Proof by Proofs

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and an atheist in an airport waiting for a plane

Walden: Excuse me — what are you reading there?

Xenia: God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

Walden: Oh. You don’t believe in God?

Xenia: I’m not religious.

Walden: Really. Did you know that there’s a lot of evidence that God exists? For example —

Xenia: Just a second. Do you really have an argument that proves God exists?

Walden: Yes.

Xenia: Tell you what, you give me your best argument and I’ll see if I can refute it. If I can, I don’t want to hear any others because I’ve already dealt with your best. Agreed?

Walden: No — why would I want to do that?

Xenia: So we can avoid wasting our time.

Walden: But even if you can come up with some reason not to be convinced by my argument, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. There are still hundreds of other proofs for God’s existence.

Xenia: Then give me the best one.

Walden: That’s what I mean — it doesn’t mean anything if one argument convinces you or not. There are so many proofs of God’s existence that even if you don’t agree with this one or that one, the sheer volume of them should be a compelling reason to at least lean toward belief, if not be outright convinced.

Xenia: Are you telling me that you could make up for lack of quality of arguments with quantity?

Walden: I wouldn’t say that because I think there are many very good arguments, but other than that, you’re right. You can only see smoke pouring from so many houses before you know that the town is on fire, even if you don’t see any flames.

Xenia: I’d say it’s more like hoarding bad checks in the hope that you’ll eventually be worth a million dollars. If the arguments have no value, you can’t get value by adding them together.

Walden: So many arguments can’t all be wrong.

Xenia: Sure they can. And if they aren’t, you just need to show me one.

Walden: If you’re not even going to listen, maybe you should just go back to your book.

Xenia: Sounds like a plan to me.

 


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Posted on March 7, 2014 at 7:07 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Proof by Bard

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist after a performance in an outdoor theater

Leo: I think that was pretty good!

Kathy: It was fine. I warned you going in that I have trouble getting into Hamlet.

Leo: Why? It’s probably Shakespeare’s best play. At least I think so.

Kathy: I’m not complaining about the quality of the writing, obviously. It’s the bit at the beginning about the ghost that gets me. Anything that relies heavily on ghosts, witches, or whatever is hard for me to lose myself in because it’s so clearly not true.

Leo: Witches I can see, but why ghosts? Ghosts could be real.

Kathy: I really don’t think so. I’m extremely skeptical about anything supernatural.

Leo: Even God?

Kathy: Maybe especially God.

Leo: That’s amazing. I had no idea you’re an atheist. Then, as an atheist, how would you answer this: There’s a famous line that all the world is a stage.* Do you know it?

Kathy: Yes.

Leo: Well, if all the world is a stage and people are players in the play of life, then the play had to have an author. The players couldn’t have written their own play.

Kathy: Unless it’s a massive improv piece.

Leo: But that’s not what he meant, so it has a script, and the author of the script had to be God. So, obviously, God had to exist, right?

Kathy: You’ve just proven that Shakespeare believed in God. Congratulations.

Leo: I don’t mean just Shakespeare. Doesn’t that make you consider, at least a little, that God might exist?

Kathy: It makes me consider that “all the world’s a stage” is just a metaphor, and a flawed one at that.

Leo: You’re really hardcore about sticking to materialist reality, aren’t you. And here I was going to invite you to a Star Wars trilogy movie marathon.

Kathy: Really? The original trilogy? When is it?

Leo: You’d really go to that? I just made that up. I was kidding.

Kathy: Oh.

*”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” As You Like It, act 2, scene 7.

 


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Posted on March 5, 2014 at 7:06 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Is Proof Desirable?

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist at a Christian-outreach party talking to the Christian who invited her there

Uma: That was a nice little speech, but I don’t think it had a whole lot of substance. I’m going to take a lot of convincing before I agree to most of what he said.

Vince: I understand. Throughout the history of Christianity, it’s always been that way.

Uma: Don’t you think that it’s harder for Christians today to spread the word than it was way back when? Like in the first century?

Vince: Why would it be? There have always been doubters and there always will be

Uma: I can see how people would believe in Jesus back when he was alive. If I take everything you people are saying at face value, it sounds like he was performing miracles all the time. It would be easy to believe with that kind of evidence right in front of you.

Vince: Those were simpler times, and God had to do spectacular things to spread the Word. Today, we still have the evidence of those miracles, and we have the opportunity to show our faith in God without needing Him to prove himself all over again.

Uma: The miracles in the Bible took place so long ago that I have to be skeptical about them. It would be a lot easier if God did some new ones now so I could believe.

Vince: You can’t ask God to do that for you. The Bible says that you can’t put God to a test, and demanding a miracle before you believe is attempting to test God. God wants His people to come to him like little children, with open hearts and minds, and to believe in Him without any proof other than the miracle of the resurrection.

Uma: Wouldn’t a lot more people become Christians if God continued to do miracles?

Vince: Maybe, but it would be an easy sort of conversion. God wants you to give yourself wholly over to Him, and if there were miracles all the time, you wouldn’t do that. You’d just believe because of miracles.

Uma: Why would it matter why someone believes? Isn’t the important thing that everyone knows the truth?

Vince: The important thing is that God wants people to be saved. You can’t be saved if you believe without opening your heart to God and believing in him without question.

Uma: Isn’t unquestioning belief dangerous? I mean, if there are a bunch of different religions asking me to believe without questioning, how do I know I’m picking the right one?

Vince: Look in your heart. The answer is there.

Uma: Right now my heart is telling me to be wary of anyone who’s asking me to join a group without thinking about it too hard.

Vince: That’s your mind getting in the way of your inner knowledge. If you can’t easily let that go, then read the Bible or look around you at the miracle of creation for all the proof you’ll ever need that God exists. No false religion has that kind of proof.

Uma: So it’s okay to use reason to see that Christianity is the one religion that isn’t false?

Vince: Of course.

Uma: But if I can use reason for that, why can’t you use reason to prove to me that God exists?

Vince: You have to trust in God.

Uma: Before I trust in God, don’t I have to believe in Him in the first place?

Vince: Yes. Just open your heart and you’ll see that he’s real.

Uma: I don’t think that’s going to work for me. This is just another pretty speech that isn’t going anywhere.

 


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Posted on March 3, 2014 at 9:05 pm by ideclare · Permalink · One Comment
In: Conversations

Degree

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist helping his atheist brother prepare for a debate

Sebastian: I know you said I should be familiar with as many arguments as possible because we don’t know what he’ll bring up, but some of these are just — I hate to say insane, but they’re insane.

Tom: For example.

Sebastian: Aquinas’ argument from degree.

Tom: Which one is that?

Sebastian: I’m not sure I can even sum it up. I’ll read it: “Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.”

Tom: Easy. If he brings that up, just say it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.

Sebastian: I can’t do that; it’s rude and would make me look stupid.

Tom: Seriously then, if the “maximum” of something is the source of that something, then all matter must have come from the most material thing possible. The most material thing possible couldn’t be supernatural, by definition, so obviously the material world was made by a material being.

Sebastian: I — that’s — uh, that almost made sense. Awesome. Have you ever run into an argument for the existence of God that you had trouble answering?

Tom: Someone once asked me how God could possibly not exist, since God was so powerful that there was no power strong enough to stop Him from existing.

Sebastian: What did you say?

Tom: I said that an omnipotent God was powerful enough to stop himself from existing.

Sebastian: That’s twelve kinds of awesome. I am so unworthy. Want to do this debate for me?

Tom: Sorry. I am the maximum of awesome to which all awesome must be compared. You’ll just have to deal with that.

 


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Posted on February 28, 2014 at 5:16 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Existence

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A campus preacher and a student between classes

Bruce: You, with the blue shirt, have you considered your salvation? Don’t walk away! Come here and hear — hear the good news!

Cal: Why should I waste my time? Have you got anything to say that I haven’t heard a thousand times before?

Bruce: God is a boundless bounty! If you don’t feel the word, then you haven’t heard the word.

Cal: You just took a dozen words to say nothing. Can’t you say something with some substance that might actually change my mind? Or are you afraid that I’ll have an answer to any lame argument you can come up with?

Bruce: With God at my side, I have nothing to fear. No sinner can avoid the truth, and everything in the universe sings of the creator. An object — this book for example — is just a collection of perceptions. If you could not perceive it, then it would be nothing. But if you put this book in a room by itself and left, it would still be there when you came back. How could that be if it is nothing without being perceived? It must be that something is perceiving that book, even when it is alone in a closed room. That something is God. How can you not believe?

Cal: That may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

Bruce: Then you’re not understanding. It is an obvious truth that you can’t force your senses to sense something just because you want them to. You cannot wish to see a sunset and have it appear before your eyes, or demand that the scent of lavender reach your nose. That means that what you sense isn’t under the control of your will. If your senses aren’t controlled by your will, then they must be controlled by some other will. That will is God.

Cal: Wow. Now that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Bye!

Bruce: You are lost to the Lord! Repent your ways!

Cal: Okay! Bye!

 


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Posted on February 26, 2014 at 5:15 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Motion

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a theist in a bookstore

Abel: Look at this — it’s a big reference for different equations. Look how simple the physics equations are! Wouldn’t you think they’d be all complicated?

Zoe: There can be plenty of meaning in something simple. Look — see the equation for linear motion?

Abel: Yes. There’s nothing particularly amazing about that one, though.

Zoe: But there is! That simple equation represents the fact that things are in motion, and motion proves that God exists.

Abel: This equation is proof for God?

Zoe: Indirectly. Think about it: something can only start moving if it was moved by something else. That something else started moving because it was moved by something else. It’s a huge chain going back to the beginning of time, but it had to start somewhere. That means that if you go back far enough, you have to have something that was moved but wasn’t moved by something else. If no natural thing could have moved it — because that would just be adding a link to the chain instead of finding the chain’s origin — the prime mover had to be supernatural. It also had to be intelligent because it had to have the will to move. The only possible supernatural intelligent thing that existed before the universe is God. Therefore motion proves that God exists.

Abel: I think that’s pretty shaky reasoning, but even if it isn’t, you’re assuming that things don’t move unless they were moved by something. What if things don’t naturally start out at rest? What if things are just naturally moving?

Zoe: Things have to start out in their simplest state, and being still is simpler than moving.

Abel: Who says so? If you look around the universe, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that isn’t moving.

Zoe: Oh, please. The table, the wall —

Abel: They’re all moving. They’re on Earth and Earth’s rotating and revolving. The solar system’s rotating, the galaxy’s rotating. Now that I think of it, maybe the natural state of things is to be rotating, since pretty much everything is.

Zoe: They’re only moving because God set them in motion. It’s all evidence of His action.

Abel: You’re still assuming that things would naturally be still without God.

Zoe: There would be nothing without God.

Abel: There’d still be this conversation.

Zoe: Ow — that was low.

Abel: Sorry. Here, I’m going to buy this book, and then let’s get some coffee.

 


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Posted on February 24, 2014 at 5:15 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Purpose

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian in a rose garden

Deanna: I’ve never seen so many different kinds of roses before. It must be a pain to maintain them all. Why do you think the natural history museum does it?

Edna: I don’t know if it’s the museum itself or if the garden is technically part of the park that the museum is in. If that’s the case, maybe the city does the maintenance.

Deanna: That would make more sense. They’re definitely pretty, and I know people use the rose garden for weddings and quinceaneras.

Edna: Give credit where credit is due. It isn’t the city that made the roses to be pretty; God made them for that purpose.

Deanna: I don’t think so. The roses look the way they look to attract pollinators. That we find them attractive too is just a coincidence.

Edna: No, God gave bees the purpose of pollinating flowers, and he gave flowers the purpose of being beautiful.

Deanna: I don’t think so.

Edna: You don’t think that one of the functions of bees is to pollinate flowers?

Deanna: I wouldn’t say it that way.

Edna: Because saying it that way would be admitting that God exists, and I know you don’t want to do that.

Deanna: I don’t want to say things I don’t think are true.

Edna: Well, it’s true that the purpose of bees is to pollinate flowers and to make honey. It’s also true that only an intelligent being can give something a purpose, so if bees have a purpose, God clearly exists.

Deanna: That doesn’t prove God exists. I can give myself a purpose. I don’t need God for that.

Edna: You can’t give yourself something. That’s like giving yourself a birthday present — you’re not really “giving” anything.

Deanna: I can give myself a haircut.

Edna: You’re equivocating. A haircut’s not a real thing you can give to someone.

Deanna: It’s as material as a purpose. Even more so, I’d say.

Edna: You’re missing the point. A purpose is an intended function. Even if you can give yourself a purpose, a bee or a flower can’t because they aren’t intelligent and therefore can’t intend anything. Bees had purposes before humans even existed, so God must have given them.

Deanna: You’ve convinced me: bees have no purpose.

Edna: How can you say that? How could plants be pollinated without bees?

Deanna: Bees are necessary to pollinate some flowers, but you’ve convinced me that it’s incorrect to call that their purpose since a purpose can only be assigned by an intelligent being. Bees pollinate flowers because that’s the way nature is. Saying that a bee’s purpose is to pollinate is like saying that a boulder’s purpose is to roll down a hill. We shouldn’t assign intentions to acts of nature.

Edna: You can’t see even the possibility that the flowers were made beautiful for the purpose of pleasing humanity?

Deanna: At this point, I can’t even see the purpose of this conversation. Let’s just enjoy the garden and not worry about it.

 


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Posted on February 21, 2014 at 5:14 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

What’s It All About?

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist in a library study room

Irene: Are you still working on that story?

Jada: I’m working on a story. It’s a different one than yesterday. What are you doing?

Irene: I have to write a paper for theology. I’m writing about fiction, actually.

Jada: What does that have to do with theology?

Irene: It’s like this: if I asked you what your story was about, you could tell me, right?

Jada: Of course. I don’t want to until it’s finished, though.

Irene: That’s okay. The point is that your story is about something. In fact, only books and other things created by intelligence are about things. A book, a code, a song, a sentence, or a picture can be about something, but a rock or a drop of water isn’t.

Jada: Okay.

Irene: Well, your thoughts are about things, right?

Jada: I certainly think so.

Irene: Funny. But if your thoughts are about something and only things created by an intelligence are about things, then your thoughts were created by an intelligence.

Jada: Thanks for proving that I’m intelligent.

Irene: That doesn’t prove you’re intelligent. Since your mind is a collection of your thoughts and your thoughts are about something, your mind must have been created by an intelligence. It’s proof that God exists.

Jada: Hold on. That’s a big jump. Let’s start over so I can think this through.

Irene: Sure.

Jada: When you say that a book or whatever is “about” something, what exactly does that mean?

Irene: It means that it has a story or a meaning, or that it’s a reference to something else. A book might be about love, or a thought might be about a person. You can’t have a rock that’s about truth or a tree that’s about the rock. That makes no sense.

Jada: For example, then, a painting might be about a historical event.

Irene: Right.

Jada: And if I’m riding my bike to the store, then that trip is about my getting to the store.

Irene: Yes.

Jada: Then could you say that melting snow is about obeying gravity or trying to get to the ocean?

Irene: What? No. Melting snow isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have any meaning.

Jada: Not to you or me, but it acts like it has a purpose, just like I have a purpose when I’m going to the store. What’s the difference?

Irene: The difference is that water has no intelligence so it can’t have any desires.

Jada: A book has no intelligence, but we agreed that books are about something.

Irene: But an intelligence put that meaning in the book. It didn’t just appear there through natural processes.

Jada: Then you’re saying that something is only “about” something else if an intelligence put meaning there.

Irene: Exactly.

Jada: In that case, your conclusion is that by definition only things which have been assigned meaning by an intelligence are about something. Because you’re using intelligence as part of the definition of “about,” you can’t conclude that thoughts being about something is evidence of outside intelligence.

Irene: Why not? It makes sense to me.

Jada: Only because you already agree with the conclusion. Imagine you said that sisters always share DNA with their brothers. If I introduced someone as my sister, you’d assume that she shares DNA with me. But what if I said she didn’t because she was my stepsister? Would you conclude that your original statement was wrong, or that she really wasn’t my sister because we don’t share DNA.

Irene: I’d conclude I was wrong.

Jada: Exactly! But the way you’re handling the “about” thing is the opposite of that. You’re defining “about,” not drawing conclusions from it.

Irene: I don’t think you’re right. You’d have to give me an example of a thing that was about something without having it put there by an intelligence.

Jada: What about pictures you see in the clouds? Nobody put those pictures there.

Irene: The people who see them put the pictures there. They use their intelligence to assign meaning based on associating shapes. If people didn’t exist, the cloud shapes wouldn’t be about anything. They’d have no meaning.

Jada: If people were wiped out of existence, would the books we left behind still be about something?

Irene: Yes. There’d just be nobody to find out what they’re about.

Jada: Then why can’t a cloud’s shape be about something without it being assigned by a person?

Irene: Because a meaning was never assigned to it.

Jada: By an intelligence.

Irene: Yes.

Jada: Then you’re still presuming an intelligence when you talk about meaning instead of inferring intelligence from meaning. The argument just doesn’t work.

Irene: I think it does, and I’m the one taking the philosophy class.

Jada: Let me know what your professor says about your paper.

Irene: I will.

 


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Posted on February 19, 2014 at 5:14 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Proof Through Searching

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian in a science museum

Leslie: It says that this guy spent his whole life trying to prove that there were patterns to prime numbers. What a nut.

Mark: Did he eventually find them?

Leslie: He found some patterns, but not one overall pattern.

Mark: There you have it then. He wasn’t such a nut if he actually found what he was looking for.

Leslie: What if he’d never found anything, though? What a waste.

Mark: Of course he found something. Why would he be searching for something that didn’t exist? The fact that he was searching proves that the answer was out there, just like how people can spend their whole life searching for God proves that God exists.

Leslie: That doesn’t prove any such thing. All sorts of people spend their lives searching for things that don’t exist. What about inventors who obsessively try and make a perpetual motion machine?

Mark: The fact that they haven’t made one yet doesn’t prove that it’s impossible.

Leslie: The fact that perpetual motion violates the laws of physics proves that it’s impossible.

Mark: You don’t know that. Scientists could be wrong about the physical laws.

Leslie: That’s incredibly unlikely at this point, but in any case someone wishing that the laws of physics were different isn’t evidence that the laws are wrong.

Mark: It’s inconceivable that so many people would search for a God that doesn’t exist.

Leslie: People waste their lives looking for buried treasure that isn’t there. It happens.

Mark: But it doesn’t make sense.

Leslie: People, unfortunately, don’t make sense all the time.

 


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Posted on February 17, 2014 at 5:13 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Proof Through Need

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian in an Amusement park

Jay: I need a break from roller coasters. Let’s get one of those ice cream things.

Kendall: You just had lunch an hour ago and you’re hungry already?

Jay: No, but I definitely need an ice cream.

Kendall: You want an ice cream.

Jay: I am totally craving ice cream right now. It’s my body’s way of telling me something’s missing that it needs me to get — probably calcium or sprinkles or something.

Kendall: What makes you think that feeling a need for something means it’s something your body needs?

Jay: It’s a scientific fact.

Kendall: For thousands of years people have been feeling a need for the divine — have you ever thought about that?

Jay: I don’t even know what you mean.

Kendall: There are so many religions in the world because throughout history people have sought the reason for their existence and the explanation for the world around them. They had a need to know the answers to these questions.

Jay: I suppose that’s true.

Kendall: Then why don’t you believe in God?

Jay: What does that have to do with it? People wanting answers to questions doesn’t mean God exists.

Kendall: It’s the same as your craving for ice cream. People don’t feel a need for something that doesn’t exist.

Jay: I feel the need to be rich.

Kendall: It’s not impossible for you to become rich.

Jay: I feel a longing for my grandma, even though she’s been dead a year.

Kendall: Your grandma was a real person and, whether you believe it or not, she still exists in Heaven.

Jay: I really want to be able to fly around the world under my own power, defeating criminals with my impossible strength and invulnerability.

Kendall: Feeling a need for something impossible is a sign of insanity. And you can’t say that religious people are insane since the majority of people have that need, and by definition the majority is not insane — they’re average.

Jay: I still don’t buy it. If a kid saw a magician produce fire from his fingertips and developed an obsessive need to control fire, that doesn’t prove that pyrokinesis is a possibility.

Kendall: But the kid could learn to do what the magician did. That’s possible.

Jay: Then if somebody misunderstands the situation, they could have a desire for something they think exists but really doesn’t.

Kendall: Yes.

Jay: That’s your answer right there, then. People can have a desire for God because they are misunderstanding the world. They think that a supernatural explanation is necessary so that’s what they look for, but it really isn’t.

Kendall: But God is the explanation.

Jay: Then you’re assuming what you’re trying to prove.

Kendall: That’s true, darn it. Ice cream’s on me.

 


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Posted on February 14, 2014 at 5:12 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations