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.

Direct and To the Point

Question from May:
why dont you believe in GOD

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me this on the site without coupling it with an argument or challenge. There are a few different parts to it, or if you prefer it could be interpreted a couple of different ways, so I’ll try to cover all aspects in chronological order.

Have I ever believed in God?
Yes.

I went to a Catholic primary school and the family attended church at Easter and Christmas. Most of the authority figures in my life talked about God as if He was real, and the rest didn’t comment, so I accepted it. I would pray matter-of-factly, talking quietly to God as if He were a foot in front of my face.

How and when did I stop believing in God?
It was sometime between the ages of 11 and 26, and the how of it will explain why it’s such a broad estimate.

When I moved on from primary to a secular high school I had a go at preaching to a couple of my classmates, and was immediately met with challenges to the whole idea that I’d never had to face before. The problem of evil, my own hypocritical behaviour, stuff like that. I was so embarrassed and confused, without any proper spiritual guide to reassure me, that I immediately stopped talking about God and pretty much stopped thinking about God too, and this lasted through all of high school and university. I just focused on other things.

In 2006 I read about Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist movement. I didn’t understand the arguments for and against at that point, but after reading what atheism actually is, I asked myself whether I still believed in God. It was the first time in over a decade I had seriously meditated on the concept, and it no longer rang true. In the time that had passed, my emotional connection to faith had completely faded, so I felt no loyalty or fear and continued to question. I realised that I was an atheist, which means that the point when I became an atheist, whether instantly or gradually, might have been any time from 1992 onwards.

Why has my faith not been restored by any apologetics, experiences, evidence or anything else?
Because all of this combined has proved insufficient.

Carrying on from the above, once I knew I was an atheist I quickly learned of the low opinion many believers have of atheists and their reasoning. I specifically sought out the best available arguments in favour of the existence of God in case there was something obvious that I had missed and I was clearly misguided. I found that the flaws in each of these arguments are easy to identify (see my Great Big Arguments series). I eventually realised that they are only really useful for reassuring believers, who do not wish to see the flaws in arguments that support their position. I prayed again, as sincerely as I could, on advice from certain evangelists who were certain God Himself would answer. He never had answered my childhood prayers, and He didn’t start now. There was no longer any apparent reason to believe, so I did not and do not.

What would it take for me to believe in God?
Something major, but potentially quite simple.

An argument could come along which I haven’t considered yet, and which is actually as airtight (to put it formally, both valid and sound) as Christians believe the other arguments are. God could speak to me or otherwise send me a message in a way which could not be explained by a hoax, and had a low probability of being my hallucination or dream. Or I could get old, sick or injured and lose some of my mental faculties, so that when the existing arguments or supposed evidence is eventually presented to me again, I’m unable to remember or discern the flaws or counterpoints and I finally accept God because of a misconception. (Remember, even if I start to believe it won’t necessarily mean that I’ll be right.) That’s about all the ways I can think of.

But enough about me. May, please answer in the comments if you would: why do you believe in God (if indeed you do)? To be a little more specific, never mind the arguments you would give now for God’s existence – I would like to know what caused you to believe in the first place. If you have simply always believed, tell me why that is. Any other believers are free to throw in.

She’s a Beauty, Low Mileage and Only One Curse!

Question from Bubsy:
Are we actually cursed? Hear me out:

Last year, our car got hit 5 times while it was parked! I could see this happening once or even twice, but 5 times????

This year our car got dinged twice in parking lots, many many oil repairs, yesterday a person driving next to us made a lane change and swiped us, then today a stone hit our car, and broke the windshield. We just cannot catch a break. All our religious friends say it is a curse.

Answer by SmartLX:
Your religious friends would do well to check whether there is even such a thing as a curse of the right kind in their doctrines. They do exist in Christianity for instance, being powered by the devil so to speak, but simply accepting Jesus is protection enough that you can never be affected. (See here.) So if you’re religious yourself you can answer the question of whether it even CAN be a curse in your worldview.

If you’re getting hit a lot while parked, there are all kinds of obvious questions about where you park, how big your car is, your own driving skills, etc. Similar practical considerations can significantly affect the probabilities of all your other misfortunes. The recurring oil issue for example is down to the condition of your car and the competence (and ethics) of your regular mechanic. All up you’ve mentioned a total of nine events over two years (not counting the oil thing) which could of course be explained by pure bad luck, or some bad luck combined with poor general attitudes to driving in your area.

From a statistical perspective, someone who serves as an outlier (i.e. getting “favoured” way more than the average) is always going to wonder whether something special is going on, but in the vast population of motorists there are almost certain to be some outliers at any given time. (What are the chances that no one in the whole country will be super unlucky?) The chances of winning the lottery are incredibly slim, but there’s regularly a jackpot winner from somewhere (though they really come up against the odds when it comes to winning a second time).

My advice is simply to continue to drive and park with care, and if no one is actually out there gunning for you, you’ll eventually tend towards the average rate of car-damaging events, whatever that is. I tried to look it up but there aren’t many statistics outside of fatal accidents.

The Exodus: I Now Call To The Stand…EVERYBODY!

Question from Avi:
Could 3 million ppl be wrong?

Judaism unlike other religions makes the claim that exodus was witnessed by the entire Jewish ppl.
In the case of Jesus walking on water, there weren’t all that many witnesses and it is therefore hard to be certain of its validity. But exodus was witnessed by 3 million ppl.
How do atheists explain this?

Answer by SmartLX:
The point I make when discussing 1 Corinthians 15, which says 500 people supposedly saw the resurrected Jesus, is that an account of X number of witnesses is not the same as that many witness accounts. The Torah says 600,000 adult males saw the Exodus and the total figure of 3 million was estimated in the 1st century CE based on that. This is not 3 million or even 600,000 claims but rather the claim of just one writer in the 5th or 6th century BCE, regarding a supposed event in the 13th century BCE (best guess so far, among those that think it happened at all). That’s 700-800 years on, in a culture which did the vast majority of its storytelling and record-keeping via word of mouth – proudly so, as they celebrate with events like the Passover Seder.

This vast distance between the event and the documentation does not speak well for the authenticity of the event, especially in the absence of any other substantial evidence for it, and even several factors actively contradicting parts of it. More details here.

The Reach of Original Sin

Question from Tim:
LX, I’m interested in your thoughts about something:

I’ve been thinking about crime and punishment lately for separate reasons from religion, but a related religious connotation entered my mind recently that I think needs exploring, and I’d like your thoughts on it.

As it relates to Christianity (and many other religions as well in some form or another) humanity has to suffer on planet Earth because a god was disobeyed by a young couple in a garden. The price of their disobedience was that they became “fallen”. Different definitions of what exactly that means abound, but the basic premise is that they went from a perfect state to the current state of existence that all humans currently find themselves in. That existence is definitely less that perfect, and involves all manner of things like sickness, disease, pain, suffering, heartbreak, bad luck, etc. If you are really unlucky you might have been born Jewish and killed in the holocaust, or born gay and thrown off a high rise in Iran. But no one escapes the wrath of this god, everyone has some kind of bad thing befall them from time to time.

And all of it is due to, from we are told, a couple of young people eating a piece of fruit off of a forbidden tree.

So I can’t help but wonder, in the midst of all this suffering throughout the history of humanity, how much longer people who had nothing to do with the decision of Adam and Eve will be made to pay for the choice of those two back in the day. In other words, when will the punishment fit the “crime”?

Answer by SmartLX:
Ah, the good old Problem of Evil. Trying to wrap my head around the continued existence of evil in a world with an all-powerful, all-knowing and entirely good deity is a major reason for my atheism. I didn’t simply renounce my faith because of the apparent conflict, though; the complexity of the problem caused my tween self to give up thinking about religion at all, and I had other things to focus on. This self-enforced sabbatical from theology went on for enough years that my emotional connections to faith faded completely. When I finally did come back to the subject, faith did not appear justified on an intellectual level, so there was nothing left to support it.

The story of Adam and Eve attempts to shift the responsibility for everything that’s wrong with our lives from God to the imperfect nature of humanity. Though you and I didn’t eat the apple, we’re marked with Original Sin as a result of the act itself, just so that God sees a reminder in all of us. Also, it could be reasoned (within the hypothesis of an actual Adam and Eve) that we’re of the same race as Adam so we are similarly flawed, and therefore liable to do something just as bad. God sees into people’s hearts, we’re told, so uncommitted crimes still count against us.

In a separate discussion over whether an eternity in Hell is justified for any possible sin, one Christian defense of God’s “policy” was that offending an infinitely powerful entity like God carries a punishment proportional to the entity, not the crime, and the punishment is therefore infinite. Whether or not this bit of logic is pure assertion, a Christian might apply this to Adam: as a finite being Adam could not absorb an infinite punishment, so it had to be extended to his descendants ad infinitum.

Speaking practically, Christianity will never allow humanity a clean slate. A large part of its pull is the idea that we all have work to do in order to redeem ourselves, and a relationship with Jesus is the only way to get that done. The threat of Hell is always there, even if Hell is seldom or never mentioned.

Mary in the Sun

Question from Jacob:
Hey, a friend showed me this video. I’d like to know what you think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvyUnmBjxm8&feature=youtu.be&t=113

Answer by SmartLX:
Looks fascinating, whatever it is.

It’s a pity this footage is the best we have. It was in 2011 but that’s still well into the age of smartphones. The shape that appears within the sun varies in its prominence, and at times seems to move slightly relative to other objects. I’m not inclined to think the video itself is a complete hoax, as the reactions of those present seem genuine enough. Without really knowing what the image actually looked like in detail, we can say very little about its source, so there’s no telling whether it was naturally or deliberately generated somehow.

The conclusion the local Roman Catholics (majority religion of the southern Ivory Coast) immediately drew was that it was an apparition of the Virgin Mary. People from another area might have interpreted it very differently, as the impression one gets is merely of a robed, hooded figure. Regardless of who it resembled, given that this was seven years ago widespread belief does not seem to have been significantly influenced by it, so as a hypothetical, literal sign from God it does appear to have failed in whatever large-scale goal it had.

Quite apart from everything else, I hope no one’s vision was damaged by staring directly at the centre of the sun for as long as the image appeared.

Lotta Stories ‘Bout Jesus, Ain’t There?

Question from Kole:
Hello, I have seen testimonies lately, about people meeting Jesus. A few are: Nasir Siddiki, (former Muslim who had really bad shingles and claimed Jesus saved him)

Afshin Javid (former Muslim who claims Jesus spoke to him in a jail cell)

A story of a former Muslim woman who claims she had gall stones so bad she was in the hospital, she was in so much pain, she called out to Jesus, he appeared, cured her. Then when the doctors came later, she had no gall stones, everyone was baffled

Many NDEs where a person has a hellish experience, they call out to Jesus, he suddenly transports them into a positive place.

The thing is, there are many examples of people claiming to have interacted with Jesus, and many claims state that when they call to him, a bright light appears right away. One man said he was in hell and when he started to say Jesus, before he could finish the light appeared. Afshin and Nassir, plus the former Muslim woman all describe a bright light appearing right away, after they call out to him, and they can talk to him, he helps them. There was even a few NDEs I came across where Muslims say they were in hell, or in a life threatening situation called out to Allah, no response. Then they tried “Jesus” and suddenly a light appeared and rescued them. Does this to you prove that Jesus is the correct way to go? Does this prove Jesus to you? If you were to google it I assure you that you would find similar stories. I just don’t get how this can be.

Answer by SmartLX:
As you can see I’ve added a couple of links above to where I’ve already addressed the claims of some of the people you mentioned. The woman, Amy Ghazal, is new to me but it’s similar to other tales we’ve had here, Siddiki’s in particular. Like what’s come before, we have only her word and not her hospital records.

In any case, it’s been on record since 1979 (see this article in the NMA’s journal) that gallstones can in some cases spontaneously dissolve or disperse. This is exactly why Ghazal was scanned again before surgery; the surgeon already knew he should double-check on the day, and while he would have been surprised to see the gallstones gone he would not have thought it a miracle. That was all down to her.

You hear so many of these conversion stories because there is a way for you to hear them, and it’s hard to miss. The 700 Club disseminated Ghazal’s story, and Javid was trumpeted by It’s a New Day. Christians eat up stories like this, it feeds directly into the “one lost sheep” mentality of redeeming those on the outer. That’s why televangelists and other preachers seek the stories out and parade them before you.

People convert the other way, of course, and it can be an equally intense experience; I daresay you’ll find some fascinating stories on this list. You just won’t hear about it on Western public access TV.

The Ghost’s Leg Still Hurts?

Question from Remy:
Lately one of my friend’s friends died of cancer and left three kids behind.

I had a dream where I was watching a performance of my daughter in school and next to me was standing this lady. It was weird for me to see her there, because we weren’t close friends and saw each other only a couple of times. I knew, even in my dream, that she is not with us anymore. But she did look so vibrant, so healthy and happy, I asked her what she is doing here and she said that she came to look at her daughter’s performance as well. So I asked how is she doing? She just said that she is perfect, only her left leg bothering her when she sleeps, then I asked:
– does God exist?
and she answered:
– Yes. But the life on Earth is not the way we think it is.
and then she left the building.

I called my friend and asked for the phone number of the husband of this lady.
I wanted to tell him that his wife is happy and loves them even after her death and when I mentioned about the left leg, he started to cry, and told me that she had very painful metastases on her LEFT LEG and I didn’t know that!

I think that is a proof of another dimension which we mistakenly call Afterlife.

Answer by SmartLX:
One possibility here is false ignorance. You knew this woman was dead, which means you would probably have heard something of the story of her illness, through either local news or the school community. It’s very possible that you knew but had mostly forgotten about the issue with her leg, allowing your subconscious to draw on it.

Another option is that you had a very wide “target” to hit. She had metastases in the correct leg, but where else? Stage 4 cancer (the stage where it starts to travel around the body) can settle literally anywhere, and the colonies in her leg are probably not the ones that killed her. There may have been a great many sources of pain around her body which you could have named and gotten the same reaction from her widower.

Possibilities like these, and of course the possibility of a sheer lucky guess, prevent the kind of argument from elimination that would allow anyone to establish this as a true proof of communication with the deceased (provided of course that your story is true in the first place). It looks convincing to you, but the idea that it was either pure coincidence or a true visitation is a false dilemma, because something else might be going on.

Alex Tsakiris on NDEs, and the Impotence of Debate

Question from Uriadka:
Does Alex Tsakiris prove NDEs?

He often uses a variety of NDE researchers and says that all these skeptics and atheists including Sam Harris, Christof Koch, have gone from skeptics to somewhat switching sides in the NDE debate.

Here is a link where he debates Mike Shermer.

http://skeptiko.com/dr-michael-shermer-on-near-death-experience-science-379/

He brings up some decent points in all of his debates, about how some studies seem to disprove certain scientific explanations for NDEs, and then he sites doctors and people with high credentials as proof of NDEs being soul related. He just seems to always beat skeptics when they debate. If you have an opportunity, look up some of his NDE debates, and he always seems more well versed, and it gets me to question whether or not skeptics always present things out of context.

Here is an example of a quote by Dr. Long:

“Dr. Jeffrey Long: The key thing is to know a few of the consistently seen elements of near-death experience that are the strongest evidence for their reality. For example, when you’re under general anesthesia, it should be impossible to have a lucidic organized remembrance at that time. In fact, under anesthesia, you’re typically so far under, with general anesthesia they often have to breathe for you. I mean you’re literally, brain shut down to the level of the brain stem and at that point in time some people have a cardiac arrest, their hearts stop, and of course, that’s very well documented. They monitor people very carefully that are having general anesthesia.

So, I have dozens and dozens of near-death experiences that occurred under general anesthesia and at this time, it should be, if you will, doubly impossible to have a conscious remembrance, and yet they do have near-death experiences at this time, and they’re typical near-death experiences. They have the same elements and appear to have them in the same orders as near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances. In fact, a critical survey question I asked was what their level of consciousness and alertness during the experience was.

Well, even under general anesthetics, under those powerful chemicals to produce sedation, if they had a near-death experience under general anesthesia, their level of consciousness and alertness was identical to near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances.

There’s absolutely no way the skeptics can explain that away, it’s impossible.”

On his shows he has Brain surgeons saying there is no way some brain in that state could create an experience feeling so much more vivid and lucid than real life. It kills me how many atheists have converted due to him:

He engages with Shermer (a skeptic)

: On that last part, I don’t know that that’s really the direction where things are going. The last time we talked to you a couple of years ago, one of the guys you brought up on your team was Dr. Christof Koch, right? A guy I’ve spoken to, interviewed on this show. Hey man, he’s moved over. He switched gears, right?

Michael Shermer: Sort of moved over.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, sort of moved over. The position has shifted. These guys are no longer holding to the mind equals brain thing.

Another clip I was going to play for you, but I’ve played enough clips, you were very nice to do it.

Michael Shermer: Even Deepak says you need a brain.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, hold on. I could play for you the clip of Sam Harris and David Chalmers. So, Sam Harris, I don’t think much of Sam Harris, but he’s a name everybody knows. David Chalmers, one of the leading researchers in consciousness for a number of years, and they’re there talking, and they say, “Dan Dennett, consciousness is an illusion. You don’t really think he believes that, do you? I mean, we’re not still stuck there, right?”

So, this idea that you’re putting forward, this kind of militant, materialism, mind equals brain, we’ve moved past that. All the leading players have moved past that Michael.

Michael Shermer: No, they haven’t. No, no.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, Christof Koch has moved past it. David Chalmers has moved past it. Sam Harris has moved past it. Who are you going to point to?

Michael Shermer: I know Sam quite well, he hasn’t moved past anything, what are you talking about?

Alex Tsakiris: He’s not a strict materialist. He’s not a strict mind equals brain guy, no. He’s totally in the panpsychism, spirituality, something other than strict mind equals brain materialism.

Michael Shermer: We did a public event together in Austin that he’s going to post in a week or two that you can listen to, where we talk about…

Alex Tsakiris: Ask him, bring him on, I’ll have both of you guys on at the same time and I’ll invite the people to talk to you.

What are your thoughts on this? Does it make sense from the brilliant Alex T that souls and NDEs are real?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s my opinion that before too long there will be an article on this site regarding every prominent NDE advocate, simply because the people sending in the questions appear to be literally working their way down a list. I should go back and check whether they’re coming in alphabetical order.

As far as I can find, Sam Harris and Christof Koch have not said or written a word in support of genuine NDEs, and Sam Harris in particular has certainly not moved an inch on the existence of souls, which is what Shermer is trying to say above despite the interruptions. (Don’t accept that? Comment and post something to the contrary by Harris himself. He’s written about spirituality, sure, but expressly to reclaim the word from supernaturalists, so read carefully.)

What seems to be happening is that at certain times in the supposedly ongoing debate, when people like Tsakiris have made a point which they don’t consider their opponents to have answered, NDE supporters write stuff like this to say Harris et al are beaten and will shortly have to concede. This is invited by Tsakiris himself who asserts as above that his opponents are coming around to his side while they’re not present. This is not the same as extracting any kind of actual concession, but it’s good enough to reassure a lot of believers.

I’ve written before on the attempts to debunk various scientific explanations of classic NDE phenomena, and here for instance I’ve addressed the undisputed fact that dreams do not occur during periods of very low brain activity, such as anaesthesia, cerebral hypoxia/anoxia, or just plain deep sleep. In order to reach these states from a starting state of consciousness, one must descend through intermediate levels of brain activity during which dreams are possible. In order to wake up to tell the tale, one must then ascend through the same levels, often more slowly. That’s two intervals either side of the “dead zone” that allow for the unconscious experiences people report afterwards. To summarise, there is always time to dream.

Winning a debate is not the same as winning an argument, which is not the same as winning someone over. I think of it in stages.
Stage 1: You win a debate if you appear to be ahead on points, literal or figurative, at the end of an exchange of predetermined length. No one’s mind is required to change.
Stage 2: You win an argument if your opponent cannot respond to your points, given ample time to research and consider, despite actually trying to do so. Still, though your opponent is no longer on solid ground they may cling to their position in the belief that it will eventually be vindicated.
Stage 3: You win someone over if they change their mind and adopt your position.

The religious appear to be good at debates, largely because those who participate in them are trained to be good at them, but this merely allows them to subjectively win the occasional debate even with bad logic and poor (or zero) evidence. Subsequent analysis of what they actually offered reveals how little they were working with, and thus a debate will hardly ever advance a religious viewpoint past stage 1 for anyone who does not already believe.