More on Entropy, but not a fight over it! (yet)

Question from Keisha:

Thanks for “Entropy 101”. It helped me a lot. Are you saying that the sun has an infinite amount of “fuel” ?



Answer by SmartLX:

A lot of fuel, but not an infinite amount.

What the sun has is a vast amount of hydrogen, which burns in constant nuclear fusion and thus fuses together to make helium. It will take about 5 billion years (it’s had 5 billion already) but eventually all the hydrogen will be helium and that specific reaction will no longer occur. The helium will start burning but the reaction will be different and not sustainable, which is why the sun will become a red giant and ultimately shrink to a white dwarf. We’ll all be gone long before then, whether we’ve found a way to escape the solar system or just perished right here.

My point earlier was that as long as the sun burns, it’s an unfathomably huge rate of entropy – “loss of order” – which balances out almost any emergence of order that could possibly happen on Earth. Regardless of the exact mechanics of that process, it’s in no danger of violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

If Prayers “Worked”

Question from Ollie:

If today God showed evidence that you needed that he existed and the Bible is 100% true what would be the first thing you would ask him to change in your life?

Answer by SmartLX:

I’d ask for an end to the threats to society me and my wife are concerned about for the future, and in particular the future our son will face.

And then, going off of Mark 11:24, I’d do my best to believe that these threats had already been negated and that God would take care of everything. If I did manage to believe this, which would be much easier if I were 100% convinced of God’s existence, it would be a load off my mind.

And then I’d wait. If everything stayed hunky dory, I’d praise and thank God all my days. If on the other end of the scale EVERYTHING I feared came to pass, I would wonder why God had heard my prayer and allowed this. Hypothetically pre-convinced of Biblical inerrancy, I’d go back to Mark 11:24 and conclude that God had done something in response to my prayer which had given me what I’d asked for in a technical sense without actually saving us from the threats. I would curse myself for not wording the prayer correctly, and I would wonder why God (who could read my mind) had not interpreted it as I intended regardless. I’d eventually figure he had something more important to sort out with regard to His grand plan.

This is of course similar to what actual believers go through when they pray for things. As you can see, even when the existence of the Biblical God is assumed, no matter what happens there’s a way to give credit to God, and therefore there’s no way to know whether God did anything at all in response to a prayer.

The Trans Question

Question from Fraser:

Is it okay to be trans?

Answer by SmartLX:

From an atheist perspective, why wouldn’t it be?

So many of the condemnations of transgender people are rooted in the essentialist idea that God (or whoever) deliberately created two genders and the apparent gender at one’s birth is one’s divine destiny. Without this idea we are left with fairly simple facts.

Gender is in most cases determined by chromosomes, with most of us possessing either XX or XY. Transgender people’s brains have not received the usual effects of this, six to eight weeks after pregnancy, leaving them with traits putting them much closer to brains of those of the opposite gender. In a sense, they literally have a man’s brain in a woman’s body or vice versa.

There is nothing they can do about their brains, but they may choose to change their bodies or at least outwardly adopt a transgender identity. This is a far more honest expression of who they truly are than to simply accept the gender they were assigned at birth. If others have strongly negative emotional responses to this, they may try to rationalise them with the aforementioned essentialism but in the end it’s their own problem, until they start to attack trans people. When these attacks are justified using religion, atheists have an opportunity to point out that using religion to police the actions of others is counter to any secular society.

Aaah! They’re Everywhere!

Questions from Evan, received in quick succession:

Impossible Story. Any explanation? Its pretty messed up. Over My Head: A Former Wiccan Tells Her Story

How do you explain this guy? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMu5F2icsT8

How do you explain this messed up video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcgkd_7KPd0

How do you explain this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91CnOAlYTRA and all the other videos claiming people saw Steven Hawking in hell.

how do you explain this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUziKZAkNwI and the first 2 comments of the video?

How do you explain the show Sid Roth’s its supernatural?


How do you explain all the online testimonies of people seeing Jesus, getting healed by Jesus, and such. Their are miracle videos on YouTube and, gee, on those videos there is sometimes lots of people that comment and say that they saw Jesus too. I saw a video of a woman who got emotional after her vision got healed by Jesus. I’ve seen Muslims convert after miracles, people seeing atheists in hell, atheist seeing Jesus, faith healers. I don’t think God is probable, but these things, honesty scare me. I don’t want God to be real because then hell is real and such. I just want to live in a normal universe. How do you explain all these things.

How do you explain this video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn_S43SlnPY&pbjreload=10


How do you explain the “Heaven is For Real” kid who saw heaven and saw things he could not possibly know?


In my heart, I know God can’t really exist. If He is all powerful and all good, evil should not exist. Some bible stories seem so much like old myths and others have God doing really bad things. All of it seems fake yet their are so, so many testimonies of atheists, Muslims, etc coming to Christ through miracles, such as videos on the YouTube channel, The 700 Club. Their are so many inexplicable miracles. How?


Stories of Hindus seeing Jesus and being healed. Doctor baffled. Easy to find these. Just, HOW?

Explain this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmp3UNjeu0k


Blood leaking from Jesus tomb?


Lady saw Pope John Paul ll burning in hell and was suprised. Also saw Michael Jackson. Fake?

http://www.heavenvisit.net/angelica-zambrano-4.html real?


Atheist asked God to wake him up at a certain time if He was real and he woke up at that exact time.


How do you explain the girl Akiane who was raised in an agonstic house an had a vision of heaven at age four. The boy Colton Burpo who apparently saw heaven said that her painting of Jesus was accurate.

http://www.theleagueofreason.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=61&t;=4405&start;=20 what?



Answer by SmartLX:

If you search for the specific names, I think we’ve covered some of them specifically already. But there are a few simple explanations that cover all of these.

  • Prior exposure to the mythology of Christianity (Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, etc.) helps to generate a dream or hallucination on the theme whether or not the person believes in it at the time. The agnostic girl, for instance, could have learned about Heaven from anywhere.
  • An episode of sleep paralysis, especially in someone who doesn’t know what that is, causes a hallucination which seems inescapable until the paralysis ends, at which point terror and panic give way to immense relief, and cement the whole experience in the subject’s memory as intense, emotional, physical and therefore “real”.
  • A dream, vaguely remembered, is altered in the subject’s memory on repeated recalls and retellings, especially when others ask leading questions about it. Children are particularly susceptible to this, and it’s the most likely explanation for Colton Burpo’s account.
  • A miraculous “healing” is not what is claimed; the initial condition was misdiagnosed, or is capable of spontaneously resolving itself without a miracle, or was psychosomatic, or never existed, or has not in fact gone away. There is almost never prior evidence of the illness sourced from the facility where it was treated, which is seldom named.
  • The whole story is fabricated specifically for the large, enthusiatic audience these claims always receive.

Evan, the burden is not on you to explain away every single claim you see or read about. The burden of proof is on those making the claims to establish verifiable support for them, and they never do. They don’t have to, because the audience is not stubborn nonbelievers, but rather believers hungry for reassurance in a world of justifiable doubt. This is why you see so many celebratory comments from believers on these videos, and often their own testimonies thrown in, and comparatively few skeptics.

Logically, you need to keep the concept of the argument from ignorance in mind. You are not forced to accept a claim if you personally cannot come up with an alternative explanation; “HOW?” is this fallacious argument in a nutshell. An explanation may exist which you haven’t thought of. A hypothesis with no direct evidence for it can only be established as fact if all other possible alternatives are eliminated, and that includes anything not yet hypothesised.

The next time you come across one of these claims, try out the following, in any order. This is basically what I do.

  • Re-read the explanations above. Without pondering likelihood too deeply, simply judge whether each explanation might apply to the claim.
  • Google the names involved to see whether any skeptical discussion already exists, or it’s all just believers trumpeting it without question.
  • Analyse the story to see what evidence is presented, or whether any real evidence is presented. Is it all just a personal experience that doesn’t affect or even reference the real world in any way? If any material claims or prophecies were made, how do they stack up to this list of explanations? If there was a healing event, what evidence is there that the ailment 1. existed in the first place, 2. isn’t there now, and 3. couldn’t have been treated medically?

Good luck. If you like, comment and let us know how you do.

The Historical Muhammad

Question from Jannatul:


surely u can deny God(ALLAH) but how will u deny the very existence of His prophet muhammad who lived in this earth and His revelations, all the predictions are coming true, what do u think about them…….Have u studied the Quran and pondered over Islam, if not I advice u to do it right away

Answer by SmartLX:

There’s a Wikipedia article on the historicity of Muhammad which says that ” the historicity of Muhammad, aside from his existence, is debated. ” There is enough evidence of the existence of the man Muhammad that the fact that he existed is generallynot debated. All the debate concerning him is focused on two things, as far as I can gather: the truth of the supernatural claims surrounding him (i.e. his interactions with Allah) and the morality of his actions (e.g. ordering the deaths of unbelievers, or marrying and bedding a girl of nine or ten).

As for his prophecies, here are my thoughts on prophecies in general, and here is an article on the exposure of supposed prophecies in the Quran as far from prophetic.

Mary K. Baxter Gets the Grand Tour

Question from E:

What do you think about Mary K. Baxter who apparently saw heaven and hell in dreams for night after night straight for a long time. First hell then heaven I think. How is this possible?



Answer by SmartLX:

In a few really easy to imagine ways. One is a recurring dream, one is a series of lucid dreams in someone who doesn’t know what those are, one is fabricating the whole story.

This isn’t one of those supposed visions that’s accompanied by a real-world miracle; we only have Baxter’s word for what she saw in her sleep. Some of it matches scripture, some is so different from it that certain theologians warn against believing it. This is consistent with someone who’s very familiar with the Bible but doesn’t know it back to front, or has her own personal preferences for what the afterlife should be like. These preferences could come through in her subconscious as she dreams, or in the usual way as she makes up a story from whole cloth.

Baxter’s testimony is a set of claims for which there is no more evidence or reason to believe them than any other part of Christianity, and probably less. Christians might find it all reassuring but it’s worthless to those who don’t already believe.

Special Guest Appearance by Jesus

Question from Kamil:

Hello! Thanks for your reply on the Pam Reynolds NDE case, it made sense. My next question fits with other ones, that is the validity of Jesus. I have noticed in a few NDEs that when people have negative experiences that they may be in darkness or in torment when they call out to Jesus, and they claim a light appears and rescues them. Then, there are a few testimonies of seeing Jesus by non-Christians like Afshin Javid who was in a prison in Malaysia when he was meditating, felt he was being killed by djinns, and called out to Allah (no answer) then to Jesus and he says a bright light appeared telling him it was “the light and the way” and that it was Jesus Christ. He still cries when he tells this testimony. Then there was another Muslim lady who claimed she had gallbladder issues, called out to Jesus in the hospital, a light appeared and then the gallbladder stones were gone after inspection. Finally, Nasir Siddiki had severe shingles and almost died. One night, he woke up in his hospital bed to a bright light reporting to be Jesus, this light gave him information on the bible he had not known about, and the next day after showering he was fully cured. Would you say all these people describing Jesus as “light” in different situations (NDEs, meditation, life threatening events) shows consistency and gives Jesus a possibility of really showing himself?



Answer by SmartLX:

Funny you should ask about these two Kamil. I’ve done an article on Afshin Javid, and an article on Nasir Siddiki, and a third article when someone asked about both of them together.

The full analyses are linked above but to summarise very quickly, Javid’s experience was exclusively personal and had no bearing on the outside world, and there’s no evidence that Siddiki was ever as sick as he claimed (and shingles really leave marks).

There’s always a possibility that Jesus really did appear to one or both of these men, because it’s impossible to rule it out. To actually make it worth believing that it happened, however, evidence is needed and yet absent. The threshold of knowing something didn’t happen is not right on the same spot as the threshold of believing it did; there’s a lot of space in between.

Pam Reynolds: A Pre-emptive Takedown of NDE Skeptics

Question from Kamil:

Hey LX! Question about the famous Pam Reynolds NDE. On the awareofaware website, I found comments on the Pam Reynolds case where a few people who researched it called the science explanation BS because the skeptics lied. Here is a response from a guy who researched the case and found problems with Keith Augustine’s explanation:

“It’s a little bit irritating to read statements like that about the Pam Reynolds case! Meticulous researchers Smit and Rivas and myself (I’m not a researcher) studied this case in minute detail).

Her first veridical perception occurred when she was under burst suppression, a pattern of mostly flat brainwaves in which consciousness is categorically not possible. We have the clear statements from the surgeons who conducted the operation on this matter.

I doubt if you have any real conception of the brutality of the operation that Pam was subjected to. That’s not your fault of course; mischievous pseudo sceptics have been quite successful in spreading misinformation and downright lies about the case because they don’t like the obvious implications.

When surgeons are removing your eye socket (bone flap) to get into an area inside the skull so they can get down to the base of the brain in an area called the circle of Willis (apparently) they don’t want anyone to wake up… believe it or not. That is why they place you in the deepest anaesthetic state possible without killing the patient…burst suppression. Her EEG was monitored all the way through the operation and no brainwaves were detected at that time so it is impossible that she woke up.

However, even if she had been wide awake (as the sceptics prefer she still had
100 decibel clicking nodules (11 clicks per second) securely fixed in her ears which is comparable to hearing the sound of a pneumatic jack hammer several feet away. Pam would have heard these incredibly loud sounds in her ears if she had been awake but she never mentioned them.

Her second set of veridical observations occurred when she was not only without brainwaves, but her heart had stopped when they were starting the process of rewarming her on circulatory by pass. That occurred at 27 degrees C (I discovered that fact) a temperature at which consciousness is not possible. She was dead. And she still had the loud clicking nodules hammering away in her ear canals.

It was previously thought that this veridical observation occurred at 32 degrees C. Keith Augustine has it at 32 degrees C and refuses to change it. However even Gerry Woerlee had to admit that I was right.

So, the Pam Reynolds case is indeed absolutely solid (as it always was) but because there is no law to prevent people telling lies and spreading misinformation online, the popular misconceptions continue to this day.”

My question is, do you think it’s true that skeptics just lie, or hide the truth? Many people who believe in OBEs and NDEs say this. 

Also if it were true that we could not explain Pam Reynold’s case, would you then believe it was really her soul, or would you say we just cannot explain it? I am just really confused on what to believe. I have even heard of people who spoke with the doctor who performed the surgery saying there is no way she should have experienced this and gotten the details correct that she did, including the shaving of her head and the use of a tool with even the correct description (a saw that looked kind of like an electric toothbrush). Do you think this likely demonstrates truth in NDEs and souls?



Answer by SmartLX:

It’s rare that a near-death experience claim has a high enough profile to deserve its own Wikipedia page but here we are. To tackle the case point by point:

  • It is never possible to determine when during the entire period of consciousness a dream or hallucination has occurred, because the subject has no sense of time when unconscious. If there was a period during which the brain was not active enough to form such experiences, such as when super-chilled and bloodless, it probably happened either side of that. Reynolds was under for hours before the procedure.
  • From an NDE believer’s perspective, however, the timing is determined by what was “observed” in the outside world during the NDE. The one unique marker in this case was the use of an electric saw, but since it looked and sounded like a dentist’s drill this is hardly an outlandish guess to make, consciously or unconsciously. As for shaving her head…she woke up with a shaved head, didn’t she?
  • See one of the reference links here: it’s possible to hear through the sound coming from the earphones, and you can test it for yourself if you don’t mind an unpleasant experience. Reynolds was a musician with a trained “ear”, making it even easier to pick something out. If there was any anaesthesia awareness in play, the noise does not invalidate it.

As for your other question about the behaviour of skeptics, the idea that they lie and conceal the truth is something believers in the disputed phenomena often claim. An X-Files-esque conspiracy to suppress evidential support for one’s own beliefs is easier to accept than a simple lack of evidence, because it makes it seem far less likely that one is just wrong. Perhaps some skeptics have been deceitful (they’re only human), even in the particular case of Pam Reynolds, but even with the facts “corrected” to what the advocates would like, there is not enough evidence to suggest anything supernatural. It’s possible that these accusations have been leveled at Augustine et al not just to rebut specific points but to discredit anything else they’ve written about the case, and reassure believers that even the refutations that seem legitimate must have holes in them somewhere. Saves them thinking too hard about it.

A Question, Initially About Amino Acids, Evolves WAY Faster Than the Acids Did

Question from Barbara:

I just looked at one atheists’ answer for how amino acids can come together to form cells. The presumption was that the AA’s were already here. Where did the AA’s originate? “Out of thin air” is not correct: where did the air come from? All “backing up” has to lead to ID. 


Since no one thus far has unequivocally DISproven Biblical accounts and eye-witnesses, what if atheists simply thoughtfully, without presumption, STUDIED the Scriptures and humbly put the existence and role of GOD between themselves and GOD? For real. If claims cannot be proven untrue in a reasonable, applicable fashion; notwithstanding the historicity of actual dates, rulers, events, prophecies, and 180 degree life-change, how would one suppose to believe proponents of the naysayers of all GOD says, and has revealed about Himself? 


Just honestly study what atheism bases its worldview and their subsequent eternity exposing and even imposing. 


There MUST be proof of something, or this life and all its’ machinations are illogical and meaningless: a morbid, hopeless, dead way of seeing all of existence. 


What is a life without purpose? Where is meaningful purpose found? A purpose and meaning beyond the seen and comprehended.



Answer by SmartLX:

That amino acids were always there is, happily, one of the things atheists do not have to presume. The Miller-Urey experiment in 1952 is often criticised by creationists (and ID proponents, who are invariably creationists) for not replicating abiogenesis fully, but what it undeniably did was produce amino acids when a strong electrical jolt (representing lightning) was introduced into a chemical environment approximating the atmosphere of the early Earth. Over time it was discovered that it produced several times more types of amino acid than Miller and Urey even detected. Our understanding of the pre-life atmosphere on Earth has changed over time, as the linked article says, but ultimately not in any ways that challenge the likelihood of spontaneous amino acid production with lightning as the catalyst.

There are all manner of claims that have not been proven untrue. In the religious sphere alone, your attitude towards the Bible could be applied to the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and the core texts of any number of other religions; they can’t conclusively be proven false simply because they’re too old and describe things impossible to witness or detect. This by itself is no reason to accept their claims.

When the non-devout do study the scriptures, which happens a great deal, you typically get laundry lists of serious concerns and not a lot more belief. One of the most famous of such responses is the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. Another is Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (full and concise text in the link). The Bible, and most apologetics, are advocated to you as a Christian by your authority figures in the faith (whether your local preachers or online evangelists) as a means of reassuring those who already believe, because that’s about all they’re good for in terms of defending the faith.

You throw a lot of other truncated arguments in there, but these have already been considered – for instance refer here for my take on claims about prophecies. As for purpose and meaning, this comes up a lot so have a quick browse.

Dealing with Depression

Question from Sam:
I have been very, very depressed lately. Many factors attribute to this: My dad’s cancer, difficulty in finding a job, Trump, racial tension, global warming, plight of migrants etc. The world seems very bleak, and as a result, it’s getting harder and harder for me to resist religion as a means of comfort. I try so much to rely on science and logic for my troubles, but none of it makes me happy. I love movies but I’m scared that if I turn to that, I might hurt somebody in some way (b/c of the whole plight of child actors). Everything in me seems broken and hopeless. Is there anyway I can still be happy again?

Answer by SmartLX:
My wife is going through something similar. Assorted life challenges coupled with large-scale global tragedies and threats completely out of her control (Trump is a major focus, and we’re not even in America) lead to frequent bouts of depression in someone already prone to them. Honestly I wish I could do more to help her, because you never want to see the people you love suffer.

The difference between her and you is that she’s Catholic. She doesn’t seriously doubt God to my knowledge and never has. That’s why I can tell you that religion can be no help at all at times like this. Her thinking is not that God has a mysterious plan that somehow requires all this suffering for some greater good, but rather that God is punishing her specifically for past unidentified wrongs while allowing all this awfulness to happen. Faith is no comfort whatsoever in the day to day.

Perhaps if you gave in to religion you’d bring a different attitude. You’d tell yourself that God loves all of us and has a grand plan, or will come down and fix all this mess eventually, or at the very least everyone will get their just deserts after death. But as you know there’s no evidence for any of this, you would need to live with the fact that anything positive you claimed about God was your own naked assertion, either ignoring it as you prayed or trying to brainwash yourself into forgetting it. And frankly, if you have the kind of mind that generates depression from such disparate sources, God would probably become part of the misery in some way, just like he is for my wife.

Meanwhile, science and logic can be comforting (e.g. by telling you that there is no supernatural force driving the world to ruin, and each misfortune big and small has tangible causes which can potentially be addressed) but they can’t make real problems suddenly unreal, and their power to reverse depression has a natural limit as a result. You’re going through some awful things and so is the world, and the normal, expected reaction to these is sadness. Unemployment especially can feel worse and worse over time, I know.

First thing I can tell you is to go and see a damn movie. If it’s an old movie, it won’t affect the “plight” of any now-grown child actors who were in it. If it’s new, at least you’re helping everyone involved get more work, and it’s a lot better than reality television where child subjects lack even the meagre protections child actors have won over the years. Getting to know about particular child actors and their work can in a small way raise their profile and increase the chances that people will notice if they’re mistreated. Most importantly, if you need to feel some joy and you know one thing that’ll do it for you, and you can only imagine it hurting people in the abstract, don’t go looking for reasons to deny yourself. By all means choose your films carefully, but there are so many.

Next thing is to focus, as the famous Serenity Prayer says (in a sentiment dating back to Greek philosopher Epictetus), on the things you can control and not the things you can’t. There’s probably very little you can do about your father’s cancer, but you can greatly affect his comfort and state of mind, so be a good son. Potential employers make up their own minds about who to hire, but you can get out there and present the best possible version of yourself, taking pride in this regardless of their decision. Politicians have the power to affect national policy on immigration, the environment and so on, but you as a citizen can contact any politician you like, draw their attention in other ways, and even have a hand in their removal. Look into local or online activist groups and see if any are doing good work you’d like to join in. The point here is to give yourself a purpose, however short-term or arbitrary, other than mere survival. Purpose leaves a hole in the mind when it’s not there.

Speaking of joining, we are social creatures and none of us are meant to shoulder the burdens of the whole world alone. You can find groups specifically for your own issues (cancer support, job hunting, human rights, etc.) but joining any group, official or informal, will potentially put you in touch with people you can truly connect with on at least one level. A burden shared is a burden halved, and just knowing there are people you can talk to if you need to can be a very nice thought. If you’re an introvert like me then you may wish to control the amount of time you spend in company, but it’s still important to have that option.

Finally, I realise you’re un- or under-employed but some form of therapy or counselling may be what you ultimately need to get a handle on your runaway thoughts. I have no idea what’s available where you are but some form of pro bono, bulk-billed or volunteer program may exist that will put you in a room with someone who can give better mental health advice than I can. Doesn’t hurt to research it.

For now, just know that I truly hope you can find ways to feel better. There are people who don’t know you at all but feel for people like you and are working to improve the world for your sake. Good luck.