Thank you for your detailed reply zharth, I will do my best to answer you point by point. Wow, what a thrilling conversation this has been thus far, I must confess it has excited me to no end! What a joy this has been! I hope it has been as fulfilling for you as it has been for me! I'm sorry if my response is a little long.
"Well I definitely appreciate your willingness to talk about this civilly. I've encountered religious people who seem incapable of suffering a nonbeliever to exist."
- It really is my pleasure zharth. I have enjoyed this so very much! Like I said before, you are really very thoughtful and respectful, and it has been a joy talking to you about these crucial issues. Let me apologize on behalf of the theistic community for how so many of us have behaved in a disrespectful manner. It's not okay how those religious people treated you, and I am saddened to hear it. I must say I have had similar negative experiences with many atheists, I suppose there are bad apples in every community. You are truly a bright spot in the atheistic community, this is a real delight!
"I suppose that if you believe in a God, you'll see his hand in everything. But that's not the same thing as evidence. I refer you to Occam's Razor. Can you prove that it was God, indeed, who was responsible, and not a flying spaghetti monster?"
- I totally agree with you! I must say I never suggested that I "see his hand in everything" because I agree that this is not compelling. I'm so glad you are familiar with Occam's Razor zharth, as you know Occam's Razor states that, "plurality should not be posited without necessity." So basically Occam's Razor prefers simplicity. I must say I am confused by your next point however, when you say, "Can you prove that it was God, indeed, who was responsible, and not a flying spaghetti monster?" This statement doesn't follow from Occam's Razor of course, but to answer you I think I need to define what God is. God is "the greatest conceivable being" so it doesn't matter what name you give to him. If it makes you comfortable calling God the "flying spaghetti monster" that's just fine, I have no problem with that. However, it isn't exactly a good refutation of any of the classical theistic arguments which I have briefly mentioned in my previous comments. You also say "Can you prove..." but we've already discussed the fact that it's not about proving anything zharth, it's about "which view is more reasonable, atheism or theism?"
"If a phenomenon can equally be explained by science, then there is no reason to posit the existence of a God. Unless that existence leaves some kind of mark that cannot be explained any better than other means."
- That's quite right, which is why I haven't used any God of the Gaps arguments. If you are interested in evidence, I would suggest to you the Cosmological, Moral, Teleological, and Contingency arguments for God's existence!
"God is a magician. He doesn't deal in evidence. He deals in sleight of hand. And let me tell you, magicians do not have super powers. They just know how to perform tricks exceptionally well."
- I guess I would just disagree here, since I believe there is evidence for God's existence (again, the classical arguments I have mentioned) but you're quite right that magicians do not have super powers (though I must say they are very entertaining to watch, I just love watching magicians)
"Does the existence and knowledge of God allow us to predict the way the universe works, in a way that science does not? The movement of the planets was ultimately described, in detail, by math and physics, not by any vague belief in a heaven."
- Yes, the physical world has indeed been described entirely by math and physics, I never claimed otherwise. I never actually claimed God as a scientific hypothesis for anything actually. I do however think that God is the explanation for the origin of the universe, morality, the fine-tuning of the initial constants of the universe, and so on. Of course you and I both know that God cannot be used as a scientific hypothesis, since God is not a testable entity. However I do think that arguments exist that can lead us to think that there is a God that exists (I refer you again to the Cosmological, Moral, Teleological, and Contingency arguments.)
"I agree 100%. And atheism is, by far, the more reasonable conclusion. Only for superstitious - subjective, or emotional - reasons should anyone believe in a God. He's not talking to us. He's not doing television interviews. And he's not out there on the front lines distributing emergency supplies to refugees. That's all people. God is a hypothetical construct."
- Yes well, again, I hear you saying that, but I guess I just don't see how you saying it again is somehow more persuasive than before. There are good reasons, aside from subjective ones, to believe in God. Let me just suggest that the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments are a good place to start if you're after evidence.
"Do you realize that you're saying that the lack of evidence is proof of a supernatural occurrence? Finding Jesus' bones might prove that he existed (and was not supernaturally resurrected) - although how could you possibly identify this one person out of so many, who lived thousands of years ago? Our bones aren't stamped with our names. Not finding them doesn't lend evidence to your claim, when the more likely explanation is that he never existed in the first place."
- I don't know of any credible historians who would say that Jesus never existed. Even Bart Ehrman (Atheistic Jesus scholar) would laugh at those who think that Jesus never existed, it just isn't a supportable position. And of course I'm not suggesting that the lack of evidence is proof of a supernatural occurrence, I was simply answering your claim that his resurrection is not falsifiable. But these aren't the reasons that I believe that Jesus was resurrected, I think there is historical evidence as well. However, let's assume that Jesus resurrection isn't falsifiable for one moment, all you have demonstrated is that Christianity is false, you haven't shown that God doesn't exist.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Resurrection would be an extraordinary phenomenon. The burden of proof is on those who believe in it to prove that it's real, not on those who doubt it to disprove that it's possible."
- That's exactly right. We agree.
All the evidence points overwhelmingly to the impossibility of resurrection (except in a medical context - i.e., resuscitation - but that's not a divine miracle proving the existence of God, it's just a demonstration of the ingenuity of the human mind), which is the reasonable conclusion to make."
- I do hope you know that I'm not advocating the idea that resurrections just happen naturalistically! Resurrections would only be impossible if there is no God! Here, in order to refute the idea of miracles, you seem to assume that atheism is true! Unless you are talking about some really extraordinary evidence, here you seem to be committing the fallacy of begging the question.
"Of course, this is true. But here's my counter position: 1) people have done truly atrocious things in the name of religion, and 2) people can have moral codes of behavior without religion - see secular humanism, the idea that we should be good to each other because it makes sense, not because some all-powerful deity is holding a gun to our heads"
- Your point number one is, interestingly enough, more support for the idea that objective morality exists (which is a problem for atheism, since objective morality cannot exist within atheism, more on that in a second). Now don't misunderstand me, atheists can be the most moral people on Earth, they can be even more moral than theists! This has nothing to do with how atheists behave. What I mean when I say that atheists cannot have objective morality is that their code of ethics is not objective and binding to all humans on Earth, past, present and future. My morality is no better or different than your morality, since there is no Lawgiver. This is because, on atheism, good and evil do not really exist. They are just illusions that evolution has programmed into us so that we could pass on our genetic information and continue the species. On atheism (when taken to its logical conclusion), a murderer killing an innocent civilian is no different that a bear killing a deer, for we are all equally valuable after all, since we are all just animals. Being intelligent animals does not suddenly make us special. Again, virtually all atheists are extremely good and moral people, it's just that they can't deduce ethics from logic or reason.
"How does this square with religion being a moral code of behavior? Sure, you can blame people for interpreting it wrong, but if religious people can be immoral, and nonreligious people can be moral, then why should religion be the deciding factor?"
- At first you seem to agree with me, saying, "of course, this is true." But then you seem to do a complete turn around and suggest that religion cannot be a good source of moral behavior, saying, "How does this square with religion being a moral code of behavior?"! Which is it? I hope I wasn't suggesting that immoral religious people are just interpreting it wrong, I sincerely believe that religious people can be sinful in the highest degree! The difference is theists can be moral and intellectually consistent, but atheists cannot be both moral and intellectually consistent, they can only be moral, since objective morals cannot exists on atheism (as explained in my previous point above).
"Again, this goes back to Occam's Razor. I can't rule out the possibility that there's some kind of 'God-like' being out there. But if he doesn't actually interact with our world in ways that can be seen and actually changes and affects our world - that is, demonstrable evidence of his influence that can't be equally explained by other (e.g., scientific) means - then what's the point in worshiping him?"
- I really don't mean to sound rude, but I don't think you totally understand Occam's Razor. Again, Occam's Razor suggests that simplicity is preferable, or "plurality should not be posited without necessity." This actually rules out polytheism, interestingly enough, since monotheism is the simplest explanation (assuming some form of theism is true). Again, if you are really interested in evidence for God's existence, I refer you to the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments for God's existence.
"This is not how it actually works. Belief comes before evidence. True believers don't need evidence to back up their claims. They're already convinced. It's the people who doubt who scrutinize the evidence. And they're the ones who tend to conclude that the evidence is lacking. I'm as interested in God as any believer. I've probably studied religious philosophy more than most. And I would love to see some of this evidence. It would turn me around. But it just isn't there."
- You are right, there are many theists who do not think they need evidence, they are already convinced. Of course belief comes before evidence for any atheist who was raised in an atheistic household, so your argument cuts both ways. Now you might say that atheists are not raised with "belief" in anything, and so they only work with evidence and that's it. The only problem is that many of them are just not familiar with arguments for God's existence, because they encounter an ignorant theist here and an ignorant theist there and they just assume there are no good reasons to think that God exists. But there are good reasons! I think you'll be interested in the classical arguments for God's existence (the Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, and Contingency arguments). This is the evidence you are looking for, and once you're done with those you have only scratched the surface! I'm so glad you are interested in God's existence, this truly is a thrilling conversation if I do say so myself. I think you are a sincere seeker of truth, in fact I know it!
"What God is like is a hypothetical debate - it doesn't change anything. What his followers are like has real world implications - whether it's people in foxholes, giving aid to refugees, or killing a bunch of strangers."
- Well what God is like isn't a hypothetical debate if God exists of course. And you are absolutely right, how religious people act does indeed have real world implications. We agree again, it's remarkable how much common ground we have!
"And the Bible itself - God's alleged holy book - instructs believers to kill their own friends and family members for believing in other gods. That's atrocious. How can people follow religions like this? And I know a lot of people interpret the Bible loosely, but it's amazing to me how far people will bend backward to justify their holy text, instead of coming out and admitting that it's a poorly written and hobbled together piece of pulp fiction."
- Again you attack Christianity as if to say "once I have falsified Christianity, I can be happy in my atheism!" I do wonder, were you raised in a Christian household and then turned to atheism? This is a common though pattern of those who have been raised in Christianity and then abandon it. There are a host of other religions that you have not falsified, and even if you falsified every single religion on Earth there could still easily be a God. But let me defend Christianity anyway. Here I think it's important to note that not everyone thinks that all of the Old Testament narratives are from God. Nobody has to bend over backwards to justify anything if they simply don't believe the text you cited is from God. There's a doctrine in Christianity known as the Doctrine of Inerrancy, which would say that everything in the Bible is absolutely correct, which some Christians do not accept. Since this is all subjective (how people interpret various texts in the Bible) I think I should get to something a bit more concrete. Even if I grant you that this passage is incompatible with an all-loving God, and that we should reject it, think of what the worst-case scenario for the Christian is now. All you have demonstrated is that some Old Testament narratives are not inspired by God. That's it! So Christianity still stands, but let's go even further. Even if I grant you that Christianity has officially been defeated, the final nail has been hit into the coffin, you still haven't shown that there is no God. You have merely shown that Christianity is false. There could still be a God that exists.
"If God truly existed, he wouldn't allow us to go on thinking that a horrible book like the Bible is the best representation of his beliefs and practices. And if it is, then even if he exists, he's a genocidal son of a bitch that doesn't deserve to be worshiped."
- I think you are attacking the Christian god again. It is of course totally possible that God exists and he is evil! I do not believe that, but I just wanted to mention the possibility. I must say that I find it interesting that you accuse God of being evil, even though evil doesn't really exist on your view.
"The strongest evidence against a belief in God that exists is, ironically, the conduct of his believers themselves. If I were God, I'd be stepping in by now, because there's no mercy in letting mankind carry on the way it's been doing, without any kind of divine guidance. Yet, God's continued silence is pretty damning."
- Here I think you have gotten to something very important, namely the problem of evil. Now there are two versions of this objection, and you're probably referring to the "probabilistic problem of evil," as opposed to the "logical problem of evil." I say this because there is no logical contradiction between the propositions 1) God exists and 2) Evil exists. So the logical problem of evil cannot be correct. Since there is no logical contradiction here, I would assume you mean "it's extremely unlikely that God and all of this evil and suffering can exist together." Here I just want to say two things, though this surely is not going to say enough about the problem of evil, books have been written about this for thousands of years, but I offer these two things. First of all, God preferred a world in which humans have free will (only in world where free will exists can true love exist). But of course you know the problems that free will brings, some people like being evil! Some people are just atrocious, and it's honestly so unbelievable sometimes, but theists also believe in ultimate justice, so Pol Pot and the like will receive what they deserve! The second thing I want to say is that, given the full scope of the evidence, I think we can still conclude that God exists, even with all of this suffering. We theists (specifically Christian theists) believe that it will all be made right one day. I hope this helps just a little bit.
Thank you for this truly intoxicating discussion, I am just so thrilled that we are discussing such important issues! You are very smart, it's an honor discussing these matters with you. I hope you have a truly wonderful day and I look forward to your response!