Does Grandma’s feeling trump parents decision?

Question from Val:

My wife and are atheists and my mother is constantly speaking with our 3 and 5 year olds about God. I don’t know how to approach it with her. She tried to read them a creation story book once and we told her no. She got very upset and said that her beliefs were a part of her and we were trying to suppress who she was with her grandchildren. I don’t want to alienate her but this has to stop. I feel our children can learn on their own and make their own decisions when they are older.

 

Answer from Erick:

Although I’m sure her heart is in the right place, she’s not being completely genuine. If she really wanted to share her beliefs with her grandchildren she would wait until they are old enough to not only understand what she’s talking about, but also old enough to be able to discern fact from fantasy.

That being said, the best approach is always a direct one. Having raised a child myself, I understand how it can be difficult dealing with family members who think it’s their mission to keep my kid from going to hell. My approach has always been the same. I ask them to stop and make it clear that if they don’t, they are risking not only their relationship with my child but with me as well. This is usually met with either anger or apologies. When met with anger the key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to get dragged into a theological debate. The discussion isn’t about the value of their religion. The discussion is about how you want your child raised. Stay firm. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their concern and that you’ve got everything under control in this area. If they still remain angry, then let them be angry. At that point there’s nothing you can do but allow them the space to move past their anger.

For me raising my child was more important then having family or friends upset that I wouldn’t let them take my kid to church. If they choose to get upset, then that is their choice. Their feeling don’t trump my child being raised to think for herself. You’re responsibility is to your child, not to others feelings.

Hope that helps. Let us know in the comment section bellow.

And The Rest: You Finally Made A Monkey Out Of Me

Question:
If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to And The Rest, a potential new series where visitors and I try our best to create serious, concise, easy-to-understand answers to the most ignorant, misguided rhetorical questions and other hopeless arguments posed by theists who think they’ve got the ultimate trump card.

When you get one of these it betrays such lack of understanding and willingness to parrot propaganda that you may get angry and refuse to answer it; most of the time this will simply send the message that it works as rhetoric. I’d rather work on a library of straightforward answers which can be passed on and spread as wide as the questions themselves, until it’s inconceivable in each case that the question was ever given merit by anyone.

Right then, the monkey question is the classic example, so here’s my attempt to clear it up as quickly and simply as possible:

“Because not all the monkeys evolved into humans. Most of them evolved into other kinds of monkeys. They had different offspring like any family does. [Bonus semantics if you’re snarky:] And technically it was apes, not monkeys.”

Think you can come up with something more elegant? You’re probably right, so have a go in the comments. Otherwise, comment with some other faux “stumpers” we should cover in this series. Cheers.

If Evolution Is True…

Question from Josh:
If evolution is true,why did an EVOLUTIONIST admit that Archaeopteryx was/is a PERCHING BIRD!?

Also,what about the sabretoothed herbivore,or the fact that Trilobites have such perfect vision that there was no distortion (at ALL!)?

Answer by SmartLX:
Archaeopteryx is indeed currently classified as a bird rather than a dinosaur. It’s still descended from dinosaurs or other reptiles, which is obvious because despite its birdlike characteristics putting it over the line it’s still replete with reptilian characteristics. Its common ancestor with dinosaurs was just a bit further back. This has no bearing on whether evolution is true, except that it makes sense in light of it.

Tiarajudens was indeed a herbivore with a pair of “sabreteeth”. We know it ate plants because the teeth around it are well suited for the purpose of grinding plant matter. The big fangs would either have been a holdover from a carnivorous ancestor or a useful defence and deterrent against its contemporary predators. This has no bearing on whether evolution is true, except that it makes sense in light of it.

Trilobites had highly advanced eyes, developed at great speed as a primary tool for hunting food and avoiding predators (and therefore a major “selection pressure”).

One type of trilobite-style eye
One type of trilobite-style eye, courtesy of Wikipedia

The trilobite-style eye evolved quite separately from the eye we see in mammals and reptiles today; since it was adapted for use in water, it wouldn’t be much use to us anyway. Some of its components, for instance the signalling system, had already existed for millions of years in lifeforms as diverse as protozoa, plants and yeast. Some trilobites effectively lost their eyes over time because they were living so deep underwater there was no light to speak of. This has no bearing on whether evolution is true, except that it makes sense in light of it.

Prophecies or confirmation bias?

Question from: Alisco

Message: There are numerous prophecies in the Quran which has come true.

The Romans have been defeated in the lowest land, but after their defeat they will be victorious within three to nine years. The affair is Allah’s from beginning to end. On that day, the believers will rejoice. (Qur’an, Surat ar-Rum :1-4)

These verses were revealed around 620, almost 7 years after the idolatrous Persians had severely defeated Christian Byzantium in 613-14. In fact, Byzantium had suffered such heavy losses that it seemed impossible for it even to survive, let alone be victorious again.

In short, everyone was expecting Byzantium to be destroyed. But during this time, the first verses of Surat ar-Rum were revealed, announcing that Byzantium would triumph in 3 to 9 years. This predicted victory seemed so impossible that the Arab polytheists thought it would never come true.

But like all the other predictions in the Qur’an, this one also came true. In 622, Heraclius gained a number of victories over the Persians and conquered Armenia. In December 627, the two empires fought a decisive battle at Nineveh, some 50 kilometres east of the Tigris river, near Baghdad. This time too, the Byzantine army defeated the Persians. At last, the Persians were defeated as was predicted in the Quran.

Here’s the problem, prophecies are a funny things. We believe them when they confirm our bias, but ignore them when they don’t. For example take the TV show Star Trek. It predicted handheld personal communicators, medical imaging, high speed transfer of data, equality of the sexes, flat screen tv’s, compact disks, and more. Now, you wouldn’t claim that Gene Roddenberry was a prophet would you? Why not? Is it because he wasn’t part of the same religion as you?  Do you accept the prophecies made from other religions? Why not? Is it because you think that your belief in your religion is more justified then everyone elses? Did you come to that conclusion because of things like the prophecies you mentioned?

Hopefully you can see the vicious circle created by this kind of thinking. When we readily accept something because it agrees with our perspective, and don’t attempt to understand how and why that perspective could be wrong, we fall into a hole of disinformation that prevents us from seeing the truth of a thing.

This kind of thinking is called “Confirmation Bias“. It’s important to be aware of how our minds work and how we sometimes allow ourselves to think a certain way not because it’s true, but because we want it to be true. So how do we stop our brains from doing this? Well you can’t really stop it, but what you can do is learn to question your own assumptions. Why do I believe this to be true? What do the facts say about my “truth”? Do others agree or disagree and why? Could I be wrong, and if so, how? Asking these questions allows us to be a little more objective in our thinking and allows us to be aware of confirmation bias occurring.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to discuss this further in the comment section below.

Why don’t scientists prove god doesn’t exist?

Question from Jan,

Hi! First, let’s realize the difference between the following three words: agnostic, atheist and antitheist. OK? Are you ready? So, how can someone who calls himself a scientist be an atheist (or even antitheist)? The science is based on proves – this is the difference between science and belief. Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”? I don’t believe so. I think it’s so arrogant and till the moment of an evidence of non-existence of these “spiritual things” all the so called scientists should choose between: 1) change their status from “atheist” to “agnostic” or 2) change their status from “scientist” to “believer”. Thanks.

Hi Jan, and thank you for your question.

I hate to say it, but there’s a lot wrong with your question. First let’s make sure we get the definitions right.

  1. Atheist: (a) without (theism) belief in gods. So an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods.
  2. Antitheist: (anti) oppose (theism) belief in gods. An Antitheist is someone who opposes belief in gods.
  3. Agnostic: (a) without (gnostic) knowledge. An Agnostic is someone without knowledge in something.

Notice the difference between 1 and 3? Atheism and Antitheism (and theism) both deal with beliefs. Agnostic deals with knowledge. That’s an important distinction to make. Agnostic in the theological discussion isn’t as much a third position as it is a qualifier for both atheism and theism. A person can be both an atheist by lacking a belief in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists.  A person can also be a theist by believing in a god, and agnostic by not knowing if one exists. With me so far?

Now let’s talk about what’s called “the burden of proof”. When someone makes a claim of existence, it’s their responsibility (or burden) to prove their claim. It’s not the other persons burden to prove them wrong. If I told you that snarfwidgetes exist, would my position be valid if you can’t prove me wrong even though I have no objective evidence for my claim? Of course not. So when you talk about “ Is there any prove of non-existence of something “supernatural” or something like “spiritual power” that is often labeled as “God”?” what you’re trying to do is switch the burden of proof from yourself, where it belongs, to the other person. It’s a dishonest tactic usually taught by preachers to their peritioners who simply don’t know any better. 

So, to answer your question, scientists can still be atheists and agnostics at the same time. They don’t have to provide any proof for your god not existing. It’s your responsibility as the one making the claim, to provide the proof.

I hope that answers your question. Feel free to continue this discussion in the comment section below.

The Dating Game

Question from Bryan:
Why is radiometric dating considered accurate? I will give two examples, one speculative and one based on actual observations:

I understand half-life, log base-2 calculations and radiometric decay. What I don’t understand is how we assume a starting point for radionuclides v/s daughter nuclides. For example, what if the meteorite that hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs (or any other large meteorite) was a big ball of lead? We have not found traces of it, therefore, we can only speculate what it could have contained. If it were a big ball of lead and mixed with the elements on earth, it would give the appearance that more U-238 half lives had occurred and give falsely high age outputs. (Granted, this is probability based, so is the statement that the meteorite wasn’t lead). This is just one possibility of something that could throw off parent-daughter nuclide ratio. It could have easily just been that there was more lead on earth than we previously thought at the beginning.

This one is not speculation. C-14 dating depends on two things:
1. That production rate and loss rate have been in equilibrium for an extended amount of time, and
2. The equilibrium ratio has not changed in an extended amount of time.

C-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere when various forms of cosmic radiation produce thermal neutrons. A N-14 atom nucleus collides and absorbs the neutron and ejects a proton, thus, making C-14. This process is attenuated by the existence of the earth’s magnetic field. The stronger the magnetic field, the lower the production rate of C-14, therefore, the ratio of C-14:C12 would be initially more weighted to C-12, and therefore, give a falsely older output. The earth’s magnetic field has decreased 10% since Mathematician Gauss started observing it. This decrease is exponential. In the year 7800 BC (rounded) the magnetic field would have been approximately 128 times stronger than it is now, based on current observations of the decay rate of the magnetic field. This would have caused 100% decrease in C-14 production. (Which also begs the question, how C-14 is in fossils that are millions of years old? – throw in the half life of C-14 being only 5700 years (rounded) with that question too). In fact, Dr. Libby noted that the C-14:C-12 ratio was NOT in equilibrium when designing the test, and subsequently decided to assume equilibrium anyway. So why is this test considered accurate when there is definite evidence to the contrary?

Answer by SmartLX:
Radiometric dating is not considered universally accurate. It’s a measurement like any other, there are any number of ways to get it wrong, and there are documented examples of when it has gone wrong. Despite this, it’s been successfully used to accumulate a mountain of evidence that the world is older than a literal interpretation of the Bible would lead one to believe. The threat to Biblical literalism really is the only reason anyone challenges the principle anymore, and it’s also the only reason why you would ask a question like this on Ask The Atheist instead of an actual science site. Mind you, it wasn’t all used explicitly to disprove the Bible like the scientific conspiracy some believers imagine. Scientists were investigating all sorts of questions; the answers just happened to lie between tens of thousands of years and billions of years in the past.

There are almost 20 independent methods of radiometric dating, each based on the decay of a different parent isotope into a daughter isotope. Each has its own starting point, a known past event when the substance to be dated theoretically contained known proportions of the parent and daughter (which could be all of one and none of the other). This is non-negotiable because a method is useless without a reliable starting point, as you would agree. The implication, then, is that the knowledge of serviceable pre-conditions is a major reason why each of the ~20 methods was developed in the first place, out of the multitude of unstable isotopes in the heavier half of the periodic table. It’ll always be there, if you pick a method and look it up.

If a method’s starting point is the least bit ambiguous, say, vulnerable to contamination by outside sources of the daughter isotope (like your meteorite that’s already full of lead), one or more other independent methods are used in conjunction, taking advantage of other elements in the object. The fact that unrelated methods consistently return almost precisely the same result is a major reason for confidence in the principle as a whole, since their reasons for potentially failing are so different.

As an example we’ll look at carbon dating animals in more detail.

Artwork by Randy Russell at Windows to the Universe
Artwork by Randy Russell at Windows to the Universe

As you wrote, Carbon-14 is formed when radiation strikes nitrogen in the air, which means it happens all the time above ground. It’s absorbed by plants in the carbon dioxide they breathe, and then eaten by animals. The starting point is therefore when the animal dies and stops accumulating it. Afterwards the carbon-14 decays back to nitrogen-14, which normally dissipates as gas but is trapped with the body if the specimen is buried. Dating it is then a matter of comparing the amount of N14 to the remaining C14. This works for about 50,000 years post-mortem. Afterwards the amount of remaining initial C14 is so low it cannot be distinguished from the small amount of C14 produced in a different way: alpha or gamma radiation from other radioactive materials in the earth (with millions of years more longevity) can re-irradiate atoms of the N14 and convert it to C14 a second time. This effect is the reason why C14 would have been detected in dinosaur fossils, which are WAY too old to retain their own C14. Hence, other elements with longer half-lives are used to date them instead.

On to your other point. The observation that led to your claim about the Earth’s magnetic field was merely that the dipole field has apparently decreased since 1835.
– That it is a consistent exponential decrease is only an assertion, so raising it exponentially as you go back is unsupportable. The line of best fit between only two data points cannot be assumed to be a smooth curve.
– That it has consistently decreased at ANY rate contradicts other evidence collected from the magnetisation of iron particles in ancient clay pottery (mentioned here), which indicate very clearly what the magnetic field was like earlier on. From just other two data points in history we know it was 45% stronger 3,000 years ago and 20% weaker 6,500 years ago (so in this case, the line of best fit is a wiggle).
– The initial observation only took the dipole field into account. Geologist Brent Dalrymple wrote that increases in the nondipole field, discovered from the very same measurements, resulted in no significant change in the overall strength of the field at all over this particular interval.
– As stated, most or all radiometric dating methods rely on the proportion of the daughter isotope to the parent. The magnetic field affects the generation of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, but this would have no effect on the proportion of C14 to N14 in an already-buried corpse if the N14 is all coming from the C14.
– Does the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field so directly affect the production of every radio-isotope used in every form of radiometric dating? I don’t know, but you’re the one claiming they don’t work, so have you checked?

It’s worth pointing out that carbon dating is the best-known dating method but it’s the least of a young-earth creationist’s worries, as it only goes up to 50,000 years. That’s only one order of magnitude off the desired scale, as opposed to the six orders of magnitude of the actual discrepancy between the Biblical timeline and the evident reality of geological time.

We Are Of The Spirit, Truly Of The Spirit

Question from John:
My question concerns words that have such broad constellations of meaning that they sometimes seem to mean nothing at all, but are nevertheless deeply embedded in the English language.

Here’s the question: Consider the word, “SPIRITUALITY.” When you hear this word, how do you interpret it? Can you think of any common, standard, interpretations of the word which differ from your own personal interpretation? If you were asked to write an all-inclusive dictionary definition, what would it be? (Many English words have multiple meanings which are numbered by frequency of usage in dictionary listings. Do the dictionary definitions which comes to mind for the word “spirituality” adequately cover the broad variety of common applications?)

Consider how the term “spirituality” compares to the word “love.” “Love” is highly context-dependent, and the nuance of its meaning changes radically with the application: “I love pizza,” “I love you, Darling,” “I love my mother.” Nevertheless, there’s a core component of the meaning which is fixed and doesn’t vary at all: “to feel a strong fondness for.” Assuming that it exists, what is the core component of the word “spirituality” which doesn’t change from context to context?

If you were given the power to strike the word “spirituality” from the English language and replace it with a different word, what would that word be? You can use any word you like, or coin a completely new term. The only rule is that this new term MUST adequately cover ALL current meanings and nuances for the old term. It can’t overlook ANY of the popular meanings. (It’s permissible, however, to choose, or to coin, two separate words which, together, cover all of the nuanced meanings of the word “spirituality.”)

My guess is that most atheists will answer these questions differently from theists, but this hypothesis could be completely wrong. I also suspect that, though many atheists would love to strike the term from the English language, doing so is harder than it might seem.

Answer by SmartLX:
Right then.

To me, spirituality is being aware of, and attempting to nurture, the parts of ourselves that rise above considerations of survival and other mundane, primitive concerns. Our spirit is our essence, the qualities which make us sapient beings and those which make us us as individuals. It’s our sense of the transcendent and the sublime, of the beautiful and the elegant. It’s our wonder at everything and our awareness of ourselves.

Obviously, there’s a common interpretation of “spirituality” which conflicts with most of this. It’s the interpretation in terms of literal, ethereal spirits floating around – in our heads, under our beds and in separate, vaguely defined “planes” and “dimensions” – and our efforts to get in touch with and influence these entities, whether or not they are ours to control.

To reconcile the two interpretations in a single definition of the word, I would take what I must admit feels like the cheat’s way out and say that spirituality is simply actions, thoughts and philosophy concerned with spirit.  This allows the multiple meanings of “spirit” to feed through and cause “spirituality” to mean whatever it needs to in a given sentence.  I wouldn’t replace it, because I think its ambiguity can actually be useful.

What if a “god” showed up?

Question from John:
This is a playful, tongue-in-cheek question, but I think it’s an interesting one to consider. Suppose that a scientific breakthrough were to prove conclusively that our universe was either a computer-generated Matrix or a lab-grown artificial world. In Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster in the film) is told by an advanced extraterrestrial race that, if one calculates certain irrational numbers out sufficiently, taking them out to trillions of trillions of digits, one will eventually find a message.

Suppose that this was the case in our own universe, and that we found one of the messages. The message contains a wealth of scientific information including a unified field theory, and informs us of the fact that our own universe is one of many, all of which appear to be artificial. The message praises us for developing the science necessary to discover it and unlock its secrets, but also warns against belief in magical, infinite, supernatural gods. The message insists that belief in the supernatural, particularly on the basis of dogma and in the absence of hard evidence, is foolish, unscientific, and ill-advised. Our civilization will not advance, it warns, if we participate in such nonsense.

This would mean, essentially, that God, the creator of our universe, is an atheist. Not only does this God embrace the worldview of an atheist, but It also lacks belief in the religious persona that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have used for millennia to portray It. (I say “It” because this God may not have gender. It may not even be biological.)

How do you think theists and atheists would feel about this? Would theists be willing to worship a God who is an atheist? Would atheists be willing to worship, or at least honor, an atheist God? Who would take over the churches, or would they all be torn down?

Answer by SmartLX:
If there were truly incontrovertible evidence that a god-like superbeing existed, atheists would acknowledge it willingly because its existence would at last be supported. They’d probably be more eager to do so than most, because they wouldn’t have any existing religious beliefs contradicted by the being and thus no good reason to deny its obvious presence. (It would be even easier if the being were non-supernatural like you describe.) They might argue over whether this being was technically a god, and whether the term “atheist” still had meaning in the context of the being, but both would be semantics and we’d get over it before too long.

As for worshipping or honouring this being, it would depend a great deal on what the being wanted. If it were the kind of tyrant the mythical gods often are, we’d probably worship out of well-justified fear. One way or another, we would know exactly what it wanted from us, and this would inform whether we tried to obey, rebel, or simply co-exist.

Hullo

Order. Why?

Question from Gene:
How did reality come to be structured such that there are fundamental laws of nature and a hierarchy of intelligence in the natural world?

Answer by SmartLX:
The “hierarchy of intelligence” is the easy part. Sentient life forms on this planet have diversified and subsequently evolved in different directions, and some animals’ brains grew more than others, so different animals have wildly different levels of intelligence. Individuals are also subject to different genes and environmental factors, so even within one species there are relative geniuses and relative idiots. It’s exactly what we would expect in the circumstances. If all animals with intelligence had exactly the same amount of it, now that would be a remarkable thing.

As for the apparently universal consistency of the laws of nature, I don’t know why they’re there, though of course if they weren’t so consistent then I wouldn’t have a functioning brain to wonder about it.

Maths

It might simply be that way as a result of the physical properties of all matter and energy. The constants might have varied significantly in some ancient epoch, and stabilised around the time of the Big Bang (if that phrase even makes sense given the nature of time) so that we’re now enjoying the benefits of a stable universe. There could be many universes, some with fixed constants and some without. Perhaps one day we’ll discover the reason.

Let’s say, though I won’t assume at this point, that you believe a god structured the laws of nature the way they are. If I don’t know how it happened and admit as much, is that a good reason for me to adopt your position? No, because it’s merely an assertion. There’s no substantive evidence for the existence of a god, let alone its influence on the form of the universe. I have no desire to grasp at any answer presented to me if there’s nothing to support the idea that the answer is right.

We can take this a little further. Let’s say that we did both believe that there’s an almighty god, but didn’t adhere to the specific doctrine of any one religion. Could we then say confidently that He structured the universe? The answer is still no, because there’s still no evidence that it happened. Unless we can establish that uniformity can ONLY be deliberately structured, which we can’t, our god might only have happened across our universe and adopted it like one adopts a puppy.

Finally, if we both adhered to the doctrine of a religion that stated that God structured the universe, we would both accept that idea. We would not, however, have arrived at this particular position through logic, other than through the logical fallacy of accepting an argument from authority.

So, if even taking the existence of a god as a given doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that a god structured the universe, we certainly can’t arrive at that conclusion when the existence of a god is in question. As for using the idea to argue for the existence of the god, forget it.

Why do atheists care?

A few questions from Bethany,

Name: Bethany
Message: Hey guys,

So I believe in the God of the bible. I believe the bible. I believe that God came to earth in to form of a man (Jesus). I guess my question is not about science or even God, it’s more about you (an atheist)… Why would an individual who doesn’t believe in divinities of any sort, spend their life trying to prove that they are not real? An atheists ‘status’ is that they believe in nothing (correct me if I’m wrong in saying that), so why do they make such a big deal of proving that something they don’t believe in isn’t real? If it makes a person happy, or gives them comfort, then why do atheists strive to take that away from them. If we only have one life (as you claim), this life that we have on earth, then why are atheists so willing to take away something that gives people joy? I don’t mean to sound ignorant and I do apologise if I am coming across that way in any shape or form, but I guess I’m just trying to see your side of the story. What are your intentions/motives in being so persistent with trying to prove that something is not real? Especially if it’s just wasting your time that you have on this earth. I mean, YOLO right!? If I were an atheist and didn’t believe in the doctrines of Gods grace, I would send every moment of my life doing crazy things. Experiencing everything and going crazy! Anyways, I’m sure you get the gist of the question. Thanks. :)))))

 

Why do atheists talk about gods so much? Because people vote, and make decisions daily based upon their faith. Scientific progress is slowed down, peoples rights are denied, etc. For example if a person of faith doesn’t understand that global warming is a real thing and instead believes that Jesus is coming in their life time, they are less likely to vote for laws that would reduce deadly emissions. It’s also because some atheists believe, myself included, that religion and god belief do psychological damage. When your faith tells you that you are dirty, a sinner, not worthy, lacking of inner strength just because you were born into humanity, well that’s a horrible message, one which no good parent would ever tell their children, yet many parents do every week when they take their kids to church. To most atheists, god belief is like having to wear glasses that are always fogged over. Unless you wipe them, you’ll never see things clearly. It’s my personal goal to help others, in an honest and sincere way, to do just that.

As for doing what makes you feel good, well heroin makes you feel REAL GOOD. So why try to stop people from becoming heroin addicts if it makes them feel good? Feeling good isn’t a good reason to do a bad thing. It not only affects our lives but the lives of those who care about us as well. If this life is the only one that we have left then the way we live is the true measure of that life.

There’s a reason smart people don’t just go crazy and do what they want. It’s called consequences. Our actions have effects on the people around us, sometimes on those that we don’t even know. Why don’t I do just anything that I want? Because I’m an empathetic person with a sense of morality and ethics. I don’t want to hurt others and I don’t want them to hurt me in return. It’s really as simple as that. No god needed.

I invite you to explore this website more deeply and learn why atheists have morals, why we believe in personal responsibility, and why we don’t believe in your god. If you have any further questions, feel free to put them in the comment section below.