outright, I think answering these questions might give me what I’m interested in knowing:

1. Do atheists believe in any gods or supreme beings?
2. Do you believe in the supernatural or paranormal at all? Not just gods, but stuff like ESP, magic, mind reading, ghosts, etc.
3. Does life or humanity have intrinsic value?
3a. If not, is there any way for a human or their life to be “valuable” or have meaning?

Answer by SmartLX:
The main question is easily answered from an atheist perspective: “probably none”. There has to be a Divine for humanity to have any real relationship with it; if there’s not then much of humanity is operating on false assumptions, and any perceived relationship is in their heads.

And now for the rest of the questions, which I’ve numbered above for clarity.

1. Atheists, by definition, do not believe in any gods, and most definitions of a “supreme being” are close enough to a god as makes no difference. For instance, there’s a similarly poor standard of available evidence and logical arguments for a non-divine supreme being, so it fares no better than gods in that respect.

2. Lots of atheists believe in supernatural or paranormal phenomena. For instance I’ve discussed ghosts with many self-proclaimed atheists who believe in them for various reasons. It’s consistent (to some extent at least) for an atheist to believe in such things if they do not necessarily require a god to exist. I personally do not believe in any such things, as far as I’m aware.

3. Look up definitions of value and you will find expressions like “the regard that something is held to deserve” and “one’s judgement of what is important in life” (emphasis mine). Value is subjective by its very nature, because it has to have value to someone. Even its definition as a verb is phrased along the lines of “consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial”, which is again dependent on the one doing the considering. For something to have “intrinsic value” it would need to be of value to the universe as a whole, entirely independent of people. That either means the universe is conscious and values certain things, or it is controlled by an entity such as a god which has its own values. Atheists don’t think either is the case, so there’s no such thing as intrinsic value to us – unless you instead define value in terms of physical quantities. A pint of beer might cost $10 or it might come for free or it might save or end a life, but it will always measure one pint.

3a. The above does not stop us from valuing things, because subjective judgments are still judgments. Life has value to the living, humanity has value to humans, and we’re all living humans so we can happily behave as if they are intrinsically valuable. If there’s no god then you’re not looking for a stamp of approval for your values from the universe at large, only from the people your values may impact or impress.

With that covered, take a step back and consider the nature of question 3a. I don’t know whether you’re repeating it from somewhere, but it could be considered an attempt to have atheists admit a bleak, nihilistic outlook, as the existence of 3a makes it look likely that the answer to 3 is “no” and the answer to “3a” might just be “none”. If this is the author’s motivation, it is an appeal to consequences as it does not say anything about whether atheism is right or justified. Apologies if this is clearly not the author’s intention, but it is exactly the intention of some advocates so I wanted to mention it regardless.

Bringing God to the Homeowners

Question from Jerry:
I live in an HOA community of about 100 homes in North Carolina. We have a clubhouse and monthly dinner socials and there is always a spoken Christian prayer before each meal. After going to these for two years I met with the HOA Board to complain about the prayers because they were not inclusive and this is not a religious compound. Their lawyer told them that did not have the authority to tell anyone to pray or not to pray. They sent out the board minutes to the community and instead saying a resident complained about prayers, they mentioned me by name. Because of this is sent out a 17 point rebuttal explaining why I had done this. Interestingly enough I got a lot of hugs and hand shakes for doing this. I tried to bring it up at the annual meeting and was shut down because they had already ruled on the issue. I am at present circulating a petition and so far have 20 homeowner signatures. This must be a HOA issue nationwide. The boards always deal with property management companies. Our property management company suggested that I just leave the room. I replied that I was not going to sit in back of the bus. I did a little research on national property management trade organizations but could not find anything about my issue. Do you have any suggestions.

Answer by SmartLX:
Even if I were American I think I’d be the wrong person to ask about the laws that apply to American homeowner’s associations with respect to religion, or to anything else for that matter. So I’ll say up front, folks, comment to help this guy out and you’ll probably do better than me.

From what I can gather from forums and from simple articles like this one, as a private entity not representing the state in any way a HOA can pretty much do whatever its board wants, as long as it’s within the law generally. Praying in front of you on behalf of the HOA certainly favours a particular religion but the HOA is not required to be impartial as long as your rights are respected, and you are not technically a captive audience.

Those hugs and handshakes are important, though, if only because you know you’re not alone. I’d say the best way to change what the board does is to change what the board wants, and the most straightforward way to do that is to change who’s on the board. Here I’m adrift as I have no idea whether your board simply consists of every homeowner or it’s elected from within that group. If the latter is the case then you could encourage the huggers and handshakers to run next time around, and potentially form a focused minority on the board with the leverage to effect change.

I’ll just bring up one strategy I’ve read about that has gotten fast results in the fight against partisan prayers in other spheres, in case you can find a way to use it. It’s to demand equal time for other views, or just exercise freedom of speech and answer one expression with another. People have used Hindu prayers, prayers to Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, readings from The God Delusion or On The Origin of Species and so on. Once it becomes clear to the Christian majority that minority beliefs and positions will appear on the same stage (sometimes literally) as their own with equal significance, they may decide it’s not worth having a timeslot for prayer at all.

Some Of The Smart People Are Wrong Too

Question from Rodermac:
I was at some site immediately prior to this. Some questionnaire for atheists – no help at all really. Nice to be somewhere I don’t have to be afraid. Tried to believe in something, seemed to be a somewhat key ingredient in a fellowship i’d joined. Started reading the Bible that had been placed in my room by the Gideons. I guess I never recovered from that exposure. How can it be that so many people, oodles of them smarter than me, conceive that a faith based on this concept of a deity could be a good one?

Answer by SmartLX:
If that deity is real, then faith in it isn’t just good, it’s essential. It’s the only thing which just might save your soul. The fact that this strikes many as a horrible state of affairs is irrelevant if it’s the truth.

If you truly believe it, you are emotionally and often socially driven to use the full force of your intellect to do several things, consciously and subconsciously. You regularly reassure yourself that it’s true in all kinds of ways, which protects you from losing your precious faith and staves off some of the inevitable nagging doubt. You look for opportunities to share your faith with others, either by reinforcing their existing faith or by converting them outright, which you believe is a gift to them and reflects well on you. You try to have God’s will be done on earth, living by (and possibly holding others to) the commands you believe He has given. And through it all you convince yourself that it’s a good thing, for the sake of your own happiness.

When you’ve been doing all of this for years, deliberately examining your beliefs to see whether they hold up sounds like a very dangerous proposition. You risk invalidating all the work you’ve done for the Lord, you’re disobeying direct orders not to question Him, and even if you’re right then you have to accept that you’ve spent all that time before on a fool’s errand and your worldview crumbles around you. It might actually be harder for some very intelligent people to do this as they’ve built better defenses in terms of apologetics, that is, they have more to unlearn. It’s all very well to say you want to know the truth, but sometimes it can seem like if the truth is a certain thing then it’s not worth knowing.

I’m not saying the process is hard in order to congratulate myself for going through it and coming out the other side as an atheist. My journey was very easy compared to most, because I simply let it all lie for more than a decade while I worked on other things. When I eventually came back to reconsider it, my emotional and social connections to Christianity were all but severed; my love of God and fear of Hell had been neglected, and I only went to church with the family at Christmas and occasionally Easter, so the congregation barely knew me. The New Atheist books by the “Four Horsemen” were just coming out, and I was able to consider arguments from both sides quite coldly (this site is one of the places I went looking for where the “fight” was happening). One side won.

Information Sources

Question from Louis:
Where does new information come from? Material does not generate information.

Answer by SmartLX:
New order and information is generated where there is a local decrease in entropy. (If the concept of entropy is new to you, pause here and read my article on the subject.) Entropy can decrease in an area when energy is transferred to it from a connected area, because the transfer increases entropy in the source area and the overall entropy stays positive.

The application of this to our general situation is that the sun generates a huge amount of entropy by burning itself up, and the resulting energy radiates to us where it can fuel the emergence of all kinds of new stuff. Considering evolution in particular, which is usually the reason for asking an atheist this question, new information enters the genome via the events of natural selection between organisms. When a gene makes it significantly more likely for a subset of a population to survive and procreate, useful information in the genome is favoured and junk is slowly weeded out (though there’s plenty of junk still in there, no matter what organism you’re looking at).

For a simple way of understanding how simple selection acting upon random mutations can create order and recognisable information, imagine a row of ten random digits, e.g. 1907632438. If you repeatedly randomise all ten digits with no further guidance, you might get some coincidences but it will remain random. Instead of that, you fix a digit in place for one round if it is larger than the digit to its left and smaller than the digit to its right (for the two on the ends, only one of these rules is applied) and randomise the rest. Over time the numbers will tend towards an ascending order from left to right, and it might be inevitable that the final sequence is 01234567890, without any number ever being deliberately chosen. Making this actually happen would be an excellent programming exercise for any students out there.

About “The Atheist”

Question from Niki:
Please supply us with general info on your person, like place of living, age, gender, formal education etc. And if there are more people than ‘SmartLX’.

It would be fair to know who I ask and who answers my questions, just as when I read a book or an article, I can see the name of the author, and when I google the name I will know more about the person, thus I can distrust, and in my case trust, the answer more, if I know just who is answering them. I am not asking about the IQ of the person, but I would love that too. Mine is not too high, but high enough for me to know my boundaries. Goethe’s, I believe, was 210 or even more, while Mozart’s was ‘merely’ 165. I believe mine is 110-120 and I am ashamed of its lowness, cos I love intelligence and knowledge, especially in natural sciences, classical music, psychology, sociology, neurology and psychiatry. And flowers, children, cats and MOZART. lol

Answer by SmartLX:
I don’t see how all of the requested information is neccessarily relevant but I’m not really concealing any of it either, so: I’m 36, male and in Queensland, Australia, and it’s just me on ATA right now. I have an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science, and another in theatre. I work in IT and HR.

My IQ has been measured variously between 148 and 166 by different tests some time ago, and that’s high but I’m very aware that IQ tests only measure a very narrow set of abilities, so I don’t put much stock in it and neither should you. The strengths of your intelligence may be in areas the tests don’t cover. Besides, 110-120 is still above average, because by definition the average is 100.

If anyone else is curious about me beyond my atheism for any reason, feel free to ask other questions in the comments. I reserve the right not to answer any given question, but I’m open to answering plenty.

Our Place In Space

Question from Niki:
Hello there and thanks for being here for us, I mean for us atheists.

I suspect my question has been already asked and answered, but I am not sure which link is the best for the best answer, so, here it is about the origin of matter in space.
I myself have some answers to offer, like it’s been there forever in the past, then I read that some scientists have come to the idea and rejected it, I don’t know exactly why. the other answer would be what Steven Hawking told us, that something can come out of nothing, like empty space containing nothing, and then something pops out of this nothing. in that case i would say that this Steven’s nothing is not my nothing, cos my nothing is really nothing, while his is kinda pregnant with something that the matter popped out of.

So, which link would be the freshest and best to tell me the present state of thought on the origin of matter? Or it isn’t known probably.
The other question has to do with gravity and other forces that are present in the universe, and in the matter itself. What about them, which are they and where did they come from? Probably unknown too.

Tied to this is the question of the moving of matter. I know that matter has never been stagnant in space, once it came out of the big bang. So, the first, original push of the bang, was the one that drove the matter into space. But, for space bodies to be formed, there had to be, and is still there, cos there is no traction of the environment in space, the circular movement of the matter so that it gathered together here and there and formed star or planets and suns.

BTW, does our sun rotate too, together with its planets, and us too with the earth?

Thanks, and sorry if I am too much of a dilettante in the field, but I know much more about Mozart. This minute I am listening to the fourth movement of his fortieth symphony. Delicious. lol

Answer by SmartLX:
You’re very welcome Niki, I have gradually gathered some feedback that our presence has been of use.

Anyway, my main article on the origin of the universe is my response to the cosmological argument, and it raises multiple possibilities. A universe that extends forever into the past is one option, and I know what you’re referring to when you say some scientists rejected the idea, but they didn’t really. I learned that while writing an article on the findings of Borde, Guth and Vilenkin. Something from “nothing” is another valid option, and in my article on that I refer to a book and online lecture by Lawrence Krauss who can explain it better than I can. As you imply, the meaning of “nothing” is slightly unconventional in this context.

The origin of the fundamental forces of the universe are as much a mystery as the origin of the matter in it. Again, they could have existed forever or emerged from nothingness, and that’s just two hypotheses of several. The origin of the universe’s movement isn’t so much of a mystery though, because if everything was moving outwards from a single point in a balanced way then the combined momentum of the universe was zero anyway. In one mathematical sense, nothing changed from when (or if) it started as a dot going nowhere. Spinning motions were largely caused by gravity; if two objects are drawn to each other in space but barely avoid a collision, for example, they will begin to orbit each other.

The movement of the Sun is rather interesting. It does rotate, but billions of years of being dragged upon by its own magnetic field have slowed its rotation until it’s probably turning slower than anything else in the solar system. It also moves around the Milky Way in its own 200 million year orbit. Relative to Earth, the Sun travels roughly in the direction of north, so that our orbit around the Sun actually traces a 3D spiral or spring shape through space. Here’s a simple model.

Enjoy your Mozart. Appropriately for this topic I’ve always loved The Planets suite by Gustav Holst, especially the plaintive, possibly jazz-influenced Venus and the sublime, haunting Neptune. (Look up what “sublime” actually means, folks, and then listen to Neptune while thinking of space.)

This Is Not A Boys’ Club, Dammit

Question from Kris:
Background information for my question: I am female atheist (not atheist agnostic, but an atheist who doesn’t believe in any supernatural power or being) who studies human evolution in the Cradle of Humanity in Kenya.

I have noticed many, not all, male atheists seem to aggressively question my atheism. I have never had this issue with other female atheists.

So my question is actually two parts, one for female atheists and the other for general atheists.

So for the female atheists, has anyone else experienced this aggressive questioning of their atheism by fellow atheists?

And why do some male atheists need to question females’ atheism?

Answer by SmartLX:
I regret that there are no female atheists currently “on staff” here, as it’s just me for the moment. Women are more than welcome to answer by comment, and incidentally if anyone male or female would like to be a contributor it won’t hurt to write via the “Ask it here!” form and let me know.

I think the simplest answer to your second question is one word long: sexism. Some atheists think their own atheism is a sign of intelligence and resistance to social pressure. If they also think that women tend to be of lower intelligence and more susceptible to social pressure, they may come to the prejudiced conclusion that few women have the necessary qualities to be real atheists.

If they are sexist to the extent that their own sense of masculinity depends on a perceived superiority to women, they may actively resist the idea of a contemporary female atheist, because a woman who’s an intellectual equal threatens their self-image. The only way to act out this resistance, as silly as it sounds, is to interrogate you and ideally uncover you as a false atheist. One can only guess at what they think your motivations might be; perhaps they suspect you’re trying to sound more intelligent and independent than you really are.

Meanwhile in the real world, of COURSE women can be atheists, of COURSE women can equal or surpass men intellectually, and an inverse statistical correlation between religiosity and intelligence has been shown by several studies (here’s a meta-analysis) but the causal nature of the link has not been established. It’s not surprising that the atheist community isn’t free from sexism as sexism isn’t only caused by religion, but it’s still disheartening when women (and minorities) aren’t welcomed.

How The Snake Got Its Venom

Question from Robert:
What would be your reasoning as to how the evolution of venomous snakes could have happened? Obviously, the first snakes did not start off with venom glands in their heads. That means that they were getting along just fine without any venom to kill their prey for hundreds of thousands or millions of years. So why in the world would venom glands evolve inside their heads? That is not ‘natural selection’. Indeed, that is completely unnatural. A creature wants to keep poison out of its body! So why would any creature start to make poison inside its body? That makes no sense at all. And it would potentially be extremely dangerous to that creature.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s say that such a totally bizarre thing occurred. So now what? You have snakes with venom glands in their heads. How in the heck are the snakes supposed to get the venom into their prey? That would be 100% impossible for snakes to do that without hollowed out, syringe-like, very sharp fangs.

That’s a HUGE problem. That means that snakes which somehow evolved venom glands, would then have to evolve syringe like teeth. And there is absolutely no way that could happen because that would require forethought and planning. And it would totally go against the theory of natural selection. Also, by the time that snakes could have strangely evolved syringe like teeth, their venom glands would have already been naturally phased out because those glands would have been totally useless for an extremely long time. But again, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that this second totally bizarre thing occurred. Now snakes would have had to evolve a structure that would connect the venom gland to the syringe like teeth. How could all of these bizarre things happen accidentally? …. or naturally?

Answer by SmartLX:
We don’t have to rely on my reasoning, not when Scientific American has a full article on this exact subject and Wikipedia has a good summary sitting right there. What the heck, here’s the National Geographic article too. These are literally the first three results when you Google “evolution of snake venom” so I guess you didn’t start there.

The first snakes actually did start off with venom glands because the glands first evolved in the ancestors of snakes, four-legged burrowing lizards more similar to the Komodo dragon. The proteins in venom share DNA with compounds that do other jobs. One is saliva, which breaks down organic material for digestion. Immune system proteins, which attack foreign elements in the body, are another. One compound that isn’t mentioned is stomach acid, but this is another dangerous substance that is essential to normal bodily function. We need poisons in our bodies to survive, only they’re poisons we’re able to tolerate because of how they’re produced and contained. Venom evolved many times over throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, because it has lots to build off.

As for delivery systems, of which there are many, you don’t need much of a starting point. Toads secrete poison on their skin and let it sit there, because the only animals they want to poison are those who try to eat them, so any number of bodily glands could have switched their purpose. Spitting cobras squirt venom forward, so what if they started by just plain spitting, or to be more specific, gleeking? With this technique, even humans can shoot liquid a long way from the body straight from a gland. A gland with a naturally effective nozzle like this can slowly evolve into either a weapon that can be aimed or a hard retractable tube that can inject, because every little bit closer it mutates to either one of these makes for more effective hunting and defense, and ultimately a better chance of survival.

With the specifics covered, let’s look at the overall nature of your challenge because it is VERY similar to those that have come before. You point to something remarkable and ask how it could have happened, and implicitly assert your own explanation by elimination after assuming no good answer is forthcoming. A textbook argument from ignorance (a harsh name, sorry, but the official one) and thus an informal fallacy, which is a failure of the premise of an argument to support its conclusion. It fails for several reasons: obviously it’s rebutted if an alternative answer is presented, but even if not it relies on the assumption that if you and I can’t think of a way then it’s impossible. We’d have to be gods ourselves for this to be true. I point out this fallacy whenever it comes in because it is the basis of many of the arguments for God, and every creationist argument. As a result, these arguments are only good for reassuring yourself and those who agree with you, because by themselves they have little power to persuade.

Left Christianity, but Hell followed you out?

Question from Chris:
I was raised Christian until I found a Jewish website that explained how the New Testament contradicts the Old. I now describe myself as agnostic, but I’m still afraid that there may be a hell. This is stopping me from living my life and while I doubt that I’ll become a Christian again, I sometimes wonder if there’s any chance the Jewish faith was right.

Is there any way that I might be able to let go of this fear? Maybe some way to make a firm decision on whether or not I should be religious? People have advised me to learn more about religion and the world in general; maybe there’s something specific I should look at?

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, which is my word for the lingering emotional aftereffects of strong religious belief, chief among them fear and guilt. That fear might stick around for a while even if you stop believing entirely. The more often you can register that your level of fear is unjustified, the quicker it will fade, but probably only by small degrees.

If you think the Jewish version of Hell is the most likely to be real, it certainly doesn’t warrant the same kind of fear as the Christian Hell because it is NOT a place of eternal torment. Read this Jewish article on the subject: their name for it is Gehinnom, and it’s light-heartedly described as a “spiritual washing machine” that prepares your soul for Heaven. It’s closer to the Christian concept of purgatory; while it’s not something to look forward to, there’s a purpose to the suffering and most importantly there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

So that’s what to keep in mind when you’ve got your figurative yarmulke on, but the rest of the time it’s good to read up on conflicting reports of Hell from different religions, and even different denominations of the same one. It’s the strongest sign we have that no one really knows anything about it, or has any authority to tell you what to fear. Not only that, but the reasons a soul is sent to Hell are mutually exclusive between different religions and denominations. Beyond the obvious fact that you can only proclaim one kind of faith which denies all the others, the rules for living are different all round. That means it’s futile to try to behave any particular way in order to avoid Hell because you’re almost certainly doing something wrong. That sounds pessimistic but it can at least free you from micro-managing everything you do, and give you a sense of community as you’re in the same unreliable boat as everyone else.

You can make a decision about how devoutly to keep to the tenets of whatever religion you choose to adhere to, but how religious you are is not really your decision to make. Your level of belief is influenced by what you see, read and hear. You could immerse yourself in religious media and after long enough you might no longer doubt it, or avoid it altogether and slowly forget, but this is artificially reinforcing a bias and does not reflect reality. Regardless, I can tell you that being more religious is very unlikely to make you less afraid of Hell. If you accept its existence and its specific nature as dictated by your religion, your work is cut out for you as you are acutely aware of what you must do, and not do. You’re also surrounded by people who don’t share your faith, aren’t living right and are therefore bound for Hell, emphasising how easy it is to fall short and pay the price.

Better to get on with life, I say. Just be a person in the world, do what you can to be a good one, improve life for others, have your fun when it’s not hurting anyone. Thoughts of the afterlife tend to take a backseat when you live in the now.