None taken!

Thanks to this week’s guest scriptwriters, Francis Spufford, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. (NOTE: edited to add the Cardinal, as the comic does not accurately represent Spufford’s view, which the guest scriptwriting credit implied).

(And Sastra)

Discussion (164)¬

  1. machigai says:

    I’m not offended, either.

  2. Undeluded says:

    Isn’t it great to begin a case with an oxymoron (“emotional sense”)?

    Pray, do go on. Where do these emotions come from? God gave them to us. So now we have the tools to believe in him. Typical cyclic ill-logic.

  3. Oozoid says:

    The sub-human crap poor old Author has to wade through to bring us our delights!

  4. Necessary Evil says:

    “Religion without God makes no sense (except possibly to Buddhists).” Does Mr Spufford actually mean “Religion without Any god makes perfect sense for some people”? I think he’s in denial.

  5. Francis Spufford says:

    My, that certainly *would* be offensive. If I’d said it.

    My book is an argument for the imaginative legitimacy of Christianity, based on the ordinariness of the emotions and experiences which it organises. Ordinary for everyone, I mean, emphatically including atheists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and the conjectural worshippers of Zeus who so often seem to come up in these conversations. The point is that emotions in question are universal. They *can* be understood through Christianity – I think most deeply and truly understood that way – but clearly they need not be, and there are numerous other dignified and respect-worthy forms of human understanding.

    I do not see atheists as defective, stupid or subhuman. Why would I? And how could I? It’s a category of people which comprises the majority of the population, functionally speaking, where I live. Atheists are my colleagues, my friends, my political allies, and the strangers who smile at me in line at the post office. I’m pissed off at the effect that some of the dumber atheist platitudes have had on the mood and form of the public conversation about religion, but I am not attempting to engage in a zero-sum argument here about who has the truth. And considering the amount of mockery you dish out routinely, you really ought to be able to take a little in return without deciding someone thinks you’re subhuman.

  6. FreeFox says:

    Oh, hey, an author in the house. *thrilled* As probably the only other theist present, I want to welcome you to the cock and bull, Mr. Spufford. Only to go an call you out on your opening proposition: That atheism is a form of anti-theistic belief. Of course you have some who have elevated their idenity as non-theists to the same level of belief as most Christians (*coughs* darwinharmless), but I really do not think that you are doing their basic philosophical position justice. You do not need to have active proff of absence to be justifed in not believing in a tea pot floating on the opposite side of earth’s orbit around the sun. The mere lack of convincing evidence within a working paradigm that doesn’t include a deity is sufficient for a rational person to not believe in it. I assume you do not call yourself an devout anti-santaclausian, either, though you probably no longer believe in an actual big bellied red-clothed elf distributting presents from the northpole.

    I believe that in the current, rational paradigm we theist do have the burden of proof (or at least of a sensible explanation of what the heck we are talking about) when we want atheists to take our use of the God seriously.

  7. FreeFox says:

    *use of the word “God” seriously (also apologies to UPOTWA for the many other typos)

  8. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Emotions, like pickets on a fence
    If sat on, can cause inconvenience.
    When straddling philosophical railings do avoid
    Using a picket to poke a haemorrhoid.
    Most sentiments are relatively dense.

  9. Chiefy says:

    Cheers, FreeFox! Well said.
    Welcome, Mr. Spufford. Author’s possible hyperbole aside, I do have to take issue with a couple of your statements.

    “You don’t have the emotions because you’ve signed up to the proposition that God exists; you entertain the proposition that God exists because you’ve had the emotions. You entertain the proposition, and perhaps eventually sign up to it, because it makes a secondary kind of sense of something you’re feeling anyway.”
    But if these emotions are universal, then it must be something else that convinces people to put there faith in God. A theist might credit the work of the Holy Ghost. I would be more inclined to blame random experiences plus childhood indoctrination.

    “It isn’t enough that you yourselves don’t believe: atheism permits a delicious self-righteous anger at those who do. The very existence of religion seems to be an affront, a liberty being taken, a scab you can’t help picking. People who don’t like stamp-collecting don’t have a special magazine called The Anti-Philatelist. But you do.”
    Perhaps that’s because stamp collectors don’t proselytize. Nor do they lobby for Congress to pass morals laws, nor pressure schools to teach biblical mythology as science. Nor are they tax-exempt. You get the idea.

  10. Chiefy says:

    *their* faith. I need to proofread myself better.

  11. FreeFox says:

    Thanks Chiefy. And btw, I totally disagree on your childhood indictrination theory. Except in cases of moronic literalists. And even there it’s more the emotional abuse.

    As for your bewilderment at the militancy of some atheists (and I believe you are vastly overstating the proportion of militant atheists; just like most religious people really just live their lives and go to church on sunday, most atheists never deign to give the deity or His worshippers any thought at all; it is just that those that speak out also stand out), it is easily explained: Atheists of course have no problem with God, after all, He doesn’t exist in their mind and isn’t much missed either, hard as you and I may find that (and I agree that the lack of missing God is often actually a sign of an emotional wound; however so *is* missing God). They don’t take an issue with God, they take an issue with religious people. And I have to agree that more often than not they are right. Not just the active proselytising Chiefy talks about. Ecological activists proselytise, but they evoke less reaction. They do not as a rule abuse children physically, sexually, emotionally, and intellectually. They do not attack other people’s lifestyle without rational basis other than some tattered, edited scraps of parchment (they do sit in moral judgement, but they back it up with rational arguments, such as “you are killing the basis for life on our shared planet”. As a die-in-the-wool faggot I know what I am talking about living amongst muslims, I know what I am talking about.)

    Religion does not only owe an intellectual justification for its claims (which I believe a rational theist can deliver), it also owes either a very complex moral justification or a very humble and sincere apology for a list of sins so long that libraries can be filled with it.

  12. FreeFox says:

    (Sorry… I forgot to include some indicator that my second and third paragraph were directed at Mr. Spufford, not Chiefy)

  13. pete says:

    There’s an infinite number of non-existent things I’ve not had any emotions over.

  14. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Francis Spufford, welcome to the Cock and Bull, but please don’t expect an easy ride. A couple of points from your essay:
    Yet we and you – wild romantic creatures that we all are – rush instead to positions of faith on the subject.
    Don’t be ridiculous. My atheism is not a matter of faith, it is a conclusion reached over time (certainly not rushed, it’s foolishness in the extreme to rush to a conclusion with the potential stakes so high) based on the real enemy of religion – evidence.

    But it does indeed rule out the alternative possibility of seeing atheism as theism in negative; of atheists as a kind of glorious reverse-Trappists, devoted to noisily celebrating the non-existence of God
    Maybe you know atheists that I don’t, but around these parts we don’t ‘celebrate the non-existance’, we simply marvel at the (often dangerous) rubbish regularly spouted in the name of religion.

    You don’t have the emotions because you’ve signed up to the proposition that God exists; you entertain the proposition that God exists because you’ve had the emotions.
    And reject the proposition because we allow our intelligence to over-rule emotion.

    over here on the believers’ side too, we don’t spend that much time fixated on the question of God’s existence,[…]You entertain the proposition, and perhaps eventually sign up to it, because it makes a secondary kind of sense of something you’re feeling anyway.
    So in plain English, religion is no more than an extension of emotional thoughts, or in other words, man made God in his own image rather than the more traditional, Biblical version.

    That’s about all I have the stomach for at the moment; the atheist straw-manning is bad enough, the combination of that and the excessive word-salad you served up is doing terrible things to my constitution, but I’ll make one final observation:

    It is never a good idea to let yourself believe that the pleasures of aggression have virtue behind them. Take it from a religious person. This, we know.
    That’s not what your Bible says. Have you even read it?

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, just like most religious people really just live their lives and go to church on sunday
    Edit required:
    just like most religious people really just live their lives and don’tgo to church on sunday.

  16. fsharpasharpinfinity says:

    Just another example of the Theists’ Last Stand – defending God by arguing him into ineffable, virtual non-existence. God is now a way of explaining a pleasant and comforting emotion? That’s what the God of Genesis is reduced to? Magnificent. I think theists are moving towards some kind of paradoxical event horizon at the moment – the logical endpoint of the process of making God more and more nebulous to protect him from criticism is to conclude that the best way of protecting him is to simply admit he doesn’t exist at all. All that will be left is a funny, fuzzy feeling in the tummy. And at that point, presumably, the Universe will end.

  17. FreeFox says:

    Hey, AoS, I think I have to weigh in on Mr. Spufford’s side soon (especially since he is so vocally silent), because I think that on the question of the emotional experience he is on to something important, and most atheists (and unfortunately most religious people) really don’t get it.

    But I felt I needed to add something more to my previous response to Mr. Spufford’s essay, on the question of militancy. I think most people here and wherever else you find the outspoken atheist, have personally suffered under religiously motivated people. I have had my share of pointless oppression and violence because supposedly God tells his followers to whack the fag. Darwin Harmless, foaming as he may sometimes be, had one of the best parts of his body hacked off by religiously motivated malpracticioners. I have atheist friends who have been beaten with reference to the biblical proverb about the rod and the spoilt child. And everyone here has had to suffer under the indolent closemindedness to argument that a specific kind of self-righteous religionist is prone to (the finger-in-the-ears-and-humming-really-loud effect.) Militant atheists are militant, because faith-motivated people have harmed them and continue to harm them. As much as Christians would like to claim the same, it simply doesn’t happen the other way around. (Unless you want to count Nazis and Stalinists amongst the atheists, but we all know that that is intellectually dishonest. Totalitarian systems may have skipped the transcendent, personal deity, but they have either deified their dictators or some idea to the same faith-based, argument-immune level.)

  18. truthspeaker says:

    Mr. Spufford, the reason we consider religion an affront is because believing fact-claims for emotional reasons is patently dangerous, not just to the believer but to society as a whole.

    Gullibility and irrationality are bad for all of us.

  19. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox says:
    November 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm
    Hey, AoS, I think I have to weigh in on Mr. Spufford’s side soon (especially since he is so vocally silent), because I think that on the question of the emotional experience he is on to something important, and most atheists (and unfortunately most religious people) really don’t get it.

    But we do get it; what do you think I’ve been arguing about on the last thread? What we don’t get is why they can’t accept that emotion comes from within the individual rather than from an external, supernatural being. I think fsharpasharpinfinity has just about nailed it in the post above yours.
    I’m still trying to get my head around how somebody like Mr. Spufford can freely admit that the existance of a god is unimportant. How in the name of…well, you know what I mean…can anybody come out in defence of religion whilst simultaneously admitting that it doesn’t matter if the religious beliefs are based on a false premise? Admittedly, it really shouldn’t matter what the individual believes or why they believe it, but until they stop flying planes into buildings, terrorising medical staff at abortion clinics, terrifying millions with their promises of eternal Hell-fire, and denying children a real education with their insistance on teaching ancient mythology ashistorical and scientific fact, it matters a lot.

  20. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Whoops, that bold was only meant to highlight ‘do’.
    Sorry for shouting.

  21. Chris Phoenix says:

    From Mr. Spufford’s article: “Christianity (which is the form of belief I can speak about from the inside, from within its pattern of experience) is a way of dealing with the territory of guilt and hope and sorrow and joy and change and tragedy and renewal and mortality on which we humans must live. ”

    But Christianity, for believers, has great influence on the “territory of guilt and… on which [they] must live.” Just ask anyone who went to old-style Catholic school.

    So the idea that we all share the same emotional response to, say, death, is silly. Christians are trained to believe that a dead person (assuming they’re Heaven-worthy) is actually better off. Non-religious people typically believe that the dead person is gone forever beyond recall. Christians believe that undesirable behavior can be traced back to Satan. Atheists don’t.

    Each side finds the other’s beliefs dangerous. Atheists find Christians dangerous because of gay-bashing, the Crusades and Inquisition, the legalized kidnapping of children from their families (it happens in Italy – a Jewish kid is baptized without the parents’ consent, and then the state takes them away and gives them to a Christian family), Operation Rescue, the teaching of Creationism, etc., etc., et bloody c.

    Christians find atheists’ beliefs dangerous because… um… well, I’m not sure why it was that my aunt told me, in all seriousness, that an atheist President would have no reason not to “push the button” and start a nuclear war on a whim.

    She then told me that she didn’t know any atheists. I told her I was one. She took it calmly and we discussed it a bit; she’s quite intelligent and not knee-jerky, just has weird beliefs. It’s possible that that conversation contributed to the fact that a couple years later she’s no longer Christian. Maybe that’s why Christians find atheist beliefs threatening.

    Mr. Spufford, if you’re still reading this, do you believe in Thor? Ganesh? Amida Buddha (who’s very Christ-like)? If not, then you understand how atheists would like to live. Just not caring about Jesus any more than you care about Ganesh.

    You probably care deeply about your parents, children, spouse… does it threaten you that I don’t care about them? Sure, I’d be nice to them if I met them on the street, but I really fundamentally don’t care about them personally. And that’s OK. You don’t care about my wife or parents; you’ve never met them. (Now that you’ve read this, you may be building an image of them in your mind, and convincing yourself that you care about them. But that has nothing to do with the actual people.)

    Why should I care about your Jesus any more than I care about your mother? And yet, it’s fundamental to Christianity that _everyone_ should care about Jesus. And what Jesus said. And what Jesus wants us to do. If you tried to give me sage advice your mother gave you, I might say “No thanks, that doesn’t fit my situation” and expect to walk away with no hard feelings. Why do I not have the same privilege with respect to Jesus?

    So this is why I’m not just one of the calm atheists you wish for. Because people try to push their beliefs on me when they don’t fit me. Because people insist on teaching other people’s children dangerous untruths for religious reasons. Because Christianity, at least in some branches, teaches that atheists cannot possibly have any moral foundation – that atheists are essentially psychopaths.

    When Christians stop teaching each other to distrust and fear me, and stop trying to push their various agendas on non-Christians, then I will be able to ignore Christianity as I would like to do.

  22. Dan says:

    Spufford says:
    …on both sides, we hold to positions for which by definition there cannot be any evidence.

    I don’t agree but I think there’s a compromise here where we can meet exactly half way…

  23. omg says:

    As an atheists I must admit that I like trappist:

  24. Shaughn says:

    Let me think…

    God must be an atheist, since the is no god outside him he can believe in (he himself being the only one).
    Being an atheist, he cannot have those emotions (which perfectly fits his ermmm… aberrations toward humans, as floods, plagues, fire from heaven for less than nothing)
    Not having these emotions, he is basically subhuman.
    Which proves: subhuman atheist are more like god than theists.

    Check of proof:
    Genesis 1:26 – let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

  25. Undeluded says:

    Chris Phoenix – brilliant posting! I am going to copy it and paste it with my other literature on the topic! Have you had many other face-to-face debates (not arguments) with proselytizing Christians (besides your aunt)?

  26. I think it’s a fact of neuroscience that we believe what we believe for emotional reasons, no matter how we try to apply reason. We use our reason to rationalize our emotionally chosen beliefs. This does not mean there’s no way of testing a belief and determining “truth”. What it does mean is that religious people feel justified in believing nonsense for emotional reasons. What I hear a lot is the argument from consequences. If no god then my life seems meaningless, therefore god.

  27. Undeluded says:

    Mr. Spufford – our previous thread on this site discussed spirituality, and most of us agreed that emotions had a lot to do with it. But to claim that it is because of a lack of (perhaps certain kinds of) emotions atheists cannot grasp the concept of a deity is one of the greatest wool-over-the-eyes-pulling I have ever encountered. It is because of emotions, that our intelligence (thanks, AoS) overcomes reverence of imaginary beings.

    Please consider the following – what is your emotion when you see the bloody aftermath of a car-crash? What is you emotion when you hear a nation singing “Wenn’s Judenblut vom Messer spritzt?” When you see the inflated belly of a starving child in Darfur? When you see planes flying into buildings? Refugees fleeing from a flood or a volcano eruption or an earthquake? A baby dying of cancer?

    Not apathy or outright denial, I hope – that would make you sub-human or mentally disturbed. Please say you agree with me.

    You probably felt the same as most people do – horror, rage, frustration, revulsion, grief – probably more! And these, according to you, are part of what should lead me to accept the concept of god! “Does not compute!”

    I am not discussing why there is evil in the world. I am sticking to your dealing with emotions – those raised by evil!

    And absurd as it is to anyone who can put two and two together, you and others like you ACTUALLY DO SO (I am not shouting – just raising my voice). So, in effect, you are in a certain sort of denial. Persisting in a delusion, despite “having the trick explained to you,” does indicate mental limitations of some kind. Unshakable faith is a delusion!

    In my opinion, and with all due respect, you sir, lack a very important emotion – Shame! Refusal to put your “god-given” intelligence to constructive thought is shameful. I am not challenging your belief in god – I am challenging the way you think!

  28. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Well said, Undeluded.
    Your statement about having the trick explained reminds me of Derren Brown. At the start of his shows he goes to great lengths to explain to the audience that everything they see is ‘showmanship, misdirection, trickery, etc., yet when people are interviewed on camera after the shows there are plenty who declare I don’t care what he said about it not being real, they weren’t tricks! I don’t know if you saw his programme where he went to the USA and convinced several mediums, faith healers, and so-on, that he was one of them? He out-performed every single one of them (the best exposee of how they actually work I’ve ever seen), yet when he revealed the truth to them at the end, they managed to convincethemselves that Brown was really ‘guided by God’, but was denying ‘God’s gift’ because he (Brown) was in denial!
    So yes, you can explain the trick to some people until you’re blue in the face, but if the explaination doesn’t fit their pre-conceptions you’re just wasting your time. The best one can hope for there is that if you explain it loud enought, those on the periphery might just get it.

  29. John B. Hodges says:

    For (an admittedly offensive) example: a man can get sexually aroused by an imaginary woman, as is commonly done during masturbation. The arousal is real, the orgasm is real, but this does not mean that the woman is real. Similarly, people can get feelings of comfort and safety from an imaginary Cosmic Parent. This sort of response is instinctive, probably “genetically hardwired”, because it would promote the survival of children, leading them to accept the protection and guidance of a parent. Oddly, though masturbation works even though the man is fully aware that the woman is imaginary, religion doesn’t work unless people believe that their invisible Cosmic Parent is real.

  30. Jash Jacob says:

    I really like the way Chris Phoenix explained the problem atheists have with theists. I will probably note this down somewhere to quote to people in future.

  31. John M says:

    Maybe we ought to give him a tad more time to marshal his response, but I can’t help feeling Mr. Spufford has gone an’ done a runner. And I can’t help but think it’d be wrong to blame him if he has, after the earwigging he’s just had at the bar of the Cock an’ Bull.

  32. Rod says:

    Spufford’s dichotomy is based on an incorrect premise. Atheists and non-atheists don’t spin on the same axis of a “belief” system where the pro and the anti are equally valid as defined.

    In other words, when you play the lottery you can either win it or you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there is a 50/50 chance of either since there is only two possibilities.

    I am an atheist because there is no irrefutable proof that consistently indicates the existence of a deity or group of deities. And for sure some “feelings” might be conjured to justify or attributed to a god. That doesn’t mean those impressions are correct. If I look at the sea, it seems to end at a point – that doesn’t make the earth flat.

    I am not defined as a person by my lack of belief on a higher power. I am, however, affected in my life due to the unfair justification of mores through religion. E.g. gay couples (I have a lot of homosexual friends). Reproductive rights. Family rights. And my pet peeve? Allowing businesses such as churches to run under a regiment of privileges.

  33. Suffolk Blue says:

    @John B Hodges – your comparison makes me think of St Teresa of Avila – whose imaginary lover and imaginary god were one and the same person.

  34. Oh, gawd, this bit of crap again (from the Spufford item) –

    “Allow me to annoy you with the prospect of mutual respect between believers and atheists. The basis for it would be simple: that on both sides, we hold to positions for which by definition there cannot be any evidence. We believe there is a God. You believe there isn’t one. Meanwhile, nobody knows, nobody can know, whether He exists or not, it not being a matter susceptible to proof or disproof.”

    I’ve done a couple of blog posts about that lately, that fake symmetry. The two are NOT symmetrical! There are no good reasons to think “god” exists; there are many good reasons to think “god” does not exist. The two are not not not on the same footing. That claim is rapidly becoming one of my pet peeves (raised on a diet of kibble and acid).

  35. Hobbes says:

    Me thinks they protest too much.

  36. Beechnut says:

    I do not see atheists as defective, stupid or subhuman. Why would I? And how could I? It’s a category of people which comprises the majority of the population, functionally speaking, where I live.

    Well, good for you. Now, perhaps you should try telling all your other colleagues — I mean, the ones who believe we are not fully human, the ones who think their belief gives them the right — and the duty, even — to make judgments on others, who have the right and duty to interfere with our lives. When you have all stopped breathing anathemas and bullying women I’ll be perfectly happy not to care at all about what you believe, but until you all stop shouting at us and trying to ruin our children’s education you will obviously be causing us misery and I shall continue to complain. Claiming to be a nice person isn’t convincing if you don’t first do something about the hate-mongers in your club.

  37. Beechnut says:

    You see, this is what really annoys me about you nice religious people. You think that it’s just a matter of us being nice to you. But religion is extremely nasty to us, and it is also extremely nasty even to other believers. It has always been so, because it’s all a mish-mash of dogma and intolerance and personal conviction which confers a sense of duty to do the wickedest things. You are resistant to learning lessons and resistant to the feelings of others, while all the time being perfectly convinced of the opposite.

  38. Beechnut says:

    the imaginative legitimacy of Christianity, based on the ordinariness of the emotions and experiences which it organises. Ordinary for everyone…

    Oh no. Listen, ordinariness means that your beliefs are the product of ordinary minds, and ordinary minds have ordinary beliefs and desires, and the invention of what you think is an extraordinary apotheosis of ordinary emotions and experiences is still the product of ordinary emotions and experiences. And ordinary emotions and experiences are just that: ordinary; good, bad, indifferent, but ordinary. You have built a framework in which the ordinary is raised to sublime heights and at the same time is condemned as inadequate and sinful. And you can do nothing about it except believe, and try to root out errors and doubt, meaning, of course, us — real actual people. You are just ordinary boring and stupid people doing ordinary boring and stupid things for the ordinary boring and stupid reason that you want to feel specially justified and have found a way to convince yourselves that you are.

  39. Everybody, well said. John B. Hodges’ post comparing religious belief to masturbation really cracked me up. So very true. Ophelia, spot on, there is no symmetry. Rod, your lottery example is bril. John M., I think you are right. Mr. Spufford does okay when addressing credulous believers, but he cames into a local where the people have some intelligence. I suspect he backed out the door very quickly.

  40. Dan posted:

    Spufford says:
    …on both sides, we hold to positions for which by definition there cannot be any evidence.

    I don’t agree but I think there’s a compromise here where we can meet exactly half way…

    Dan, I can’t see this. Where is the compromise? How could we possibly meet half way? Where is that half way point? The Christians believe that this whole amazing infinitely marvellous reality, recently discovered to be so much bigger than human beings have ever imagined, with countless billions of stars and galaxies and the distinct possibility that there are entire other universes in a frothing multiverse of strangeness, was put together just for our benefit with a benevolent creator who gives a flying frog what you think or do. Please tell me where the half way point to this belief is for me.

  41. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Darwin, I can see a halfway compromise, not on belief but a general agreement; they stop trying to elevate their religion beyond a personal belief, we’ll leave them to play happy imaginary families.

  42. Mary2 says:

    If a lack of certain emotions leads to a lack of belief in the Christian deity, what does that mean for the emotional state of all peoples in other cultures and other times? Did the people in New Zealand 300 years ago somehow feel different emotions than ‘us’ or is the argument supposed to be that all ‘correct’ emotions lead to a god/any god?

    And what’s the point of that? If emotions like those described by Undeluded lead us to ‘need’ a god to give meaning to suffering or elation how does that have anything to do with the truth of a particular god claim?

    There have been several times in my life when I have thought it would all be much easier if there was an external entity with a plan and meaning for my life but if I had latched onto the nearest cult of, I dunno, ‘aliens put us here for whatever’, how would that have any relevance to the reality of the world? It might make me feel better within myself but so would a drug addiction.

  43. Mary2 says:

    Damn, read all the comments before posting Mary. John B Hodges put it all much more succinctly and elegantly than I could…

    Ophelia Benson, I have a pet peeve with the other half of the Spufford bit you were quoting. Where is this mutual respect? Mutual implies that it goes both ways. What I see from public Christians is ‘I want my country’s laws to reflect my religion, I want your freedoms impinged to fit my holy book, I want the State to reward my people (tax exemptions) and punish others (reproductive choices) but if you protest against this, I will accuse you of persecuting me and mine and demand “mutual” respect.’

  44. Acolyte, I suppose that’s a half way compromise. They stop pushing stupidity at us and we’ll stop resisting. Not going to happen. Driving home last night, coming to the top of a hill, I was struck by the fact that there is a large illuminated cross floating in the air above the road. What are the chances that we can get bylaws to limit the obtrusive proliferation of their brand symbol, or shut up the clamour of the Sunday bells? We wouldn’t generally allow a business to do that, though I suppose Walmart can slap their brand up anywhere they have the money to buy the site. But anything that they see as a half way compromise is going to be anything but as far as I am concerned. They are too entrenched.
    As for a half-way compromise on the beliefs, what are the chances we could stop them from proselytizing and leave us in peace? A tad slim, I’d say.

  45. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    I’d have thought skeletal rather than slim.
    And speaking of slim odds, does anybody think Mr. Spufford will be back to answer his critics?
    C’mon, Francis, don’t be the guy who farts at the bar then runs away when he’s told it stinks. You’ve farted, we’ve told you it stinks, why not have a crack at telling us why it doesn’t? Or are you still doing a passable impersonation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream after realising that you’ve written a book in defence of Christianity in which you have proudly announced that it is in all probability all in the mind?

    …over here on the believers’ side too, we don’t spend that much time fixated on the question of God’s existence…..
    ….You don’t have the emotions because you’ve signed up to the proposition that God exists; you entertain the proposition that God exists because you’ve had the emotions. You entertain the proposition, and perhaps eventually sign up to it, because it makes a secondary kind of sense of something you’re feeling anyway.

    If not, Mr. Spufford, please tell me how I’m mis-reading that.

  46. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Hey, Mary, I’ve just realised; for the first time in a long time, you’re here in time to play. Or would be, if Mr. Spufford would do us the courtesy of not being a one-post wonder 🙂

  47. Michael says:

    Spufford and his fellow Sophsticated Theologians™ may believe in a deist deity which hangs about in the distant background, not doing much of anything. However the vast majority of Christians believe in a guy with a flowing white beard who often answers prayers, helps one find one’s car keys, and has an unhealthy fascination with peoples’ sex lives.

  48. Mary2 says:

    AOS, I know. I thought yesterday that you and I may have a real-time conversation (much to the horror of the other readers/commenters, no doubt), but I doubt Mr Spufford (fabulous name, that) will be back. I think he has flounced. 🙁
    Plenty of time: I am off work for a while yet so should be reading in my day-time when you Northern Hemisphere Types are online.

  49. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Not far off real-time, but sadly this’ll have to be a goodnight; it’s half-past medication and I can feel my brain shutting down for what’s left of the night. I’d stay a little longer but I’m being invaded by the grandkids in a little over 5 hours (aagh! is it really a quarter-to three in the morning already?), and I need at least an hour in the mornings to brace myself for the little buggers give my morning meds time enough to un-seize my back.
    But we will have that conversation soon. Sod what the others think, eh? 😉

  50. John M says:

    As I suspected some 12hrs ago, Spufford has planted a notional turd in our midst and has legged it. I’d like to think this would reflect badly on his position/book-sales, but to be realistic I see there are at best just a few hundreds of us (J&M commenters and comment readership) who’d know it.

  51. Suffolk Blue says:

    Hmmm, so no-one picked up on my reference to St Teresa of Avila – the famous 16th century masturbatrix.

    “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”

    Ooh-er, missus

  52. scottspeig says:

    Atheist’s belief – That the universe came from nothing, by nothing, for nothing
    Theist’s belief – God created the universe, by God, for God

    Please don’t reply with the rubbish of “who created God” nonsense as that has been easily defended by the likes of William Lane Craig & Alvin Plantinga!

    Then there is your belief that the Universe has fine-tuning by chance.

    I could go on but you either hold to the view that “we don’t yet know” or…. Well, I haven’t heard of an alternative view that is even plausible, let alone more plausible than the theists response.

    As to Spufford’s view, I’m not read any of his work, but what is an atheist’s view of “why” we have emotions. After all, the brain does not “fear”, it just has chemical & electrical impulses…

  53. mary2 says:

    Scottspeig, Wow! So many errors in such a short post.
    1. Strawman. Atheists don’t necessarily believe the universe came from nothing. Some believe it has always been here, some believe it waxes and wanes in eternal big bang and big crunch, some believe it makes no sense to talk about ‘before’ the universe since time couldn’t have existed before matter, and even those who do believe the universe came from ‘nothing’ probably don’t mean the same thing by the word as you do. Oops, forgot those atheists, like myself, who have no opinion on the origin of the universe because we don’t know enough to understand the ideas and are just content to shrug and say “I don’t know”.

    2. God created the universe for God? Evidence please. You can believe the world was created by Gandalf while smoking crack cocaine for all I care but don’t ask me to believe it unless you can show me some pretty good evidence.

    3. No one believes the “universe has fine tuning by chance”. Most people believe that this kind of live evolved on this planet because the conditions were conducive. On other planets or in other universes wherein it is possible for life to evolve it may be very different to what we would recognise. Religious people are the ones who believe the universe is all about us.

    4. False dichotomy. Your two choices are not opposites nor an either/or option. Atheists may indeed say “we dont yet know” but, if they know anything about the science, they may add ‘but the best explanation we currently have is . . .’. They are very unlikely to think that a theist’s ‘theory’ is at all plausible let alone the most plausible idea we have. By the way, which of the thousands of different theists’ stories about the beginning of the universe are we supposed to find most plausible? That Allah created the world or that it sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus?

    5. Why do we have emotions? Just taking a wild guess here but it is unlikely that a species would last very long if a mother didn’t feel love for her offspring and therefore be obliged to care for them; if an animal didn’t feel fear of the predators who would otherwise eat them; or if none of the members of the species felt the urge to mate.

    6. And, because I have better things to do that read anything written by the apologists you offered, I have nothing to add except that their explanation for “who created god?” is most likely to be ‘God has always existed’ which is referred to as “special pleading”. If it is ok for your god to have always existed without the need for a creator, then it is perfectly acceptable for the universe to have done so.

    Please write back: I would enjoy reading more about this most plausible of explanations . . .

  54. Brother Daniel says:

    John B. Hodges wrote, “Oddly, though masturbation works even though the man is fully aware that the woman is imaginary, religion doesn’t work unless people believe that their invisible Cosmic Parent is real.”

    I’d hesitate to generalize that far. That’s probably a fair description of Christianity and Islam, but other religions don’t seem to emphasise belief. Among Jews, for example, you can find people who participate fully in the religious life of their congregation but don’t believe in God at all — and often the others in their congregation *know* that they don’t believe, and aren’t worried about it.

  55. Suffolk Blue says:

    @Brother Daniel – whenever I hear Rowan Williams speak, I’ve a feeling he doesn’t *really* believe either.

  56. Brother Daniel says:

    @scottspeig: Isn’t it better to admit “we don’t yet know” than to make shit up?

  57. Brother Daniel says:

    @Suffolk Blue: It will be interesting to see whether (and to what extent) Christianity evolves in the direction of not requiring belief. There are some indications of movement in that direction, in some denominations.

  58. Suffolk Blue says:

    @Brother Daniel – Seems that all will be left soon (in the C of E at least) is jumble sales and a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling.

    Let’s hope they wriggle themselves out of existence sooner rather than later.

  59. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Nicely put, Mary. I too am intrigued about the easy defence of the ‘who created god’ question. I’ve heard the ‘always existed’ version in several guises, as well as something along the lines that it simply thought itself into existance, but none stood up to even the most perfunctory scrutiny. And certainly none of them have offered any kind of mathematical proof (0 + God = everything doesn’t count), unlike the scientific versions of the origin of the Universe. Admittedly there are probably just a handful of people worldwide who fully understand the maths – and I ain’t one of them – but with a little application it isn’t that difficult to get a basic understanding of the ideas.
    Why do I get the feeling that scottspeig understands the science about as much as Spufford (I’ve dropped the ‘Mr.’ as it implies a respect that I just cannot summon up for that intellectual coward) understands both atheism and the religion he purports to follow?

  60. Oh no. I wrote a long and painful refutation to scottspeig, hit submit, and it just disappeared. Oh well, Mary2 pretty much covered it.

    I think the guy/woman was just trolling anyway.

  61. Chiefy says:

    “It will be interesting to see whether (and to what extent) Christianity evolves in the direction of not requiring belief.”
    I think it has to, if it is to retain any credibility. With the domain of God being squeezed smaller and smaller by scientific discoveries, the only rational endpoint would seem to be the admission that God only really exists in the imagination. That is already the implicit claim of Craig and Plantinga, although they would deny it. I understand there are now many Christian preachers who are atheists; they just can’t come out for fear of losing their livelihood.
    The other alternative would be to adapt a non-supernatural god of some kind, but it would be a stretch to call that Christianity.

  62. Suffolk Blue says:

    @Chiefy – a non-supernatural god? Did you have any candidates in mind? Kim Il Sung? Simon Cowell?

  63. Mary2, good work. I’m going to add a few observations, but I’ll do it a bit at a time this time. It hurt to have all that brain work evaporate.

    scottspeig, you wrote: As to Spufford’s view, I’m not read any of his work, but what is an atheist’s view of “why” we have emotions. After all, the brain does not “fear”, it just has chemical & electrical impulses…”

    Exactly. The brain does not fear. You fear. Here’s the news: You ARE your brain. Your brain doesn’t HAVE emotions. Your brain generates the illusion that you are you, and generates emotions.

    This should be obvious. As to the why and the where from, that’s obvious too. Without emotions we can’t make ANY decisions, beyond stimulus-response like a thermostat. Emotions are essential to our survival, and as Mary2 said, essential for any social creature.

    What is an emotion? It is a certain configuration of neurons in a certain part of your brain. The result of this configuration is physical – increased heart rate, altered blood pressure, sweat, hormone release, other brain states caused by the release of neurotransmitters or endorphins – which we feel. To imagine that emotions are somehow separate from the brain is just absurd. People with certain kinds of brain damage have no emotions at all. They also can’t make any decisions.

    You were just trolling, right? You really aren’t this dumb.

  64. Okay. Now I have Acolyte’s problem. My post does not appear, but I get the duplicated comment error message. I’m going away for a while.

  65. Author says:

    @DH Sorry about the flaky comment submissions. I’ll look into it…

  66. Chiefy says:

    No, Suffolk Blue, I haven’t run across any good candidates for non-supernatural god. I have seen a lot of attempts, the “ground of being,” for example. I’m not really looking for one. My preference would be for religion in general to just fade away. Failing that, if all major religions would became “spiritualized” and watered-down, then we could accept them as social clubs.

  67. mary2 says:

    Chiefy and Suffolk Blue, I think we already have a non-supernatural god. It is Author! He creates and we follow, then we take things off in our own direction while he lurks unnoticed in the background, until we need him, then he leaps in and fixes things and we carry on – hey DH! It all makes sense now.

  68. hotrats says:

    Neither blind faith nor austere rationality is needed to experience a sense of oneness, wonder or gratitude for the beauty of the world and of human experience. Christopher Hitchens believed it is important to separate experiences of reality that transcend the mundane, which he called ‘the numinous’, and which he pointed out are available in all their richness to every human, from ideas of the supernatural.

    He points out that the emotion comes first, and is spontaneously experienced, and self-validating. The attribution of its depth and power to a supernatural source is in fact a reaction against the strength and humanity of the emotion, a fearful voluntary choice, a way of bringing a transformative experience back under rational control.

    I have yet to come across a ‘religious’ emotion that could be distinguished from wallowing in the arrogance of faith – as AoS notes, sheer intellectual cowardice – so proudly proclaimed by smug apologists such as Spufford.

    (Yes, I know strictly speaking ‘smug apologist’ is a tautology…)

    Mary2 and FreeFox:
    Fear not, UPOTW reserves its acid lash for lapses of logic and semantics from those who should know better; it does not pursue typographical, grammatical or spelling errors. Many correspondants do not have English as a first language, and aquila non capit muscas.

  69. Michael says:

    I’ve always found the fine tuning argument annoying. The universe isn’t fine tuned for life, specifically human life. Rather life on Earth is fine tuned to survive in the particular environment each species finds itself. Humans can’t survive in too many places on Earth without artificial aids and supports. Right now it’s 4°C outside my house and if I were naked outside I’d die of hypothermia before dawn. But because of central heat I’m not concerned about freezing to death.

    The fine tuning argument is one of the sillier “proofs of gawd” theists have come up with.

  70. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    So this is how it is, is it? I have problems posting comments and – nothing. Never mind that on several occasions I might have spent an hour or more composing just to see the finished pieces vanish into the ether on hitting the ‘submit’ button; I raise the problem but as I’m so obviously just an old technophobe the problem is bound to be caused by my own ineptness, and so my inconveniences are best ignored.
    But then we see this:

    Darwin Harmless says:
    November 8, 2013 at 9:52 pm
    Okay. Now I have Acolyte’s problem. My post does not appear, but I get the duplicated comment error message. I’m going away for a while

    and in less than an hour;

    Author says:
    November 8, 2013 at 10:40 pm
    @DH Sorry about the flaky comment submissions. I’ll look into it…

    Yup, the prodigal Mr. Harmless has the same problem just once and the world grinds to a halt whilst an investigation is carried out.
    Do you have any idea how that feels? It’s like a blade to the heart; I feel worthless in the eyes of Author; distraught to discover that I am merely tolerated in His house, rather than welcomed as one of the worthy.
    Have my tears ever burned so hotly? or rejection caused my heart to bleed so profusely? Has a feeling of loneliness ever been so complete? or my emotions so thoroughly drained? My spirit has is bereft; my soul deceased. I am cast into the wilderness, and wilderness has never looked so bleak.

    Okay, I’m joking, of course. I’ve long been amazed at the ability of the religious to make mountains out of mole-hills, and Spuffords post about emotion being the all-important factor of religion seemed to be a massive clue, so I’ve been hoping to find something totally innocuous to pretend to get worked up by, just to see what it takes to get into that mind-set. My thanks go to both Darwin Harmless and Author for presenting me with that chance so soon (it’s almost as though they answered an un-prayed prayer!).
    It’s pretty easy to do as it happens, despite the fact that I had to become the polar opposite of myself to do so, and that I could see all along how childish and self-obsessed my rant would come across, so I can only assume it’s even easier when the complainee lacks the self-awareness to realise the same. I cetainly couldn’t be that person on a regular basis, just this one has made me feel somewhat…grubby.

    Now, hands-up anyone who initially thought I was being serious.

  71. Acolyte, I did not for one second take you seriously. But you did bring tears to my eyes. Not sympathy tears, I assure you.

    I’m still frustrated by my inability to get one particular post to go up. Meanwhile Michael steals my thunder and comments on the very topic I had ranted about, only better than I did. But I still have something to add. I shall try again.

  72. Shit. It happened again. I wrote a long dissection of scottspieg’s assertion that we think the universe happened by chance and it just evaporated when I hit submit.

    When will I learn to write in word first. Now, apparently.

    scottspieg: “Then there is your belief that the Universe has fine-tuning by chance.”

    Another strawman. I’m an atheist and I don’t believe the universe has fine-tuing by chance. The laws of physics are not chance. The principles of evolution through natural selection are not chance. They are cause and effect.

  73. Okay. That was the first part. The second part evaporated into cyberspace again.

  74. The Universe has the appearance of fine-tuning because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t exist and niether would we. This is an esample of Dennett’s “strange inversion of reason” that creationists have such trouble with.

  75. Okay. Maybe a sentence at a time.

    The apologists get this stuff backwards.

    If you want the longer version of Dennett’s lecture, here it is.

    I highly recommend it. See if you can follow the logic.

  76. And that was the whole thing, finally. Well, not really the whole thing. Still not the original, which I think was better and addressed all of scottspieg’s points, but at least it’s getting on the thread. I hope it doesn’t suffer too much from being fragmented.

    By the way, it looks like scottspieg has also ankled, in the jargon of Variety. These chew toys just don’t stick around long enough.

  77. botanist says:

    Oh dear Sagan’s Acolyte. We know you so well that I too was laughing well before the ‘reveal’. No flies on us 🙂

  78. Mary2 says:

    hotrats, “numinous”!!! That’s the word we needed last week to replace the religious connotations with ‘spiritual’! Nice job you and Mr Hitchens.

  79. magnus says:

    BTW. The word “numinous” is a standard theological term. I think the wikipedia is right this time 😉

  80. white squirrel says:

    all this dicussion of ‘god’ is just wasted typing

    as until ‘god’ is actually defined the term is meaningless
    and until it is defined any discussion of what it supposedly did or did not do /create is also meaningless
    if ‘god’ is just an emotional state such as ‘love’ or ‘feeling good’ can any creation myth be valid ?

  81. white squirrel says:

    As for defining god – you could spend several months debating it like the vatican did and just conclude that ‘god’ is ‘god’ a reduntant conclusion if there ever was one
    or you could perhaps define ‘god’ as a concrete thing exisiting in reality such the universe – in which case why not just call it the universe
    or you could say that ‘god’ is unknown and unknowable in which case it remains undefined and there remains meaningless

  82. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Phew, I’m glad I was read in the right…er…spirit. I had visions of waking up to an ‘ex-communication’ notice from dear Author:-)

    Darwin, because of these vanishing (stolen? CIA or ET’s probably – don’t say I didn’t warn you) posts, if my intended comment is more than a couple of lines I’ve tried to get into the habit of remembering hold a copy using ‘control+c’ prior to submission. Unfortunately the problem is intermittent (and seems to come in widely-seperated waves…..just like UFO reports!) so after a couple of trouble-free weeks I tend to lose the habit. I’m wondering whether there are certain words or phrases we’re using that might cause the website to reject them out of hand? I know that PZ Myers at Pharyngula discovered the other day that using ‘snigger’ sends even his own posts to moderation on his own blog and across the FTB site, so maybe something similar is happening here..
    Just out of interest, have all of your missing comments simply gone, or have you found yourself on a web page called ‘captcha’, which asks you to confirm you’re not a robot by deciphering those indecipherable, distorted letters and numbers?

    Agree fully with ‘numinous’ as a descriptor for non-material or emotion-led experiences. Extrapoloating from the wiki link (thanks, magnus), it appears that even the theologians haven’t yet tried to re-define it from a purely secular word to an inseperably religious one, using it correctly to describe mis-interpretations of natural phenomena as supernatural.

  83. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    You know, there was a time when I could read well, write coherently, and spell correctly.

  84. hotrats says:

    It occurs to me that the real danger of associating emotions with the supernatural is that it is a short step from doing this with positive emotions like awe and love, to using it to reinforce negative emotions such as fear, anger and hatred.

    Jihadists do not personally hate individual unbelievers – after all they are unlikely ever to have met one – but collectively they cultivate hate against all unbelievers by convincing themselves that they are doing it on God’s behalf. If it is God’s hatred, there is no need to take personal responsibility for it.

    God’s capacity for, and approval of, hatred, intolerance, vengeance, violence and caprice is so well documented in scripture that it is one of the few things on which the bible, koran and torah are in complete agreement.

    I’ve once or twice had comments vanish, but I’ve found the ‘Back’ button in the browser makes the text magically reappear. If you have already tried this as a remedy of first resort without any joy, forgive my presumption.

  85. Acolyte, no, my comments simply vanished. Unfortunately I did not think to try the back button as hotrats suggests. But I did not end up on a captcha page or anyplace else.
    I could tell if the comment was posted because it appeared at the bottom of all the comments, as it should. If it wasn’t posted, the page would jump to the top and when I scroll down there’s no comment there.

    I too was wondering whether there might be something in the comment that prevented it from posting. For me the suspect was including two links. It seems that one link is accepted, but two makes the comment disappear. Maybe I should test this theory.

    Now I must run off and look at the Wikipedia entry for numinous. What a lovely sounding word.

  86. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    I think there’s a three-link limit, Darwin, but if memory serves a comment with more goes to moderation rather than vanishing.
    Maybe one of the several virtual sentries that Author uses for security purposes just enjoys tossing occasional comments for the sheer fun of it – or has turned religious!

  87. Mary2 says:

    I love the idea of a comment moderating program randomly selecting words/actions that will fling a comment into oblivion and all the rational/intellectual-type minds on this site spending eons trying to discover the correct triggers. It must be Satan or Alien intervention.

  88. John M says:

    Your observation on the censoring of naughty words by sundry sectors of the intertubes reminds me of Yahoo’s mechanised obliteration of 4-letter (and 5s, 6s, etc., too) within comments submitted as responses to their news items. It happened that a certain Mr. Michael Douglas was blaming cunnilingus for his current medical condition, and Yahoo repeated the word several times in their report about it. But anyone who posted a comment containing the same naughty word had it obliterated by the usual $&*% that Yahoo uses on such words. I currently find it amusing to search for ways to publish on Yahoo a reasonable facsimile of a dodgy word. So that e.g. bo||ocks goes through OK, or did until now 😉

  89. UncoBob says:

    What a discussion! Loved Mary2’s elegant demolition of scottspeig.
    Now let’s see: After Mr Spufford: I just had some sort of positive emotional reaction, which therefore attests to the truth, which means Mary2 was right, therefore god does not exist. QED. Could have saved millenia of theological arguments.

    But following @white squirrel, what is it that does not exist? YHWH, Allah (if they are different), YHWH’s predecessor El, the Rainbow Serpent, any (or perhaps all) of the Chinese deities, or the Roman, Greek or Norse lot Perhaps it is (or isn’t) the being that lit the blue touch paper and stood clear just before the ‘Big Bang’.

    Just another random thought before I collapse into my own mental black hole: the response to Mr Spufford’s call for mutual respect: Our response is often some version of ‘What about the bad stuff religious people have done/are doing?’. in doing that, I wonder if we’re not committing the logical error of ‘some therefore all’. After all, most believers don’t fly planes into buildings or blow up abortion clinics, so the behaviour of those who do isn’t a reason to blame the others.

    On the other hand, what is it that we can discuss respectfully with believers? Any discussion presumably comes down to an attempt to recruit: ‘Join us because god loves you and you’ll burn (or boil or freeze) in hell if you don’t accept him’ vs ‘There’s no evidence for supernatural beings, so stop wasting your Sundays, Fridays or whatever’. Probably better to maintain a respectful distance.

  90. Mary2 says:

    UncoBob, Many thanks. First time anything about me has been called ‘elegant’: I shall treasure it. 😉

    I agree that by calling attention to the bad things done in the name of religion we run the risk of committing ‘some therefore all’ (thanks for not writing that in Latin). It is usually meaningless when talking to someone who says ‘but Christianity is all about love …’ to reply with ‘what about the Crusades/Inquisition?’. At worst we just get back Stalin or Mao, at best they are No True Christian.

    But: several prominent atheist thinkers believe that the moderate Believers are just as guilty because they enable the justifications used by the extremists. It doesn’t matter that I personally don’t believe that god wants me to fly planes into buildings; I agree that god hates sin therefore the step to taking your own initiative and becoming a pilot is considered small. I think there is also validity in this argument.

    I also believe it is not only useful but important to point out inconsistencies in belief/dogma, i.e. the bits in the bible which condoning owning and beating slaves, killing children etc.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  91. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    UncoBob, I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands of respectful discussions with believers. Admittedly, there has also been plenty of less-respectful ones, but only if the discussion was about religion. There are people I have respect for who have religious beliefs, some of them close friends, and it’s no coincidence that they regard their beliefs as personal, and no more want their beliefs imposed on others than we do.
    The problem here isn’t about respecting the individual believer; Spufford and his ilk’s idea of mutual respect is for us to respect his religion; to ‘admit’ that atheism is as much a matter of faith as Christianity: to stop resisting religion’s efforts to impose their beliefs on society: and to shut the fuck up about religion. If we do this, they will reciprocate our respect by stopping whining about nasty atheists, and…err….. In a nutshell, their idea of mutual respect is for us to respect them, and for them to tolerate us.
    The reason we so often respond by mentioning the suicide attacks, the bombings, the demonstrations against homosexuality / same-sex marriage / family planning / secular education / not having the right to run our lives, the racism, the sexism, and every other kind of religion-inspired bigotry, is that it is done in the name of religion, and the respect that is demanded of us is expected to include respect for their right to do any or all of the above.
    Of course we don’t think all believers are like that, but then we don’t claim it, either, so if they see an attack on religion as an attack on the individual then the problem is theirs, not ours. But one has to wonder just what they really do think about their more fundamental members when they criticise us for pointing out what their religions can cause people to do, when simple logic suggests that they should be criticising the fundamentalists for bringing their religion into disrepute.
    But when did simple logic and religion ever go hand-in-hand?

  92. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    We are ships passing in the night again, Mary. Well, it’s night in this hemisphere, anyway.
    I think we’ve both said pretty much the same, but I”ve been my usual long-winded self. Funny that, I used to prefer brevity, but it seems that waffling on comes with age. 🙂

  93. Mary2 says:

    AOS, I technically prefer to be long-winded and rambling but am too lazy to put in the effort to type – especially when using the mobile device.

  94. Emma Peel says:

    Hello everyone. I like it here. I like it a lot. I may not comment much but I do enjoy your sentiments. Very pleasing. As you were….

  95. Martin_z says:

    My own response to the argument that “the universe is so utterly perfectly formed and if it hadn’t been, then we wouldn’t be here” is “and your point is…?”

    Suppose I were to buy a lottery ticket tomorrow. The odds against it winning are about fourteen million to one. If I actually DID win the lottery – is it reasonable to say “Don’t be ridiculous – the odds against that happening were so utterly tiny, it ccouldn’t have happened.” If something HAS to have happened, so that we are there – the fact that we are here is proof that it happened. It’s not proof that God caused it to happen.

  96. Chiefy says:

    Well said, Martin. It involves a short circuit of logic. For those who have a non-rational faith in a Supreme Being, to say that God did it is an explanation. For the rest of us, saying that adds nothing to the discussion.

    Regarding the possibility of Christianity evolving in the direction of not requiring faith, I think it is doing so in the US, and we are probably the last holdout of irrationality in that respect. Maybe you saw the interview with a Lutheran preacher coming out last year: Clergy who no longer believe in the supernatural have their own website now.

  97. Chiefy says:

    DH, I’e figured out your problem with vanishing posts: one link limit. Post the links one at a time and it should work fine.

    Here’s the link to the unbelieving clergy site: It’s a private site; you have to apply and be accepted to post there, and you can post anonymously if you want. If you are not clergy or ex-clergy, you can follow their Facebook page.

  98. “Regarding the possibility of Christianity evolving in the direction of not requiring faith”

    Chiefy, I think we see this happening for sure. My partner went to church this morning. It’s a church where even I feel relatively comfortable, though the sweetness of the congregation can cause my teeth to ache. Unitarian Universalists with an emphasis on fellowship. It’s an older crowd, though they struggle to include children in their service.

    The last time I went it was to hear a lecture on Galileo’s contribution to physics and why people got upset. The talk was by a physics professor, and his point was that the Jesuits were all excited and eager to look through Galileo’s telescope. It was the intellectuals with their whole authority based on Aristotle who refused to look on the grounds that since it contradicted the Bible it must be an optical illusion of some sort. Interesting.

    The sermons don’t seem to mention any god, but there is a lot of talk of supporting and connecting with people. The intellectual level is far above anything I’ve experienced in any other church. It seems to me to be exactly what some people are suggesting atheists need if we are to supplant organized religion – providing emotional support, connection, a feeling of belonging, instant community. Not something I need, but my partner and main squeeze seems to enjoy it. This is the second week in a row she’s been off early to sing in their choir.

  99. Mary2 says:

    I too can see a time when people are ‘cultural’ Christians; much as already exists within Judaism. As countries become more diverse and the serious believing stuff becomes less believable, and people want to identify themselves with their heritage and gather with the like-minded, I can see when it might be comforting to label as a Christian while also Atheist.

    I think that old Irish joke has a lot of truth to it: One Irishman asked another, “Are you protestant or catholic?” The other replies “I am an atheist”. The first Irishman comes back with, “Yes, but are you a protestant or catholic atheist?”. Humans need to label and put each other in pigeon hole.

  100. Suffolk Blue says:

    Culturally Christian – means enjoying those traditional Christian things, such as Roast Turkey on Christmas Day, the Holly and the Ivy, Chocolate Eggs at Easter, the Easter Bunny, and so forth.

  101. HaggisForBrains says:

    Suffolk Blue – yes, but we don’t even need to be Culturally Christian to enjoy these; we are simply reclaiming pagan festivals. Oops, have I just redefined myself as a pagan?

  102. HaggisForBrains says:

    DH – I just tried to post a reply to SB, but forgot to check that the name and email boxes were filled in (because they usually are if I have simply refreshed the page). As a result the post did not appear. Thanks to the guy who suggested using the “back” button (sorry, I can’t find your comment now) I could retrieve it (no big deal, it was a short comment, but useful to know if you’ve just spent an hour crafting a work of literary genius only to see it disappear). Interestingly, I got the “you have just posted that comment” message as well.

  103. Suffolk Blue says:

    That was my point, HfB 🙂

  104. scottspeig says:

    Hello Darwn & Mary2. No, not a troll and not a one-post man either (only look at Jesus & mo in lunch break at work – and so won’t be responding to responses until tomorrow at earliest).


    1: Given the current “best explanation” of the universe is the Big Bang theory, I just went with that. As to eternal universe, that would indeed be a good argument against the universe having a cause. However, modern science has argued against this, and there are philosophical problems too such as having an actual infinity (it cannot exist apparently) and then the traversing of that infinity (if you think an actual infinite can exist)

    The expanding/contracting theory also fails given the 2nd law of thermodynamics and an infinite past.

    2: First of all, I did say that it was a belief and so depends on which theist you ask. Personally, I think God created for Himself because the Bible says so. Also, why else would He? Given I have not heard of an alternative reason that fits with the nature of the Christian God, I’m quite content to leave it at that

    3: The fine-tuning is a recent one that I have heard. There are a few constants in the physics of the universe that have multiple “possibilities” but had they been anything other than what they are, the universe itself would fail to exist let alone evolution. While from my perspective a multiverse could explain that these all exist in harmony, the probability that these all line up is minute to say the least.

    4: You mention that atheists straight away discount a theist’s explanation. If this is done without any reason, then you would be acting in a “faith-like” manner. If you were to be open-minded that there is something other than materialism, then you should put the theist’s explanation along with all the other explanations to see which one is more plausible.

    If you consider the theist’s explanation/argument more plausible than it’s negation, then you would look further into which theist’s god is the true god.

    5: I’m happy to concede this point at this point – I’m not as well versed in this area as I would like to be! ?

    6: The Kalam cosmological argument is:
    P1 Everything that begins to exist has a cause
    P2 The universe began to exist
    C The universe has a cause

    An eternal universe would negate P2 and therefore would be consistent with the above logic. However, current theories reject an eternal universe.

    Following on from the conclusion, theists would argue that the cause would have to be:
    Immaterial, eternal, timeless, personal, powerful.

    Immaterial – since materials didn’t exist
    Eternal – It is itself not caused
    Timeless – since an actual infinite cannot exist
    Personal – since it decides to create
    Powerful – since it creates everything (except itself)

    Darwin Harmless: No, I am not trolling, I truly believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I was recently listening to a podcast that attributed emotions etc on an immaterial soul as opposed to the brain. That emotions are linked to a mind which is more than just the electrical impulses through the brains neurons etc. I am not at all sold on this idea, but as I had heard it from others, I thought that Spufford may have been supporting the same belief

    As to the concept that “it is because it is” (that the universe has fine-tuning because we’re here) I am not at all convinced that that is even a coherent explanation. Certainly an observation, but there is no particular reason that the universe HAD to be this way. I will have a read of your link when I have some spare time so if it is not the above, then just ignore this little paragraph!

  105. HaggisForBrains says:

    scottspeig – In answer to your point 4, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” This is sometimes known as Hitchens’ Razor, but note that this is not an argument from authority, rather that Hitch neatly formulated what all scientists already know.

    I’m sure Mary 2 and the rest of the gang will happily deal with this and your other responses. I just thought I’d get in my tuppence worth

  106. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Scottspeig, forget about the idea of an eternal Universe, the evidence doesn’t fit that particular hypothesis – irrespective of what Fred Hoyle thought (and there is an example of a scientist ignoring the evidence to stubbornly stick to his pet idea). The Universe is expanding uniformly at a phenominal rate, so if you can imagine the process in reverse there can be no other conclusion than that it began to expand from a single point – the singularity referred to in the Big Bang Theory. You can, if you wish, claim that it has been expanding forever, but only if you first accept that ‘forever’ started at the BB event.

    Now, the expanding / contracting hypothesis has yet to be either proven or disproven; all rests on the amount of ‘dark’ matter contained within the Universe – ‘dark’ in the sense that, although physicists know it has to exist, they have yet to conclusively detect it, although the good folks at CERN and other such facilities world-wide are looking.

    If there is a sufficient mass of dark matter, then the Universe can only expand so far before gravity does its thing, arrests the expansion and starts to draw everything back together to an eventual single point of – and this is a swine to get your head around – zero dimension; and then the whole thing will go BANG! again. However, there is nothing in the laws of physics that says the next incarnation of the Universe would have the same ‘tuning’ as the current one; it may well eventually contain a planet on which live silicon-based lifeforms, marvelling that the Universe was perfectly fine-tuned to allow for their existance, almost as though it was made specifically with them in mind. Do you see where the ‘fine-tuning, ergo God’ argument falls down? And don’t forget that the Universe is inhospitable (to put it mildly) for our kind of life. As far as we are aware, this tiny speck of dust we call Earth is the only place in the entire Universe where we can live without artificial support, and even the amount of our own planet we can live on is very restricted. We seem to be here despite the Universe rather than because of it!

    If the Universe contains an insufficient amount of dark matter there will be insufficient mass to halt the exansion, so the Universe will continue to expand to an eventual ‘cold death’, with every single atom contained within it destroyed, their constituent parts spread apart at such distances from each other that no one atom can have a gravitational effect on any other; no stars or planets or people, and no interaction between atoms to create heat-energy.

    Observations of the Doppler shift in the colour spectums of the most distand Univeral objects show that the very limits of our Universe are accelerating, and getting ever closer to light-speed as they do so, as though towards a giant black-hole, the acceleration suggesting that the power of the attractor increases with proximity (note; this is not a perfect analogy by far, but it’s near enough to give a basic understanding. It might help to try imagining the Universe as a river heading towards a waterfall ((again, not an accurate analogy but the idea is the same)); the closer the water gets to the drop, the greater the force of acceleration ). The massive forces at these speeds is what will tear the atoms apart. With no more heat-energy, the Universe will cool to a uniform absolute zero, and that’s it; game over.

    That’s all I have time for at the moment. I’ll try to answer your other points later.

  107. Undeluded says:

    Scottspeig – the Undeluded theological argument is:

    P1 – Anything imaginary does not exist.
    P2 – God is imaginary.
    C – God does not exist.

    Corollary –
    Definition: Delusion – believing in something that does not exist.
    C – God is a delusion (with a grateful nod to Richard Dawkins).

    I am continually astounded by people who attempt to bring rational – even scientific – claims into their justification of their faith. If they were true, wouldn’t they be universal? How can they do that and yet assert that THEIR faith is the only true one? (Yeah, I know – by carefully ignoring other aspects of science and reality).

  108. Chiefy says:

    Scottspeig, I am happy to see that you are not a one-post wonder. Welcome.
    I’ll grant the Kalam, for the sake of argument. That leaves us with the question of the first cause, which is purported to be:
    Immaterial – since materials didn’t exist
    Eternal – It is itself not caused
    Timeless – since an actual infinite cannot exist
    Personal – since it decides to create
    Powerful – since it creates everything (except itself).

    I would say a multiverse hypothesis provides a more elegant cause. In that case, the universe we know is a spontaneous “bubble” within an unendingly inflating cosmos. This “cosmos” is:
    Material, that is, it exists,
    Eternal, without cause,
    has its own Timeframe, separate from and encompassing that of our universe,
    Impersonal, “creating” new universes spontaneously.
    Powerful? Depends on how you define that, I guess. Was the big bang powerful?
    It’s only a guess, of course. There’s no way to test it that I know of. Yet it does explain the origin of the universe, and fine-tuning, at least as well as your god hypothesis.

    So now you have another first cause to add to the list: Cosmos, Elohim, Brahman, Cthulhu (evil god). You’re welcome. I won’t address the reasonableness of your faith in Jesus as lord and savior (or Mohammad as your prophet), Author does a fine job with that already.

  109. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Scottspeig, do you know why Biblical creation is so unacceptable to us? It isn’t just the complete lack of evidence for it – though that plays a large part, it is simply that it actually explains nothing. Where science says “I don’t know…” religion says “God did it”. Where science goes on to add “…but I’m working on finding out” religion says “no need, God did it”. Can you truly be satisfied with that?
    Is your curiosity really sated by ‘In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth’? Are you not evenly remotely curious as to why Genesis – allegedly the received word of God – not only claims to have got the job done in 6 days when we know for absolute certainty that it took somewhere in the order of 13.7 thousand million years from the singularity event to humans walking the earth, but that it also got the order of events arse-about-face to boot? Do you really think that God would let so much be lost in translation?

    If you answer nothing else from my posts, and I understand that your time is limited so won’t hurry to dismiss you as I’ve dismissed Spufford, please do me the courtesy of answering the following two questions:
    1) How has the answer to the question of where God came from been answered satisfactorily? ‘Always existed’ and ‘thought itself into existance’ do not count as answers as they, like Genesis, explain nothing.
    2) Exactly what has Jesus saved you from?


  110. Mary2 says:

    Scottspieg, Welcome back.

    1. Existence of the universe: You have still skipped the ‘I don’t know’ bit. Even if we had absolute proof that the big bang didn’t happen and that all these other theories were completely false, how do you get from there to ‘God did it’? Even if Kalam cosmological argument was true, where is your evidence that this cause is a god and not a chemical reaction from whatever existed prior to the universe? And then, where is your evidence that it was a Christian god? As I said in my first response: any ‘reason’ you can give for a god existing before the universe can also be applied to anything else we want to name existing before the universe as we know it. We have just as much evidence for the universe being created by an elephant’s sneeze as we do for it being created by a god.

    6. By the way, Kalam is rubbish because it is still based on the assumption without evidence that the universe was intentionally created i.e. ‘began to exist’. We don’t know what existed before the universe and we currently have no way of telling but the universe may have resulted as a by-product or chemical reaction of whatever came before.

    2. You cannot use the bible as evidence for the existence of a Christian god unless I can use Harry Potter to ‘prove’ the existence of Voldemort (or the Koran to prove Allah). If you do not understand why, then I would ask you to think about it.

    3. Saw a great quote from Douglas Adams about fine tuning yesterday: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in; fits me rather neatly doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well! It must have been made to have me in it!” (Oh, to be able to write like Douglas Adams: the expert at gentle sarcasm!!)

    4. Now you are misrepresenting what is in writing above your reply. I, in no way, said that Atheists “straight away discount a theist’s explanation”. Have you forgotten that most atheists used to be theists? Not believing in a god is no more ‘faith’ than not believing in unicorns or fairies is faith. Why would I delve deeply into the apologetics about the existence of fairies? Surely it is incumbent on people who believe in fairies to prove to the rest of us that they exist?
    Again with the false equivalence. Just because I can pick two opposing ideas does not mean that they are the only choices. You can ask ‘will you have tea or coffee?’ This does not mean that I have to want one. Water, alcohol or nothing could be the correct answer.

  111. Mary2 says:

    AOS, Nice explanation. For the first time I (almost) understand the entropy death thingy. But, I thought the expansion of the universe was speeding up rather than consistent? (Please bear in mind that I know/understand nothing of physics, cosmology or anything else useful in this discussion!)

    Undeluded, Nice Kalam rebuttal!!!

    AOS, I would add that the God of the Gaps gets smaller and smaller as our knowledge gets bigger. ‘God makes the day by pushing the sun round the Earth.’ ‘No he doesn’t, the Earth goes round the sun and here’s how ..’ ‘God makes the apples fall from the trees.’ ‘No he doesn’t. That would be gravity.’ etc.

  112. hotrats says:

    “Is your curiosity really sated by ‘In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth’? ”

    Well mine is, because I know that this is the Babble starting as it means to go on with a nonsensical assertion. You can’t ‘make the heavens and the Earth’ in one bound, or one twirl of the magic wand, or one anything. Even if you are God, Creation takes its own sweet time.

    The universe began as a chaos of superheated particles, and took a billion years to cool enough for atomic matter to form. For another billion more it was nearly all hydrogen, and it took another 8 billion years to generate firstly the supernovae that created the other ninety-odd atoms that our present universe is made of, and secondly the Earth as a distinct entity in the solar system.

    And those 10 billion years are all taking place, mark you, in verse sodding ONE of the Guid Buik. ‘In the beginning…’ . Yeah, right.

    It gets better. A friend of mine visited Belfast during the ‘Troubles’. ‘So are you Catholic or Protestant?’. ‘Actually, I’m Jewish.’ ‘Yah, but … are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?’.

    And as Dara O’Briain tells it, for his mother there is no such thing as a Catholic Atheist. ‘As far as she’s concerned, I’m not an Atheist, I’m just a bad Catholic.’

  113. John M says:

    AoS and Mary2
    Seeing as we a diving off into the realm of Cosmology, I’d ask you to consider why it is that when examining the most distant parts of the Universe, astronomers never seem to factor in the curvature of the path that the light from those distant parts has undertaken (gravity/General Relativity). So a very distant galaxy could simply be our very own Milky Way, seen as it was millions of light years ago. Just as travelling from London to Birmingham in a straight line has both a short path and a somewhat longer path. The longer path is, of course, the most interesting, taking in lots of fascinating (and much warmer) places than dear old Blighty as it passes round the globe.

    The point about seeing the Universe as a kind of 3D analogue to the 2D surface of a sphere is that for the Universe to be able to exist, there would need to be a 4D hyper-sphere (or hyper-spheroid) to define 3D-space as we know it. The theists’ mysterious sky-pixie could then be located outside this, as we know that the 3D universe’s limited size must imply a limit to the 4D hyper-spheroid’s hyper-volume. Sorry to have provided them with a cop-out/excuse on why God is nowhere to be found when we set forth deliberately looking for Him.

  114. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Mary, what I meant by the Universe expanding uniformly was that it is expanding equally in all directions, sort of like a balloon. That’s not to suggest the Universe is shaped like a balloon*, because although we’re not exactly sure what shape the Universe actually is, we do know that it is most probably not spherical. The point is that whichever direction we look we see the same expansion at the same rate relative to distance.

    The rate of expansion is indeed accelerating, which is what I was explaining in the final paragraph. The further the observed galaxy is from us, the greater the red shift in its light spectrum, and because of our understanding of the Doppler effect (which works for both sound and light) we know that the greater the red shift, the faster the galaxy is moving away from us. Because galaxies at equal distances from us in all directions show the same red shift, and that those closer to us display less red shift than those further away, we know that the rate of acceleration of the Unverse is uniformly increasing in relation to its distance from the observer.

    A nice coincidence here, but I was thinking earlier that, paradoxical though it may at first sound, one of the major differences between science and religion was in their shared reliance on gaps in our knowledge.
    Science relies on these gaps because if there were no gaps, if science had answered everything that could possibly be answered (not that that’s expected to happen anytime soon), it would have nothing left to do. Why would a world need science if there was nothing left to discover?
    That would be a very sad day indeed.
    Religion relies on gaps because that’s where it inserts its deity of choice. To paraphrase myself from an earlier post, when science says ‘I don’t know’, religion says ‘that’s the bit (insert name of chosen deity here) is responsible for. So, if science does ever close all the gaps, religion has nowhere left to hide its gods; it will be show-and-tell time, and I’ve a feeling one side will come up empty-handed.
    And that would be a very good day indeed.

    *Fellow UPOTWA members please note, I am more than aware that balloons come in various shapes, thank you, and we all know what shape I mean. 😉

  115. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    John M, I’ve only read the very basics of the idea that we may see light from our own galaxy’s history, but as I understand it, the ‘long way’ around the Universe is too far for that light to have reached us yet by that route, and even if it had, the spectrum would be blue shifted rather than red, because it would be approaching us rather than receding.
    I can’t really argue any further on that point because I simply don’t know enough to do so.

    In your next point, you worry that you may be giving theists a new hiding-place for their gods. Don’t worry, they’ve been using the ‘science can’t detect (my god) because it exists and operates from outside of time and space‘ excuse forever.
    I believe (!) that the current scientific thinking is that only that which is within the Universe can have an effect on anything else within the Universe (not elegantly put, I know, but it’s getting bloody late), and that anything that might be outside of the Universe might as well not exist at all since we can only ever ‘know’ it’s there in theory, and never in practice.
    Even ‘outside of the Universe’ makes as much sense – to cosmologists and physicists, at least – as ‘before the Big Bang’ does. Multiverse theory excepted, there is nothing outside of the Universe; it is said to be expanding into nothing, and even if one accepts the idea of a Multiverse, the ‘gaps between the different universes will be composed quite literally of ‘nothing’.
    It is important, of course, to remember that the physicists and astrophysicists’ definition of ‘nothing’ is different to the everyday definition, but please don’t think for a moment I can explain how!

  116. Mary2 says:

    John M, You are freaking me out! 😉 Such a cool idea, I shall have to explore it further. In the meantime I repeat a point I made earlier “Please bear in mind that I know/understand nothing of physics, cosmology or anything else useful in this discussion!”

  117. two cents' worth says:

    Is there anyone else in the pub besides me who’d never heard of Kalam before this thread? If so, check out for an exhaustive explanation/rebuttal.

    Darwin Harmless, many thanks for the links to the Dennett lectures–his TED talk was so interesting that I viewed the longer version as well. Chiefy, I also enjoyed the video about the Lutheran preacher who has outed himself as an atheist. DH, you may be interested to learn that a number of UU ministers are “out” as atheists. How often god or gods are mentioned in a UU congregation depends on the congregation, but it sounds like your partner has found a congregation that is a good fit for her, and is not unbearable for you. It may be that the group includes some members who are not too sweet for your taste, people with whom you can have conversations like the ones we have here in the Cock & Bull, but face-to-face. If that turns out to be the case, I hope you’ll tell them about J&M 🙂 .

  118. Undeluded says:

    Just about the most enjoyable reading I have ever had on this topic.

  119. scottspeig says:

    AoS – I don’t remember mentioning creationism in this thread… While I do believe in it, it is unnecessary for this particular topic and so will not offer a rebuttal to the age of the universe/planet

    Your 2 questions wanting answers?
    1: Where did God come from? God is uncreated and has no beginning which can be explained with the view that He is timeless sans creation. That is, logically prior to creation, there is no time, just God. Since He does not have a beginning, He can be the “first cause”
    2: What did Jesus save me from? Just punishment, myself, sin. He redeems, forgives, and offers grace (getting what I don’t deserve). Without Jesus, I would consider the whole of life to be pointless, devoid of purpose and ultimately depressing! Of course, these answers will not convince you. Indeed, if I was an atheist, I wouldn’t even consider myself requiring salvation!!

    I apologise for incorrectly inferring from your post. If you hold the view “I don’t know”, wouldn’t a suitable answer be “This is the best so far”? I personally believe that theists have a stronger hypothesis in philosophy than the atheists. Granted, I am like you and no expert in any of this.

    In relation to “God of the gaps”, I am not arguing for him. Indeed, the view you positioned is true. However, we theists would hold that without God, there is no justification for certain truths in nature. Why believe we are even rational? or that the laws of physics won’t change tomorrow? If there is nothing to ground these concepts, then science itself couldn’t rely on them.

  120. FreeFox says:

    @Suffolk Blue, Chiefy, et. al.: Just as a counter-point to irrational faith-based religious people like scottspeig and spufford, of course there are non-supernatural gods (in fact, all real gods are non-supernatural; as there is nothing supernatural…), and no, I don’t mein deified megalomaniacs. And it’S possible to believe in them and indeed even worship them eintirely on a non-faith (but experience-) based way. ^_^

  121. john says:

    Am I too skeptical, or is this comic a fresh attack on minorities again? As it is usual for this comic, author pushes his not-so-delicate humour by substituting human righters with religious minorities.

    Just replace “God exists” with “gay rights” and “atheists” with “skeptics” and you have a strong, shameful homophobic attack on the perceived “weakness” of LGBT cause.

    Shame on you, author. Once again, a poorly disguised attack on gay rights.

  122. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    scottspeig says:
    November 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm
    AoS – I don’t remember mentioning creationism in this thread… While I do believe in it, it is unnecessary for this particular topic and so will not offer a rebuttal to the age of the universe/planet

    So it was a different scottspeig who wrote the following?

    scottspeig says:
    November 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm
    Atheist’s belief – That the universe came from nothing, by nothing, for nothing
    Theist’s belief – God created the universe, by God, for God

    And it wasn’t you who wrote the following in response to Mary2?

    “Personally, I think God created for Himself because the Bible says so. Also, why else would He? Given I have not heard of an alternative reason that fits with the nature of the Christian God, I’m quite content to leave it at that”

    Your entire view of the origins of the Universe is creationism, and in the last line of yours that I quoted you have stated quite clearly that you the only possible alternatives to Genesis you will consider have to fit with your pre-conceived ideas of a Christian god. That doesn’t make for a very productive conversation now, does it?

    Moving on, your answer regarding where God came from is no satisfactory answer at all. In fact, How does ‘always existed’ suffice as an answer? And please don’t try and claim that ‘God does not have a beginning’ is any different from ‘always existed’.
    Can you really not see how that, no matter how it is presented, is purely and simply a cop-out?

    And on to your answer to my question of what Jesus saved you from. What do you think you would have been liable to be punished for had God not sacrificed himself to himself? What is it about yourself that you need saving from? Have you really sinned so badly? Have you even ever asked yourself these questions, or are you blindly trotting out the old ‘we are all sinners’ gag that the Church has used for millenia to instil a sense of guilt in us, and to convince us that redemption is only available by our adding to its already bulging coffers accepting Christ as our saviour? Because that’s what happened there.
    Or do you really believe that a just and fair god that supposedly loves each and every one of its pet creations would then punish them for eternity because Eve had a chat to a snake?
    If sometime towards he end of the 18th Century, my many-times great grandfather had been hanged for theft, or his wife burned at the stake for witchcraft, would the law be justified in punishing me for their crimes?
    I’m aware that you will find this difficult, if not impossible, but please try taking your God-tinted glasses off for a while and really think about that.

    I assume that, as a dyed in the wool creationist, you also reject the fact of evolution? Not that I want the conversation to go that way, I’m just interested in how bad you’ve got religion.

  123. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    john says:
    November 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm
    Am I too skeptical, or is this comic a fresh attack on minorities again? As it is usual for this comic, author pushes his not-so-delicate humour by substituting human righters with religious minorities.

    Just replace “God exists” with “gay rights” and “atheists” with “skeptics” and you have a strong, shameful homophobic attack on the perceived “weakness” of LGBT cause.

    Shame on you, author. Once again, a poorly disguised attack on gay rights

    OK, I’ll give it a go.
    Mo says “We don’t have the emotions because we believe that gay rights, we believe that gay rights because we’ve had the emotions”.
    Jesus replies “Clearly, sceptics don’t have these emotions”.

    Hmm, didn’t think so.
    John, either make a legible point or fuck off.

  124. IanB says:

    john says: “Shame on you, author. Once again, a poorly disguised attack on gay rights.”

    You’re reading a different comic than me that’s for sure.

  125. Physicsroolz says:

    scottspeig asks : “In relation to “God of the gaps”, I am not arguing for him. Indeed, the view you positioned is true. However, we theists would hold that without God, there is no justification for certain truths in nature. Why believe we are even rational? or that the laws of physics won’t change tomorrow? If there is nothing to ground these concepts, then science itself couldn’t rely on them.”

    The scientific method of enquiry is based on the idea that now and tomorrow are pretty much the same, true, and that here is pretty much the same as a place fifty billion light years away, true, however: it also recognises that this is an *assumption*, an *axiom*, a way of treating the universe as though it *can* be predicted and used. For three hundred odd years it has worked fairly well. It is a good tool. It works. It is not a faith. It does not demand belief and if the rules changed over-night (as they sort of did when we discovered radioactivity, quantum mechanics and Relativity) then that, too is part of the game. Science, or the scientific method of enquiry, is merely a way of asking questions. It does not *need* consistency or rationality though those certainly help. And that is where theists trip over their own assumptions. Science is not a faith in opposition to the faith in Ganesh or Tesk-Hente. It is a way of poking fingers in the holes in the wall and finding out that electricity *hurts*, each time. That is *all* it is. A tool. It does *not* need faith. Because it works. Scientific research always pays off. Just ask Google how much CERN has rewarded them.
    Science is *not* a religion. It says nothing about religion. It *ignores* religion completely. Science is a hammer used to see what is inside the nut, nothing more. A chimp poking a termite nest with a stick is doing science. A philosopher writing a seventy volume masterpiece on the obscenity of the uncovered human female teat is emphatically not. A childish man (me) playing with the bubbles while washing up is doing science. Neither I nor the chimp *care* about gods and daemons and robot messengers impregnating humans with hybrid meat puppets at that moment.
    Okay, next, the “truth” thing.
    Without a armour suited guy in red-and-gold there is no justification for certain truths; among them being that “Pepper” is his special friend and cardiac surgery used to be very risky.
    Without a leader rabbit there is no justification for certain truths, among them that there is a place of safety over the hills and far away. [I haven’t read the book so I’m guessing that’s what it’s about. Feel free to correct me.]
    Without a guy in green tights swinging through the trees there is no justification for certain truths, among them that one super-boss king-thing is morally better than another and wealth distribution is a good economic model.
    Without a guy in a leather loin-cloth there is no justification for certain truths; among them that certain non-human great apes have complex spoken languages and humans are always evil, with one notable exception.
    Without the Son-of-moral-Certainty and teleportation platforms there is no justification for certain truths; among them that the Yangs and the Comms can sing the “Eeeploo-reebiss Onion” song in harmony and no-win situations *always* have a big red reset button. [No prizes for the episode name.]
    Without a million, million fantasies created by thousands of millions of individual human beings there can be no justification for a million million other certain truths including that Krypton exploded, magic works, dragons are real, ghosts can move objects and take over living animals and there are several hundred million gods and three vampires with souls.
    Now, which certain truths demand *YOUR* fantasy great bearded fairy daddy in the sky? And why do they not also demand Thor and Baldur or Ganesh and Shiva? Why is *YOUR* personal fantasy any more relevant, or more real than anyone else’s?
    Can you see what I’m asking? What every rational being must ask? Why is the red suited Santa of Coca-cola any more real than the green-suited one of the Scandanavians? Apart from being in one particular book what makes your big daddy better than all of the others? If Jupiter and Alchack are myths and lies and stories why isn’t Jawveh?

    From scottspeig: “Where did God come from? God is uncreated and has no beginning which can be explained with the view that He is timeless sans creation. That is, logically prior to creation, there is no time, just God. Since He does not have a beginning, He can be the “first cause” .”
    Okay, change a few words:
    Where did the cosmos come from? The cosmos is not created and has no beginning which can be explained with the view that it is timeless sans creation. That is, logically prior to creation, there is no time. Since the cosmos does have a beginning, but was not in any sense created by anything, it, itself can be the “first cause”. The cosmos *is*. There is no why of it.
    I know that second version goes against the grain of human thought. It is almost impossible to visualise a cosmos with a start that didn’t have something somehow “prior” to that start. But that seems to be what happened.
    Try this: there is a theory that black holes, whether they be tiny, stellar sized or super-massive have a tunnelling effect through spacetime at the singularity. That the singularity isn’t a no-dimensional dot but is instead a flaw. Postulate that. Stipulate that all gravitational singularities, all the innumerable trillions of them are flaws in spacetime. Where do they go? Well, one image would be that they hit a wall in the continuum, a discontinuity at T=zero. They can’t extend any further back into the past than that because there is *no* “prior”. So all the umpty zillion dark tunnels empty into the event we now call the “big bang”. Because the mass-energy drags its spacetime and its physics along with it this mandates that the cosmos that the many tunnels create looks very like the one they started in, looks very like this one.
    Where did the cosmos come from? Here.
    It’s not even a scientific conjecture, it’s just an idea I used in an SF story once but it’s a lovely image and it *works*. No need for gods or fairies or fairy gods. It does rather raise some important questions but it gives those of us who don’t have the physics or mathematics to cope with real cosmology something to picture.
    No, I don’t “believe” in the worm Ouroboros universe. I don’t “believe” in any creation myth. But it makes a good image and it is one of many ways of generating a cosmos, even a complex one without the need of intelligent intervention.
    Or try this: picture a big blue cube. Label one corner “t=0, s=0”. Picture a thin film of spacetime rushing away from the corner, touching the “walls” so it expands as it goes. Watch as this film fills with mass-energy and rules to process it. Watch as the hyper-hot scream of energetic sub-sludge cools as it expands (for this is one of the major rules) and turns transparent, the breaks up into ragged chunks which evolve into galaxies, singularities, stars, worlds and dust. In a tiny part of this film a relatively stable star has a planet orbiting it. On this world, life, multicellular life, humans, politicians and intelligent life develop. But this is all in a thin film rushing away from one vertex of a blue cube.
    What caused the blue cube? Nothing, it just is.
    What is it a cube *in*? Nothing, not even time. There is no outside the cube, even though picturing that is difficult. There is no “before” the t=0 vertex. It does not even make sense to pose the question.
    Why does the cube exist if nothing caused it? Why not? We know it does exist because we’re in it but that doesn’t imply teleology or any sort of anthropic principle. We’re here because the hole in the ground was shaped just right to hold our “puddle” but that says nothing about the ground or the hole. It just happened.
    Why blue? Because i thought a nice, quiet, blue cube would be easily recognised and imagined. Blue is restful. Blue is nice and blue is what we see just before we jump into our true home.
    It’s just a picture. It’s meant to help with the “no creator, no creation'” idiocy. It’s not a theory or conjecture. If you prefer a tetrahedron made of green toffee, go for it.

    scotspeig said: “What did Jesus save me from? Just punishment, myself, sin. He redeems, forgives, and offers grace (getting what I don’t deserve). Without Jesus, I would consider the whole of life to be pointless, devoid of purpose and ultimately depressing! Of course, these answers will not convince you. Indeed, if I was an atheist, I wouldn’t even consider myself requiring salvation!!”

    I have no “jesus” yet my life is not pointless, devoid of purpose or utterly depressing. And don’t you bloody *dare* contradict me you arrogant shmuck. I have lived with aliens species, dogs and cats, and all of us have had fun. I have lived with humans and we have laughed and cried and despaired and enjoyed a lot of it. I have worked to the betterment of my social group (not much but some) and have made a good living doing so. I have learned much about this magical, lovely cosmos, met many wonderful beings and perhaps touched a few. I have written stories and poetry. I have cooked and been cooked for.
    The meaning of my life is that I am alive. I need no more than that.
    I don’t need a big daddy in the sky with a stick to beat me into behaving as an adult human being. I can manage that on my own. I don’t hurt people intentionally if I can avoid it. I don’t wantonly destroy for the glee of it. I don’t torture and I do suffer witches to live. I am, indeed, a better human being than all of the religious leaders ever born or made. That is arrogance yet it remains true.
    You, and your lot, say we are “saved”? So why do we need to confess our “sins”? Indeed how can we ever sin if we are in grace and redeemed? Your god on a stick gave us a free pass to rape, torture, murder, steal, lie and cheat, to drink to excess and have our way with little dogs and children. We are *saved*. We can do whatever we like and still get into the magical fairy garden.
    Any punishment would, therefore, by your logic be highly *unjust*.
    Then what was the point of his little meat-puppet game?
    Either every single human on the planet was and always will be (and does that extend to future humans born on Mars, I wonder idly?) saved at that moment or it was a confidence trick, a puppet show, a little dance put on for the gullible natives.
    If we’re saved, “sin” is a redundancy. So eat, drink and make merry with Mary for tomorrow we sit in the magical garden with the big daddy.
    No? We still have to be good little boys and take our medicine, work hard and not be naughty? So what did that mommetry in a meat-sack *do*? What did it achieve? What was the point of the thirty years of trickery and lies?

    While we’re on the subject of idiocies, how is it that a super-daddy who can mould planets can’t design a fence? A fifty metre high fence with eighty million volts running through it would have protected that apple. Or a moat full of alligators. Or putting the tree in Patagonia. Or all three.
    Your spooky big daddy in the clouds can make tardigrades but hasn’t the wit to be able to design an *obedient* messenger-robot. Or even a human that doesn’t like apples? It can design a human that recoils at the sight and smell of dog muck but not its special, super-secret fruit? It can make millions of messenger robots, alate semi-sentients but it can’t program them properly so they keep “rebelling”?
    And why the dance with the meat-sack anyway? Why not just pop into existence as a glowy thing like an Ancient from “Stargate” or a ghost and *tell* people they are “saved”? Why go through all the fake humanity and fake life and pretend to be all humble and human yet keep all of its super-powers and magics then pretend to die only to pop up with a huge grin and tell us we’re “saved” even though it *knows* it is lying again?
    Your “salvation” story was created by the priesthoods to explain how a really nice super-being in the clouds could threaten them with eternal torment. It is a convoluted and chaotic mess of absurdly unreasonable escape clauses for things that your deeply insane religion glosses over. Yet it itself is a farrago of nonsense and illogicalities.
    Your “jesus” isn’t an explanation for anything, indeed it needs explaining.
    No one reasonable, coming on the story for the first time, could possibly take it seriously.
    The depressing aspect to it is that you insist that even if we don’t we are legally obliged to act as though we do. There are legal sanctions protecting your fairy stories. Your fairy stories have legal standing.
    The tales of “Harry Potter” can be mocked. Writing and selling a series of “Hairy Pothead and the stoner” books would be legally acceptable, unless JKR sued for copyright violation. [Personally, I wouldn’t. Even evil mockery would sell more of the real books.] Mocking your fairy daddy in the clouds can get us *stoned* or worse. Maybe not in England, maybe not in 2013 but certainly at other times in other places.
    This is wrong.
    Worse, it rots the very intellectual fabric of our entire society. It is *criminally* wrong.
    Those of us who have the Dream of Stars see the Earth as the cradle of a great, unending star-faring culture. Those of you who have religions see the Earth merely as a tomb, a stepping stone on the way to eternal damnation or eternal harping. We want to take the stars, to make this a human galaxy, to spread the bunnies and the owls and even the slugs to places that can not even be seen from this world. You want us to die. Nothing else. The entire ambition of your religion is to die. To die so you can be “saved”. To die without having accomplished anything except spreading more “salvation”. To leave nothing behind but scorched rubble and foetor. You want *all* life to die, forever, leaving only a few metaphysical recordings of human minds as evidence that it ever beautified this universe.
    Religions do not even *see* the stars. Not as real things to be touched and marvelled at and taken for homes.
    And that is the real crime of religion. that you deny your people an eternal future as ubiquitous beings in an endless playroom. That you stunt us and confine us and imprison us in your tiny, tiny world without vision.
    Your “salvation”, your endless, futile “war between good and evil”, your need to convert and conquer and subdue everything to your minuscule, twisted delusions. And your inability to just look up and see how utterly beautiful life is without a jailer are flaws not virtues.
    Yet those very flaws are what stop you from seeing how flawed they are.
    Those of us who have no belief are not necessarily monsters. I see the stars. I dream of touching them. I have loved a good woman and been well loved in return.
    Does any of what I have typed make sense? Or is it just a babble of noise unable to penetrate the event horizon of your credulity?
    Could you at least imagine a cosmos without gods and ghosts and vampires and fairies and Spiderman? We manage fine.
    We even manage to love our children. Even those who live on other worlds in the far distant future.
    Two things religion would deny us.

  126. john is most certainly a troll. He knows that attacking our beloved Author in a totally moronic way is a sure conversation starter and he’s trying to get some attention. I second Acolyte’s motion, john. Fuck off.

    But wait. One interesting idea. Take anybody’s argument for anything and substitute words and that turns it into an attack on somebody totally unrelated to the topic at hand?
    Babies are wonderful. I love babies. (now just substitute Hitler and see how that sounds.) Hitler is wonderful. I love Hitler. (Thankfully we have Godwin’s Law to put a stop to this nonsense.)

    Yeah, john. Worth saying again. Fuck off.

  127. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    What tickled me, Darwin, is that when I substituted the words exactly as John requested the sentences didn’t even make sense. That’s not just an attack on our beloved Author, it’s an attack on language.
    I hereby issue John with a POTWA!

  128. Scottspieg: “Darwin Harmless: No, I am not trolling, I truly believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.”

    Okay. I keep trying to get my head around this idea and I’ll stop doubting your sincerity. It’s just that the phrase “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” is completely incomprehensible and meaningless to me. I’ve been hearing this from people all my life and it just does not compute.

    Jesus? Son of God? Born of the virgin Mary (because it’s important that Mary be “pure” and have never had sex before God raped her one night, slut shaming built right into the religion?) Jesus? The second leg of the trinity: Got the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. Three gods in one? All the same god, since there is only one god, but with three parts, like I have a brain, a body, and a mind?

    So God made us in his own image (WTF?) and told us not to try to figure anything out, but because of a woman being the way women are, you know, we “fell from grace” and were driven out of the garden all lost in sin and destined for death until god took mercy upon us (miserable offenders) and sent down his son to take all our sins on him so that we could kill him and feel terrible about it and put up his torture execution device to remind us that we did a bad bad bad thing killing the son of god and this will make it all okay again because if we just accept that we did this bad thing he will forgive us and “save us” from death and give us eternal life?

    This somehow makes sense to you? This resonates with your very being and gives you meaning and hope? Sorry, but I just don’t get it.

    “However, we theists would hold that without God, there is no justification for certain truths in nature.”
    Really? Saying that God did it somehow justifies observable truths in nature? Sorry but I just don’t understand how this is even possible. Unless saying “God did it” is the equivalent of saying “What is is what is” which doesn’t explain anything but gives us a chance to stop thinking about it.

    “Why believe we are even rational?”
    Why indeed, and this is certainly open to question. My particular interest lately has been in the nature of consciousness and understanding what we actually are, as opposed to what we think we are. If you’ll indulge me in an analogy: When we really start looking at brain function, it seems that the being I think of as “me” is like the chairperson of a board meeting. It’s a long boardroom table, so long that some of the board members are hidden in fog in the distance and invisible. I don’t even get an accurate count of who is at the table. Some board members have voices, some are mute, some can hear and some are deaf. When a board member, or somebody outside of me, makes a statement or suggestion, most board members consider it (unless the whole gang is impaired by drugs or alcohol). Some look at the motion in question and give it support or reject it (we call these emotions). All get a vote when it comes to making a decision. Then the decision goes to other board members who may or may not veto it (impulse control). Finally the chairperson gets to announce the decision, or act, and conveniently forgets about the input from all the board members, thus maintaining the illusion that I am a unified entity in this decision making process.
    Emotion plays a huge part in any decision. Without emotion, no decision is possible, as is shown by people with damage to the emotional centres of the brain. Recently some are arguing that rationality evolved to help us justify our decisions to others in the group, not because we need it to make decisions.

    “or that the laws of physics won’t change tomorrow? If there is nothing to ground these concepts, then science itself couldn’t rely on them.”
    Again, I just can’t understand how you think that “God did it” somehow “grounds these concepts”. It really says nothing. At least it says nothing to me. Maybe the laws of physics could change tomorrow. It that happens, we’ll have to rethink what we think are the laws of physics. Calling it a miracle doesn’t answer any questions, or ask any for that matter.

    I’m glad you are not a troll, and are willing to engage in this discussion. If you have any way of explaining these words of yours so that I might understand them, please let me know. Maybe you can bring me to Jesus, but don’t hold your breath while waiting.

  129. hotrats says:

    Brave of you to set up camp in the lion’s den, now what’s all this bollocks about Jesus?

    Without Jesus, I would consider the whole of life to be pointless, devoid of purpose and ultimately depressing!

    Consider old chum, you have Jesus in your life, and frankly isn’t it objectively just as pointless, devoid of purpose and ultimately depressing as it ever was? It sounds like the pointlessness and aimlessness offends your sense of justice and entitlement, to the point of depression.

    That the universe isn’t ‘purposeful’ or ‘directed’ – whatever that might entail, if it were – is not caused by a lack of Jesus, it’s just a fact of observable galactic development. Galaxies collapse and collide, stars become novas and supernovas, new stars arise from the debris. Our own species and planet are headed inexorably to extinction.

    Whose idea was that again?

  130. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Very nicely put, Darwin.

    Scottspeig, I know that all of this must be daunting to you to say the least, but I believe, as I’m sure so many others here do, that if you ask a question, the least you deserve is an answer. As you can see, the answers here are a lot more complex than ‘god did it’.

    I doubt that any of us here were satisfied with ‘because it is’ or ‘because I say so’ as answers when as children we questioned our parents or teachers, we wanted to know the hows and whys and whens, and still do, and this goes a long way towards explaining why we cannot accept non-answers such as ‘god did it’, and why we seem to be giving you information overload. Believe it or not, as complicated as the scientific explanations may seem, once you understand them you’ll realise that they are actually far easier to understand than the god hypothesis, simply because they do answer the questions. Religion doesn’t answer questions, it hides them behind ‘unknowable gods’ and ‘divine purpose’. If you are satisfied with not knowing then that’s your choice, but as you are here asking questions, I’m hoping that you are open to a little learning.

    Would you like to know where the idea of gods came from, scottspeig? It came from explanations to phenomena that early humans – and I’m talking of a time many tens of thousands of years before creationists believe God made the Universe – had no way of understanding, and I can understand that. If I were a hunter-gatherer of 80000BCE, with no knowledge of the cause of the Aurora Borealis, and I looked to the sky one night and saw this, I daresay a supernatural explanation would sound reasonable to me, too.
    But we know a lot more today. Do you really think that religion is still the most believable source of information?
    By the way, the picture in that link shows something more incredible, more awesome (in the real sense of the word) than anything the religious books contain – and the explanation for it is simplicity itself.

  131. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    hotrats says:
    November 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm
    Brave of you to set up camp in the lion’s den, now what’s all this bollocks about Jesus?

    Well bugger me, hotrats is the ghost of Sir David Frost 🙂

  132. Dan says:

    Darwin Harmless,

    Try Father Dougal’s take:

    Even setting everything else aside I simply don’t understand the central tenant of most Christian’s belief – Jesus died for our sins – makes no sense to me.
    I can’t accept that some people killing someone else has any moral bearing on the acts of some entirely unrelated people.
    Why did God set up this bizarre bargain to punish himself (or his son or himself his son depending on how you look at it) to forgive our sin?
    It was entirely within his gift to forgive at any point and the blood sacrifice is just barbaric.
    How does that with any notion of morality or forgiveness that we have?

    How obvious does it have to be that the traditional Christian God is a bronze age folktale with no home in a digital age civilisation?

  133. Dan, thanks for that link. I needed that. Yeah, that’s the bit I have trouble with too. Well, that and a few more bits like the misogyny and paternalism and the blood sacrifice you mention. But that’s chiefly it in a nutshell.

  134. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Dan, as far as I can tell the sin we are all supposed to carry is the sin of wearing clothes. The snake told Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and when she had done so, she realised she was naked and covered up with a few strategically placed leaves. Not being able to ogle her naked body so enraged God that he kicked her out of Eden (I doubt he evicted Adam too, my guess is that faced with the choice of being with the only human female on the planet or living alone with just a few beasts for company, and knowing nothing of the nature of women ’till it was too late ((I’m joking, put away the flaming brands)), Adam chose to follow her) and in a fit of temper went on to curse all of mankind to suffer for her sin.
    So there you have it; unless we ‘give ourselves up to Christ we are all doomed to an eternity of torment – because Eve hid her tits from God.
    Seems fair.

  135. Scottspieg, since you have made so many statements about how atheists think, maybe I should tell you how I think about one of your statements.

    “Without Jesus, I would consider the whole of life to be pointless, devoid of purpose and ultimately depressing!”

    I’m not sure why you would get depressed about life being meaningless and pointless. If life is meaningless and pointless, that’s the way it is. No purpose served in getting depressed about it. This is the argument from consequences I talked about before. If not god then I would feel terrible, therefore god.

    But what is “meaning”? What is “the point”? Isn’t this a description of our emotional reaction to information or events? Things have meaning because I give them meaning. Things have a point because I give them value and see a point to my efforts.

    I know I’m on thin ice here because theists will say I’m taking an egocentric position and claiming to be the centre of everything, my own authority, my own godlike source of meaning and value. But how much arrogance does it take to go the other way and claim that I’m so important that everything in this world was created for me, and that I was given dominion over the earth and all the other creatures.

    Anyway, back to what atheists, or at least this particular atheist, think. I think that things have meaning and value because I give them meaning and value. Damage to certain parts of my brain would remove the emotions which confer meaning and value. To think that meaning and value come from an outside source, i.e. an invisible omnipotent personality, is an evasion of responsibility and an attempt to remain forever a child.

    If you truly believe that without Jesus and your god, life is meaningless and pointless therefore depressing, then I don’t think you have really considered what you value in life. I can promise you that my children and grand children, other family, friends, others in my community, other people in the world, and all creatures great and small hold incredible value for me. I find meaning in trying to improve the situation for all of these people and creatures. I find meaning in simply trying to appreciate and understand the wonders of this world and this universe, both on a practical scientific analytic way and in a romantic contemplative way. To think that a belief in God or Jesus would add something to my feeling of meaningfulness and value just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Try imagining what life would be like for you without Jesus and God. Really take a good shot at it. Think about all the people, places, things and understandings in your life and ask yourself, would anything really change if I let go of God? I find it hard to believe they would.

    To those who say that God is what keeps them from murdering people, I always ask: Don’t you know right from wrong? What kind of a monster do you think you are? Do you really believe that without the threat of punishment by God you would simply be able to kill me? Man, that is nasty.

    I invite you to listen to Julia Sweeney. You should be able to relate to her journey, because she started out as a devout Catholic with fantasies of becoming a nun. Step by step she moved through levels of belief until she faced the fact that everything she’d been told about God was nonsense and worse. Give her a listen. She’s really worth it.

    And again, welcome back.

  136. Dan says:


    OK so the very idea that I am somehow morally responsible in any way for a sin committed long before I was born is completely incompatible with any cultural notion of moral responsibility I recognise.
    But my biggest problem is how someone getting nailed to a cross has the slightest bearing on that.
    Christianity doesn’t even make sense. It’s pure bonkers and I think they’ve said ‘Jesus died for our sins’ so many times they’re incapable of trying to think about what it might actually mean as a sentence anymore to realise it’s crazy.

  137. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Darwin, once again, very well said.

    Dan, one queston I’ve never received a clear answer to: if Jesus died for our sins, effectively pre-forgiving them, why are we still threatened with Hell for supposed transgressions?
    But to answer your question about the cross, I think that along with the resurrection, it was supposed to be a stunt to demonstrate that if one leads a good life ‘in Jesus’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean. They do have some funny sayings) then death is not the end. Seems a pretty drastic way to do it though. It would have been far easier to simply send back somebody’s long-dead granny to pass the message along.
    And of course it doesn’t make sense; you can’t snare the credulous with sense.

  138. Mary2 says:

    @Scottspieg, God created you as you are and yet he needs to save you from being as he created you? I find that it truly saddens me when humans believe themselves to be so wretched.

    “The best so far” works for me: seems to explain scientific answers well. The ‘theory’ of gravity, after all, is the best explanation so far for why things fall down but I am sure it will be added to and tweaked as we continue to learn more.

    “certain truths” to be found in nature? Even your language betrays your preconceptions. They are not “laws of physics” in the way that laws of humans can be re-written and dropped. They are humans expressing the consistencies they see around them to the best of their knowledge. They are words humans use to describe, in the best way we can, predictions we can reasonably make: if I throw this apple up, it will come down. Some “certain truths in nature” do change as we better understand it: the Earth used to be flat, now it is sort-of spherical. What grounds these concepts is the ability to use them to predict events we see around us and the ability to replicate these predictions. It doesn’t matter how many different people throw different apples in the air, we can reasonably predict that they will all come down.

  139. Mary2 says:

    @john, Yes. You are too sceptical. Or reaching waaayyy too hard to find something to be offended at. Or trolling.

    Half the regular commenters here fit into the LGBTIQ continuum and the other half are honorary members.

    Try reading the articles the author links to to find the ‘minorities’ Author is actually taking the mickey out of.

  140. Mary2 says:

    Damn, everyone else told John to fuck off. I was being so careful to be (sort-of) polite. 🙁

    And a POTWA!! 🙁 🙁

    DH, I don’t just find saying ‘God did it’ allows me to stop thinking about things. I find Doris Day has the same effect: ‘Que Sera Sera’.

    AOS, It wasn’t just Eve’s fault you know. Adam ate the apple too. Eve committed the crime of disobedience whereas Adam followed her lead. Women are uncontrolable and men are stupid – sounds like modern advertisements.

  141. Mary2 I love you. I want you to bear my children. Oh damn, too late for that I’m sure, plus I think you said it isn’t the way you swing. Stupid way to express my approval and appreciation for your brain. You are a magnet for a sapiosexual such as I.

    Acolyte, thanks mate.

  142. So, taking a hint from Mary2 I went off and read the link to Spufford. I think he’s conflating respect for the believers with respect for what they believe. I can respect the former while questioning and mocking the latter. Most of my family, at least the older generation, profess to be Christians. I love them and respect them as people. I think what they claim to believe is incredible in the actual meaning of the word, having no credibility, unbelievable.
    I’m happy to hug all the believers in my family, and to talk nice nice to them unless they start telling me about god and Jesus, in which case I simply tell them what I’ve told scottspieg – does not compute.

  143. I’m a bit depressed today. Fukishima is poisoning the entire damn Pacific Ocean and the Black Rhino has been declared officially extinct because some idiots want handles for their ceremonial daggers or think ground up keratin will give them a hard on. Fuck. I am so very sad. Time to put more scotch in this class.

  144. HaggisForBrains says:

    Mary 2 – thanks! I’m now a proud honorary member of your club.

  145. Mary2 says:

    DH, Speak for yourself! Not too late for me (yet). It was only my head that was mangled in my recent run-in with a car. If I wasn’t allergic to all children of the two legged variety ….

    DH, I must confess, I haven’t actually read the attached Spufford article. Ooops. I understand the “conflating respect for the believers with respect for what they believe” thing: some of my best friends are Believers. I just hate it when Christians do it to the rest of us: ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’. It is sanctimonious twaddle. “We love you … you lead a disgusting and degraded lifestyle, have no sense of morality, are only atheist so you can continue to sin and are going to burn in hell for all eternity, but we love you anyway”.

    HaggisFB, we will now have to teach you the secret handshake – but don’t tell anyone – we have the Gay Agenda to protect.

  146. Mary2 says:

    DH, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”
    ? Horace Walpole.

    Sometimes you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. – Mary2.

  147. scottspeig says:

    I am indeed a die-in-the wool creationist. However, I could hold that the Genesis account in Chapter 1 is more metaphorical than literal and agree with evolution – pretty much the same way William Lane Craig does. However, I would still hold that God created the universe using the big bang theory / evolution.

    I never considered I would lead anyone to christ on this thread, but offered my take on the concept.

    Mary2 – as to God creating me and then needing to save me – I hold that we are free creatures, with the possibility to live a morally perfect life. I haven’t, and therefore require redemption from that. I obviously believe that to be true of you but recognise that you don’t think this (nor any other atheist on this forum!).

    Now author has moved on to another strip, I will continue to read the comments but have some thinking to do (no, not reject theism, but perhaps view the arguments offered and possible defenses of them 🙂 )

  148. Micky says:

    Scottspeig, you should give atheism a try, it’s a bit like being ‘saved’ but without all the made up stuff.

  149. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Scottspeig said

    I am indeed a die-in-the wool creationist. However, I could hold that the Genesis account in Chapter 1 is more metaphorical than literal and agree with evolution – pretty much the same way William Lane Craig does.

    Firstly, it’s ‘dyed-in-the-wool’, as in once the wool has been dyed and the colour fixed, the colour is permanent; nobody died for that old saying.
    How can you believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, then arbitrarily decide that the bits that science has disproven conclusively are just metaphorical after all? Thats just twisting information to fit in with your pre-decided conclusion of god did it. Nowhere in Genesis – the received word of God, remember – does it mention anything even remotely like evolution or the Big Bang event, else you and the believers who came before you wouldn’t have to resort to intellectual dishonesty, it would have been preached from the beginning of your religion. It is only because the evidence for both evolution and the Big Bang is so conclusive that theologians are desperately trying to re-interpret the Bible to take them into account.
    Craig and his ilk are liars for Jesus, don’t fall into the same trap. Genesis and science do not, never have, anin all likelihood never will tally, and all the evidence is for the latter.

    as to God creating me and then needing to save me – I hold that we are free creatures, with the possibility to live a morally perfect life. I haven’t, and therefore require redemption from that.

    That is the most common theological logical fallacy, scottspeig. You cannot have free will if your god is the omniscient type, the one who knows all that was, all that is, and all that ever will be. If your god knows in advance what choices you will make, as an omniscient god ought to be able to, then you have no choice in what you do. To change your mind and do something that an omniscient god didn’t expect is impossible, so if you do believe in the Abrahamic god, you have no choice but to accept that everything you do is pre-ordained by that god, and whatever choice you make, no matter how much it feels like your choice, is nothing but a pre-programmed response. To suggest otherwise is to accept that your god is not omniscient, and that would make it no god at all.

  150. Dan says:


    ” I would still hold that God created the universe using the big bang theory / evolution.”

    Maybe you would but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a position with not the slightest basis in fact.

  151. Mary2 says:

    @Scottspeig, thanks for coming. I have enjoyed reading your views. Look forward to continuing our talk on future strips.

  152. Physicsroolz says:

    john asked on November 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm : “Am I too skeptical, or is
    this comic a fresh attack on minorities again?”

    Well, I have no idea how “skeptical” you are but the comic *is* often a mocking, though gentle, attack on minorities. Religious ones. Both the followers of the Annointed and those of the second last prophet [see Mr. Smith for details] [third latest prophet if you believe in Jim Jones, as any good Christian must] are minorities and the strip does mock them. More the absurd beliefs they hold than the people themselves but still it is mocking. Satire frequently is when done well.

    The comic, however, often *supports* non-mainstream sexual activities and choices, especially where those are in conflict with the dogma of the J&M minorities. You really should go through the archive. The Author is really a very accepting person. He just doesn’t seem to like petty tyrants much.
    He has plenty of company. Including some petty tyrants. They often do not much like each other.
    I get the impression that I’d like the Author though whether it would be mutual is another issue.

    Scottsprieg and Mr. Spufford: no personal offence meant in my previous post. Just general offence at an attitude; the idea that not believing in pink, flying unicorns with three sets of genitalia somehow makes me less than fully human. I don’t hate you for believing this, I just hate your belief in it. I accept that it is almost possible for religious people to be nice, to be pleasant, to act like real human beings. I’ve even met priests who, away from the blind spot of their fairy daddy, have treated me almost like I were a fellow living being. They talked to me rationally and calmly until they entered the event horizon of their faith. Christians are nearly capable, sometimes, when not being dogmatic, of eating, drinking and even communing with me as an almost equal. They almost show all the emotions
    of a Real Man, of adult human beings. The religious may be stunted and incomplete and incapable of reason and unable to accept anything that is outside of their stories about spooky big daddies in the sky but they can sometimes mimic real people. Nearly. So I don’t hate you, scottsprieg and Mr. Spufford, as people; I couldn’t, I’ve never met you, but I am wary of you.
    You can never tell when a religious person will go off and set fire to someone for some imagined slight.
    They don’t have the self-control adults can manage.
    I’m not entirely sure religious people can truly be friends with anyone.There is always something huge and powerful getting between them and any real feelings. That this is an entirely imaginary huge and powerful spooky daddy isn’t helpful.
    Scottsprieg and Mr. Spufford, I don’t feel any animosity towards you but I don’t think we’ll ever be fast and true friends. That saddens me.
    I genuinely like people, as individuals, and to be forced to see some of them as an alien species who would sooner burn me alive than sup with me is depressing.
    Still, no hard feelings on this end.

    Anyone who detects a touch of the parody about this posting may well have a point. It isn’t easy to mimic the dull-witted intransigence of the faithful where their interaction with the unbelievers is concerned but I tried.
    Holding a mirror is hard work.

  153. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Hello, Physicsroolz, two very nice posts there.
    I think you’re going to fit right in here at the Cock and Bull.

  154. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Looks like scottspeig’s conformed to type and buggered off rather than face rational argument.
    Shame really.

  155. Fenchurch says:

    I think that we, as atheists, need to befriend more theists, so that they don’t reach for this fictional atheist that “hates god” and “just wants to sin” and “is always angry and militant” every darned time they want to talk about a type of person they’ve clearly never met (or listened to/understood).

    Maybe set up chapter of Big Atheist / Big Secular Humanist in our communities?

  156. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    We do try to talk to them here, Fenchurch; just liik at how some of us engaged with scottspeig. The trouble is, at the first whiff of reality intruding into their belief they turn tail and run back to illusion.

  157. scottspeig says:

    AoS – Please, I didn’t turn tail and run, I just figured I had better things to do with my time than fruitlessly argue with multiple atheists on what is effectively an atheist hanging out place – but I have now raised to the bait you effectively placed here!

    As to holding to illusion, there are many reasons as to why I believe in God and many which I find to be more plausible than there negations.

    1. Kalam Cosmological argument
    2. Cosmological argument from Contingency
    3. Moral argument
    4. Application of mathematics in the known universe
    5. Teleological argument from fine-tuning
    6. Ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality

    Plus there is all the evidence that I have seen/experienced first hand which is where my faith primarily comes from. The above arguments are useful for strengthening my faith! If people are interested in these arguments, I suggest watching a debate by William Lane Craig such as the one with Alex Rosenberg at Biola University (on youtube). (As an aside, if anyone knows of a good debate where you consider Craig to lose, I would be interested to listen to it).

    When you comment on my views as an illusion, I can sense an air of irony since I suppose I view yours as worse considering that you expect me to consider the possibility that not only are we descended from single cell organisms, but that the entire universe occurred purely by chance, which (if my reading is correct), is less than 1 in 10^120!! (fine-tuning).

  158. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Thanks for returning, Scottspeig, I retract my insinuation about your departure.
    I would watch some WLC, but what’s the point? I’ve heard it all before, so unless he’s come up with some new evidence for his – and your – belief then it’s all pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking.

    Please re-read your last sentence, then consider this; my explaination might sound far-fetched to you but evolution has been proven beyond all but the most unreasonable doubt by empirical, evidence-based science, and the Universe came into existence not by chance but by the laws of physics as currently understood by theoretical physicists.
    The ideas of a Multi-verse or Universe, and the eventual fate of them / it are yet to be conclusively proven or disproven, but even when they are settled, which probably won’t be in my lifetime, you can be sure that the answer will be fully explainable with physics alone – for those with the wit to understand it. And please forget the ‘fine tuning’ argument, that’s putting the cart before the horse; it’s like a puddle marvelling that the rut in the road it fills is just the right size and so must have been designed with the puddle in mind. The only reason the Universe seems fine tuned is because had the laws of physics been any other way, we wouldn’t be here, just as had the hole not had a rut, the puddle wouldn’t have filled it.
    With that in mind, how much more far-fetched does your God sound, considering that neither you, nor Craig, nor Platinga has ever managed to explain either what it is, where it is, or where it came from. Remember, ‘always existed’ and ‘thought itself into existence’ are not answers, nor is the sop of it existing ‘outside’ of time and space, yet somehow affecting things within – and without it being detectable.

  159. Mary2 says:

    Bloody hell AOS, if you believe in this evolution-baloney next you’ll be telling me that the ‘theory’ of gravity is correct and we are not held to Earth by scores of Angels…..

  160. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Gravity? I’m an advocate of the Theory of Intelligent Falling.

  161. Dan says:

    The ontological argument?
    I know this is humourous website but that one takes the absolute biscuit.

    It’s normally accepted that imagining something to exist doesn’t make it exist.
    Even if that thing is perfect and you really really want it to exist.

    Since you mention Craig I find his version of the Kalam argument particular poor.
    He starts with “An actual infinite cannot exist” a claim which very obviously has not the slightest basis in fact and it’s difficult to see how it could have the slightest basis in fact.
    If you want any more of your arguments pulled to pieces please post again.

  162. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Scottspeig, I shan’t suggest you’ve run away, but where are you? Not looking through your science-denying, creationist ‘literature’ for counter-arguments, I hope.

  163. scottspeig says:

    AoS – No, not looking through creationist counter-arguments, although I know they are out there (just as the counter-counter arguments from evolution websites are out there). I have been on holiday.

    Personally, I find that evolution based theories lack empirical data that is repeatable and a lot of it is based on certain assumptions which if found to be false would be problematic to the end result. This is not to say that creationist models are without their own problems, but I disagree that the evolution theory is as proven as you say it is.

    As to what God is, my personal take is that He is an un-embodied mind who is more powerful than I can possibly imagine and deserves worship. There are additional attributes such as omniscient, omnipresent and eternal.

    As to the beginning of God (quite difficult) – Since He created time, logically, it makes no sense to question when He was created. Rather, that logically prior to time existing God was. Since the creation of time, God is no longer timeless but is constrained by time. Definition of time being a before and after of an action (So prior to the first action, time does not exist)

    Dan – I have to say, I have not read up on the ontological argument in any great detail but added it to the list since I know that there are people who do hold to this who are cleverer than I. As to “an actual infinite cannot exist” – I am not convinced you can say that it is obviously false. I am not set on this but so far as I understand it, the argument is that a potential infinite can (and does) exist, but that an actual infinite cannot since absurdities arise if it does. The most obvious example which you could cite which is an infinite, is the set of numbers. However, I think you could hold that the set is not an actual infinite but a potential infinite (if they even exist – since I hold the view that they are a useful fiction – as are all languages)


NOTE: This comments section is provided as a friendly place for readers of J&M to talk, to exchange jokes and ideas, to engage in profound philosophical discussion, and to ridicule the sincerely held beliefs of millions. As such, comments of a racist, sexist or homophobic nature will not be tolerated.

If you are posting for the first time, or you change your username and/or email, your comment will be held in moderation until approval. When your first comment is approved, subsequent comments will be published automatically.