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?

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.

Generation Gaps: Advice for an Atheist Granny

Question from Niki:
A very strong atheist granny here.

My son was an atheist before he got caught in the religious net of this backwards, in the backyard of Europe, society and his overly religious wife, or he pretends he has become religious.
He and his wife have two children and the wife is in charge of everything religious. Disgustingly so. He just lets her do whatever she wants to do, for the sake of his peace, or else…

My question is, what will I say when one day one of my grand children asks me why I do not go to church?
I was thinking of ‘I DO NOT LIKE IT IN THERE, TOO DARK,’ or something to this effect. But this can work only until the kids are small.
Have you got any other, better idea, something that will not cause the little one to report to his mum what granny says, but still something which would satisfy me more as an answer near to my the essence. Something like

Answer by SmartLX:
You assume, correctly I think, a strong chance that your daughter-in-law will not want your grandchildren exposed to the simple idea that there are people who do not believe in God. She would be right to fear this. It means the difference between never even thinking to question the idea of God and eventually realising that no one has the answers for sure. (I think it’s ultimately responsible for my own deconversion.) They will be exposed in the end of course, but the question is how strongly indoctrinated they will be by then.

Taking your scenario at face value, you could say something like, “I don’t think it’s necessary to go to church.” This is true, but they are free to assume that you mean you don’t think God takes church attendance as seriously as their mother and the church think He does. One variation could be, “I think I’ve gone to church enough already.”

Consider, though, that if the kids register that you’re not going to church it will probably happen at church, or in the car going to or from church, and you won’t be there. In this case they’ll probably ask their parents about you first. So if I were you I would go talk to your son about what he will, and what his wife might, say about you. You’re doing your best to protect the family from a rift, and that’s best handled as a family.

Whatever happens (and do let us know in a comment), good luck.

The NDEs Keep Coming

Question from Halil:
Hello, I wanted to know what atheists think of this testimony, and if it scares them.

Answer by SmartLX:
Not scary if you don’t already believe. When trying to threaten kids about the boogeyman, they have to believe it exists to some extent before they buy into the fear. This does not do a good job of supporting the existence of God, Hell or an afterlife at all.

Here are some but certainly not all of the reasons why not. Folks are free to comment and chip in.

– The guy had taken a variety of hallucinogenic drugs, some of which (e.g. LSD) can have after-effects causing hallucinations years later.
– His solid Catholic upbringing had primed his brain with all the imagery he needed to subconsciously pull together an authentic Christian afterlife experience for himself.
– His cardiologist didn’t understand how he survived, but his cardiologist wasn’t there for the accident and might not have been able to understand where the electricity traveled even if he had. His survival is a mystery, not necessarily a miracle.
– His conversion came at the hands of a travelling evangelist whose day job is to give people amazing conversion experiences, and after what he’d been through he was ripe for it.
– His back pain appeared as mysteriously as it disappeared. It could have been in his head, or a temporary effect of the electric shock on his back muscles, but it’s not as if a well-known chronic condition was miraculously cured. (In a similar vein, I know of an American healer who would lay hands on people and announce that he had cured small tumours, which had never been detected beforehand and obviously didn’t show up afterwards.)
– This page asks for money at the bottom. They’ll say anything, and since the story is a personal account that no one else can contradict they’re free to say anything.

The NDE From Hell

Question from Halil:
Ok, so on YouTube there are a variety of videos on some pro-Christian channels that encompass interviews of Christians who apparently were sinners, did not go to church, drank alcohol, masturbated, etc. and they talk about how they had Near Death Experiences or visions while they were sleeping where they visited hell. Some describe hell as flames with many demons, and very loud screams, others describe it as a dark quiet place without God.

One experience kind of frightened me. It was about an elderly priest who used to be a firefighter when he was younger. He states that he took drugs often, smoked weed, drank, etc. He said he went to Sunday school for 12 years growing up, but that he never read the Bible. Then he said his parents were not happy that he drank / took drugs, so he stopped. One day, he was at work and somehow got electrocuted, and then he said he could still see clearly, suddenly, he saw utter darkness, and had a life review showing all of his sins ever committed. Then he saw demons, which mocked him, and told him “we got you now” very much like the demons in Howard Storm’s NDE story. This priest also saw fires, called out to God, and His right hand came and pulled him out of the fire. Suddenly he was back at work and people came running as they heard him screaming. Then, he went to the hospital, and decided that he knew that hell was real.

What do you think could be an explanation of this experience? Do these so called “visions” give any of you atheists chills in case it is right? I am not Christian, but do Christians believe that they would see demons in hell? Because many of these hell stories always seem to have demons that mock God and torture the people experiencing them. Also, how could a brain come up with such graphic imagery?

Answer by SmartLX:
The extreme variety with which Hell is supposedly perceived tells you for a start that most (if not all) of these people are not seeing accurate visions, even if they’re telling the truth about what they remember.

This priest’s story has him spending a long time unconscious with his body and brain in an extreme state of distress. He sees many of the most well-known elements of the Christian story of the afterlife: a review of his sins, fires and sadistic demons in Hell because he had sinned, the literal hand of God saving him. If he was brought up in a Christian family or community even without believing, he would associate all these images with death and it’s the first place his mind would go in these circumstances whether in a dream or in a hallucination. Of course no Christian dogma states that God will immediately save you from Hell once you’re already sent there; instead that’s the point at which it’s too late to avoid your fate. As a priest, he’ll have had to find a way to reconcile his own story with the doctrine of his denomination.

Finally, brains came up with all the graphic imagery you’ve ever seen in a book, painting, sculpture, movie or video game. Artists see it all in their heads before they create it, and to their great frustration sometimes the images in their heads are much grander than what they can bring into reality. The dream of a brain near death can be a wild place.

The War According To Fátima

Question from Jakob:
It’s been a while since I posted but anyway this time it is about the Fatima prophecy, to be precise, the second secret. I am writing this on a touch screen so I can’t quote it for you now but you can read it on RationalWiki if you like. It was written right after Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union and it pretty much predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse and that Russia would be converted.

Answer by SmartLX:
Here’s the whole “secret” which, for context, is claimed to have been spoken to some shepherds by an apparition of Jesus’ mother Mary in 1917:

“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

“The war” refers to World War I. As RationalWiki says, it gets at least one thing wrong because World War II broke out seven months after the death of Pope Pius XI and therefore during the Pontificate of Pius XII. Catholics would be very surprised if the real “O Maria” got the wrong pontiff.

As for the rest, it gives two options: either communist Russia will continue its expansion and keep persecuting the Church or communism will fail and Russia will adopt Europe’s majority religion. Really, what else could have happened to Russia in World War II and the ensuing Cold War other than one of these two things, or one and then the other? Predicting every likely outcome is like putting a chip on every square of a roulette table; you don’t deserve much credit if one of your numbers comes up. In this case it’s as simple as just betting on both red and black.

To tie this into other material on this site, my piece on prophecies would categorise this one as #1. High Probabililty of Success.

The Beginning Ain’t the Be-All and End-All

Question from John:
Universe had a beginning, “proved” by second law of thermodynamics.
Dear Sir, I understand that an argument used by creationists, in favour of a Universe that had a beginning, is that the second law of thermodynamics requires that it will inevitably wind down. In essence, the claim is that the universe can not have been infinite into the past as it would have inevitably already run down. The fact of a purported finite amount of usable energy therefore implies that the universe MUST have had a beginning or else we would not be here now to discuss this. Is there a scientific rebuttal to this claim please?

Answer by SmartLX:
There are two principal possibilities which address the idea of an infinite universe having run down by now, both of which are centered around the concept of renewal.

1. The universe periodically contracts in a Big Crunch before a new Big Bang. This drags together not only all the matter in the universe but all the space and time as well. All the unusable energy lost to the edges of the universe is brought back to the singularity and can be useful once again.
2. The matter and energy in the hypothetical (but currently quite likely-looking) multiverse is infinite. When one universe runs down, countless others are still going and more universes spontaneously start up all the time. No laws of physics are broken by this sudden emergence if the amount of anti-matter that emerges is equal to the amount of matter, because matter and energy are conserved in an equation akin to 0 = 1 + -1.

Creationists often think, as they are told to by people like William Lane Craig, that once they establish that the universe had a beginning the argument is basically sewn up. Even if the above two possibilities are dismissed and you take it as read that the universe began, that it was begun by a god can only ever be an argument from ignorance. Without knowing how it happened, you can’t just assert it was one particular thing without eliminating all other possibilities, even the ones people haven’t thought of yet. The potential for spontaneous emergence from the “quantum foam” suggested by quantum mechanics, for one, ensures for the moment that well-formulated alternatives are out there, and you don’t even have to appeal to the un-thought-of.

From Evolution to the Empty Tomb: An Apologetic “Best-Of”

Question from Kristi:
Science supports the idea that universe starts with simple organisms to more complex organisms, so how then can science explain algae forming humans? Humans have different features, fingerprints, colors, etc. so how then could a human go from an ape to a complex individual? How do scientists explain Biblical archaeological evidence such as the empty tomb or eyewitness accounts?

Answer by SmartLX:
You answer your first two questions yourself: Science supports the idea that simple organisms can develop into more complex organisms through the mechanism of Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Humans had very early ancestors which weren’t actually algae but were of a similar size and complexity, and the fact that complexity often carries benefits exerted a pressure on all life to become more complex over time, and we’re talking a LOT of time. The individual features like fingerprints developed long before humans did, because other primates have them too. We just inherited them.

There is no archaeological evidence of the empty tomb because that would imply something had been dug up since. There is only the accounts in the Gospels and a few other accounts which may simply be parroting the Gospels. As for eyewitness accounts, the story is always different about whether the writer is the one who saw something and how long afterward it was written, but a lawyer will tell you eyewitness accounts are unreliable at the best of times, and a scientist will tell you eyewitness accounts count for nothing at all. Scientists don’t really bother to explain these things because they consider there to be nothing to explain, so far at least.

A Common Question Done Quick

Question from James:
Quick question. How can you say something is bad without some sense of morals? Where did said morals come from?

Answer by SmartLX:
The quickest answer is that we’ve answered this a lot. This link searches the site for articles on the same subject, and finds four pages’ worth of titles. Read a few and see if you get the idea.

A quick actual answer is that the definition of “bad” and “moral” in general can be constructed in objective and practical terms using different things as the “object”. For example a simplistic approach might be that something is “bad” if it hurts people unnecessarily, but on that alone you get a long way towards doing what most people would consider “good” by preventing “bad” actions.

Claiming an absolute basis for your morality is all well and good, but if your basis is a god that might not even exist you’re on shaky ground. That’s just a way of concentrating all the uncertainty into one point so you can defend that massively uncertain point like a bulldog and keep things simple for yourself.