If Questions Came By Instant Messaging, Only Longer

Question from Rachael:
so u think that god is stupid well i have a few words for u i was like that at one time screw god but i learned the hard way that u need to rethink that god is real as real as the sun and the stars how do u think that u made in this earth i know from ur mom but how do u explain the 1st person on earth theres a hell and a heaven and ur going to be in hell if u don’t get ur act right or some day gods gonna strike u dead all those problems u have in your life could be resolved in just going to a church and praying u will find that that will help u

Answer by SmartLX:
Went to church and prayed, rather a lot. Many atheists started out religious simply because of their upbringing. If you believe, you can convince yourself God is talking back to you, but if not there is usually silence and that’s fine.

Regarding the “ur mom” argument, the line of ancestry goes back past the first humans to the first primates, to the first mammals, to the first tetrapods, to the first vertebrates, to the first multi-celled organisms, to the very first life, and at that point if you look practically anywhere on the site right now you’ll see the same argument raging over whether natural abiogenesis is possible. If there’s no god then it happened, no question, and if there is a god it still might have happened, but whether it’s more unlikely than the existence of a god is so subjective it’s an argument not worth having between a believer and a non-believer. Probabilities get us nowhere unless they’re 0 or 1.

If you’re still around, do comment and let us know how you “learned the hard way”.

If Questions Came By Instant Messaging

Question from Rachael:
ok i guess i don’t understand how a person can be atheist i mean how can u go through the world knowing that ur going to hell even if u don’t want to believe it

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry it took so long to get to these next four, but they were incorrectly submitted in the comments of the question submission page instead of using the form, and I’ve worked through the correct submissions first.

It’s quite simple Rachael. If you actually don’t believe in God, you usually don’t believe there’s a Heaven or a Hell either. Removing the existence of God from your worldview doesn’t just leave a Christian worldview with a God-shaped hole cut out of it. The whole afterlife mythology goes out the window (possibly after a long period of “faithdrawal”), and you’re left with one life to live as best you can. So you do that, often with a great deal less fear.

Go Where The Science Leads

Question from “Not an atheist”:
Why do you atheists believe you know better than actual scientists that figured all this shit out? Science doesn’t lead to atheism, it refuted atheism a long time ago.

Answer by SmartLX:
Science is a process, and it has definitely led many to atheism by helping them discover natural explanations for phenomena previously thought to be the work of gods. Everyone thinks of evolution as an example, but it goes all the way back to things like the existence and movement of the sun. Others simply attribute the new mechanisms to God as well and are awed by the wondrous ways in which He apparently works, so science does end up leading some farther from atheism than they started. Overall, where science “leads” in this sense is highly subjective and therefore varies wildly.

As for your last point, have a quick search of the site to see if the specific refutation of atheism you’re thinking of is already addressed. If not, we’d love to hear about it. If so, drop a comment on the article you find and we’ll pick up from there.

Breaking Down NDEs by Cause

Question from Marcus:
Does this disprove the hypoxia theory for NDEs?
http://skeptiko.com/critique-of-skeptics-guide-249/

Answer by SmartLX:
A quick search on this topic makes it apparent we’ve wandered into a battlefield. The hypoxia hypothesis has been viciously attacked elsewhere as well, always with the express purpose of legitimising claims of near death experiences.

The core issue is that the link has four separate lists of the effects of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and “hallucinations” isn’t in any of them. This contradicts (for example) the common trope of mountain climbers hallucinating at high altitudes, which has been properly researched but remains largely an anecdotal claim. More widely accepted is that hallucinations, especially auditory, can be an after-effect of brain damage as a result of hypoxia, so potentially it could trigger as soon as the life-threatening event has caused enough damage.

So no, hypoxia is not eliminated as a cause of the kind of hallucinations that can be mistaken for NDEs, but it’s only one of many possible causes anyway. The link attempts to cover some of these but not with nearly as much rigor; one point is dismissed solely on the basis of Occam’s Razor for instance. The other major problem is that it considers each potential cause individually, taking as counter-examples instances of patients only experiencing one (e.g. hypoxia or a seizure). People near death are often experiencing several of these at once: reduced oxygen, harmful CO2 levels, minor seizures or similar convulsions, powerful drugs administered by medical staff, high levels of various hormones and all kinds of issues with blood flow. The consistent cause of the “classic” NDE may lie in a combination.

Rooting For The Ultimate Underdog

Question from Kyle:
I was wondering if you agree with me that even if we knew Christianity were true, any moral person would be morally compelled to follow Lucifer not God.

– God kills at least millions, Lucifer killed less than a handful of people.
– 1/3 of all angels rebel with Lucifer to fight a war against an omnipotent being they know they can’t win.
– Lucifer is cast out of Heaven for refusing to worship God.
– Lucifer sees human slaves so he gives them knowledge.
– God decides to torture his most beloved creation, the devil, for all eternity.

List could go on forever.

Answer by SmartLX:
When you don’t believe in either of these two characters a discussion like this is moot, of course, but think how many discussions are had over who is the true hero of Star Wars or Game of Thrones. In that spirit, there is certainly a discussion to be had over which of them is more moral – when you don’t define God as the source and model of morality and therefore incapable by definition of doing anything immoral.

The question in my mind is whether one would actually be morally compelled to follow the more moral of the two. If God controls who goes to Heaven and Hell, you would want to know that following Lucifer was actually of any use to Lucifer before potentially consigning yourself to Hell for no good reason. In most of the relevant theologies there’s no reason to think that Hell stops being an eternal torment if Lucifer acknowledges your allegiance (remember, it’s a punishment even for him), though maybe there’s a Satanist text that says otherwise. And is Lucifer expected to try another insurgency anytime soon for which he’ll need anti-Christian soldiers, by anyone other than the fear-mongering kind of Christian?

Help me pin this one down, please.

Question from Halil:
Found a new OBE [out of body experience] which sounds very compelling. Apparently this man was able to identify targets during his OBE:
https://awareofaware.co/welcome/resourc … esearcher/

Does this prove the soul? It seems quite scientific, although it has never been published in a scientific journal. That aside, what do you think of it?

Answer by SmartLX:
Normally I’m able to trace this sort of thing myself, but the break in the middle of the URL in your question (as I received it) makes it hard to tell which OBE story on AwareofAware you’re referring to. Feel free to post the full link in a comment, either Halil or anyone else who can work it out.

In the meantime there’s a basic statement I can make about NDE and OBE claims in general. They’re proof of something supernatural if all alternatives can be eliminated, both to the source of whatever information was received and to the story of what physically happened. That’s not just a contest between supernatural action and sheer luck, as we’ve seen in previous cases when other explanations and inconvenient details emerge, but even sheer luck cannot be discounted, especially if you’re literally looking for proof as opposed to merely internal justification for your own belief.

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.

“Our Lady” Around The World

Question from Jonathan:
So what is your explanation for Our Lady of Akita whose tears were indeed human?

Answer by SmartLX:
Lucky you, I’ve recently addressed Akita. The short answer is that you sound more confident in that one than the Church is.

First Fátima, now Akita…what next, Our Lady of Lourdes? I know Mary really gets around.