Conversation with an Atheist Friend (07)

4 05 2009
Statue of David Hume. Taken by Storkk in Edinb...
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Me: When you say there’s only the bible, that’s a cheap dismissal, since the documents were circulated separately and only compiled hundreds of years later. So to dismiss it out of hand is like dismissing the books in a library because they are all housed in the same location.

I’m not sure how else God could evidence himself to people – 1) have predictions about Jesus’ coming hundreds of years in advance (we have records from Isaiah dating from significantly before Jesus was born) ; 2) have paradoxical predictions (king, yet he’ll suffer and die) so the Jews themselves were struggling to understand, but in the end it ties together, to show it wasn’t just made up; 3) be born at a moment when so many factors were conducive to the spread of such a message from him (common language, pax Romana); 4) have philosophical thought near its pinnacle so that his life and how it fit in could be best interpreted (BTW, both “modernism” and “postmodernism was around in the first century); 5) God come as a human so we could relate to his testimony; 6) Ddo miracles so that he might prove he was more than a man; 7) be born in such an unbelievably low estate to prove that the resulting movement was not just political; 8) choose only 12 lowly fishermen and leave it to them to carry on, to prove it was not a human thing; 9) have it happen in a period of time where the accurate recording of history and representation of people was considered in the highest possible light; 10) get four different records from four totally different people about the testimony so people after could know it was true; 11) get records of the development of the first Christians (including their letters) to show it wasn’t just a people thing; 12) have the testimony of average Jo Christians today (whatever you might say) and have them change from bad people to good – check out the Welsh revivals of the late 1800s some time – official records that there was no violent crime tried in the entire country for one year. The mines closed down because the horses couldn’t understand their masters any more because they had stopped using foul language. Supernatural change in people’s lives

You go on about a lack of evidence, what evidence do you want? What exactly could God have done more that what I’ve just mentioned? Ponder it just 30 seconds before you answer. Maybe put his design throughout the world so that any plumber Jo can see it and believe and so that lots of scientists past and presents have seen it too as they researched? Not exactly sure what evidence you’d expect? A personal visit… we both know you’d do the David Hume thing.

What interests me is how adamant you are about it being untrue. If only you were a little more ponderous it would at least give the appearance of objectivity.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend (06)

30 04 2009
The repute and reality of being a Roman emperor
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And further….

Me: give me some references

Friend: isn’t that your job?

Me: Nothing like this comes to mind.

Friend: but my point is that he was supposedly performing lots of miracles, and had crowds.

Me: We have the discovery at Oxyrhynchus of thousands of letter if this is what you mean but that’s in Egypt. I don’t know of such records for Judea. Besides the letters were pretty sporadic. The guys who wrote these records down almost certainly wrote at a time when people who were there were alive. Your point is also a good one about the Romans. What they were obsessive about was good history. SO… if four (and possibly more) different records are circulated to people who are still alive and then the movement gains momentum to the point where the empire is Christianized, this says something. How does it take root in a history obsessed society if it is historically crappy?

Friend: but it didn’t take root until the 4th or 5th century!

Me: Rome wasn’t built in the day.

Friend: it just looks like a political movement.

Me: We know for sure that several Roman Emperors tried to kill people off on mass – that’s got to slow things down a little. Nero for one. There must have been a significant number of Christians to feed the hungry lions. And still regroup after. The problem in all this – and I’m not trying to be smart in saying this – is that the Kuhnian discussion I began with about enlightenment optimism is very important. I am not anti-science in the least. There just has to be level headed realization that no one is objective as they think and questions must be asked like this – if God really wanted to prove he existed what might he do? Put his fingerprints all over the world in terms of order… yes but this will be dismissed as rubbish… no proof at all… you just think this because you have an un-evolved sense of complexity and probability. But why does evidence look good to one person and bad to another? It is because they are functioning within a paradigm to look for what fits and to discard what doesn’t – you and me both. Like the broad generality about religion being evil and causing evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up. I heard a statistic the other day (from an official source) that conservative Christians give more money to the poor than their counterparts and that if everyone in the US gave as much blood as these people they’d be turning people away. Sure when it becomes an ideology in the hands of divisive or greedy people it gets distorted, but the same could be said of any ideology throughout history – whether political systems or football supporters, or whatever. All this proves is that we have evolved follow a pack mentality – Kuhn again!

Friend: I find it hilarious that evangelicals are now in bed with post-modernists. You are so far out on a subjectivist limb, that you can’t climb down. You know, it’s fine to admit that you can’t ARGUE about this stuff. You can just throw your hands up and say, “You just gotta believe me, because I just believe it, OK?” And I can say, “Huh?” As Dennett says, there are many reasons why people SAY they are christian.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend (05)

26 04 2009
ufo, jesus-question-answer
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Me: You are making out that my whole point is what I cannot prove. This isn’t about disproving, it’s about dealing with the evidence (in this case for Jesus). My point is simply that you have to go beyond science. Neither am I bagging science or its value. In its realm it is good and fine. But it is a constructed paradigm meant not only to discover true, but to perpetuate the pursuit of an understanding of the closed system we call planet earth.

Friend: How, exactly, do you “go beyond science”

Me: One simple example. You have a manuscript which is evidence for something…

Friend: literature is not science.

Me: That’s what I mean. The evidence for the UFO may be the guy’s burnt feet, but this is a piece of evidence which you must decide on… how does science help you make this decision.

Friend: but in the case of the UFO, there isn’t even burnt feet and in the case of Jesus there is nothing except what is in the bible. Aren’t you studying biblical archeology? You know there are million dollar prizes for evidence that Jesus existed? What have you found?

Me: Now we’re talking – of course I’m just in it for the money like everyone else

Friend: I don’t know what it would take. Seems like even the fate of your so-called immortal soul isn’t enough to conjure anything at all.

Me: OK. Let’s start by asking what kind of historical evidence you might expect for a carpenter who gets killed like a common criminal and has a bunch of fishermen as his followers… Actually you could start by asking why he got crucified in the first place.

Friend: I would expect the Romans, obsessive record keepers, to have written something down.

Me: In Rome perhaps, but not in the backwater of the empire.

Friend: but they wrote lots of less impressive stuff down.

Me: Who are you referring to? Seneca, Pliny?

Friend: no in the roman province of Judea there are lots of records about all kinds of mundane stuff.

Me: give me some references

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend (04)

22 04 2009
UFO (via

Friend: Sorry, which god have I expressed a disbelief in? People have proposed a lot of different gods. If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.). The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

[break… and other “chit chat”]

Me:… Well anyway here is my response to our ongoing discussion… “Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is crap, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Kuhn would put it. Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

Friend: But despite what you say, science does work, and scientific truth is nothing more than common sense and places no demands on you than following instructions. On the other hand, Christianity requires you, to paraphrase Saint Doug, “to believe 10 impossible things before breakfast.” And your ‘critique’ of science that says that, because science can’t prove a negative — i.e. that something DOES NOT exist — belies a lack of understanding of how science works. For example, you can’t prove that Zeus or Thor don’t exist. See But if you really want to have an argument about proving or disproving the existence of supernatural stuff then science actually does have something to say. It says, “show me any effect, however slight, on anything, anywhere, that cannot be explained by known science,”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Athiest Friend (03)

18 04 2009
Tooth Fairy, Where Are You?
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From this point there was a free flowing discussion, as you will read…

Friend: I am as close to certain that there is no god as I am certain there is no tooth fairy. You can’t prove there are no leprechauns

Me: There’s one living in our back yard actually!

Friend: now we’re getting somewhere

Me: My thoughts precisely. As one author put it – God is Jesus… no smart arse responses please.

Friend: that’s all I have

Me: Now we are really getting somewhere

Friend: I realized a long time ago that the reason the US is the last refuge of religiousity in the west is simply because the Americans worked out how to make money out of it. Everywhere else people have left the old superstitions behind.

Me: I wish my salary was a little higher then

Me: Did I ask you yet your reason for such (18th -19th) century enlightenment optimism about science and who you are 99.999% certain there is no God?
Friend: you gotta write a book and go on a speaking tour like your pal Tim. Set up a little cult — they are always a good money spinner.

Me: Good thinking!

Friend: base it on Christianity — there are 17,000 different sects so you can do just about anything. BTW, why do you say I have ‘enlightenment optimism’ about science?

Me: With the enlightenment came optimism that science would answer all our woes, all our questions, that the answer to everything would turn up sooner – or in the present case much later than expected.

Friend: did I ever say that?

Me: Well you suggested it answers questions about God, which is a stretch. You imply that it can define bias individuals from those who alone can weight up truth objectively. That seems pretty optimistic to me.

Friend: when did I say it answered questions about god?

Me: Are you saying your disbelief is based on somthing else?

Friend: sorry, disbelief in what?

Me: In the tooth fairy of course.

Me: My further thought was just this. It was interesting when I undertook my PhD in Chemistry to see just how much fudging was happening, especially as you move away from the more pure sciences like Maths. Francis Bacon’s quote is a good one about what often drives some of the “lesser sciences” – Truth arises more readily from error than confusion. And the same kind of market forces are at work when it comes to justifying your field of research and the results you are getting.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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