The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
Welcome to the official MU SASHA blog!
Please join our group on Facebook.
This is Dave Muscato. At the debate last Thursday with Brother Jed Smock, we took audience questions via handwritten notecards supplied to the audience. Below are my answers to the questions we didn’t get to address during the Q&A due to time. Audio & video will be posted very soon; I will try to have the audio finished & posted as an mp3 for tomorrow’s blog post.
Questions in bold were addressed during the debate; please refer to the (forthcoming) audio or video for Jed’s and my responses.
If you would like to continue the discussion, please feel free to leave a comment below, email me at email@example.com, or message me via Facebook. I did not write responses to the questions directed to Brother Jed.
For Brother Jed: “If this world is moral based on God, why are there so many immoralities in the bible condoned by God? i.e. slavery, murder, etc.
If everyone could be persuaded of your view of what truth is and how we should approach it, would this solve all human problems, If not, what problems would remain?
Dave’s response: It would probably not solve all human problems, but it would help us solve them sooner. All demonstrable progress in medicine, public health/disease eradication, poverty alleviation/economic progress, etc, has been the result of rational thinking and approaching the world with the point of view that by using evidence and logic, by doing what demonstrably works, etc. I am reminded of a bumper sticker I’ve seen that says, “A single pair of hands working accomplishes more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” It is my hope that people will realize that there is a lot we can accomplish to make the world a better place, but you can’t even get started if you’re on your knees.
Jed: You say people don’t know the truth claims of Christianity, and that’s why they don’t have faith. You also say people must have faith, in order to believe. Isn’t that circular?
Some people cannot feel there is dignity in their existence unless they separate themselves from nature via religion. Why would not considering yourself part of a natural web of existence be even more dignified?
Dave’s response: It seems to me that considering yourself part of a natural web of existence WOULD be more dignified, if for no other reason than because, as far as empirical and rational approaches to objective reality can verify, it’s actually true. Fantasy and imagination are entertaining, but you can’t feel real dignity in them – you can only do that in the real world.
Jed: You argued on behalf of Christianity’s truthfulness because it answers the 4 basic questions of life. What do you make of the fact that the ancients – particularly the Greeks & Romans – were perfectly fine with death as the end of life completely?
Is there a denomination of Christianity that is better than the others? Are you more [righteous] if you are Catholic rather than Methodist?
What contributed to the spread of the faith of Christianity? To all speakers.
Is Atheism a Religion? (Both)
I’M NOT A CHRISTIAN, BUT I’M A GOOD PERSON. WHY DO I DESERVE TO BE SENT TO HELL AND TORTURED UNTIL THE END OF TIME? – FOR JED
Why must morality and meaning – Abstract concepts – be explained?
Dave’s response: They don’t have to be explained, but I think that explaining these things does have value. It helps us better understand who we are and what we ought to do to make our world better for ourselves. By the way, I disagree that morality or meaning are abstract concepts. Search on YouTube for Sam Harris’ TED Talk called “Science can answer moral questions.” It’s 24 minutes long, but you’ll be glad you watched it.
Why should we believe the Bible as [opposed] to the Koran?
Dave’s response: We shouldn’t believe either, if you mean believe that they are historically accurate or that they are reliable sources for information about what happens after we die, etc. They are both worthy for study for cultural reasons, but it would be irrational to believe them.
Question: Brother Jed… You say Christianity is true because it offers a possible explanation for the origins of earth. Dave asserts that science and other religions also provide explanations for the origins of the universe. Why is Christianity the only truth? Just because Jesus said he is the truth? Why should we take the word of one man that he is God’s son and the only truth?
Brother Jed – Do You Believe in Purgatory?
For brother Jed: If we can all agree for a moment that we were created by a god, then why can we not support the discoveries of god’s universe such as plate tectonics, evolution, global warming, etc. Also, if you do not believe in science why do you leverage it by using a car, drinking purified water and wearing eyeglasses
If there is no god, is there no soul? If no soul, is there no love? Then why don’t we all just kill ourselves? What makes us want to live??
Dave’s response: You are arguing that without a soul, love doesn’t exist. There is no good reason to believe that love requires souls. Further, love demonstrably exists in the brain. Love is a mixture of measurable levels of the chemicals adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. In fact, there are several different types of love that exist in the brain – usually labeled “Lust,” “Attraction,” and “Attachment,” depending on the balance of these various chemicals & hormones. This can be measured empirically. I encourage you to search on Google Scholar and read some journal articles – there’s some really fascinating research going on in the last few years on this stuff. Helen Fisher, Diane Witt, Arthur Arun, and Donatella Marazziti are good places to start. As far as why we should want to live, all I have to say is that life is beautiful, and that’s what makes me want to live. You will have to find your own answer to that question – I don’t think there is one absolute answer for everyone. You have to make your own meaning. Just because gods don’t exist doesn’t mean life can’t have any meaning. Life is what you make of it. I think a Douglas Adams quotation is appropriate here: “Isn’t it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, too?”
To Brother Jed: How would you explain the “miraculous” events that have taken place in almost every other religion?
Why do you personally not believe in a god? How are they better than arguments in favor of god? For Muscato.
Dave’s response: I don’t believe in any gods for the same reason I don’t believe in dragons or fairies, and probably for the same reason that you don’t believe in dragons or fairies, either. There are people who claim to have seen dragons and fairies, and there are ancient books where people have written about their experiences with these creatures, but I don’t find either argument convincing. I have a higher standard than that for believing that something exists. To believe something exists, I either want good logical/rational justification – that is, a sound argument in its favor – or empirical evidence. No one has ever been able to show me any solid empirical evidence that any god exists, and no one has ever been able to show me a sound argument in favor of the existence of any god. I have also not been able to find one myself, despite intensive efforts and reading tens of thousands of pages on the subject. If someone were able to do either, I would convert on the spot.
Brother Jed, You said that in order to believe, a person must want to believe and want to submit to Jesus Christ, How does what I want bear on what’s true, and how does this differ from the Hindu who wants to believe in Krishna?
For Dave: Have you ever had a pain in your mouth, right side, lower jaw? Have you ever seeked [sic] medical attention for something like that?
Dave’s response: I have probably had a pain like that at some point in my life, I suppose, maybe when I was teething as a baby. If so, I don’t remember it, and I’ve never sought medical attention for any kind of pain in my jaw.
For Muscato: Q: What role have psilocybin mushrooms played in moral evolution? *Terrance McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Theory”
Dave’s response: I apologize for being unprepared for this during the debate. I was in “philosophy mode” and caught a bit off guard! I have heard of the “Stoned Ape” theory, but I disagree with McKenna’s conclusions that psilocybin mushrooms played a demonstrable role in the evolution of human morals. For a good overview of what mainstream science has to say about moral evolution, I recommend Matt Ridley’s “The Origins of Virtue.” It’s a pop-science book, but it’s thorough and well-written. I don’t think the evidence supports the conclusion that psilocybin mushrooms had anything to do with the development of spoken language. I think spoken language is MUCH older than that, just based on fossil evidence; personally, I estimate language to be at least 400,000 years old (Homo heidelbergensis), predating McKenna’s earliest estimate by around 300k years.
Where can I get a vest like that? For Jed
Question for JED: What verifiable historical evidence do you have outside of the bible that Jesus actually existed? If there is no such evidence, doesn’t that render all of Christianity moot?
Question for Brother Jed. If god is all loving, al cherishing, all forgiving; and sees us as his children, according to the new testament, where do genetic diseases, birth defects, schizophrenia, depression, etc. come from? Any loving father would never allow a child to go through that if he has the power to stop it.
Brother Jed said that Christianity seeks the betterment of ALL people. If that is true, then how can Christians (in general) justify their treatment of & discrimination against homosexuals? Leviticus aside, Christians do not seem to extend this whole “betterment of ALL” to gays & lesbians!
Why can’t creationism and evolutionism exist together? In other words, bible didn’t mention anything about how God created man. So wouldn’t you say God was the causation of creationism? And aren’t we all God’s children? So doesn’t God communicate to all of us through bible? So the question arrives is that how do you understand the full debt of knowledge of God and when I compare this to some people and my understanding, Christians make God sounds like Gid is fearful, angry God? And why is homosexual consider as sinner? Isn’t God loving and understanding God? Why would he isolate their culture?
Dave’s response: Genesis actually does mention how God created man – in Genesis 2, the ancient Jews wrote that God created man “from the dust [or dirt] of the earth,” then blew life into his nose the “breath of life.” Shortly after, it describes how God surgically removed one of Adam’s ribs and created Eve from it. Most people are more familiar with Genesis 1, which actually gives a very different account of creation. There are two versions of the story in adjacent chapters that disagree on certain details. It’s all hearsay anyway; obviously no one was around to be an eyewitness!
Brother Jed: You claim Christianity answers the tough questions about life. How do other religions NOT answer the tough questions about life?
If Guilt drives a person to Illness, Explan the Psychopath – A Genetic Disorder (To Jed)
Christianity answers basic questions – but are these questions true? We may like to believe what Christianity says, but that does not mean the answers are true. Liking the answers does not make them true.
Dave’s response: I agree. To argue otherwise is a logical fallacy referred to as “appealing to consequences of a belief.” Believing these answers makes you feel good, ergo these answers are true. It doesn’t work like that!
To Brother Jed – If I am made in God’s image, why am I not invisible?
Muscato: What made you become an atheist after being a praise & worship musician? Brother Jed: Can you include some info regarding how historians have aknowledged [sic] that the Bible is truth?
Prove that God exists without saying Jesus said so or that it says so in the Bible.
You argue that by proving Christianity to be untrue, you do not falsify it or any other religion and that you have no intention of deconverting people or swaying them towards atheism. This is a bare assertion is it not? Have you considered how you may be detrimentally affecting debout people? Why would you desire to take away their faith, their religion; for some even, their foundation? How can you justify denying people of something that is central to their life and being? For Muscato
For Jed: Why believe in Christianity over Judiasm [sic], Islam, or even Greek mythology? What makes Christianity more true?
To Jed: What is your opinion of Fred Phelps’ church and in particular, do you think the Christian God would agree with protesting soldiers’ funerals? Isn’t that violating the golden rule?
Brother Jed makes many assertions about Christianity being true, but what distinguishes the truth of Christianity from other religions that also claim to have the same truth..
Brother Jed – The only piece of refutable evidence you’ve presented is the Bible. Why should anyone believe second-hand accounts written years after the fact by men who still had the belief in a flat Earth? Could it be that uninformed men simply created something to explain the unexplainable? P.S. – If college has taught me anything, procreation ALWAYS involves 2 people.
What is truth and where does it come from. We made it up- out of our knowledge we have. Whats the truth-what is truth?
Dave’s response: When you figure it out, let me know. These are some of the biggest questions in philosophy & epistemology. I will remain skeptical until then.
Jed. Without using the Bible, what evidence [do] you have to support Christianity?
What is your opinion on agnosticism?
Dave’s response: I am an agnostic myself. I think a lot of people don’t understand what that means, unfortunately. It seems that a lot of people thing agnosticism is some kind of third option to the question of “Do you believe in God/gods, yes or no?” Agnosticism addresses a different question altogether, and that question is, “Is it possible to have knowledge of God/gods?” To be an agnostic means that you hold the position that it is not possible to know if God exists. It says nothing about whether you believe in God or not. Everyone can be categorized as either a theist or an atheist: Either you believe in a god/gods, or you don’t believe. Claiming to KNOW if a god exists or not is a different question from whether you believe one exists or not. An agnostic claims no knowledge, but can still be theists and believe in a god, and in fact, that’s what many religious people do. If you agree with this statement: “I can’t PROVE that God exists, but I believe anyway,” you are an agnostic theist. If you agree with this statement: “I can’t PROVE that God exists, and I also don’t believe that he does,” you are an agnostic atheist, like me.
If the Christians must prove the existence of God, the atheists must also prove his inexistence. Please provide proof that God does not exist, rather than the lack of God.
Dave’s response: It is not possible to prove a negative. In logic, this is the fallacy known as “attempting to shift the burden of proof.” The burden of proof always rests with the party making the positive claim Philosopher Bertrand Russell’s “Teapot,” sometimes called the “Celestial Teapot,” is a famous response to this question: Can you prove that there is not a teapot in orbit around Mars? If you cannot disprove this, then by your logic, it is reasonable to believe that there is, in fact, a teapot in orbit around Mars. Search for “Russell’s teapot” on Wikipedia for a good explanation.
Jed: What is Christianity’s justification for suffering?
To Muscato: What are your motivations for disproving religions? Do not religions better the world by spreading moral teachings?
Dave’s response: I’m going to answer the second part first: Some religions seem to better the world by spreading moral teachings, but first of all, I would say that it depends on which religion we’re talking about, and secondly, what you mean by “better the world.” The real issue is dogma. To quote William Quijada, “Religion teaches a child’s view of ethics, that ‘being good’ means ‘obeying your parents.’ It gives a moral blank check to those bold enough, dishonest enough, to claim to speak for God. Atheism means looking at ethical questions as an adult among other adults, considering ethics as a way of maintaining peace and cooperation among equals, so that all may pursue happiness within the limits that ethics defines.” Because religious-based moral teachings claim to have more authority than ethics-based ones, people use them to justify actions that may not be actually ethical, on the grounds that they are God-given. You might be interested in reading about Divine Command Theory and the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato. As far as my motivations for disproving religion, it’s really not that I’m motivated to disprove religion, as much as discourage irrational thinking and errors in reasoning. Irrational thinking and errors in reasoning lead to unnecessary suffering and opportunity cost. I think Sam Harris sums it up nicely: “The problem of faith is that it is a conversation-stopper. As long as you don’t have to give reasons for what you believe, you have effectively immunized yourself against the power of human conversation. You hear religious people say things like ‘there is nothing you can say that will change my mind.’ Just imagine that said in medicine. If there’s nothing that can be said that will change your mind, if there’s no evidence or argument that can be educed, that proves that you are not taking any state of the world into account in your beliefs. The problem with this is that when the stakes are high, we have a choice between conversation and violence.”
To Dave, don’t you think that if eyewitness testimony works in court, it can work outside of court, unless empirical evidence proves contrary? Or the witness is proven insane or a liar?
Jed Smock: Why must meaning be found in Christianity rather than Islam or any number of other religions and ethical systems? Dave Muscato: Assuming that all statements are either true or false, what is the purpose of distinguishing between the statement “Christianity is not true.” and the statement “Christianity is false.”?
Dave, if not God exists how do “miracles” occur, such as tumors dissapearing [sic] without treatment
What is nothing? You say God created everything, but what made god?
If diseases were all from our bad habits, guilt, etc, explain cancer, acute leukemia in babies, and how drugs like Prozac can fix depression (a biochemical change in brain chemistry). Of course, smoking, lack of exercise, alcohol, bad diet etc influence health, but not all smokers get lung cancer – some people are genetically predisposed to more carcinogens from nicotine than others.