Top Ten (apparently) questions for atheists

A man called Stan posted some questions for atheists here. I have, for some reason (possibly because I’m three sheets to the wind and possibly because I’ve never really done anything like this before) decided to answer them. Maybe it’s a slow day.

Top Ten+ Questions For Atheists

1. Can you prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

We’re not off to a very good start.

Short answer: No, I can’t prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe. However, as I don’t claim absolute knowledge of the universe I don’t assume the burden of proof. I’m not making a claim that there isn’t a creating agent (whatever that means – it’d be really helpful if you defined this “creating agent” before demanding that people disprove its existence). The burden of proof – just as with a prosecutor who makes a positive claim of a person’s guilt – is on they who make the claim. Claim a creator exists (or a sasquatch or a hippogriff)? Please provide evidence. No evidence? No reason to accept the claim. Hence atheism (a-sasquatchism, etc). 

2. Can you prove deductively that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

Short answer: no, I can’t, because I don’t claim there isn’t a “creating agent” (again, whatever that term actually means). I am also not making some kind of deduction that there isn’t one. What I am doing is saying that those who make claims of theistic existence aren’t convincing me.

3. What are your moral principles? List them completely.

Completely? You don’t want much, do you? There simply isn’t enough space to list the things I think are moral and are immoral. However, they can be distilled to a handful of simple rules:

Seek happiness. Share love. Be honest. Don’t hurt people.

How about you list yours?

4. What makes your moral principles “moral”, rather than personal guidelines? Perhaps you will want to define “moral” from the Atheist viewpoint.

I consider my principles “moral” because they seek to avoid harm and dishonesty and maximise happiness at a bare minimum. I think “not hurting people” and “being honest and loving” are decent goals for anyone, regardless of the particulars of their philosophy. Your methods may vary, but if the core of your morality is to avoid harm to others and to maximise happiness, we’re going to intersect at some point – and possibly at many points. If any one of your moral principles is “honour the creator” or “don’t piss the creator off”, we’ll most likely encounter points of difference.

And what, by the way, are anybody’s moral principles but “personal guidelines”? Do any two people share precisely the same moral principles? You seem to think it’s acceptable to demand a ridiculous standard of disproof from people who don’t accept extraordinary claims at face value; I think it’s perfectly reasonable to withhold judgement on any claim until an appropriate standard of evidence has been met. Claim the sky is blue and I can look up. Claim an immortal invisible being created the universe and wants very specific things from me and everyone else, for example, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.

5. What is the source of your morals?

A combination of things: the empathy I have as a human being (which is by no means unique to our species), my parents, schooling, friends and my society and culture in general. I did go to church and Sunday School as a child, but (as I learned recently) my mother removed my brothers and I from that Sunday School when she learned we were being taught about Hell. My mother may well have intended that I learn some valuable lessons from Sunday School, but a place of eternal torment ruled by an immortal psychopath at the behest of another immortal psychopath clearly crossed some sort of moral boundary.

6. What makes that source a “moral authority”, with unquestionable, indubitable ability to determine what is morally Good and what is morally Evil in a purely materialist context, where evolution has caused our existence?

Ay, there’s the rub. The appeal to the requirement for a “moral authority”, as if we can’t figure out for ourselves as thinking, feeling human beings, what constitutes harmful or beneficial behaviour.

Here’s a quick test: punch yourself in the face. Go on – hard as you can. No? Why? Because it’d probably hurt, I’m guessing. Okay then: go and punch somebody else in the face, completely at random. Wear something to protect your hand if you like. No? Don’t want to? Why? Because it would hurt them too? Because it may provoke retaliation? Because they might call the police? Or a huge angry friend? You could probably think of a dozen reasons not to punch a stranger in the time it took to read this paragraph – but you really only need one. Hurting people is a bad thing.

If you can decide, without even thinking about it, that punching a stranger in the face for no reason is not something you want to do, then you’re your own moral authority. If the only thing holding you back from punching a stranger in the face is some kind of “authority” telling you it’s wrong, then that’s good too – nobody wants to be punched. But please bear in mind that that “authority” might change their mind and starting asking you to punch strangers in the face tomorrow. After all, one of the most famous “unquestionable moral authorities” inspired a still-popular series of books which contained rules to slave ownership, orders to kill homosexuals, adulterers & people who worked on weekends, orders to commit genocide & rape and threats of eternal torment. However, if you don’t accept that your “authority” would ever ask you to start punching strangers in the face, ever, ask yourself: is stranger-punching a bad thing because my authority forbids it – or does my authority forbid stranger-punching because it’s a bad thing? If the latter, from where does that authority get the knowledge that it’s a bad thing? Smarter people than me have been asking questions like that for longer than the aforementioned series of books has even existed. In the absence of a coherent answer from the various flavours of pro-authority advocate, I’m happy to align with the general opinion of humanity that punching strangers is a Bad Thing.

7. Can you empirically prove your morals to be valid for all humans? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

No, I can’t.

Now, please explain why I should have to prove that my morals are a “one size fits all” for the entirety of the human race before they can be shown to be valid in any way (even just for me). Next, explain why even attempting to do so wouldn’t be a massive exercise in narcissism, arrogance and hubris. Morals are plastic and always have been. That which was considered moral five centuries ago wouldn’t stand today (unless you’d like to bring back stake-burnings for heretics). That which was considered moral five decades ago wouldn’t stand today (unless you’d like to undo the entire Civil Rights movement in the US, or repeal Aboriginal voting rights here in Australia, or any number of advances various societies have made in that time).

What I can do is repeat my simple rules (Seek happiness. Share love. Be honest. Don’t hurt people) and then challenge anyone to show why those goals aren’t worth pursuing without a moral authority coercing you to do so.

8. Why should anyone trust you, or any Atheist? Be specific.

This question reeks of a presumption that, as an atheist (a small “a” is sufficient for a regular old noun), I shouldn’t be trusted from the get-go for the solitary reason that I don’t accept the claims of extant theistic gods.

You should trust me for the same reason you trust your barista not to poison your latte in the morning, or your barber not to slit your throat with a straight razor when tidying up your neck-stubble, or your plumber not to crack your skull with a wrench when they’re at your house unclogging your drains: without a basic level of trust among strangers within a social species like ours, we’d all end up too paranoid to leave the house, buy anything or open the front door. We – and our society – would not function. You can’t know everything about everyone: your insurance claims assessors, tax accountants, waiters, cab drivers, local cops, judges, school teachers, firefighters and a zillion other people you don’t know very well (or at all) could all be atheists. Do you trust them to do their jobs and do the right thing by you or do you intend to give them the third degree about their religious opinions and morals before engaging their services? If the latter, you might find that it’s very hard indeed to get good help these days. Especially if you’re on fire.

Here is my solemn oath for anyone who’s wondering: I, Hank of Everything Sucks, don’t intend on poisoning anyone or slitting their throats or cracking their skulls. Even if they ask presumptuous and offensive questions.

9. Can you prove, empirically, that the incident which is referred to as the Miracle at Lourdes was purely a physical phenomenon? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.

Right away, this makes a lie of the promise of your blog’s header: “A former 40 year Atheist analyzes Atheism, without resorting to theism, deism, or fantasy”. The miracle at Lourdes definitely fits into the first category.

I don’t make any sort of claim that the alleged miracles at Lourdes are nothing but mundane phenomena; I say merely that any claims of divine intervention should be viewed skeptically and that none appear to have been supported, from Lourdes to those tiresome crying statues or sightings of Mary in tortillas and tree stumps and toast. But to repeat myself: no I can’t “prove it empirically”. I get the feeling that nobody could prove anything empirically to your satisfaction – if they happened to disagree with you, anyway.

Can you or anyone else prove empirically that the alleged miracle at Lourdes was, as advertised, a miracle? Can you show me not just a pile of crutches and some glowing testimonials, but the detailed before-and-after medical records of every single person who claim to have been healed at Lourdes? If you’re not a theist – or even if you are – this is a red herring.

Can I demand at any point that you empirically or deductively (or anythingly) prove unquestionably and indubitably that there is a God, a creating agent, a supreme “moral authority”, a miracle-maker at Lourdes or anything at all that would call my atheism into question in any meaningful way? Would I be justified in remaining unconvinced of the existence of any such thing if that demand wasn’t met?

10. Are your political leanings toward the Left? If so explain why in detail (i.e., “Yes, because….)

This is entirely irrelevant to my opinions on religion – there are left wingers, right wingers, centrists, anarchists, libertarians, anarcho-syndicalists, Tea Party nutters and all sorts of political (and completely a-political) types who don’t believe in gods. There are also feminist atheists, misogynist atheists, atheists who like cake, those who prefer pie, those who ride bikes and those who knit and those who sit at computers all day.

Until an explanation of why my political leanings are relevant to my opinions on religion is forthcoming, I won’t answer your question.

However, I will say that the question is revealing: you appear clearly prejudiced against the (again, capitalised, for some reason) “Left”, as if having a left-leaning political outlook is something undesirable. I wonder: could you demonstrate that empirically?

11. At what age did you become an Atheist? What is your current age?

More irrelevancy. Can you explain what a person’s age might have to do with their ability to rationally assess the likelihood of a theistic claim? Can a person in their late 30s (who has not been religious for over twenty years) not have amassed the requisite intelligence to be an informed atheist? Does somebody need to be an atheist for forty years before it counts? This is ageist and another argument from authority.

And, again, this question reveals more about its author than it asks of its recipient.

——————————————————————————–

Well, that was underwhelming.

What we have here are some petulant and unreasonable demands to prove empirically/deductively that gods don’t exist (a ridiculous position that almost nobody holds), a demand to list and source and justify my entire moral principles followed by an argument from “moral authority”, a further demand to (again, empirically) debunk the alleged miracle at Lourdes, concluded with a couple of irrelevant and prejudiced questions about age and political leanings. What was missing? Any reason whatsoever to accept theistic or miraculous claims (or even a half-decent reason to lean toward deism), an understanding of the burden of proof and yes – even an understanding of atheism. For someone who was an atheist for forty years (a claim I shall accept on face value as it’s not extraordinary, despite the seeming lack of familiarity with the subject displayed by the inquisitor), Stan doesn’t seem to have learned much about atheism.

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Top Ten (apparently) questions for atheists

  1. Congrats for putting the work in – I have to say I gave up worrying about superstitionists a while back.
    “You’re the people who accept the existence of a talking snake, and I’m the one with the burden of proof???”

    • I’m not even sure what Stan believes. He appears to do a lot of bollocking on about “creating agents” and “moral authorities” but whether he’s Christian, deist, or some amorphous mishmash that depends entirely on who he’s talking to is unclear. And frankly, given his style of “tedious, patronising, goalpost-shifting” I’m not that inspired to read any more of him to actually try and find out.

  2. It’s unfortunate that Stan chose to cherry-pick and misrepresent your answer. But, then, that’s what Stan does in order to support his strawman arguments and loaded questions. Calling him on his bullshit just feeds his sense of victim-hood.

    Unlike a theist, instead of just making shit up and then demanding “prove me wrong”, you actually provided honest answers. It’s somewhat ironic to see Stan respond with ridicule to the rational statement of “I don’t know”. Underneath his never ending terminally pretentious drivel, Stan’s sole answer appears to be “a non material agent, that I refuse to prove exists, did it through a means that I also refuse to tell you about”.

    Yeah, right.

    • It’s telling that, in some parts, Stan chose not to print my answers but to just describe them to his flock. The usual indicitments of my intelligence and honesty and ability to comprehend English soon follow and there’s even some condescending bullshit from someone in the comments followed by a promise that I’ll be in their prayers. Fine, pray for me – it’s your time and energy; do what thou wilt.

      Sigh. I could’ve – should’ve – laid ten bucks on Stan missing the point entirely and sermonising at me like I’m a ten year-old. I won’t be seeking any further audience with this king of pedantic sohpistry; I don’t have the energy.

      Judging by Stan’s other posts and comments he’s far more interested in displaying his rhetorical skills and scolding people than getting involved in a fair and reasonable dialogue.

      • Now Hank. I think you are too hard on Stan. That particular post ran on for a long time. I don’t recall any point where he accused you of dishonesty. Could you give a sample? And yes, I will pray for you.

        The sermon wasn’t for you, Hank. And it certainly wasn’t for any ten-year-old I’ve ever met. It was a demonstration for the rest of the adults, an example of flawed thought and logic on your part, as well as an attempt to explain exactly where you went wrong. And you did not have an audience with Stan, you answered some questions he posed for the atheist community at large.

        Nor did Stan miss your points. Actually, he took deliberate care to address as many of them as he could. But he disagrees with them. That is a long way from ‘missing them entirely’.

        He is not a king. He’s just another blogger like you and me. Nor does he engage in pedantry and sophistry. If you cannot follow his line of reasoning, perhaps you might consider some additional study.

        Is he, in fact, a pedant? He is meticulous, I will grant you that. Is he a sophist? That is a fellow who engages in superficially plausible, but actually wrong arguments intended to deceive. That’s a lot to say about a fellow whom you’ve never met and with whose arguments you obviously disagree. You’re calling Stan a liar. And I would like to see your proof.

        Thank you for stepping up, Hank. It’s more than most of your fellow travelers can manage. However… do keep in mind that a fair and reasonable dialogue is not solely defined by *your* feelings – or whether the other guy agrees with you or not.

        • A fair and reasonable dialogue begins by fairly and reasonably assessing the other guy’s arguments. I don’t think Stan did that – but you know what? He’s welcome to come here and talk. I’m sure he doesn’t need you to defend him or his methods.

          Indicting me for being “emotional” because someone disagreed with me won’t cut it around here, so please don’t do it.

          • Hank? Where in that response did I ‘indict you for being “emotional”? I said you have feelings in response to the dialogue – possibly negative, given your response – and that Stan disagrees with you. And I said those things should not define what is ‘fair and reasonable’. That is all.

            We all have feelings. They influence how and what we write. That does not mean they are the sole source of our response and I am not – have not – suggested it in your case. But they do have an influence, one that we have to tamp down on occasion. That doesn’t make you emotional; ie, that your statements/standards are irrational, that you cannot help saying them.

            On the other hand, many of the statements you made used language of the sort one expects if the speaker/writer was upset. Thus my statement that your feelings and Stan’s disagreement might have something to do with your current definition of ‘fair and reasonable’.

            Or is that too pedantic?

            • Hey, it’s your god, Steve, and clearly you know the rules better than me. Clearly He doesn’t see fit to communicate with me, so you tell me if He decides to listen to you and alter the Plan (but hey, maybe your god doesn’t want to talk to you either).

              Actually, I’ll do you a deal: I’ll continue trying to live a decent life and doing the right thing by my wife and kids and parents and siblings and dog and society at large. I’ll keep an eye on things and if anything happens that can only be explained by “the god of Steve Satak” I’ll be sure to blog about it and thank you personally.

    • @Fred: You wrote:

      “It’s unfortunate that Stan chose to cherry-pick and misrepresent your answer.”

      Could you provide an example? As the answer(s) were long and somewhat complex, could you provide more than one, and demonstrate where the cherry-picking and mis-representation occured?

      “But, then, that’s what Stan does in order to support his strawman arguments and loaded questions.”

      Again, could you establish which of his arguments (there are many) are strawmen and please define what you consider a ‘loaded’ question?

      “Calling him on his bullshit just feeds his sense of victim-hood.”

      Would you please clarify what you mean by ‘bullshit’ and give an example of Stan’s victim-hood?

      “Unlike a theist, instead of just making shit up and then demanding “prove me wrong”, you actually provided honest answers.”

      Am I to conclude that all theists ‘make shit up’ and are dishonest? Or only some of them? Or just Stan. Please clarify.

      “It’s somewhat ironic to see Stan respond with ridicule to the rational statement of “I don’t know”.”

      Yes, if that is what he had done. Would you please provide an excerpt so we can see where the ridicule actually occurred and establish that this is not you taking something Stan wrote out of context?

      “Underneath his never ending terminally pretentious drivel,”

      Could you include an example of that drivel and establish why you, personally, think it is not only never-ending but pretentious AND (apparently) terminal? Otherwise, this is just a personal attack.

      “Stan’s sole answer appears to be “a non material agent, that I refuse to prove exists, did it through a means that I also refuse to tell you about”.”

      Now see? That’s just a strawman. Qualified by a weasel word, ‘appears’. Hell, even I can see that. Is this an actual quote, or are you paraphrasing? If so, could you at least tell us why this is an unsatisfactory answer to…. well, whatever question you were talking about?

      “Yeah, right”

      So I take it whatever Stan wrote (and I thought he was quite gentle on Hank, myself), you find yourself in disagreement? I would agree with you – if that were the sum of Stan’s position on his blog. Your trouble (and that of many others) appears to be that you cannot answer logic with logic. Emotional appeal, personal attack and all sorts of gobbledy-gook, etc. Honesty is not the issue – I think you honestly believe what you’ve written above. That does not mean you are right.

      I would like to see you try to answer those questions. I say ‘try’ because so far, nearly all you have written is based on emotion and BISS – ‘Because I Said So’. I’m not sure you can muster reason long enough to complete the task. But by all means, give it a try.

      • The implicit claim that Stan doesn’t get emotional or personal is a bit thin. He constantly condescends, patronises and impugns other peoples’ intelligence and comprehension and understanding. The fact that he uses large words and doesn’t curse at people doesn’t let him off the hook for being emotional – or just plain rude. His decision to, more than once, describe my answers for the benefit of his own responses instead of printing them verbatim (as I did with his questions) is also inconsiderate – both to me and to his readers.

      • Centurion13 ,I will give you one example, you can find the rest for yourself. It’s not my job to do your homework. Which, by the way, is the same style as your friend Stan employs on his blog.

        Hank — “No, I can’t prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe. However, as I don’t claim absolute knowledge of the universe I don’t assume the burden of proof. I’m not making a claim that there isn’t a creating agent (whatever that means – it’d be really helpful if you defined this “creating agent” before demanding that people disprove its existence).

        Which Stan paraphrases as “Short answer: No, I can’t prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe.” And he then goes on to disingenuously portray whatever that means as “…and then your apparent non-comprehension of the terms “agent” and “creating”.

        Centurion13. Do you think this was an honest appraisal of the actual paragraph? If you do, then kindly show where there was even any confusion over the terms “agent” or “creating”. This is Stan 101 – often when he is asked to clarify his vague statements or questions, he avoids answering by attacking the questioner as he did above.

        Oh my gosh, see that word apparent that Stan used and how he misdirected the audience by paraphrasing out of context? You characterised my use of that as a “weasel word” and a strawman. I take it, then, that by extension you do agree that Stan attacks strawmen and uses weasel words?

        Sorry, Centurion13, your double standards are as apparent as Stans.

        • “Creating agent” is a vague term, Steve. I was asking what Stan meant by that term and instead of clarifying (e.g. by stating whether he meant an entity and if so, what he believed its qualities to be) he impugned my intellect – or at least my comprehension.

          It’s almost as if Stan employs terms that require clarification so as to use requests for same as excuses to indict people. Stan just could’ve said “God”, if he meant God, or in some way been charitable enough to assume I (a) wasn’t an idiot and (b) couldn’t read his mind. Instead, I got scolded for the first of many times.

          You can let your friend Stan know he can come over here and talk. I won’t be back to his place any time soon. If he can’t even understand a simple concept like the burden of proof, I have no desire giving him clicks in an effort to thump it through his skull. Look at the comment I left over there about a claim about a tractor on Mars and whether he’d feel justified in rejecting the claim without evidence. Instead of actually answering the question, he takes several paragraphs to ridicule the question, again impugns my intelligence, scolds me and invents (randomly capitalised) fallacies that I’m committing. It’s very telling and not at all surprising.

  3. @acedusa: denying the existence of a talking snake would, logically, require proof (even if not very much). Ridiculing those who believe in such a thing does not change the fact that you are opposed to their belief and, ergo, denying there is such a thing as a talking snake. Thus, the burden of providing facts backing your position.

    Unfortunately, denying the burden of proof is as common as grass in some circles. It’s also ineffective, as what’s left is ‘because I said so’, leaving the subject of whether talking snakes exist (never mind whether they should be worshipped) completely unchanged.

    Folks usually fall into this sort of error because they are lazy (which would be uncharitable) or because they genuinely have no proof. I suspect the latter, but who knows? Maybe you’d have something better that does not boil down to ‘because I said so’.

    If I have to choose between the Acedusa of the Gaps and the Talking Snake, it’s a toss-up.

    • The claim is made in Genesis that there was a talking snake (serpent, whatever, let’s not get bogged down in semantics). It is perfectly reasonable to say “I don’t accept the tale of a talking snake as snakes don’t talk.” That is not a claim that there was no talking snake, it is non-acceptance of the claim that there was based on current understanding of snake biology and behaviour. It’s not just “because I said so”; it’s perfectly reasonable.

      If it was a trivial claim like “the snake climbed the tree,” noone would question it and noone would require support, as snakes are known to climb trees. But if someone claims a snake talked once, long ago, they’re going to have to do better than switch the burden on to me to prove it never happened.

      If I told you I had a talking snake in my house right now, you’d be exactly as justified in not accepting that claim as I am in not accepting that there was one in the Garden of Eden. You’d also be right in demanding that I support my claim – if I told you it was your responsibility to prove my snake couldn’t talk before you could be justified in not believing it could, you’d be justified in dismissing me.

    • I’ll repeat my question, Steve:

      Would you accept a claim of a talking snake in any other context but in the book of Genesis?

      I’ll add another:

      Why doesn’t the burden of proof rest on those who claim supernatural entities both exist and intervene in the affairs of humans? Why should the burden of proof rest on those of us who doubt the veracity of these claims?

      You don’t expect an accused person to “prove empirically” their lack of guilt in a courtroom, you expect the accuser to support their accusation beyond a reasonable doubt.

      So why should an atheist “prove empirically” the lack of gods? Shouldn’t those who “accuse” God of existing have to support their claim?

  4. It looks like Steve Satak’s questions and protestations were just a smoke screen to allow him to escape back to the safety of Stan’s fantasy land? What a surprise!

    • No, Fred. It’s just that I have better things to do than watch you make up in volume and insult what you lack in reason and accountability. Heck, ol’ Hank never even addressed a single one of my questions. You ‘brights’ are welcome to spin your own fantastic tales. I won’t be a part of them.

      • Speaking of fantastic tales, did you end up praying for me? I ask because I’ve not felt anything. Maybe you should pray harder.

        Or maybe it “doesn’t work that way.” Maybe it has to be part of God’s Plan that God changes the Plan because Steve asked nicely. Or maybe the way it works is “however it needs to, depending on who Steve is talking to.”

        • Hank,

          Yes. I prayed for you. Why do you think you were supposed to feel something? My prayers are petitionary. How could I do them ‘harder’? Asking for something from the One who made me has nothing to do with how nicely I ask. He knows what I am thinking.

          Your concepts of prayer – and of what the Christian’s believe God is like – are suitable for a child of six. That’s fine if it works for you (and from your snide tone, it would appear it does) but please don’t bring it up in the company of educated Christian adults. Because it suits your current choice of worldviews does not mean it is correct.

          “Or maybe the way it works is ‘however it needs to, depending who Steve is talking to.’.

          No, Hank. I am pretty certain Relativism has no place in God’s plan. It is self-contradicting and thus, a non-entity. I am not aware that God even has a Plan, per se, though many have expressed a belief in such.

          Bless you, Hank. I wish you understood better the thing you are so utterly against. It is plain to most Christians that request (prayer) is not only an option, it is a requirement. We have been instructed to pray for our daily bread. And I have chosen to pray for you. If that offends you, perhaps the fault lies less in my choosing to pray and more in your decision to be offended by such things (ie, the implication that you need ‘help’, even if it is true.)

          • I’m not “against” Christianity; I simply don’t subscribe to it. I have no problem if people wish to choose that “worldview” (if it can be said that people do, for the most part, choose their religions; I’m of the opinion that most peoples’ religions are chosen for them before they’re old enough to comprehend what’s going on). My youth was permeated with it; I was a Christian (until about twenty years ago). I understand Christianity and Scripture (that understanding led me to start questioning, and ultimately reject, the faith). Many friends and family still are Christian. We all still love each other.

            What I’m against is problematic behaviour and attitudes encouraged by Christianity and by religion in general, e.g. patronising condescension of the kind you and Stan indulge in (and you actually have the gall to scold me about “tone”!). The behaviour of many publicly pious people who act as if they’re in possession of not only all the answers, but all the evidence, all the moral high ground and anything else of value, decrying those who don’t subscribe, is what I oppose. It’s smug, it’s arrogant and it’s unwarranted.

            What I’m also against is apologists redefining how logic and arguments work to suit their purposes. Stan seems to think that it’s only justifiable to not believe in something if you can “prove empirically” that it doesn’t exist, which is ridiculous and completely backwards (hence my lack of desire to go to his blog and hash it out – if you start with a false premise, anything you say that follows from it is going to be nonsense). You seem to agree with him (on that and everything else).

            I’ll say it again: the burden of proof rests with whoever makes a positive claim. Atheism isn’t a positive claim; it’s the position that the theistic claim that gods exist isn’t supported. I presume you and Stan don’t accept the Koran as the true and authoritative word of God; if that’s the case, can you prove empirically that Mohammed did not, for example, fly a winged horse? Or would it be sufficient for you both to say “the claims of the Quran are implausible on their face and not supported by evidence”? You can’t have it both ways: if you demand atheists empirically prove that a “creating agent” (aka God, presumably) doesn’t exist, that demand also extends to you with regard to all the things you don’t think are true.

            Now, it doesn’t offend me that you’ve decided to pray for me. It troubles me that you think I’m so broken that only your god’s intervention can fix me.

            This blog is your only experience of me so maybe you have the idea that, based on perhaps one article and a few comments, I’m some faith-hating curmudgeon, alone at my desk and spending all day raging online. Let’s dispel that: apart from the traffic from this post, this blog wouldn’t take up an hour per week of my life – I write occasionally to vent, to make the occasional joke and to respond to things that pique my interest. The rest of the time I’m a musician with a wife and a daughter and dog, a loving (and large) family and enough friends to last a lifetime. I have a job, decent health, two guitars and plenty of rescued bicycles in the shed to mess around with. If you think that, with all that wealth and joy my disposal, that I’m in urgent need of divine intervention, I strongly suggest that you’re wrong.

            Don’t pray for me; I honestly don’t need it and I’m sure you have better things to do with your time.

            • Eh, too late. Actually, I don’t have better things to do with my time.

              I’m not praying for your material success, if that’s what you’re thinking.

              You trot out the same arguments I find elsewhere on the web. If those are sufficient for you, well and good. What Stan says (and I agree) is that their sufficiency is not enough to make them true.

              And they are not true. The giveaway is when you (and others) make statements such as “is which is ridiculous and completely backwards” with no supporting statements.

              It’s so because… well, because you said so. Getting six people to agree with you turns up the volume but does nothing but change it to ‘because we said so’. And begin using the language that implies mockery. (That’s called ‘flippancy’, btw).

              I look at what the folks in the 1970s said about the coming Ice Age. I look at the language they use and the logic they employ and realize it’s what I am seeing on your blog. You mentioned getting things backwards. I believe you have done just that, and that it suits you perfectly.

              The reason I am praying for you? Is because what is wrong with you cannot be fixed by more prosperity, more facts or, indeed, anything else. You have the facts you want. You are not interested in having them disproved. You are not interested in learning new ones, especially new ones that are at odds with the ones you have.

              In short, you are perfectly happy just as you are. That ‘what you are’ is not congruent with reality is going to cost you, both in the short and long run. The sort of help you need will have to come from the outside.

              That’s pretty much all I have to say, here. If you want to take it up over at Stan’s place, be my guest.

              • Why should I take it up at Stan’s place? I’m not talking to Stan. In fact, I have no interest in talking to Stan any further because he’s done nothing but belittle me and talk to me like I’m a child who’s discovering these topics for the first time – not to mention his original foolishness of fill his “Top Ten” with requests for the impossible and then declaring every response invalid, insufficient, naive etc. He wasn’t asking questions; he was issuing disingenuous demands and following them condemnations. If that’s the mark of a good Christian, I’m glad I’m no longer part of the fold.

                On “having it backwards”: the burden of proof is a very simple concept and Stan does, demonstrably, have it backwards. If I claim I’m wearing a pink suit you are entirely justified in rejecting that claim until I provide evidence or reasonable justification for you to believe my suit is pink (I’m not going to demand that you prove empirically that I’m not wearing a pink suit!). You claim you won the lottery; my default position is not to accept that claim until I see the winning ticket or something like a bank statement line indicating a large deposit from the body responsible for running the lottery. If you asked me to prove that you didn’t win the lottery, I’d have to have perfect knowledge of your every interaction, purchase, bank account, the result of every lottery that you were eligible to enter and proof that you’d never entered a lottery fraudulently or used an assumed name. Reversing the burden of proof is plainly ridiculous when the claims are mundane; when discussing universe-creating entities it takes on a whole new level of absurdity.

                Western criminal law is based on the burden of proof being on the claimant. The onus is not on a defendant to “prove empirically that they’re innocent”; it’s on a prosecutor to provide convincing evidence that their own claims of guilt are reasonable. It’s not just me and “half a dozen others” who find this convincing; entire nations have built entire systems of law around this concept. Lives are put at stake every single day on the basis of this concept.

                But you and Stan are asserting the opposite: that whoever does not accept a claim has the responsibility of disproving it empirically (and deductively). When there’s no evidence to support a claim in the first place, whoever doesn’t believe that claim is perfectly justified in their disbelief. The more extraordinary the claim; the more justification for not accepting it without evidence. Going back to my pink suit, you could choose to just trust me that my suit is pink – after all, pink suits exist, aren’t remarkable and there’s nothing for you to lose by accepting my claim (except your trust in me). But the claim that an omnipotent universe-creating deity exists is a little too extraordinary to just accept on faith.

                That’s the last I’ll say about the burden of proof. The fact that Stan does, demonstrably, have this concept backwards gives me more than enough reason to dismiss his list. When you start a list by shifting the goalposts in such a manner, anything that follows will be tainted.

                Finally, my comment about “wealth” was not about prosperity or material success (I can pay my bills and save a little; that’s it). My real wealth lies in the people I love – this was something instilled in me strongly by my two non-religious parents. The people I love and the things I like to do make me happy and bring my life that much-vaunted thing known as “meaning”. My life means something to me, in no small part because of the people I share it with.

                I’m not some nihilist, despairing over the lack of externally-bestowed meaning and therefore focussing entirely on material gain (there’s not a great deal of “gain” to speak of but, like I said, I couldn’t want for better friends or a better family). Sorry if my self-found meaning makes you uncomfortable or unhappy.

                Steve, you’re welcome to return here at any time. I might disagree with you but you’re at least willing to have a conversation, which I respect. Stan, who appears stuck in a curmudgeonly groove of his own making, is welcome here too and always has been, though I suspect he’s a lot happier being self-confined and shooing kids off his lawn.

      • Nice dodge you’ve got going there Steve. I particularly like the attempts to poison the well, change the subject and mix in a bit of ad hominem in order to throw up a smoke screen when your bluff was called. All so that you can escape having to admit that the charge against your hero Stan was proven. He’s indigenous and dishonest. You asked for proof, got it, then faked indignity so that you didn’t have to address having the point proven to you.

        That’s rather typical of your and Stan’s approach, though, isn’t it? When challenged on your nonsense, you play innocent / the victim, try to avoid addressing the subject by making demands of others, then you bitch and moan that a question — addressed to someone else, invariably along the lines of a gish-gallop — was unanswered. Poor baby, it must be tough being so entitled. Suffer much from road rage, do you? We can’t expect an honest answer so we’ll take that as a yes until you prove otherwise. That’s your standard, after all.

        Consider the charge proven. Consider it proven against you. And consider yourself proven of trolling and of deserving no respect nor further interaction.

        Seriously dude. Give up on the imaginary friends. Reality, whilst maybe not to you and Stan’s delicate flower’s personal liking, doesn’t have to match your dreams and need of cosmic hand-holding. Go knock yourself out demanding that people disprove the non-existence of non-existent goat-herders fantasy adventurers. Continue with the hand-waving and mental masturbation. The rest of us will continue to push ahead and learn real things about the real world. Be happy living in your bubble of delusion. I don’t begrudge either of you for your escapism and fear of the future. I just don’t buy into your emotional neediness.

  5. Here’s the thing: I don’t have any burden of proof here and if Stan was honest he’d acknowledge that (ditto his biggest fan, Steve). As I’m not making any positive claim that gods don’t exist, I don’t have to provide any evidence or deductive reasoning to make my position reasonable.

    There’s no reason for me to prove that it’s reasonable to not believe in something that has not been shown to exist in the first place. I don’t believe there’s a plesiosaur in a lake in Scotland and I don’t believe there’s an immortal entity that exists beyond space and time that spoke the universe into existence one Monday morning and who cares very deeply what people do with their genitals.

    Until Stan, or Steve, or the Pope, or anyone else can demonstrate either that their gods actually exist or even that it’s reasonable to believe that gods exist, there’s no point to any of them railing against atheism. Atheism is what you get when there’s no reason to believe in a god. Provide a reason, then you can rail.

    There is also no point in me tackling any further questions or demands for a response from these keyboard warriors. If your starting premise is flawed, e.g. it is completely free of supporting evidence, anything that follows from that premise will carry the same flaw. If your recipe for cookies prescribes sand instead of flour, no amount of chocolate chips will stop those cookies from sucking.

    The “starting premise”, if you like, of atheism is that theists – those who make positive claims that gods exist – have not met their burden of proof. Atheism is a single position on a single issue: the issue is “the existence of gods” and the position is “not convinced.” It’s not a claim of non-existence, not an assertion of the implausibility of existence (that some individual atheists do so claim and assert does not reflect on atheism as a whole). Atheism is a subset of skepticism, which is the position that a proposition should be accepted in proportion to the evidence that supports it. No evidence for your proposition? Acceptance pending.

    The concept of “burden of proof” is extremely simple to comprehend, as any 10 year-old who’s watched Law & Order will tell you. Little wonder, then, that theists and apologists constantly tie themselves in such knots trying to reverse that burden.

    • Regarding this:

      “I don’t believe there’s an immortal entity that exists beyond space and time that spoke the universe into existence one Monday morning and who cares very deeply what people do with their genitals.”

      If this isn’t your god, do me a favour and define yours for me. Maybe yours is some kind of “necessary ground of being” or “that feeling you get when you look at a rainbow”. You see, I’ve found, in addition to wilfully not understanding (or just misrepresenting) incredibly simple concepts like atheism or the burden of proof, that many theists will latch like a limpet onto even the slightest difference between their specific god and the god dsecribed by an atheist.

      So let’s nip that in the bud, right now:

      Describe your god, so both of us know what’s under discussion. Describe it then provide your evidence for its existence or, at least, the reasons you believe in it. Name it, list its properties, its abilities, its desires etc as applicable. If you don’t want to do that, either discuss the immortal penis-watcher I describe or recuse yourself from the conversation. Until we’re both familiar with the god being discussed we may as well be in different rooms talking about different things.

      Abrahamist apologists – Christians, especially – do themselves no favours when arguing for their god. With three main super-versions of God and countless sects within each main branch devoted to different iterations (sometimes so irreconcilably different that blood must be shed in feuds that last for centuries), you should not be surprised (or, as sometimes happens, offenced) if a non-believer doesn’t describe your exact version.

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