Debate Transcript Project (on hold)
In Yahoo's Religion chat room, I started going by the name nodeity. I've continued to use that name on various message boards. Lately, mostly at Graveyard of the Gods. Much of the content below has been inspired by exchanges in chat or on the boards.
In no particular order, here are a few of the things that I've found myself thinking about. If you're interested in discussing any of this with me, feel free to post your questions and/or comments in Message Boards You could also try to catch me in chat or instant messenger but, if you've been there, you know that it can be very difficult to get into anything in depth there.
By the way, I've been ordained as a Reverend in the Universal Life Church. They don't care what you believe or whether you believe anything as long as you try to be good to people. See my certificate of ordination.
I am sometimes asked in chat, "Are you an atheist?" My response is generally that I'm a skeptic. Sometimes I answer that I'm an atheist - provisionally. That is, I'm a skeptic and an atheist as there appears to be no objective evidence for the supernatural, including God, and it seems unlikely that any is going to be found. However, a good skeptic must be open to the possibility, however remote, that unexpected evidence may eventually turn up.
An atheist is someone who "does not believe in the existence of God or gods" (Oxford Paperback Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1988) and I certainly fall into that category. I'm a non-believer. Other dictionaries define an atheist as someone who believes there is no God (or gods). I'm less comfortable with that definition unless it's qualified by "provisionally". Besides, as a skeptic, I try to hold no beliefs, no faith positions. I certainly wouldn't want to be called upon to prove that there is no God. Anyone want to try to prove a universal claim of non-existence?
Sometimes, because I concede that I cannot know for certain that there is no God, I am called an agnostic. An agnostic maintains that it is not possible to know whether or not God exists. To me, that doesn't seem quite adequate. If God exists, then he (assume he/ she/it/they) must have some kind of detectable effect on the observable universe. Otherwise, how would anyone have ever detected his presence in the first place?
The God myths that I'm familiar with (I was a Christian for several decades) are more-or-less based on ancient texts, all of which describe God interacting with the observable universe and sometimes intervening in it in dramatic ways. So, the ancients, from whom we get our religious notions in the first place, also assumed that God would interact with them and the world around them. Why do so many modern religionists claim that we must not expect evidence when the Bible, for example, is chock full of God providing evidence? I think they do this out of necessity because, for some reason, God seems to have completely gone out of the evidence business. Do you suppose that this is because it is now generally possible to conduct a scientific investigation and find what's really causing a "miraculous" phenomenon?
(For the above rant, assume that "God" means "the God of the Bible" (or the gods of the Bible, if you think it talks about several), just because we've got to have some idea what we mean when we say "God")
1) One of my favourites goes something like this: "You don't have to see God to believe in Him. After all, you can't see the air or the wind yet you believe in them".
Well, sometimes (unfortunately for urban dwellers) you can see the air. Even when the air is clear, there is plenty of objective evidence that it is there. You can feel it with your skin. Sometimes you can smell it and taste it. You can see, hear and feel the effects of moving air (wind). With instruments, you can measure a great many physical characteristics of the air around you. Anyone with senses and/or instruments similar to yours will be able to get results similar to yours (that is, the evidence is verifiable).
So, there is no need to "believe in" air - no faith required. The wealth of objective evidence enables us to accept the claim that we are surrounded by air. Unfortunately for believers, the same cannot be said for claims about God, psi, etc. This acceptance is provisional, of course - all acceptances or rejections of claims are provisional, pending new evidence.
2) Here's another common one: "You're an atheist? You must be a very sad and lonely person" or "You must lead a very drab existence".
Guffaw! This one always tickles my funny bone. How can someone make this assumption without knowing anything about me except that I don't believe in the supernatural? The fact is, I love and I am loved. I respect and I am respected. I lead a life full of beauty and emotion (I'm a skeptic, not a Vulcan, Jim). I'm a loving husband, a devoted grandfather, a passionate flower gardener, and a guitarist/singer/songwriter with my own band (no, you probably haven't heard of us - it's a hobby). Drab? Dull? Lonely? Sad? Certainly not. I love my life :-)
Another variation on this theme asserts that I am arrogant and machine-like because I reject faith and require evidence instead. It didn't seem obvious to me that these things are connected, so I asked for an explanation. The person making these assertions seemed to get quite heated, applied some insulting terms to me, and said that I can not understand any point of view except my evidence-requiring POV. This is sort of interesting . . . how does he jump from the fact that I hold a particular point of view to the assertion that I cannot understand other points of view? Strange. In fact, I was a Christian for several decades and I think I do understand the Christian point of view. The fact that it is no longer my point of view need not prevent me from understanding it. If I may indulge in a bit of speculation, perhaps he makes that assumption about me because he himself suffers from the inability to understand any point of view except his own.
3) Unless you're a regular in chat rooms in which these things are discussed, you might be surprised at how often I hear, "Well, you can't prove there is no God!"
Actually, I find this one somewhat annoying. What the hell do they teach kids in school these days? You can't prove there is no God but that's got nothing at all to do with whether or not there is one. You simply can't do it and it's foolish to ask someone to do so.
If I were to claim that there were faeries at the bottom of my garden, you couldn't disprove it. You can't even prove that there is no Santa Claus. If you bring forward objective evidence showing that Santa's purported feats are physically impossible, the believer can simply reply that he does it by means of magic (or spiritual power) that is beyond the capabilities of science to detect or describe.
Does that sound silly? It is. Yet, similar arguments apply to claims of God's existence. So far, the believer always ultimately makes claims that are unfalsifiable (untestable). That is, it is not possible to design an experiment which will indicate whether or not what is claimed is so.
So, don't ask me to prove that there is no God. I don't claim that there is no God. I say that the available evidence does not support the claim that there is a God. The onus is on the one making the positive claim. That is, if you claim that there is a God then it is up to you to produce evidence which supports that claim. Good luck.
Essentially, a skeptic tries not to accept things on faith but applies scientific method to all claims. That is, claims are accepted or rejected on the basis of the available evidence and not according to dogma or doctrine - that is, not on the basis of what you may believe beforehand. This acceptance or rejection is provisional because there is always the possibility that new evidence will come to light.
Not all claims are necessarily equal. As is commonly said, "Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".
For a more thorough answer, see what The Skeptics Society has to say about it.
(This link opens a new browser window.)