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Answers for Angelicusrex

To: alt.christnet.christianlife,alt.religion.wicca,free.christians,alt.religion.angels,alt.atheism
From: (Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi)
Subject: Answers for Angelicusrex
Date: 22 Dec 2003 01:43:01 -0800

How to Answer Theist Arguments
A seminar series for atheists and freethinkers

A seminar series for atheists, freethinkers and their guests sponsored
by the Boulder Atheists, Atheists and Freethinkers of Denver,
Freeethinkers of Colorado Springs, and Atheists of Northern Colorado
is now complete. The goal of the series was to provide nonbelievers
with arguments, on a high intellectual plane, that can be use to
counter the standard arguments of believers. These counter arguments
could be used in personal conversations with theists or in writing
thoughtful letters to the editor.

The seminars were presented by Vic Stenger, Ph. D, Emeritus Professor
of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Hawaii and Adjunct
Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado. Short biography.
Photo. Full Curriculum Vita.


This is not meant to be a course in the Philosophy of Religion. I am
an experimental physicist by training and experience and think like an
experimental physicist. For reasons I will explain, scientific
responses to theist arguments can be among the most powerful.
Furthermore, theists themselves are relying increasingly on science to
make their case. They have discovered a receptive audience among
laypeople who usually lack the training to examine scientific claims
critically but have a deep respect for scientific authority. Recasting
traditional beliefs in scientific language gives them greater
credibility in the minds of many,

In books on the Philosophy of Religion you will find discussions on
the arguments for the existence of God that go back to Plato and
Aristotle. If you want a short, clear introduction, I recommend The
God of Philosophy by Ray Jackson, a paperback that can be ordered from This site has much useful material on
the subject. I also recommend the Secular Web at for
many links to philosophical arguments against theism. Other useful
links are given below.

The arguments you will hear from theist acquaintances or read in
letters to the editor were more likely learned from church sermons and
religious media than in a secular university class room. They are
based more on "common sense" than deep logic and objective scholarship
and usually presented as obvious conclusions--"self-evident" truths.
However, sometimes they may also be based on the more sophisticated
argments of theistic philosophers and theologians. We will cover those
one hears most often these days, where science play a much larger role
in the discussion than it has in the past.

Theist arguments are usually presented in logical form. Initial
statements are made that constitute the premises. Then, conclusions
are deduced from these premises. We may question both the premises and
the deductions made from those premises. The deductive process, in
this case, is usually simple logic that anyone can follow and, by
itself, is often not in error. However, even when the logic is
impeccable, the conclusions rise or fall on the premises. Pure logic
cannot say anything about the world outside our heads, and not much
about what's inside either. Many of the tradition arguments for the
existence of God, like the ontological argument, are ostensibly based
on logic alone. But they still have premises that can be and have been

Even well-trained theistic philosophers will often declare their
premises to be self-evidently true. However, if an argument is meant
to support a statement about reality, then the premise must be based
on some knowledge of that reality. Traditionally, revelation via
scriptures or direct religious experience is asserted as the source of
such knowledge. Science, on the other hand, while not denying
revelation outright, uses only observations and measurements as its
base of knowledge. While it may be argued whether the scientific
theories that are developed from its empirical knowledge base have
anything to do with ultimate reality, the great success of science
makes a strong case that science does indeed deal with reality.
Furthermore, since religion does make claims that have observational
implications, such as the power of prayer, scientific method can be
used to test these claims.

I will not present the arguments and responses in a formal way.
Rather, I will envisage dialogues between a theist (T) and antitheist
(A) which summarizes in a few words the essence of each's position. I
will try not to use the theist as a strawperson, but present his
arguments as they are fequently heard. During the seminar sessions we
will analyze and expand upon these dialogues. If new arguments arise,
or better responses to these arguments are generated, these will be
incorporated on this Web page.

Note on the burden of proof: A common debating ploy used by theists to
try to cast the burden of proof of the antitheist, asking her to
"prove" that God does not exist or to "prove" that the universe is
purely  material. When that happens, be sure to cast the burden back
on the theist. Remember that he is making the more extraordinary
claim--that an unseen power exists that created the universe and
responds to human needs.

Seminar I. Design in the Cosmos

T: Where did the universe come from? 
A: Why did it have to come from anything? 
T: Everything has to come from something. 
A: Then, you tell me. Where did the universe came from? 
T: The universe came from God. 
A: Where did God come from? 
T: God did not have to come from anything. He always was. 
A: Then everything does not have to come from something after all.
Perhaps the universe always was.

T: Philosopher William Lane Craig has argued that the universe had a
beginning, therefore it must have had a cause. That cause is God.
A: Quantum events can happen without cause. Perhaps our universe was a
quantum event in a larger universe that always was.
T: You have no evidence for this. 
A: You have no evidence against it. Current physics and cosmology
allow for such a scenario.

T: How could this happen? Where did the matter and energy of the
universe come from?
A: Matter was created from energy in the early universe. Observations
indicate that the positive energy of matter is exactly balanced by
negative gravitational potential energy. Thus, the total energy of the
universe is zero and no energy (or very little--just the amount
allowed by quantum mechanics) was required to produce the universe.

T: Where did the order of the universe come from? 
A: It could have been produced spontaneously by natural processes of a
type that are now beginning to be understood in physics. One such
process is called "spontaneous symmetry breaking." It's like the
formation of a snowflake.

T: Still, the second law of thermodynamics says that disorder, or
entropy, must increase with time. It must have started out more
orderly than it is now, as created by God.
A: An expanding universe allows increasing room for order to form. The
universe could have started as a tiny black hole with maximum entropy,
produced by a quantum fluctuation, and then exploded in the big bang.
T: You can't prove that. No one was there to see it. 
A: You can't disprove it. Such a scenario is allowed by current
scientific knowledge.

T: Many prominent scientists don't think the big bang happened. What
does that do to your scenario?
A: The data from cosmological observ ations, which has improved
enormously in just the last few years, has left no doubt among current
working cosmologists that the big bang happened. The remaining
holdouts are a few older astronomers who are gradually dying out. They
are like some nineteenth century chemists and physicists who refused
to accept the atomic theory to their dying days. Furthermore, the big
bang is used by theists such as Craig and Hugh Ross to support their
theologies. It does not, but I caution atheists not to argue against
theism by saying the big bang did not occur. It very definitely did.

T: But isn't the universe fine tuned for life? Isn't it true that the
slightest change of any one of a number of physics constants would
make life impossible? Is this not evidence for a universe
intelligently designed for life?
A: The universe is not fine tuned for life. Life is fine tuned for the
universe. If we had a universe with different constants, we might have
a different kind of life.
T : Doesn't life require carbon, which would not exist without a
delicate balance of nuclear parameters?
A: Our kind of life, yes. We do not know about other kinds of life. 
T: You can't prove that life is possible without carbon. 
A: I do not have the burden of proof here. You are making the claim
that only one kind of life is possible, carbon-based life. You have to
prove that. I am simply saying that we do not know and so cannot say
the universe is designed for life as we know it. It could have been an
accident. Nothing in current science says that is impossible,

T: So, even if everything that happens is natural, as you claim, where
did the laws of nature come from?
A: The laws of nature are misnamed. They are not necessarily rules
that govern the universe, that sit out there in some kind of Platonic
reality. They could just as well simply be human inventions,
descriptions we have made of observations.
T: Then they are subjective. We can all make our own laws. 
A: Not quite. We can make up different laws if we want, but they are
not scientific unless they agree with observations. The laws of
physics can be written in many different ways, but they agree so well
with the data that we are confident they describe aspects of reality.
T: Well, then where did those aspects of reality come from, if not
from God?
A: Why did they have to come from anything? But, that's how we started
this discussion.

T: Still, you have to explain why there is something rather than
A: Define nothing. 
T: Nothing. No thing. No matter, no energy, no space, no time, no laws
of physics.
A: No God? 
T: God is a separate entity who created matter, energy, space, time
and the laws of physics from nothing.
A: I won't ask you again who created God. Rather, why was it necessary
for the universe to have come from nothing?
T: It had to come from something. 
A: But you just said it came from nothing! 

Seminar II. Design on Earth

T: Do you really believe that you are descended from a monkey? 
A: No. I  believe the evidence indicates that monkeys, humans,
elephants, worms, peas, and all other known forms of life on earth
descended from a common ancestor.
T: You can't prove that. No one saw it happen. 
A: We cannot see everything with our eyes. Scientific data is
accumulated in many other ways than visual observation. The existence
of many identical DNA sections in all living things is very strong
evidence for common descent.
T: What about all the scientists who don't believe in evolution? 
A: All believe in some kind of change in the development of life on
earth. Disagreements on details exist, and the theory has developed
enormously since Darwin, so don't expect every detail to be unchanged
from Darwin's time. The overwhelming majority of biologists regard the
basic mechanism of evolution by natural selection as confirmed to a
very high probability.
T: But, still, evolution is just a theory, not a fact. 
A: It is both theory and, to a high degree of confidence, a fact as
well. In science, theory is not equated with speculation. Established
theories are made of hypotheses and deductions drawn from those
hypotheses that are strongly supported by empirical evidence.
Evolution by natural selection is as much a fact as gravity. Indeed,
it is observed in nature and the laboratory. In a beautiful recent
example, African elephants are evolving without tusks as those with
tusks are killed for their ivory.
T: But only microevolutrion is observed. Macroevolution is not. 
A: Define macroevolution. I would call elephant evolution macro! 
T: Macroevolution is evolution of one species to another. 
A: The evolution of species has been observed. See
T: But no transitional forms have ever been found in fossils. 
A: Transitional forms have been observed. See Actually, every
species is, in a sense, a transitional form.

T: If I find a watch, I can tell by looking at it that  it was
designed by an intelligent being. When I look at a human organ, such
as the eye, it also shows evidence for design.
A: True, the watch was intelligently designed. Human organs, on the
other hand, are not like watches. They show definite signs that they
evolved with a large element of chance. For example, the light
receptors of the human eye point backwards! See The Blind Watchmaker
by Richard Dawkins for details on the evolution of the eye, which
apparently occurred several times independently. Furthermore, what
competent engineer would place waste disposal systems in a recreation
T: Didn't the famous astronomer (and atheist) Fred Hoyle compute a
very tiny probability for a bacterium to be assembled by chance? He
said it is as if a tornado swept through a junkyard and assembled a
A: Yes. His estimate was one part in ten raised to the 40,000 power.
But bacteria did not evolve by chance processes alone but by chance
and natual slection. Dawkin's books show how natural selection greatly
improves the odds for functioning organisms to evolve.

T: Biochemist Michael Behe has shown that certain biochemical systems
are irreducably complex and so could not have evolved. In these
systems, if you take away one part they no longer function, so the
parts could not have evolved separately. One example is the bacterial
A: Evolutionists have shown the error in Behe's reasoning. He
neglected to account for the well-known fact that the functions of
biological parts can change as evolution proceeds. Thus a part can
evolve having one function, and then develop a new one as it becomes
part of another system. For critiques of Behe, see Finding Darwin's
God by Kenneth Miller (a Christian). Also, look at the website  This has links to much more.

T: Darwinian evolution is only one scientific theory for the
development of life on Earth. An alternative theory called intelligent
design is equally good at explaining the data. Furthermore, this
theory is superior to evolution because it shows mathematically that
complex, specified information, such as contained in biological
structures, cannot be generated by material processes alone.
A: The most prominent design theorist is theologian William Dembski.
Dembski has a degree in mathematics but has published only one paper
in a mathematical journal, not about intelligent design. Neither
Dembski nor others promoting intelligent design have published their
theory in a scientific journal. From what has appeared in the lay
media, intelligent design is not a theory on the par with evolution.
It offers no alternative to evolution other than "Some powerful
intelligent being did it." Design theorists insist that the
"intelligent being" need not be God. Still, Dembski's book Intelligent
Design is mostly theology, suggesting that his motive is to promote
his religious beliefs rather than develop a scientific theory. Of
course, he protests otherwise. Read the book for yourself and decide.
In any case, Dembski makes fundamental technical errors in information
theory and physics.His definition of infomation is not conventional.
His definition of complex specified information is ambiguous. His "law
of conservation of information" is provably incorrect. In his latest
effort, No Free Lunch, he again misappropriates scientific results. As
with his colleague Behe, many critiques can be found of Dembski's
work. The following site contain links to essays on both sides of the
~subject: More
material can be found in the links below.

T: The fact that intelligent design theory is not published in the
scientific literature does not mean it is not science. The editors of
scientific journals could be biased against it. In fact, Dembski's
theory classifies as science because it is testable. He has proposed a
filter that successfully picks out objects that we know are designed.
Applying that filter to biological organisms, he shows that they are
A: I am willing to allow for the sake of argument that intelligent
design, in some aspects, is science. However, as I have indicated, it
is bad science, indeed, provably wrong science in some instances. As
for Dembski's filter, a scientific theory is not regarded as
successfully tested when it simply agrees with already known empirical
facts. When the filter tells us that a watch is designed and a rock is
not, it is telling is nothing we did not already know. When the filter
tells us that a mouse is designed, we cannot say whether this is
correct or not based on other observations. Thus, it is incorrect to
say that Dembski's filter is tested. The only way this can happen is
if the filter makes some prediction that  is later empirically
verified. For example, suppose the filter is applied to Moon rocks and
identifies some stucture within one as designed. Geologists looking at
the same structure say it was produced by natural processes. Then,
sometime later after all all independent analyses have been published,
we are visited by aliens who inform us that they had designed that
particular Moon rock. Then Dembski's filter would pass the test.

T: Still, it is hard for me to imagine how the complexity of life
could be all the result of purely material processes.
A: Perhaps that is just a failure of imagination. Let me ask you a
question: Why do you object to evolution?
T: Actually, it is Darwinism I object to, which I take to mean the
notion that all life evolved from its origin by purely material
processes including a large element of chance. If that is the case,
then humanity is an accident. This deeply conflicts with my religious
faith which teaches that humans were put on Earth for a divine
A: You make several good points here. Many theists accept evolution as
scientifically sound and compatible with their faith--the Catholic
church, for example. But this does not mean they accept Darwinism as
you have defined it--a definition, by the way, with which I agree.
Evolution-theists still believe in some kind of God-guided evolution.
For example, God had to step in a million years or so ago to make sure
homo sapiens sapiens evolved they way he wanted. This is not
Darwinism; it is a form of intelligent design. You are absolutely
right that Darwinism conflicts with the belief that humanity is
special. Some theologians have argued that humanity is just one of
many different ways that God may fulfill his purposes. That cannot be
ruled out, but it is hardly the traditional belief of the great
monotheistic religions.
T: You are trying to invoke God as a "scientific explanation." This is
not the way I view God. To me, God is continually sustaining the
A: Yes, I understand the theology and am not saying that such a God is
logically impossible. I am simply pointing out that whether God acts
continually or lets things run along and just occasionally pokes in
his finger, such actions are incompatible with Darwinism. Any God who
plays an important role in the universe must prouce observable
effects, and observations fall in the realm of science.

Seminar III. Claims of Evidence (a)

T: My belief in God is not based on blind faith. It is based on
evidence. How can you deny the countless reports of miracles going
back thousands of years?
A: They are all anecdotes. Anecdotal evidence alone is never
sufficient. It must be supported by controlled experiments and
T: But how can you explain all those reports? 
A: Without details on the observations, I can only offer possible
T: OK, what are those? 
A: Delusions, hallucinations, even outright lying and fraud. 
T: You cannot prove any of these. And how unjust of you to accuse
people of fraud without proof! Whatever happen to the principle that
you are innocent until proven guilty?
A: That principle may be fine in a law court, but these are not legal
questions but scientific ones. In science you are guilty until you
prove yourself innocent. Besides, I made no accusations. I only said I
was going to offer possible explanations. Fraud is one possible
explanation among the others. That is the problem with anecdotal
tales. Not enough data are available to determine the true
T: Then your possible explanations are no better than my equally
possible explanation--that God enacted these miracles.
A: No, I disagree that your explanation is equally possible. My
explanations are based on well-established facts: People have been
known to be deluded, have hallucinations, and lie. These explanations
are unexceptional and so must be ruled out before you can consider
extraordinary explanations that are not based on well-established
T: Well, many miracles are well-established facts. Take weeping icons
and stigmata, for example. They have been witnessed by many people,
including skeptics.
A: Yes, these phenomena have been observed by skeptics. But they are
not miraculous. Natural explanations have been given and the effects
dupicated by investigators. They could be honest psychological
effects. Or, they could be faked. For example, go into a church early
in the morning and rub some Mazola oil on a stained glass window, say
on the face of the Virgin Mary. When the sun later shines through the
window, the oil will warm and trickle down like tears. Other
substances placed on statues in churches produce a similar effect,
looking like tears or blood. As the church fills with worshippers, it
warms and the substance melts. As for stigmatists, many have been
discovered to wound themselves. For detailed explanations of these
types of miracles, see Looking for a Miracle by Joe Nickell.
T: I understand that hundreds of scientific studies have been reported
showing the health benefits of religious behavior.
A: These cannot be taken as evidence for the existence of God. They
merely indicate that certain types of behavior can be good for you.
Going to church may lower your blood pressure for a few hours, but so
can many other, secular relaxation techniques.  What's more, much
religious behavior is not beneficial. Many innocent children die each
year because their parents rely on faith healing rather than modern
T: I heard of a study that showed that church-goers specifically are
more healthy than non-church-goers.
A: I have heard of  such studies too. One failed to account for the
fact that a lot of sick people are too immobile to go to church. When
the authors later corrected for this, no differences were found.
T: Still, there are many such studies. There must be something to it. 
A: Epidemiological studies are notoriously difficult to interpret
because of all the so-called "confounding factors" that are not
controlled for. Just because a correlation is observed, that does not
mean a causal connection has been observed. For example, if a study
revealed that people who carried around matches had a higher rate of
lung cancer, that would not mean that matches cause lung cancer.

T: Evidence has been reported that prayer helps healing. 
A: That can be explained by people feeling better because others care
or them. Although, the data indicate that this does not work for
mental patients and alcoholics, who seem to recover more slowly
because of the stresses caused by family interference.
T: But carefully controlled studies have shown that prayer has healing
power even when the patients do not know they are being prayed for.
A: There were two recent studies that made such a claim, but neither
was statistically significant. Other studies, such as a larger recent
one from the Mayo Clinic, have failed to confirm these claims.
T: You say they were not statistically significant, yet they were
published in reputable medical journals.
A: Medical journals have a low publication threshold which may be
suitable for their purposes of quickly disseminating information about
possible therapies but are unsuitable for extraordinary claims.
T: Who are you to say they are unsuitable? 
A: I am simply stating a fact. Let me make it precise. Medical
journals, and those of other healing sciences such as psychology,
typically allow a paper to be published if it has a statistical
"p-value" of 5 percent or lower. At this level, 1 in every 20
experiments will report effects that are nothing more than statistical
artifacts. Since only positive results are often reported, 19 similar
experiments showing no effect could easily  be lying around
unpublished for every one that is published. By contrast, in my field
of physics the typical p-value threshold in 0.01 percent. That is, of
every 10,000 experiments where there is no real effect, only 1 (on
average) will be published. No
claim is made about the proportion of experiments that are published
with p<=0.0001 where the effects are real. Moreover, no new phenomenon
is accepted until it is independently replicated several times with
the same quantitative effect size. This has not happened for prayer or
other alternative therapies. Even when replication is reported, you
will find it does not duplicate exactly the results being claimed,
often referring to a totally different observation. The science here
is very bad and undeserving of so much attention.

T: I don't see how the prayer studies can prove anything anyway. How
could you ever control that a patient is not prayed for? The Pope
prays daily for the ill.
A: I agree that a negative result can be explained away in this
fashion. But you raised the argument that the efficacy of prayer
provides evidence for the existence of God. I agree that, in
principle, the existence of a supernatural power who answers prayers
could be demonstrated by a well-designed experiment that produces a
huge effect that cannot be explained naturally. This has not happened.
T: OK, but if even if the absence of convincing evidence is a fact, it
does not prove that God does not exist.
A: True, but you would think that with the billions of prayers that
have been made over thousands of years, we would by now have some
evidence that they work. This seems to be a pretty good indication
that a God who answers prayers is highly unlikely to exist. And, of
course, it says nothing about a god who does not answer prayers.

T: What about psychic phenomena? I read that the existence of ESP is
now solidly confirmed. Does this not indicate that the human mind is
more than a purely material phenomenon of the brain, that "spiritual
forces" beyond matter exist?
A: This claim is incorrect. ESP is far from confirmed. Like the prayer
studies mentioned above, no ESP report meets the standards for the
acceptance of a new phenomena that are conventional in physics and
other "hard" sciences.
T: But the ESP reports are published in peer-reviewed journals. 
A: Yes, but almost all of these journals are produced by believers and
the "peers" who do the reviewing are also believers. Few reports of
ESP have been published in reputable journals which utilize a wider
selection of peer reviewers. Those reports that have managed to get
published in top scientific journals like Nature have all been refuted
in those same journals.

T: What about the results from Princeton in which the mind has been
shown to affect the output of a random number generator? They have a a
very low p-value. And, they have been replicated.
A: These results have never been independently replicated at the same
effect size, which is extremely tiny. Such a small effect can be
produced by any number of plausible systematic errors and their
experiment has many flaws that the investigators refuse to correct.

T: In his book The Conscious Universe, Dean Radin reports a
meta-analysis of many ESP experiments which shows that, while none
themselves may be significant, taken together they comprise a body of
data that establishes the reality of the phenomenon beyond the shadow
of a doubt.
A: Meta-analysis is notoriously unreliable because it is so sensitive
to how it is done. Garbage in, garbage out. Besides, Radin's
meta-analysis method has been proven to be in error.

Seminar IV. Claims of Evidence (b)

T: Science is supposed to rely on empirical evidence. What about the
empircal evidence of religious experience? Throughout history to the
present day, individuals have experienced the existence of a
transcendent power during prayer or meditation. They insist that what
they experiences was no a simple dream but a real oneness with the
A: Why should we believe them? 
T: Are you saying they are lying? 
A: No, in most cases they are probably not lying. But it still could
be all in their heads.
T: They are witnesses, just like the witnesses in a law court. We base
legal judgements on the testimony of witnesses, why can't we base
scientific judgements on the same?
A: Many studies have shown the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.
I, for one, would never convict someone of a crime based on eyewitness
testimony alone. It has to be supported by physical evidence, like
DNA. Since DNA testing, many convicted people have been found
T: Let's get back to the relgious experience. Physical evidence has
been found, in brain scans, which show that something unique happens
in the brain during religious experiences.
A: Yes, and  they have even been induced by electromagnetic pulses in
the brain. As I said, it could be, and indeed looks as if, it's all in
the head. The mystic never returns from his or her trance with
information that could not have been there all along. Why don't they
come back with predictions that can be tested? Not a single psychic or
mystic predicted the 9/11 tragedies (though many may claim so after
the fact).
T: What about out-of body experiences (OBE)? I have heard of a
controlled experiment where a woman lying on a table was able to read
numbers on a shelf above her head, not visible from the table. She
said she floated above her body and read them.
A: I know of that experiment. It turned out that she could see the
numbers reflected from the glass of a wall clock.
T: Dr.Larry Dossey has documented many cases of OBEs and other
evidence for spiritual claims in his best-selling books. In one case,
he reports that a blind woman floated up out of her body during
surgery and was able to read the name tags of the medical staff in an
adjoining room.
A: Dossey admits he made up that story. 

T: And, how about Near Death Experiences (NDE)? People have been
revived after being clinically dead and talked about seeing a light at
the end of the tunnel and a very general, pleasant experience that has
convinced them not to fear death, that there is a world beyond.
A: First, they were probably never really "dead" or else they would
not have been resucitated. And, as in OBE, they bring back no
revelations that can be later tested. The "light at the end of the
tunnel" is a common experience of oxygen deprivation and observed in
the laboratory, such as in high-g centrifuge tests of jet pilots.

T: You spoke earlier about predictions. I agree that predictions are a
major way to test scientific theories. Well, the Bible and other
scriptures have their predictions too, called prophecies. Many authors
have documented their success. Take one example: hundreds of Old
Testament prophecies foresaw the coming of Jesus.
A: Prediction is meaningless when they are made after the fact.  How
do you know that the stories in the New Testament were simply written
to conform to those in the Old Testiment?

T: The New Testament stories are not inventions, they are facts
confirmed by witnesses.
A: Witnesses, right. What about the all the prophecies that never
happened, like Jesus telling his disciples that he will return to
Earth and establish his kingdom before all of them were dead? But let
us not get off into the endless debate on the Bible. I want to stick
to science. In science a prediction has to be made ahead of time,
before the predicted event happens. And, it has to be risky. Not a
simple triviality such as "The sun will come up tomorrow." Risky
predictions have been successfully made thousand of times in science,
not once in religion.

T: What about the Bible Code? Michael Drosin was able to predict the
assasination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin including the year
it would happen. He and others have found many other predictions coded
in the Bible.
A: Statistics experts have shown the the skip-sequence method they
used will produce many apparent correlations by chance. They have
shown similar concordances in other long books beside the Bible, such
as Moby Dick and War and Peace. Drosnin's Rabin prediction was very
vague and not very risky. given the violence in the Middle East. It
was not published until after the fact and he admits that the date
prediction was made while "Israel mourned Rabin."
T: But they quote very high odds against chance, thousands to one. 
A: These calculations have been shown to be wrong. The fail to account
for the data selection that was done in their analyses.

Seminar V. Logical/philosophical/historical/moral arguments.

T: I have heard theologians argue that God exists because he
necessarily exists.
A: Why necessarily? 
T: As St. Anselm explained, things that exist in reality must be
greater than things that exist in the mind. So, the fact that we can
conceive of an all-perfect being means that such a being, even more
perfect than we can imagine, has to exist.
A: I can imagine a perfect pizza. Does that mean that a perfect pizza
T: You can always make a better pizza, but you can never make a better
A: But how does any of this make God necessary? 
T: Let me present the argument as a series of propositions: 
    1. The existence of God is not a logical contradiction; 
    2. If God exists, he must exist necessarily; 
    3. Therefore God must exist. 
A: Let me present an alternative series of propositions: 
     1. The non-existence of God is not a logical contradiction; 
     2. If God does not exist, he does not exist necessarily; 
     3. Therefore God does not exist. 

T: Let us look at the world around us. Everything that exists was
caused to exist by something else. Someplace that chain of causes must
end. God, is by definition, the First Cause, Uncaused.
A: Not everything is caused, but let me not get into that but rather
accept your first statement as a working assumption. Why does the
First Cause have to be God? Why can't it be the universe itself?
T: You can't show me how the universe caused itself. 
A: You can't show me how God caused the universe. 

T: What about morality? God must exist as the source of morality. 
A: Humanity could be the source. 
T: But, then, morality is relative. Everyone can do what they want. 
A: Humans societies have developed of moral rules and expect their
members to conform as part of the price paid for the benefits of
society. Everyone cannot do what they want.
T: Those rules have arisen out of religion. 
A: That is a questionable historical assertion. Religions may have
adopted them from society. In any case, even if some moral notions
were introduced by religious leaders, that does not mean their origin
is supernatural.

T: Justice is another concept that could not exist without God. 
A: Where in the Bible can you find justice, democracy, human rights or
other enlightened social concepts?
T: Noble ideas such as truth, justice, beauty, love are spiritual.
They cannot have arisen out of matter alone.
A: You have too low an opinion of matter. How do you know it is not
capable of such achievements?

T: Why would so many people down through the ages believe if it
weren't true?
A: Many  people down through the ages believed the earth was flat. 

T: How can one possibly be happy without religion, without life after
A: By ridding themselves of self-love. Religion is supposed to teach
humility but, except for Buddhism, most teach that humans are special
creatures destined to live forever. These religions thus thrive on
human arrogance and self-centeredness. I submit that people would be
happier if they tossed off their fantasies and lived their lives as
individuals free from any imaginary strings hanging down from heaven.

T: But why not practice religion anyway? You have everything to gain
if it that belief is right and nothing to lose if it is wrong.
A: That's called Pascal's wager. I have my self-respect to lose. And
would a just God prefer to be joined in paradise by an honest, brave
person who believed what his eyes and reason told him about reality or
a dishonest, cowardly one who did whatever was necessary to gain

Seminar VI. Non-overlapping magesteria.

T: In his book Rocks of Ages, Stephen Jay Gould claims that science
and religion are two "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA) and so should
have no conflict. Science deals with observations of the material
world while religion deals with "spiritual" matters, in particular,
moral behavior.
A: Gould has redefined religion as what is normally called "ethical
philosophy." That would be fine if it were what most religions
practiced. But they do not. They make claims in which God or other
transcendent powers exist as part of objective reality that have
over-riding control over all events. The resulting phenomena should be
observable by science. The fact that they are not makes a strong case
that such powers do not exist.

T: Science is just another religion, anyway. It accepts things on
faith just like religious people.
A: There is a big difference. Science does not accept things on faith,
if by faith you mean the acceptance of a belief despite the absence of
T: Science accepts the scientific method on faith. 
A: On the contrary, scientists believe that the scientific method
works because of its track record of success. That's is a belief based
on evidence.
T: Science can be just as dogmatic as religion. 
A: Individual scientists may be dogmatic on occasion, but dogmatism is
the very antithesis of science. Scientists must commit themselves to
accepting whatever the data say, even when it contradicts their own
pet theories. There is no apologetics in science, as there is in
theology, where unquestioned presumptions are made and then
explanations sought to make the data conform to those presumptions.

T: I do not see why science and religion cannot live side-by-side. 
A: Surely they can, and have done so for centuries. However, if
theists are going to make statements such as "there is ample
scientific evidence that God exists" or try to force sectarian beliefs
to be taught as science, then scientists have a right to enter into
the discussion and examine the arguments critically. If the data
indicated that God exists, then scientists would accept it. The data
so far do not. If a sectarian belief was at the same time good
science, then scientists would teach it in class. No such belief has
yet been found.

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Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
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Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: ethical diviners and hoodoo spell-casters
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
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Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic
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Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
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