Question from Vlad:
This is a video which uses the bible to try and justify belief in heaven. It is a 20 min film, and most of the facts presented are of little value, but the first two min and forty five seconds make an interesting argument, I would love your opinions of it, just watch to 2:45 and I would like to know if you ever came across this argument. How would people at the time that the bible was written have known that we live in a vast universe? The scripture basically states that God and heaven exist outside our universe. Even today, a person trying to say heaven exists would say that “God and heaven exist outside the universe”. Whether that is true is one thing, but it is interesting that people of that period could come up with that. I would love your opinions. Thanks
Answer by SmartLX:
Before I start, the visuals in this first part of the video contain CGI footage from the film Men in Black in a way I do not think constitutes “fair use”, so if anyone wants to file a takedown request I think they might be justified.
Scripture says God and Jesus are above, or higher than, the sky or heavens. It says nothing about the size of the universe, only that God is physically above all known space. Specifically above in every passage quoted, not outside or beyond. This makes no sense in the context of a universe, which has no up or down outside of an individual’s position relative to the specific gravity of a large body like a planet.
So without any reference to how big the universe is (though one look at the night sky will give anyone the impression that it’s big, even if you try to condense it into arbitrary “spheres” like early astronomers did) there’s not much here in terms of divine knowledge of scientific fact. All that remains is an assertion that God is too high in (or above) the sky to see. That seems intuitive, since none of us can see Him when we look up. Scripture carefully places God and Jesus somewhere we can’t easily check for them, making it very difficult to prove the negative and letting believers imagine them being just past the reach of their eyes.
Question from Son of David:
Hello, why don’t you have a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? The Son of God. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16
Answer by SmartLX:
Because I’m an atheist.
All right, let’s try that again with a bit more detail. Because…
I don’t believe that Jesus is in any sense alive or capable of having a personal relationship with anyone at this point. I don’t believe a god exists, you see. Following on from that, If Jesus lived then he lived right around two thousand years ago, and I don’t believe he was the son of a nonexistent god. When he died, I don’t believe he was resurrected or that he had a soul, so based on that nothing remains of him now but some as-yet-undiscovered/unidentified human remains, plus a very popular tale. To have a one-sided relationship with half a skull and a story does not strike me as beneficial for either party, me or Jesus.
Your question combined with the core Biblical claim is of the form, “Why have you not reacted to this situation in the obviously necessary way?” It’s simply because I don’t think the situation is as you claim. I do not accept the supernatural claims of the Bible, so Bible-based assertions mean nothing to me. So what do you do when they don’t work on people, I wonder?
Question from Jacob:
Hello, so it’s me again, got some more questions for ya. Throughout history, there have been many reports of supernatural phenomena. Most of them usually have a religious undertone, for example, some people levitate others do healings, sometimes divine or demonic figures appear. In any case, these reports range from various cultures and time periods seen by hundreds of thousands of people which continues to this day. How could someone have imagined all this?
Answer by SmartLX:
“Someone” didn’t. Millions of people across the globe imagined it all cumulatively over a period of millennia. That’s a lot of imagination.
To say it’s all pure imagination is an oversimplification, of course. Here are some more specific sources.
– Unexplained phenomena will be rationalised in terms of whatever faith-based supernatural concepts people hold, simply because it’s in the right category. It looks like magic, my god is magic, therefore my god did it. This is a formal logical fallacy, but it’s as far as many people’s thinking goes.
– When religion holds social or political power, it affects the historical record. If priests claim an occurrence, or claim credit for an event on behalf of the ruling god, few dare dispute them.
– Any supernatural effect which is faked, or exploited for material gain whether faked or mistaken, is far more effective when linked to the majority religion. It goes from a curiosity to a possible call to action, and compels believers to consider it very carefully. They must think, “Why did my god do this, and how should I react?” This gives it a much bigger profile in the public consciousness.
Similarly to my approach to prophecies, each claim of a supernatural event has more possibilities than the false dilemma that it was either genuinely supernatural or it was made up from nothing. Once you consider a few of your favourite stories from the standpoint of just how many different ways they could have come about, the sheer number of supernatural claims throughout history is severely tempered by the high probability that any given event was something other than an act of God.
Question from Herman:
For so long I have tried to understand the atheistic theory of the creation of “everything”.
I get the answer that before the big bang there was this waves/energy/*something about density I am too much of a aesthete to understand * or that there is negative matter so that it is really zero matter, but there still is something here right? I guess my question is the ultimate “what happened before that”.
My thinking goes thus:
Energy can’t be created, just altered. Therefore either we believe in eternity and something that has existed without ever being created. Or something outside of the laws of physics must have started it, that in turn must be able to create itself.
Help me understand!
Best regards and holiday greetings!
The Deist from Sweden
Answer by SmartLX:
Holiday greetings to you too Herman.
The idea of the “negative matter” is antimatter, which has been observed and even generated and “captured” in labs. It really is the negative of matter; when it comes into contact with matter the two annihilate one another. If there is as much antimatter as there is matter in the universe then it all comes to zero in a very real sense; it just hasn’t recombined to level out, so there are local positives and local negatives.
Regarding the origin of this system, the answer to the question, “Why did something come from nothing?” in this context is, “because ‘nothing’ is unstable.” Quantum fluctuations can apparently cause matter and antimatter to spontaneously emerge or erupt from an area of zero matter, which violates no laws because the total matter is still zero. This is what has been caused in labs on a very small scale to produce detectable antimatter. This on a large scale can produce a universe’s worth of matter, and if it happens quickly then there’s your Big Bang.
This is of course one theory of many. Another is that, as you say, matter has always existed in some form without ever needing to be created. As for something outside the laws of physics, that’s another possibility but it may only be outside our laws of physics, e.g. another “progenitor” universe in a larger multiverse with its own separate physics (and possibly in an infinite series).
I’ve written a lot about this over the years; search the site for the keyword “origins” to find most of it.
Question from Sam:
Hi, so I was casually surfing the web when I came across a video in “Answers in Genesis” which was basically said it could disprove evolution in 3 minutes with two simple facts. The second fact, which they championed, made the claim that it was impossible (there are no possible means by which this can occur) to add to genetic code in any way, meaning there was no possible way for an aquatic creature to create genetic code to grow legs, etc. (Disproving evolution) Of course, I questioned this bold claim, especially since they were extremely vague about their sources and provided no sources or further material for study. As such, I haven’t a clue how they came upon this claim, or the legitimacy of it, could you lend some further insight into this?
Answer by SmartLX:
I’m assuming the first of the two facts didn’t do anything for you, which does not surprise me.
The source of the claim amounts to “it stands to reason” which is what people say when they don’t want to bother reasoning through something. It’s one variant of the argument from ignorance I’m always pointing out, specifically, “I personally don’t know how additions can be made to a genome, therefore there is no way.” People don’t know this because they literally have not checked at all, because the relevant material can be found online in seconds.
This TalkOrigins article from 2001 fits the bill nicely. The mechanisms by which information is added to the genome are quite simple, for instance gene duplication, or essentially random noise from mutations. What’s harder to comprehend is how this information proves useful, and particularly allows new features to emerge.
The answer to this is straightforward though the detail is immense if you drill into it: natural selection helps to eliminate the information which is not useful, leaving that which is. There are countless analogies for this, so to pick one arbitrarily, genetic material is thrown into an arena and under constant attack, so whatever survives does so because it makes a difference to the fight.
The true difficulty is in convincing creationists that this kind of argument doesn’t convince anybody, which does seem to be true in my experience; its purpose nowadays is instead to reassure creationists. Or perhaps they know this already, but it doesn’t stop them from using it to reassure each other.
Question from Amanda:
Where did atheists believe humans came from before Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution existed?
Answer by SmartLX:
There’s some information on this here. There were theories of what would come to be called evolution long before Darwin, though none that fit the evidence nearly so well. Among some biologists there were inklings of the basic concept of common descent, for instance the idea that humans and apes were related, but without the strength of Darwinian theory this opinion was highly controversial and one risked one’s reputation by airing it.
So for the lay atheist minority worldwide, our best answer to your question was that they just didn’t know. Since they didn’t think a god existed, let alone created humanity, they reasoned that there must have been a natural mechanism to allow modern life forms to develop some time after the birth of the planet. With what they knew then, they were unable to take it any further.
This basically meant that evolution in that period was in the same position abiogenesis (the initial emergence of simple life from non-life) is in now. No mechanism was clear despite various conjectures, but if a god didn’t seem likely to you then this inspired confidence that a mechanism existed and might eventually be found. Darwin came through for his field, but we’re still waiting for “the Darwin of abiogenesis”. While we wait (and while some of us work at it), we have to content ourselves with not knowing, because to demand an answer when information is lacking is to open ourselves to a wrong answer.
Question from Jerry:
I was recently debating a good friend of mine and asked him to justify Christianity or show evidence that it is the one one true religion. He claims that it is the only religion that demonstrates itself to be the best possible logical and rational choice based on worldview analysis. Worldview analysis is a tool to sift through the basics of each and all religions without having to take years of comparative religion courses or study to separate the religion which has the best chance of being true, based on the evidence. I’m researching a rebuttal to his strong argument by reading up on Naturalism, Structuralism and the ideas of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, as I believe my friends’ attempt to compare Poetic (Metaphorical) Truth with Physical or Natural Truth to be flawed. I was wondering how many different approaches there are to counter his position?
Answer by SmartLX:
Worldview analysis is a tool for evaluating a community’s values, priorities and outlook, developed by a scientist who’s a Christian but appears to use this tool for secular purposes. The version that’s applied to try and rank religions is either unrelated or a major bastardisation. Here’s an example where you answer a bunch of questions from the perspective of a given religion’s doctrine, and compare the answers to your own values.
If your friend is throwing around terms like “poetic truth” as a serious rival to empirical fact (likely “physical/natural truth” in his terminology), the criteria on which he rates different worldviews are going to be worthless to many. He also recognises that religions need to commandeer and redirect the meaning of the word “truth” to have a decent chance of being established as “true” themselves.
I think the most important thing is for you to distinguish at any given time which of two questions is being asked: what worldview best reflects reality, or what worldview is best or nicest to have. I think your friend’s system will drive the discussion towards the latter whenever it can, because the latter legitimately does not require evidence. Christianity may be a beneficial worldview for one’s physical and mental wellbeing in a number of scenarios regardless of whether it’s true, the following two most obviously:
– If Christianity is the majority religion, and especially if non-Christians are looked down upon or actively persecuted. It sucks to be in any victimised minority.
– If the tenets of Christianity match your own values very closely, in other words if Christianity gets a very high score when you do the questionnaire above. To believe that the universe as a whole reflects your own outlook can be a big boost to the ego.
If your friend is arguing along these lines, he’s answering your question by attempting to justify Christianity as a lifestyle choice, not verify its supernatural claims. And even if his reasoning on this is rock-solid and you eventually realise it would be better for you to be Christian, it’s only going to get you so far. You could live as a Christian, worship, donate, evangelise and all the rest of it, but if nothing has actually convinced you that God is real and Jesus is his still-living son then you would be a false Christian. And hey, maybe he’s okay with that, but I don’t think I would be if I were a believer.
Question from Sean:
Hey, I’m wondering, what is your take on the complexity of the human body and the design of the universe?
Answer by SmartLX:
It’s over here, for starters. My Great Big Arguments series serves as an extended FAQ for common approaches by believers, and this is one of those approaches. Just one, mind, not two; it’s the same thinking applied on two different scales.
Very briefly, because it’s all in print already, the complexity in the human body came about very slowly through evolution, and any “design” in the universe is only apparent. If you want to delve into something in particular, Sean, do a quick search to make sure we haven’t covered it lately and then put in a comment.
Question from Alexia:
I would like to know if atheists ever have moments of fear over the idea that they could potentially be wrong, and that there is a nasty afterlife waiting for them? I, as an agnostic theist, do. I feel that if I were to stop believing (the idea has crossed my mind) that I may regret it.
I have had dreams before of seeing hell, and my grandfather had a Near Death Experience where he saw hell and was tortured by evil creatures. I have noticed that in many dreams, near death experiences, and so called revelations, people often report seeing demonic creatures in this so called hell. I would like to get the perspective of atheists. Why is it that if Christians are raised to expect Satan in hell that they never report seeing Satan in these visions, but they commonly report multiple strange beings or creatures attacking them and enjoying it? I read a book from the 1980s about Near Death Experiences by Raymond Moody, and even he says in his research that negative experiencers often report demonic creatures from interviews conducted early on in Near Death research.
What might be the reason for why many of these visions people have involve evil creatures, when the bible says nothing about that? People from the early 1900s have been giving consistent reports with people today in 2017. What would you say, percentage wise, are the odds that a literal hell exists, given the consistency of so many peoples’ “visions” and “revelations” of hell? Is there really going to be multiple reptile looking creatures who enjoy peoples’ misery and torture them forever, swearing at them, taunting them, or is there something else at play here?
Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists do get these moments of fear, but not usually forever. For those like myself who had faith and lost it, the fear of God’s wrath often outlives the belief even though it’s irrational to be afraid of something you no longer believe in. (It’s part of the phenomenon I call “faithdrawal”.) This is to be expected, since emotions can easily defy rationality. I personally avoided this completely by hardly thinking about religion at all for over a decade before realising I was an atheist; my emotional attachment to God and faith had faded away so it didn’t try to reassert itself.
In previous articles like this one I’ve answered the general argument based on the similarity between people’s visions of the afterlife, so read through the link and also just search the site for ‘nde’ to find more on the subject. Here I’ll address the particular question about Satan and lesser demons in Hell. Most Christians get most of their mental images of Hell not from the Bible but from other media, everything from Dante’s Inferno to Constantine to The Simpsons, and sadistic torturer demons have been a fixture in this material for centuries. While you can imagine individual demons looking and behaving any way you like without challenging your theology much, Satan is a major figure on whose appearance the subconscious might be uncomfortable taking a firm position. Thus Satan conveniently does not put in an appearance for people who are just passing through.
And then there are the Christians who do report seeing Satan, which doesn’t really help any argument based on this not happening.
Question from Marilyn:
Why do Atheists celebrate Christian holidays?
Answer by SmartLX:
By and large, we don’t. Take a look at this list: atheists don’t celebrate Lent, Pentecost, The Assumption of Mary, Christ the King, All Souls’ Day, All Saints’ Day or over 20 others. And that’s without considering the individual saints’ days that occupy literally every day on the calendar.
You are of course referring to Christmas, Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and possibly Easter. There are two main responses to this.
1. In most Western countries, Christmas and Easter have state-designated vacation periods including at least one public holiday each, often several. These are holdovers from attempts by governments to emphasise their religiosity in eras gone by. Atheists in these countries get these holidays too, whether they value the reasons behind them or not, so they usually just enjoy them as time off work.
2. Atheists do often actively celebrate Christmas and Halloween, and in some cases Easter. This is because these holidays have developed cherished traditions that have almost nothing to do with their religious origins: the gift-giving, the novelty costumes, the chocolate eggs and so on. To support these traditions an encyclopedia of secular mythology has sprung up around each, not believed at all by anyone over a certain age but still enjoyed as a shared seasonal game. Santa brings the presents in December, the Easter Bunny brings the eggs in March/April, and all manner of monsters break loose in October. That’s all fun no matter what you believe.
I do hope that no one reading this thinks the honest answer to Marilyn’s question is, “because atheists secretly believe in Christianity”, but I know for a fact that many do think so. Some people just won’t live with the thought that there are others who disagree with them about an important thing.