I am a very rational and logical person and although i don’t tend to fall into unnecessary arguments with theists but I have two questions about two known miracles. I need an answer desperately before my strong atheism hold gets shaken. 1) It is said – and i coudn’t find any against-article on google as well – that zamzam water (well) in mecca is always flowing and its in a desert. Therefore, its a miracle. Is this actually a miracle?. and if it is then what more do we atheists need as evidence. Please give a logical explanation asap so my believe in rationalism is not shaken 2) Dead body of a pharoh (by the name ‘firon’) was found in red sea and it has not decomposed for thousands of years. Which is scientifically not possible which many muslims claim. The reason why it has not decomposed is that its God’s miracle to show what will happen to your body if you do a lot of crimes like ‘firon’ did. Please tell me how do i rationally, scientifically, and logically disprove this because I could not find anything logical in it. I hope for a positive reply. Thank you.
I’m going to disappoint you by not specifically answering the two examples you gave me. Why? Because answering them doesn’t really help you. You see, the problem is that you’re committing a logical fallacy called “Argument from ignorance”. This is when you give an answer to something that you don’t really know or understand. For example saying “I don’t know how this happened, so it must have been Billy.” is an argument from ignorance. If you don’t know how something happened, how can you attribute it to anything? So simply put, just because you don’t know how these “miracles” happened doesn’t mean that a god did them. It just means you don’t know.
And that’s the tricky thing. Humans don’t like not knowing. It’s why we’ve made so many advancements. It’s why science is always striving to understand existence. It’s our curiosity that has driven us out of the caves and into the light. However that same yearning for answers can dupe us into thinking any answer is better than none at all. Sometimes we have to be okay with saying “I don’t know” because it’s only then that we leave ourselves open to finding the answer.
Question from Blink:
Hi guys. A theist asked me this question.
“Why are our eyes (not the anus) placed near our nose? Can you imagine how disturbing it would be if it were placed below our nose in place of our mouth!”
This is one of the many reasons why he believes in God.
I don’t know how to respond to this question, my instinct tells me maybe it has something to do with evolution. What is the appropriate respond to his question? Thanks.
Answer by SmartLX:
The anus is placed away from the mouth and nose because if any of our ancestors had developed the two close together, the species would have quickly been wiped out by anal-oral and anal-respiratory infections. On the other hand, the anus is placed near the genitalia and there’s a constant risk of infection between the two because that kind of infection isn’t usually enough to cause a major obstacle to survival, and there hasn’t been any major selection pressure to change it.
To make the same point more generally, if something being the case confers some kind of survival advantage, or if the alternative would make survival difficult, evolution is likely to encourage it to happen, because life will be easier at every stage for those who are closer to the ideal. Bad “ideas” are weeded out when the life forms that manifest them die.
But forget about evolution for a minute. Your theist asks why a particular thing is the case, and implies that if you don’t know, God must have done it. How utterly arrogant to think that just because the two of you may not be aware of any other explanations, reality must align perfectly with what HE thinks. This is a classic argument from ignorance, and the more people know what that is, the better for logic and reason in the world.
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible contains a long list of supposed contradictions in the Bible, but apologetics sites such as LookingUntoJesus.net have published articles reconciling every single one. Is there any remaining argument against the total internal consistency of the Bible, as befitting its divine origins?
Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve referred to this many times, but it’s always deserved its own piece.
The shortest answer is to point out the fact that the SAB contains links to the responses in each of its articles concerning an apparent contradiction (this one, for example, has three). Why would it do this if the responses in any way undermined the point it’s trying to make?
I’ve read a lot of the responses, and as far as I can tell they all take the same approach. Using this particular interpretation of the relevant passages, they say, there is no real contradiction. Very well, I say, but what is the evidence that this interpretation is the correct one, i.e. the meaning intended by its unknown author(s)?
More to the point, is it more likely that the 2000+ identified passages are each meant to be understood in the specific way a modern apologist has decided, or that the separate authors collectively got a few things wrong here and there when it’s all considered together? If you presume or presuppose not only the existence of God but the divine authorship of the Bible then of course it must be interpreted in whatever way means it’s not wrong, but the whole point of arguing for its incredible consistency is to advocate that it’s the word of God, so you can’t invoke this in the middle of that very argument or you’re “begging the question”.
So, with the thousands of SAB articles and thousands of attempted refutations, where does it ultimately leave us? There are thousands of potential contradictions, each one of which might indicate that the Bible was written by fallible people. For every one of them there’s at least one interpretation that makes it look at least okay. If we say for the sake of argument that no two of these reconciliations contradict each other either, then there is at least one reading of the entire Bible that is internally consistent, but there are still countless others that are self-contradictory, and no objective way to choose between them. Therefore it’s not certain that it’s perfect, and it’s not certain that it’s imperfect, so all we can do is consider probabilities. That approach, in my view, is not favourable to the book.
Question from Ken:
I’m agnostic. There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to understand about evolution for a while, and I hope this is the place to get it answered.
When I learnt about it, in school and university, they expressed the idea of increment changes (whether modifications of traits that were already there, or new traits through mutation) over time, passed on through generations, “chosen” by the ability to procreate and pass on genes. That, I think I get for the most part.
But what I never really understood is how the number of chromosomes could change over time. How can chromosome numbers increase and decrease? I mean… let’s say an individual somehow has it happen, shouldn’t he or she be unable to produce viable (or fertile?) offspring with others of the species because of the wrong numbers of chromosomes? How does chromosome number change at all? The only way I know is through issues that happen in meiosis, the kind of stuff that causes Down’s Syndrome, and the XXY and X gender chromosomal abnormalities that cause problems in humans.
So, my question is: How can chromosome number change in to produce a viable, fertile individual for it to be able to spread to an entire species?
Answer by SmartLX:
It’s a good question because a sudden whole extra chromosome full of junk, or a whole one gone missing, can indeed cause serious defects. That said, it helps to remember that a chromosome is merely a container of genes, and the number of chromosomes has very little to do with the amount of genetic information in each.
The addition of a chromosome is the more complex process, so I’m linking to an explanation of one mechanism by PZ Myers. Essentially, one chromosome’s worth of genes ends up being shared by two, and at first it can interact just fine with the old combined chromosome because the total sequence is the same. This does introduce a higher rate of error until individuals with the split chromosome start mating with each other, at which point there’s no longer a downside. Once the new number of chromosomes is settled, each chromosome is free to mutate independently and add new genetic information in the usual ways.
As for a reduction in chromosomes, we need look no further than our own genome. Our #2 chromosome pair is equivalent to two separate chromosome pairs in our closest ape relatives, but fused together. You can tell because there are two end markers (telomeres) right in the middle of it. No genetic information was lost, it was merely repackaged. This, importantly, is a very clear example of the kind of predictions one is able to make using evolutionary theory: the number of chromosomes in our genome compared to our ancestors’ (i.e. one less) tells us that exactly one fusion must have occurred, and we can then check the genome for only one extra set of markers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Atheist: (a) without (theism) belief in gods. So an atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods.
Antitheist: (anti) oppose (theism) belief in gods. An Antitheist is someone who opposes belief in gods.
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.
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.
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.