Latest Arguments with Theists


These are mostly (all?) from posts to alt.atheism.moderated

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From: randallg@wimsey.com (randall g)
Newsgroups: alt.atheism.moderated
Subject: Re: Miracles today
Date: 3 Oct 1995 21:31:09 -0700

In article , Larry Loen  wrote:
>In article <43tsat$bou@jaring.my>,
>     vijia@pop.jaring.my ((SV Singam)) writes:
>|> 
>
>[snip background on statues that absorb milk supposedly miraculously]
>
>|> When my friend and I arrived at the Centre, a Ganesha statue was being
>|> cleaned in preparation for puja. After the preparations, the priest
>|> offered the milk. After a short delay, the milk started to disappear
>|> from the spoon. I was then offered the opportunity to make an
>|> offering.
>|> 
>|> I sat in front of the statue and held a spoonful of milk against the
>|> trunk. When the milk started to flow, I could feel the suction. The
>|> second and third spoonsful were sucked up even faster.
>|> 
>|> There were no hidden tubes to remove the milk and daylight was
>|> streaming in through the open window. The statue was placed on a tray.
>|> I saw the statue being cleaned and being placed on the tray. There
>|> were no hidden connections or tricks. All the people around me were
>|> sincere. They truly believed. I know it happened because I saw it
>|> happening. This is first hand information.
>|> 
>|> After me, others followed and the same thing happened.
>|> 
>|> This information will not be very comfortable for many of you. It will
>|> be easier for you to dismiss me as another charlatan or another fool
>|> who was misled or tricked into believing what was certainly a parlour
>|> trick. However you also have the option of visiting a Ganesha temple
>|> and hope that you too can witness this little miracle.


What exactly is the statue made of? Does anyone know?
Did you touch the statue?
Did you pick the statue up? What was underneath it?
Did you shake it? Could you feel any internal shifting?
Was the statue bone white, the colour of milk?
Was it tried with any other liquids, like squid's ink for instance?
Did you feel all around the statue with your fingers? 
  Did you feel any liquid at all?
Were there any plants or flowers around the statue?
What was under the table? Could you even see?
How many of these statues are there anyway? Could one be 
  spared and chopped up and studied?


Unless you have some answers to questions like these your claim 
is totally bogus.


randall g   http://www.wimsey.com/~randallg



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From: randallg@wimsey.com (randall g)
Newsgroups: alt.atheism.moderated
Subject: Re: Proof Impossible Either Way
Date: 2 Nov 1995 17:15:22 -0800

In article , rmw@netcom.com (Richard M. Weinapple) wrote:
>Reimund.Acker@mch.sni.de wrote:
>: In article <45a3m4$b0r@news.iadfw.net>, tigereye@iadfw.net (William
>: Hamilton) wrote:
>
>: >That is not precisely what I meant.  Suppose I ask you what physical
>: >evidence, short of god appearing to you, would convince you to believe
>: >in God. You would likely have to concieve of something you had never
>: >observed. Ok, consider it asked: what would it take?
>
>: A posting from god itself in this newsgroup would do for me.
>
>This is begging the question.  What would it take to convince
>you that a posting was in fact from god, and not simply from
>an unusual individual?
>
>For example, if someone posted an article threatening to cause
>an earthquake in twenty-four hours, and then in fact the earthquake
>took place as threatened, would that convince you that the poster
>was God himself?  Or could it simply be a person with access to
>technology you didn't know about?


Well, simply extend the example to something we can all agree is not
possible by any likely technology. Something we can almost consider 
impossible, that would require willfull control over the laws of 
physics as we currently understand them.

God could write a post that the earth would stop spinning for twenty-
four hours, starting December 25 at the exact time of Jesus' birth
Bethlehem time. Or it could be another day, because the Christians 
have had it wrong all this time (for which they are forgiven).

According to the Bible he's done it before. He could explain that 
it is a tribute to the birthday of his son Jesus Christ. He could 
perhaps time it for Jesus' 2000th birthday (if it hasn't happened
already), a number most humans assume is significant.

And then it happens. With no ill effects due to momentum or inertia
problems, or anything else scientists would predict if the earth
suddenly stopped spinning.

This should indeed be a trivial exercise for a god that is
omnipotent by most definitions I've heard.

And if God is not capable of this, it is not omnipotent as I 
understand it.

Is your god even capable of this? 

Why doesn't it do something like this? 

How do you know?


randall g   http://www.wimsey.com/~randallg

When You let me fall, grew my own wings, now I'm as tall as the sky
When You let me drown, grew gills and fins, now I'm as deep as the sea
When You let me die, my spirit's free, there's nothing challenging me
	- James



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From: randallg@wimsey.com (randall g)
Newsgroups: alt.atheism.moderated
Subject: Re: The Three Big Questions and Theism
Date: 21 Nov 1995 23:50:32 -0800

In article , rmw@netcom.com (Richard M. Weinapple) wrote:
>F Springer (fhs@saturn.net) wrote:
>
>: 1. Why are we here?
>
>: - Answered by evolutionary theory
>
>Sorry, evolutionary theory doesn't tell us *why* we're here, it
>tells us only *how* we got here.  The question of *why* has more
>to do with purpose, which you address in your next question.

I think he meant "why" as "the mechanism and/or agent which caused
our existence". You apparently mean "to what purpose" or "for what ultimate
end", but that question assumes there is one, and you are just trying to 
figure out what it is. This is a different question, which as you say 
is addressed below.



>
>: 2. What is the purpose of life?
>
>: - I know it's a weak question, but evolutionary theory (specifically, its
>: sub-discipline of sociobiology answers it quite well). Best summarized
>: with Dawkin's quotation from the Selfish Gene. (quote at end of this post)
>
>Again, using evolutionary theory to explain the "purpose" of life
>doesn't work... it merely describes *how* life has developed.  If
>you're going to attempt to answer the question "What is the purpose
>of life?" you might do well to address what you mean by "purpose."

You are the only one trying to explain the "purpose" of life here. You
have not demonstrated that there must be one, and you have not demonstrated
that the atheists you are quoting said there is one. Of course evolutionary
theory doesn't describe the "purpose" of life, at this time nothing does.

I believe this sort of argument is called a "strawman".

At this point there isn't much we can determine except "how" life developed.

If you want to find a "purpose" go ahead. When you propose "what" it is then
we can try to decide if it "really" is.



>[...]
>
>: Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and
>: artifices used by the replicators to ensure their own continuation in the
>: world? There would be plenty of time for their improvement. What weird
>: engines of self-preservation would the millenia bring forth? Four thousand
>: million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators? They
>: did not die out, for they are the past masters of the survival arts. But
>: do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier
>: frredom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic
>: lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it
>: by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are
>: in you and me; they created us, body and mind;and their preservation is
>: the ultimate rational for our existence. They have come a long way, those
>: replicators. Now they go by the name of genes,and we are their survival
>: machines. 
>
>: - Richard Dawkins, THE SELFISH GENE
>
>Yes, Dawkins has always had a flair for the melodramatic.
>
>But I find it interesting that Dawkins has no problem
>attributing intention and purpose to our genes.  According
>to Dawkins, our genes "communicate," they are "past masters
>of the survival arts," they "manipulate the outside world,"
>and so on.  But is he trying to say that human beings do not
>possess "true" purpose, while genes do?  If so, then he
>is essentially elevating genes to the level of gods -- i.e.,
>beings whose purpose and meaning are ultimately independent
>of anyone or anything else.


Not at all. Dawkins attributes no purpose or meaning whatever to 
the genes. You just made it up - he didn't say that at all.

The things they do, which you quoted, they certainly do. It's
not just poetry, this man is a scientist who knows what he's 
talking about. You seem to think these things they do implies
an overall or ultimate purpose of some sort, whatever that is.

It turns out that it is not necessary to assume purpose or 
meaning. The reason is no one agrees on what these terms mean,
and everyone who uses them means something potentially different,
and when pressed are unable to come up with a definition 
effectively more precise than "the ultimate reality/cause/infinite/
universal life/force/etc", but that really is just poetry.

Science just calls unknown things "unknown at this time".



>
>Personally I find it rather fascinating that Dawkins has
>camouflaged this theistic mentality by embedding it directly
>in the middle of evolutionary theory.  He has made our genes
>out to be the ultimate gods!


That's not what he has done, and he has revealed not an iota
of theistic mentality in either the above passages, or any
other of his writings as far as I know.

>
>Richard
>

randall g   mailto:randallg@telemark.net   http://www.telemark.net/~randallg

When You let me fall, grew my own wings, now I'm as tall as the sky
When You let me drown, grew gills and fins, now I'm as deep as the sea
When You let me die, my spirit's free, there's nothing challenging me
	- James (a band from England, not my name)


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Here's something a little off the topic. Up here in Canada we've already had 
Thanksgiving holiday, but of course you get it in November. I was speculating 
on what I would say if I was the one saying "grace" at Thanksgiving dinner. I 
don't know what your family does at this time, or what they may know about 
your personal beliefs, but I have this image of shocking some religious people 
into silence, by leaving nothing for them to complain about.

Something like this:

"It is an old tradition at this time to give our thanks for the years' bounteous 
harvest, represented by the feast before us that we are about to eat.

I'd like begin by thanking all of you for being here tonight for this Thanksgiving 
feast. This is a time for fellowship between family and friends. I would like to 
convey my gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy this meal in the company of all 
of you, whose friendship and fellowship I value.

We are truly privileged to live in a time and a place where there is peace and 
plenty, where we can gather together and enjoy each other's company for this 
celebration. There are some who couldn't make it here tonight, and I am thankful 
that they are safe and happy and warm, wherever they are.

I must thank all those who made this feast possible - that includes the farmers, 
truckers, and grocers, not to mention all the animals and plants whose lives 
were ended in order to sustain those of myself, my family, and our guests.

We cannot overlook all the scientists who worked at very modest salaries to 
produce the fertilizers and biotechnology which makes it possible to feed at 
least three times as many people today as the Earth used to be able to sustain.

And finally, let us all recognize and praise the efforts of those folks who 
so lovingly and expertly prepared the meal. 

Thank you all."



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At 04:47 PM 9/21/95 -0700, you wrote:
>Dear Mr./Mrs. Randall:

It's Mr, I guess, if you must use an honorific. Since you haven't indicated 
where you heard of me I'll assume it was from my Atheist Music database. 
Also you say you are believer but not in what, so I'll assume you are a 
Christian, as that is by far the dominant religion in Western society. 
If these assumptions are incorrect please let me know.


>I am assuming you are a person that is bright in nature and enjoys 
>sharing your knowledge with others.  

I believe that is correct, thanks for the compliment.


>I hope the two of us can voice our 
>thoughts and ideas. 
>You may ask what my objective is and all I can say is that I am curious 
>about your thought patterns and want to know what you believe in.

I've archived a lot of my postings to newsgroups such as alt.atheism.moderated. 
You can read it at your leisure, there is a link from my homepage (address 
below in my .sig). Click on "randall's net.wisdom". In terms of religion, 
it's a pretty good introduction to the way I think.


>I am 
>willing to bet I believe diffrently than yourself.  

No doubt. Believing in unprovable and unfalsifiable theories requires a lack 
of scepticism that I am unlikely to ever achieve.


>I do have a strong 
>belief and I am not interested in changing my belief.  I want to make 
>this clear.  If we converse I want to be on the same plato.
>If this strikes an intrest email me back.  This could be a learning 
>experience for us both.

Maybe for you. Without meaning to be rude, I've had plenty of discussions 
with "strong believers", and I can't imagine there is anything you can tell 
me about religion or your god that I haven't heard (and refuted) a dozen 
times already. I spent the first half of my life attending Christian church 
regularly, and I know more about the religion and its history than most 
(but obviously not all) devout Christians.

But frankly, I'm no longer interested in private discussions with theists. 
I've had a few of them, and they always end the same way. Although I must 
grant the possibility that some sort of undetectable universal force-type 
god may exist (such a theory can't be disproven, though there's no evidence 
even for that and I obviously don't believe it), that is a long way from 
accepting the god of the bible, which has a number of well-defined 
characteristics that are both contradictory and not manifested with real 
evidence.

I'm a busy guy, and I have neither the time nor the interest for such 
private debates. I don't even have the time these days to post to a.a.m 
like I used to...

Feel free to reply if you wish, but I'm not promising to carry this on...



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At 08:25 PM 9/25/95 -0500, you wrote:
>Well hello Mr.  Randall,
>
>A "honorific"...interesting.  Thank you for your
>reply.  I also am busy with numberous tasks so I appologize for my delay
>with a response.

Actually I prefer not to be called Mister or any other "honorific", 
just clarifying your original question (Mr/Mrs?).


>I want to start off with asking you a question.  Why all the assumptions
>about me?  Would not a simple question or two keep us on the same wave
>length saving time and typing?  

The assumptions were made because you had neglected to provide enough 
information in your initial letter. In order to converse I need an idea 
of where you are coming from. All I assumed was 1. You are a Christian 
and 2. You heard of me through my atheist music database. Immediately 
after stating that I said "If these assumptions are incorrect please 
let me know." I've had a number of reactions to my public atheism 
from other Christians, and yours didn't seem qualitatively much 
different (although certainly more polite than some...)

There was another basis for this. I notice you post from ****, 
which I found is **** University in ****. It doesn't seem to 
have a web site, but a programmer there does, and his web page makes 
a big deal of his Christian activities. I'm not even going to assume 
this, but I suspect that **** U is a Christian institution. Is it?



>I have nothing to hide.

Yet you still have not cleared up the assumptions, or clarified exactly 
how wrong I may have been. So at this point I have reason to suspect 
I was correct. Once again, if these assumptions are incorrect please 
let me know.



>I am amazed over a statement you made.  "Believing in unprovable and
>unfalsifiable theories requires a lack of scepticism that I am unlikely to
>ever achieve."  Could you explain your statement more clearly please. 

What's so amazing about that? It was a statement of fact, and stated 
clearly. Intellectually I'm a skeptic. Not many are. Unfortunately 
many dictionaries define "skeptic" mainly in terms of religious belief. 
Although that certainly applies to me, the concept is broader than that. 
Skepticism is a general refusal to believe in the fantastic without 
evidence. This applies to Elvis sightings and the Easter Bunny as 
easily as Yahweh or Jesus Christ.

For me to cease being skeptical would be about as easy as ceasing to breathe.


>This, to me, tends to leave doors open.

Well, I don't know what you mean by this, so please explain.



>Not to bore you but could you enlighten me about the poem you sent me?  This
>is uniquely interesting but I am sorry to say this obviously went over my
>head.  Please humor me with your interputation.

These are song lyrics by a band called James, from Manchester England. 
The song is called Ring the Bells. Here are the complete lyrics, maybe 
the context will be more clear:

Ring, ring the bells
Wake the town
Everyone is sleeping
Shout at the crowd
Wake them up
This anger's deeper than sleep

Got to keep awake to what is happening
I can't see a thing through my ambition
I no longer feel my God is watching over me
Got to tell the world we've all been dreaming
This is not the end, a new beginning
I no longer feel my God is watching over me

Break, break the code
Concentrate
Let the door swing open
See through all your walls
All your floors
Now you're in deeper than sleep

Got to keep awake to what is happening
I don't see a thing through my ambition
I no longer feel my God is watching over me
Got to tell the world we've all been dreaming
This is not the end, a new beginning
I no longer feel my God is watching over me

When you let me fall
Grew my own wings
Now I'm as tall as the sky
When you let me drown
Grew gills and fins
Now I'm as deep as the sea
When you let me die
My spirit's free
There's nothing challenging me



> Not to be rude but I am refraining to comment on any of the assumptions you
>made.  They are not relivant.  As of this time you know virtually nothing of
>me and have no idea what kind of fun I can spark in such a situation as
>this.  But like I said I have nothing to hide.     

Well please feel free to confirm or deny my assumptions.




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You've caught me on an afternoon off...

At 03:39 PM 9/29/95 -0500, you wrote:
>>At 08:25 PM 9/25/95 -0500, you wrote:
>>The assumptions were made because you had neglected to provide enough
>>information in your initial letter. In order to converse I need an idea of
>>where you are coming from. All I assumed was 1. You are a Christian and 2.
>>You heard of me through my atheist music database.
>
>Your assumptions (1&2) are right......  "Atheist music database?"  To jump
>right in, I must ask why the "atheist" music database?  Why a direct 
>opposition towards God?  Being atheist why the care?

Some atheists don't care. They go through life with only cursory 
consideration of theism. They've never seen a reason to believe in 
any god and just never will.

That's fine, it's a plenty good enough reason not to believe, but I and 
many other atheists are quite interested in the topic. I am also into 
music and saw a "market need" and put it together as a learning experience. 
Too bad I can't charge for it...

BTW, what I consider "atheist music" is not necessarily music by atheists. 
Nor is it just outright "anti-God" lyrics. Hence songs by the likes of 
Bruce Cockburn (fairly famous here in Canada as a liberal politically 
correct humanitarian yet Christian folkster) which cover many subjects 
atheists may be interested in.

Not to mention understanding, and possibly helping to prevent in some 
small way, more human misery in the name of religion.



>>>I am amazed over a statement you made.  "Believing in unprovable and
>>>unfalsifiable theories requires a lack of scepticism that I am unlikely to
>>>ever achieve."  Could you explain your statement more clearly please. 
>>
>>What's so amazing about that? It was a statement of fact, and stated
>>clearly. Intellectually I'm a skeptic. Not many are. Unfortunately many
>>dictionaries define "skeptic" mainly in terms of religious belief. Although
>>that certainly applies to me, the concept is broader than that. Skepticism
>>is a general refusal to believe in the fantastic without evidence. This
>>applies to Elvis sightings and the Easter Bunny as easily as Yahweh or Jesus
>>Christ.
>>
>>For me to cease being skeptical would be about as easy as ceasing to breathe.
>>
>You yourself said you would not do away with the idea that there may be a
>"god." I amagine you make this comment as a philosopher would- only using
>"god" as a tool to bridge your ignorance in any given issue or subject.
>Many people use "god" as the gap filler for many unsolved problems to bring
>some sort of validity to their theory or belief in theory.  

When you say "many" do you include yourself in that category? Or does the 
word "God" carry more meaning than that for you?

Personally I have effectively done away with the idea that there may be a 
god. The only thing I mean literally by that word is some sort of 
supernatural entity worshipped by religious people. I do not use it as a 
synonym for "unknown". The word "god" has more overtones and is misleading 
in that context.

It is dangerous to quote "philosophers" on the subject of God. There are 
professional philosophers that say pretty much anything you can think of, 
theistic or not. Your assertion that philosophers use "god" that way is 
not generally true, though there may be those that do. This is not 
something the discipline of philosophy is anywhere near agreement on, 
and IMO never will be. 

I disbelieve gods in the same way I believe that a kettle of water won't 
freeze solid when put over heat, or that all the molecules of air in my 
room won't suddenly move to the other side of the room, leaving me 
breathing a vacuum.

These things are actually possible, and quantum mechanics gives us the 
tools to determine their likelihood. Needless to say, the odds are so 
remote that no further consideration is necessary.

For a god to exist, in anything other than a trivial sense (ie not part 
of, or interacting with this universe), is even more unlikely, given 
our current understanding of the fundamental limits of the universe. 
How could God transfer information faster than the speed of light? How 
could God process all the information in the universe (not to mention 
all the information here on the planet Earth, a much smaller but still 
huge amount)? These things are mind-bogglingly improbable if not 
completely impossible.

For a god to furthermore exhibit the more specific characteristics 
ascribed by ________________ (fill in your religion here), drops the 
probabilities even more, given the typically contradictory and 
unfalsifiable nature of those characteristics.

This "belief" of mine is subject to change, should our current understanding
of the universe change in a measureable way. I can imagine science finally
discovering "god". Then the god engineers could figure how to harness
all that power for our practical benefit. Don't see it happening
any time soon though.



>This brings me
>to a question I hope you can solve for me, I simply do not understand a
>skeptic believing in a theory or hypothesis when this is contradictory to
>the definition of skepticism in itself.  Time willing, please explain.    

Nothing is believed absolutely. I'll repeat that because it is extremely
important. Nothing is believed absolutely. Absolute belief is like absolute
knowledge: ill-defined and probably unattainable. Theories and hypotheses
are "believed" only as long as they are useful for describing reality as 
observed. Observations are things that we can agree that we experience in 
common. These theories must be able to make _predictions_. Predictions 
lead to experiments that can determine whether the predictions are correct. 
If so, the theory becomes more "believable".

When a better theory shows up, it is usually a refinement of previous 
theories. We can get more specific as technology allows us to observe and 
measure more precisely. The old theory is discarded if it no longer applies 
(though not always without a fight - this is a human failing, not a failing 
of the principles of knowledge).

Frankly, I probably don't believe anything as strongly as you believe some
things. But this is a matter of degree, not kind.



>>These are song lyrics by a band called James, from Manchester England. The
>>song is called Ring the Bells. 
>>
>I believe I get the over all message of the lyrics, one turning from Christ
>but I am still shadey on the last section of the lyrics which you use on
>your signiture tag.  I can not bring it to context.

It is a moving tribute to evolution and the triumph of life.
Life that was not created, but which evolved.


**** When You let me fall, grew my own wings, now I'm as tall as the sky

"You" is of course God. "I" is the concept of life, highly evolved life. I 
had an accident. Nature fucked me up. I fell. I learned how not to fall. I 
evolved. I learned to soar. I increased my limits. I got closer to powerful 
concepts such as You. I did it myself. I used to believe You would help Me.


**** When You let me drown, grew gills and fins, now I'm as deep as the sea

Similar concept, opposite metaphor (brilliantly done IMO). I had an accident. 
Nature fucked me up. I drowned. I learned not to drown. I evolved. I learned 
to dive. I did it myself.


**** When You let me die, my spirit's free, there's nothing challenging me

And maybe it killed me, and now I am dead. My personal challenge is over. 
Others may have learned from me, or inherited characteristics from me that 
will help them survive, flourish, and evolve to greater heights and depths.

God let Me down by not helping. By not caring. By not doing anything at all.
By not even existing. Eventually I realized it.

The above was considerably poetic and metaphorical. If dissected clinically 
it may lose its subtleties.


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Click here for another amusing exchange

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