Atheism destroyed with ONE SCIENTIFIC QUESTION!!!1!

Christian News Wire and show up in my Google News feed from time to time, and right now they are both talking about Ray Comfort's latest movie, "The Atheist Delusion". Comfort's press release to Christian News Wire touts "Atheism destroyed with one scientific question!"

The question isn't mentioned. Even the movie's website doesn't mention the question. Since there is so much smoke and noise about this movie, I decided to see where it is showing. I checked Fandango and got nothing. I searched the Internet, and got... nothing. This movie, as far as I can tell, isn't playing anywhere.

From the movie's website, I found that I can DOWNLOAD the movie for a mere $19.99! Which is insane, since for that price I can buy two tickets to Star Trek Beyond, and still have change left for a bag of M&Ms.

So I went looking for spoilers, and found them on Hemant Mehta's blog.  So here's the spoiler, here's the question that Ray Comfort asks atheists that according to World Net Daily, "stuns" atheists...

Where did DNA come from?

Comfort points out that DNA is complex, that it contains information.  It's like a book.  And books have creators, therefore DNA has a creator.  Right?

Are you stunned?  Have you lost your atheism?  Or are you remembering Paley's watch?

This is a slick trick that I see happen too often in apologetics - ask a professional a question that is not in their field of study.  Ask a physicist about biology, ask a biologist about astrophysics.  The answers you get are muddled and lacking any depth - then jump on THOSE answers and yell, "AHAH!"

It works even better if the person is not prepared to respond.  And Comfort's "Living Waters" demonstrates the methods of 'ambush reporting' as its preferred style of asking questions.

In other words, "The Atheist Delusion" is tabloid journalism, or business as usual for Ray Comfort.

As for his question, "where did DNA come from?"  I'll answer that.

I don't know.  What does the deity of the Bible have to do with it?

The idea that information must have a creator is incorrect.  I could go into information theory to show that information can happen if the process of creating information has a built in "ratchet" to keep the wheels spinning in one direction.  In the modern theory of evolution this ratchet is called, "natural selection".  And let's skip the entire field of machine learning...

Instead, as an electronic engineer, I'll bring up the example of Evolvable Hardware.  More specifically, read about Dr. Adrian Thompson's experiment in evolving a circuit in an FPGA.

Circuits that exist inside FPGAs are usually created using a Hardware Definition Language of some sort.  They are created by a creator - usually an electronic engineer with a software proficiency.  But Dr. Thompson proved that FPGAs could be created using an evolutionary process based on artificial selection - the sister to natural selection that we see in evolution.

The resulting circuit meets the artificial selection requirements without ever having been created by a human.

Where did the information in this circuit come from?  Dr. Thompson didn't write it.

Maybe God did it?  Maybe we should ask Ray Comfort?  Because what does he know about electrical engineering?

But having read several of Comfort's apologetics, I think I could answer for him.  He would skip the question entirely, and ask me who built the FPGA.  Which is a neat way to tap-dance away from the actual question that is asked.

Here is one simple question that will destroy Christians.

Can you prove that your deity created the universe?

Just how far will a Christian go to dodge their burden of proof?

I've posted before on the "mixed up burden of proof" and the problems that religious people have with it.  I've said before that the burden of proof is always on the person making the claims.

And yet, religious people just don't get this very simple concept.

It's come to my attention recently that once again people - especially Christians - are attempting to shift this burden of proof from the claimant to the respondent.

Part of this seems to be due to a persistent "Atheism is a religion" meme.  This is the idea that atheists take the non-existence of a deity on faith, not on evidence, and therefore atheism is no different than a religion.

I'll freely admit that there are atheists who deny the possibility of any deity or deities.  And I'll agree that they do so on philosophically shaky ground that leaves them as vulnerable to the charge of "faith" as any religious adherent.

This is exactly why atheists have pointed out the difference between so called "weak atheism" and "strong atheism", or the differences between explicit and implicit atheism.

Personally, I'm an explicit, "weak" atheist.  I have never found enough evidence to convince me that at least one deity exists, and so I live my life as if no deities exist.  However, I could be wrong.  All it would take to convince me that I'm wrong is sufficient evidence.  And if I received such evidence that at least one deity existed, I would change in a heartbeat to live my life as if a deity existed.

This willingness to change one's mind when presented with evidence is not a hallmark of religion.

I recently ran into a cartoon by Christian web cartoonist Adam4D, which demonstrates this frantic attempt to shift the burden of proof of God from the Christian to the atheist.

The cartoonist then segways to a teleological argument using the Watchmaker Analogy.  Of course this argument has multiple problems.

As pointed out by judge John Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the argument from design is subjective.  Even Professor Behe couldn't show that there was any real way of determining something was created through a natural process or through a divine process - only that it "looks complex".  In other words, it was only through subjective terms that a Christian can claim that a tree is divinely created and a snowflake is not.

I often hang out in the online discussion forum of Reddit, and recently I've again run into a Christian who has tried to assert that atheists are making a positive claim that must be met by a burden of proof.  Like many such discussions, they go nowhere very quickly as the Christian in question refuses to admit that any other response is logical.  (You can click on this image to enlarge it.)

Here you will see that the username "cousinoleg" has asserted that there are only three positions that one can take in regards to a claim.  These three positions are either ignorance of the claim, acceptance of the claim, or denial of the claim.  This has left cousinoleg in a very vulnerable position in this discussion.

This method is not very reasonable.  The reaction to a positive claim might not be denial that the claim is true, but merely an assertion that the respondent does not believe the claimant.

Or a positive claim could be met with a counter claim that invalidates the first claim.  If it is not the claimants burden to prove that what they say is true, then a counter claim will automatically annul the original claim until it is proved false.

For example, let's take Adam4D's original cartoon, and modify it, for educational "Fair Use" purposes.

Click here to see this modified cartoon enlarged.

Here we can see that if the claimant denies his or her duty to prove their claims, then those claims are immediately subject to being countered by an opposing claim - that also is not required to be proved.

More simply put, my claim that invisible elves exist disproves your claim that a God exists.  If you are not required to prove your claim of a God, then I am not required to prove my claim of elves.

Finally, this entire blog post should be completely unnecessary.  I've taken pains to write it all out because lots of religious claimants just don't seem to get this.  Frankly, Christopher Hitchens said it best:
"What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

She would have been 53

It is Won's birthday today.

Here's a photo from when we were dating.  We were at a restaurant in Seoul, visiting some of Won's friends.  This was in the spring of 1986.  See the '80's style perm that Won's sporting?

Damn, we were young.

The failure of cosmological arguments

I've had several theists (Christian and Islamic) try to assert that God is real through one of the many different cosmological arguments.

Cosmological arguments come in several different types.

Thomas Aquina gave 5 different types of cosmological argument.  The argument from motion, the argument from contingency, the argument from causation, the argument from degrees and the Teleological Argument.

Later William Paley put his own spin on the Teleological Argument with the idea of a "Blind Watchmaker."

William Lane Craig created his own version of a cosmological argument with something he named the Kalām cosmological argument.  He named it this in a shout out to Islamic philosopher Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī and al-Ghazālī's argument that actual infinities do not exist.

You can learn about the cosmological argument through philosophy, or through theology.  Fair warning, theological arguments start with the premise of the existence of a deity, and then look for arguments to support their premise.  So you should be extremely wary of anyone with a theological agenda.

Most cosmological arguments have the same form.  If we look at the argument from causation, that form is:  1.  Effects have a cause.  2.  Everything that happens has a cause  3.  The chain of cause and effect cannot be infinite, therefore there is (eventually) an uncaused cause.

You can apply this to any of the cosmological arguments.  For example:
  • Motion - everything that moves must have a mover until you eventually reach an unmoved mover.  
  • Contingency - a "contingent being" is a being that came to exist in some fashion.  A "necessary being" is a being that exists without the requirement of coming into existence.  In the argument from Contingency, each contingent being comes to exist through a previous contingent being, until you eventually reach a necessary being that didn't need to come into existence.
  • Teleological Argument - everything that was created has a creator.  Each creator is in turn a creation of the creator before it, until you eventually reach an uncreated creator.
  • Kalām cosmological argument - here William Lane Craig skips the small stuff, and goes right into the creation of the universe.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause.  The universe began to exist - therefore the universe has a cause.  Therefore, an uncaused causer, that exists outside of the universe, exists, and this causer is a powerful being who is beyond the properties we find in the universe.
There is one cosmological argument that doesn't quite follow in the same form - the argument from degrees.  However, the form is analogous to the forms we have seen.  The argument from degrees says:
  • There is a hierarchy of degrees that we find in everything.  In this hierarchy, we can imagine things that are great, that are greater than great, and that are the greatest possible.  If we think of a being with the maximum possible degree of greatness, it would be even greater if that being actually existed.  
As you can see, it still includes the idea that the infinite is an impossibility, that a maximum good exists.
Here is how all cosmological arguments fail.

First, they fail logically.  Built into these arguments is that each mover, each cause, must in turn have a mover or a cause.  But a fallacy of special pleading is made for that one thing that doesn't require a cause or a creator.

To put it in atheist terms, "Who made God?"  We are answered by philosophers with, "Hey, that's a pretty good question!"  However, we are answered by theologians with, "Stop being silly!"

Philosophers understand that the argument is flawed in this manner, whereas those people who start with the premise of a deity have to tap dance their way out of this flaw.  In fact, this is exactly what William Lane Craig attempts to do with his Kalām cosmological argument, by attempting to put a deity above question.

Next these arguments may fail based on the possibly incorrect premise that the infinite is an impossibility.  The truth is that we just don't have enough evidence to know for sure that a real infinity is impossible.  If a real infinity is possible, there may be an infinite multiverse that spawns universes like ours.  At one time, before we discovered evidence for the big bang, we wondered if our universe was cyclical - perpetually ending in a "big crunch" which restarted the big bang.  Now we can wonder if there is a cyclical mulitverse.  Or perhaps a multiverse isn't subject to time, or to cause and effect in the way that it is familiar to us.

People like to argue against infinity using the idea that if there is an infinite time before ours, then logically how could we arrive here?  This discounts the idea of a converging infinity, or of Zeno's paradox.  And it discounts the idea that although we (mostly) know how time works in OUR universe, we can't actually speak for how it works (if at all) in a multiverse.

These arguments are not very useful for getting to a personal god of your favorite religion.  William Lane Craig says that the creator of the universe is an enormously powerful "personal creator", but he lacks a good argument that this is true.

Cosmological arguments can't rule out that the creator is non-sentient.  For example, the uncaused cause could be a cyclical multiverse that spawns universes through natural processes that we don't currently understand.

These arguments can't rule out that the creator died during the creation process.  Or that the creator is actually a pantheon of creators who created the universe out of their desire for deity on deity drama and their need for chess pieces in an elaborate game that they are playing.

The cosmological argument could just as easily be satisfied by time traveling humans from the future who traveled almost 14 billion years into the past and through science (or a disaster of Star Trekkan proportions) created a cosmological event that results in the big bang.  Yes, we are our own gods!

So the cosmological argument seems good at first glance, but it is full of problems and has a fallacy built into it.  Philosophers have been pointing these problems out for centuries.  And yet, I still have theists use these as a "proof".

And when I point out these problems, the tap-dancing they do to support their arguments is amazing.  And the smug, self-superiority they display as they ignore philosophy for theology is very annoying.

How I left Christianity

I've written about some of this before... I was stationed at Barstow California back in 1993, and my wife and I had gone to visit my family at their apartment in San Diego. During that visit, we had a knock at the door by some Jehovah's Witnesses. (You can read about that here.)

I'm the one who answered the door, and that's how I met a couple and their daughter.

Instead of saying "No thanks" and shutting the door, I instead decided to talk to them. And I realized that they were very passionate about their beliefs - I found it amazing that they would be so passionate over something - that to me - seemed so obviously false.

My life became very busy soon after that.  We left the Air Force and moved to Stockton California, where I transitioned to being a civilian and got a job at a security manufacturing company.  We also opened our own children's clothing store.  Not long after that - about 10 months - we realized that the store wasn't going to make it.  I also found out my company was going under.  So I found a much better job in Fresno and we moved again.  My wife went to school full time, and I started going to school part time as an engineer.

And we got online.

I had used the Internet before the World Wide Web existed - in the days when you used a teletype emulator in order to visit different IP addresses.  I had been a member of the GEnie Internet portal in Okinawa, and I had an email address on MILNET even before that.  I was active on Usenet.

But HTML changed everything.  It made the Internet accessible.  And search engines made it searchable.  (Go Lycos and Yahoo!)

Before I had tried going to the library to investigate cults, and I'd run into literature that wasn't very useful.  Let's face it, the Barstow and Stockton libraries are not that comprehensive.  Fresno State's library was better.  The Internet led me to discussion groups about cults, where people could recommend better books.  I could ask the local libraries to find and bring those books for me.  I could order them too.

I spent about 6 months investigating Jehovah's Witnesses, another 3 months or so on the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons).  And then I confused Christian Science with another group, and found myself investigating Scientology.

I found the level of crazy in Scientology to be fascinating!  I joined the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology right after the start of the Scientology vs the Internet "war" when Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin tried to delete the whole ARS usenet group.  I followed the Scientology war up until about 2008, after the arrest of protester Keith Henson.

But even from the beginning I was amazed at the level of dirty tricks used by Scientologists.  And that led me to other restrictive cults, such as The Family, Mormon Fundamentalists, Christian Nationalism and Christian Dominionism, the Unification Church, the Children of God, and of course the Branch Davidians and later Heaven's Gate.

I had copies of Steven Hassan's "Combating Cult Mind Control" and Margaret Singer's "Cults in our Midst".  And there was a wealth of websites even in the mid to late '90s about destructive cults.

After the Heaven's Gate suicide in 1997, I remember thinking to myself that cults were so destructive.  "It's a good thing that MY religion is the Truth!"  And then I had a great idea.  I'd compare my religion, that of mainline Protestantism, with these other cults - and demonstrate just how true it really was.

It didn't go well for me.

First, original sin is a serious problem.  How can an all-knowing being NOT know that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would be a temptation of Adam and Eve?  Next was the issue of sin - if God is perfect, then why did the laws of what was sinful change from the Old Testament to the New Testament?  After that I learned about biblical textual criticism, and learned about the problems with the Pericope Adulterae - in that it originally wasn't part of the Gospels!  This led me to learn that no one knows who actually authored the Gospels, and that the earliest manuscripts (which are not the originals) came from a generation after the supposed death of Christ.

I brought these issues to my pastor, who told me that I would receive answers in prayer.  I spent a lot of time praying, but my doubts became worse.

I followed the example of pastor David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade" - and followed the teachings of Jesus in Matt 21:21-22 (among other places) that if asked in prayer, with faith, we will receive an answer.  I followed Gideon's example in Judges 6:36-40, and asked God for a sign that Christianity - or any religion - was true.

I did this daily, for weeks.

I finally came to the point where I had to admit, the way the Christian church acted was little different than the way most cults acted.  They sought intelligent people as members, and then used specious reasoning to explain away problems with teachings.  The holy book was deeply flawed.  And God (or Jesus) wasn't answering.

I had one more reason to remain a believer in God.

As a Christian I had, on many occasions, experienced The Holy Ghost.  I had lost this feeling during my period of doubt, which was actually a point in the favor of me remaining Christian.  If I returned to my faith, perhaps I could reclaim the attention of The Holy Spirit.

But by this time, I had learned so much about other religions that I realized that many opposing religious people had similar experiences.  I had also learned enough about human psychology to realize that humans were very good at fooling ourselves.  I had an idea - maybe I could recreate the Holy Spirit experience through meditation.

I was successful.  I could re-experience the Holy Spirit at will.  That was the end of my Christianity, sometime around 1998.

I didn't call myself an atheist immediately.  Atheism was still mostly "in the closet".  There was a discussion forum for atheists on the Secular Web which I stayed away from because its web address was - which seemed blasphemous in a scary way.  Instead I started reading the discussion forum at James Randi's website, and started calling myself "agnostic".

I learned that my uncle was an atheist, and he asked me why I was "on the fence" - since I was using the word "agnostic" to mean that I didn't know what was true.  He pointed me toward what I would later learn is called "implicit" or "weak" atheism.

I started learning about campus non-believer groups, so I first searched for such a group at my university, and when I didn't find one, I started one.  Called the CSUF Freethought Society.  It was hard going to school, working full time, and keeping the group going, so it fell apart in 2002.

After that, I tried to find a local skeptical / atheist organization to become a part of.  I looked around and found the Unitarian Universalists - which didn't fit what I wanted.  I also found the Humanists of San Joaquin Valley - who was meeting at the UU church.  I had by this time learned that I agreed with Secular Humanism more than I agreed with mainstream Humanism, so this didn't seem like the group I wanted to join.

So again I created a new group.  I started a Meetup group for Fresno atheists and other freethinkers in 2002.  That gradually evolved into an atheist group, which eventually combined with my friend Richard's skeptics group.

We met together once a month, casually, for several years.  Until we decided that we wanted to become more active in the community.  So we founded the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics in 2008.  And I started blogging in 2006.

Since my deconversion from Christianity, I've been told that I can receive proof of God just through prayer.  And I have always taken those suggestions at face value.  If you want to pray with me to find God, I'll happily do so.  And I'll be as sincere as I know how to be.  Honest.

All it will take to change my mind is evidence.