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Atheism, evolution, science

Reader’s Question: Atheist, where’s your proof?

A reader writes:

Reading some of your stuff and having a hard time understanding it. Are you saying there is positive proff for the things that you believe. Evalotion, the begining of the universe,and all the other things Athiests hold to be gospile.Prove to me that their is not something somewhere that may have created the universe.What was here before the big bang.By def an Athiest does not believe in God.Thats it.Why do you proclaim that you know every religion is wrong.Where is your proof. I am clearly not as educated as you ,but I could use a good explanaition mathmaticly proving all the things that Athiests believe are the THUTH.  (sic!!!)  — L.R.

There are a lot of questions here, so I’ll try to take them one at a time and give you as clear an answer as I can, L.R.

Is there positive proof for the things I believe?

Yes, although I’m not sure that you and I mean the same things when we say “positive proof.”  For a scientist, positive means that we are making statements about what “is.”  So is there enough evidence out there for me to say that the things I believe exist in reality?  Yes.

Now… about what I believe.  You’ve mentioned two things that don’t have anything to do with each other — evolution and the beginning of the universe.  Evolution is true in the same way that gravity is true.  We know that it happens.  We’ve seen it in the lab.  We have documented it in real time so many times that it’s pretty much indisputable that it does happen.  It’s not about belief.  It’s about what cannot be reasonably denied.

The beginning of the universe?  I believe that it happened about 14.5 billion years ago because that’s what pretty much all the data points towards.  What caused the universe?  I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  We do have some pretty good guesses.  Stephen Hawking has argued that the math supports the idea that the universe really could have “come from nothing.”  I certainly can’t reproduce the math for you here.  I’m not a physicist.  But Hawking is, and his theories are held in very high esteem by the best physicists in the world, so I think his guess is probably a pretty good one.  At the least, I trust him more than a preacher who’s never even owned a scientific calculator, much less written an equation for the beginning of the universe.

Is there an Atheist Gospel?

No.  To say that an atheist holds something as “gospel truth” is very misleading.  Sure, there are things that we believe very firmly, but most of us are skeptics.  That is, we try very hard to believe everything conditionally, and that we admit the possibility of being wrong about anything at all.

The Gospels, on the other hand, are purported to be completely true, with no possibility of them being wrong, or of being proven wrong in the future.  This is exactly opposite to the kind of thinking a skeptic tries to do.  We believe that the best way to discover what’s really true is to NEVER decide that something is 100% certain.  If nobody had ever accepted the possibility that Einstein’s model of General Relativity could be wrong, we would not have Quantum Physics today.

The way we decide how strongly to believe something is how much evidence there is.  Evolution, for example, is documented by literally millions of science experiments, all of which agree that evolution does happen.  For it to be wrong, hundreds of thousands of scientists all over the world would have to have made gigantic mistakes — mistakes so big that it’s literally inconceivable.  The odds against so many scientists making mistakes a first grader would catch?  Astronomical!

I don’t believe anything about the beginning of the universe very strongly.  I think it’s probably close to the truth to say that the Big Bang is when time and space began to exist, and that there are a lot of possible explanations for what caused it.  Honestly, it’s not something I worry about, since the universe clearly does exist, and I’ve got more pressing things on my plate most days.  Does it really make a difference to me what caused the universe?  I don’t think it does.

Continue reading on Examiner.com Reader Writes: Atheist, where’s your proof? – Atlanta atheism | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-atlanta/reader-writes-atheist-where-s-your-proof#ixzz1fgMuJ6kd

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Discussion

19 thoughts on “Reader’s Question: Atheist, where’s your proof?

  1. Just one thing:It’s not up to Atheist to prove that God doesn’t exist,’cause you can’t prove a negative.That should be a well known fact.

    Posted by Pjevs | December 5, 2011, 1:43 pm
  2. Pjevs, that’s entirely true, and a worthwhile thing to point out. However, the reader asked me about proving the things I do believe — I do believe evolution, gravity, the Big Bang, etc, and there are ways to demonstrate their existence. So that’s what I focused on. I think sometimes we get stuck on the things that are wrong with believing in God, when it’s just as legitimate to talk about the things we do believe. Especially when what we do believe eventually leaves no room left over for God.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | December 5, 2011, 9:22 pm
  3. Here’s another “reader’s question” for you…

    If free will doesn’t exist, then what does it mean to be a “free thinker”? How can you have “free thought” without free will?

    CB

    Posted by CB | December 6, 2011, 1:30 am
  4. CB, words can have both literal and symbolic meaning. The word “freethinker” is generally used to describe someone whose worldview is not constrained by presuppositions that are deemed true regardless of the evidence. In other words, someone who begins with evidence and proceeds to conclusions is a freethinker. A non-freethinker would be someone like you.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | December 8, 2011, 2:43 pm
  5. First Hamby says:
    “What caused the universe? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. We do have some pretty good guesses”

    Then Hamby says:
    ” The word “freethinker” is generally used to describe someone whose worldview is not constrained by presuppositions that are deemed true regardless of the evidence. In other words, someone who begins with evidence and proceeds to conclusions is a freethinker. A non-freethinker would be someone like you”….

    PG says:
    “…and you!”

    Posted by PG | December 8, 2011, 10:36 pm
  6. Well, Hamby, I see that you utterly fail to answer my question. I am well aware of how “[t]he word ‘freethinker’ is generally used”, and I don’t need your repeated yet ultimately meaningless explanation.

    I’ll ask you again, how can someone “begin with evidence and proceed to conclusions” IF THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE WILL???

    If you’re still stumped, here’s an alternate wording: DOES IT NOT TAKE FREE WILL to “begin with evidence and proceed to conclusions”?? If not, why not? How not?

    I expect more epic fail on your part, and I am confident that I won’t be disappointed.

    Posted by CB | December 9, 2011, 2:14 pm
  7. The word “freethinker” is generally used to describe someone whose worldview is not constrained by presuppositions that are deemed true regardless of the evidence.

    Obviously, I need to remind you of Lewontin again. Science, as it is currently practiced, ABSOLUTELY IS CONSTRAINED BY PRESUPPOSITIONS THAT ARE DEEMED TRUE REGARDLESS OF THE EVIDENCE. That is what Lewontin means when he says:

    We take the side of science IN SPITE of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, IN SPITE of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, IN SPITE of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our A PRIORI adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    That is the Great Joke, Hamby, people like you who swear on their mother’s grave that they’re “freethinkers” who base their world view on “scientific evidence”, while smugly looking down their nose at people like me, when in truth, their world view is nothing more than an exercise in circular logic. The joke is on you, and you’re apparently too arrogant and prideful to acknowledge it.

    Posted by CB | December 9, 2011, 2:28 pm
  8. I think the term freethinker can be taken at face value- simply as someone who thinks freely. And as such, pretty much all scientists could be labeled freethinkers. The ones who properly use the scientific method draw their conclusions from what the evidence suggests. And as the evidence changes or we uncover new evidence, we are obligated to rethink our hypotheses- and alter the conclusions as necessary.

    Non-freethinkers are typically reluctant to change their conclusions regardless of what the evidence shows. Anyone who falls in this category is not a scientist.

    Everyone but the uneducated (and very religious) base their world view on scientific evidence. You can even leave the “scientific” out of that last sentence and say everyone bases their world view on evidence. I have evidence that fresh water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. Until I see evidence to prove otherwise, I will conclude that the freezing point of fresh water is 0 degrees C. I will hold this to be true, and this is part of my world view. We have evidence that hominids very similar to homo sapiens existed 3 million years ago. This is also part of my world view.

    That the earth is 6,000 years old or all the species of all animals once lived on a boat for 40 days is not part of my world view. There is simply no credible evidence proving this.

    I am a physicist and my logic is not circular. I am also a freethinker. My world view is based on evidence, be it scientific, mathematical, economical, historical or mythological. Unfortunate to CB’s cause, mythological evidence doesn’t exist. That he thinks it does it the Great Joke he speaks of.

    Posted by Matt O'Neal | December 9, 2011, 11:59 pm
  9. Well CB,

    What can atheist really take pride in when society continues to distrust Atheists more than rapist teachers…

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/study-atheists-distrusted-as-much-as-rapists/2011/12/09/gIQAfYUiiO_story.html

    Posted by PG | December 10, 2011, 11:16 pm
  10. PG, how about taking pride in not being as ignorant as the rest of society?

    I mean, for fuck’s sake, people. What do atheists tend to do? They subject truth claims to skeptical scrutiny. What do rapists tend to do? Why, they fucking rape you. So you really have to ask yourself, which would you rather experience:

    1. Having your beliefs challenged by rational arguments.
    2. Getting raped.

    One of these alternatives is clearly better than the other, and if you can’t figure out which it is, then I just don’t know what to say.

    Posted by Ian | December 11, 2011, 10:43 am
  11. CB wrote:

    Obviously, I need to remind you of Lewontin again.

    CB, nobody needs to be reminded of your idée fixe. Why don’t we just take it as understood that you can always find some way to involve Lewontin’s rant in something it doesn’t pertain to, and move on to other issues?

    Posted by Ian | December 11, 2011, 10:49 am
  12. Ian,

    I take pride in the fact that the majority of society are not a bunch of Sheep, who for example, will not let a scientist like Hawkings easily convince them of his PERSONAL OPINION that “everything came from absolutely nothing” without epirical evidence and challenge..

    Atheists are baffled when Society challenges what Lewontin described as “unsubstantiated just-so stories.”

    So Ian, take pride that the rest of society is not as gullable or ignorant as the atheist who have accept “just-so stories”…

    Posted by PG | December 11, 2011, 2:49 pm
  13. You’ve got two things wrong there, PG. One is understandable, the other isn’t.

    1. Hawking’s theory is not that everything came from absolutely nothing. His theory requires a platonic realist interpretation of the laws of nature, which many scientists and philosophers believe is already entailed by quantum gravity. See Quentin Smith’s defense of Hawking’s earlier work on the quantum wave function of the universe for details: http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_1_1.htm.

    Many atheists do, however, represent Hawking’s theory as an ex nihilo origination of the universe (even Hawking speaks equivocally on this subject). The notion that the universe could have come into being from absolute nothing has been around since antiquity, and it’s generally regarded as mysticism (see http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2010/07/01/6-basic-kinds-of-answers-to-the-question-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing/ for an article addressing the subject).

    2. This is not Hawking’s “personal opinion.” It’s rigorously formulated theoretical physics, and the greater part of it is based on the standard model. You can quibble over string theory if you like (and I’ll join in the quibbling with you), but in the end all Hawking really needs is a theory that unifies gravity with the other forces, which pretty much every theory of quantum gravity will do. So you’re dead wrong on that one.

    Posted by Ian | December 11, 2011, 6:50 pm
  14. CB, the existence or non-existence of free will is absolutely irrelevant to the question of following evidence to conclusions. Why would you think it matters?

    How can someone eat oranges and apples when there’s no such thing as unicorns?! Well… hell… I don’t know…

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | December 12, 2011, 1:55 am
  15. Come on Ian, even Sir Penrose didnt take Hawkings bait, why did you?

    Criticising M-theory, Penrose said: “It’s a collection of ideas, hopes, aspirations. The (Hawkings) book is a bit misleading. It gives you this impression of a theory that is going to explain everything; it’s nothing of the sort. It’s not even a theory.”

    Universe has not been shown to “create itself from nothing”.

    Asked whether science shows that the universe could “create itself from nothing” as claimed in the book, Penrose was strong in his condemnation of the ‘string’ theory that lies behind Hawking’s statement: “It’s certainly not doing it yet. I think the book suffers rather more strongly than many. It’s not an uncommon thing in popular descriptions of science to latch onto an idea, particularly things to do with string theory, which have absolutely no support from observation. They are just nice ideas.” He added that such ideas are “”very far from any testability. They are hardly science.”
    http://hocanhngu.com/videos/playvideo.php?video=Dg_95wZZFr4&feature=youtube_gdata&name=Hawking%20co-scientist%20Roger%20Penrose%20debunks%20M-theory%20on%20Christian%20Radio

    Let me restate it again Ian,

    You can take pride in the fact that the rest of society hasent been spellbound by the wheelchaired scientist with the computer voice box who is trying to pass off his ” OPINIONS “( “ideas,hopes,asparations”) as real science…

    Posted by PG | December 12, 2011, 2:48 am
  16. PG, I have been despising string theory now for well onto two decades, and I have no intention of stopping, short of a miracle or, even more unlikely, experimental evidence in support of it. So in response to Penrose’s statements, I say, “Bravo! Bravissimo!”

    Posted by Ian | December 12, 2011, 9:03 am
  17. I think the term freethinker can be taken at face value- simply as someone who thinks freely.

    Tautology much?

    I am a physicist and my logic is not circular. I am also a freethinker. My world view is based on evidence, be it scientific, mathematical, economical, historical or mythological. Unfortunate to CB’s cause, mythological evidence doesn’t exist.

    This demonstrates to me that your “logic” is indeed circular. your whines to the contrary notwithstanding. You apparently reject the possibility of so-called “mythological” evidence out of hand, which suggests that you reject theistic explanations for observed phenomena (such as the information content of DNA, or the fact that DNA is a code in the same manner that software is a code) out of hand, which would mean that your starting point is materialism just as Lewonton states, and your “conclusion” is likewise materialism, which is circular logic. This also means that what I quoted you as saying is self-contradictory — your world view is only “based on evidence” as long as the “conclusion” is materialism. For example, the existence of the sovereign state of Israel is evidence of fulfilled Bible prophecy, but you will reject this evidence as non-evidence. In doing so, you demonstrate the circular logic you deny having.

    CB, nobody needs to be reminded…

    Au contraire, chief — your collective actions scream otherwise, and your utterly predictable knee-jerk denial is hereby noted and dismissed.

    Why don’t we just take it as…(blah blah blah)

    Well, obviously, you are free to take anything any way you wish, reality be damned. Assuming Free Will actually exists, of course…

    CB, the existence or non-existence of free will is absolutely irrelevant to the question of following evidence to conclusions. Why would you think it matters?

    It never ceases to amaze me how utterly obtuse you can be if you think it may help your position in some obscure way…

    “Following evidence to conclusions” is a matter of choice, based on the observation that you atheists constantly accuse theists of not doing that very thing. Since choice is the issue, one must be free to make the choice, one way or the other. Since this choice is a matter of will, the issue is a matter of free will, and it’s simply absurd that you require this level of hand-holding. I do see a consistent pattern of denial emanating from your camp, and it’s a tad disturbing.

    Why would you think it matters?

    Well, I guess for people like you, who by all appearances are willfully blind, it doesn’t matter, but that only vigorously underscores the circular logic I spoke of earlier. I would ask the inverse question (“Why would you think it doesn’t matter?”) but I believe I already have the answer: You simply don’t want it to matter, so you can have your cake and eat it too. You may simply want to deny that free will exists while reserving the right to call yourself a “free thinker”. Perhaps you want a way to ignore the elephant in the room, the obvious contradiction (obvious to those with open eyes, anyway).

    Posted by CB | December 15, 2011, 1:58 am
  18. From New Science Magazine:
    “Cosmologists thought they had a workaround. Over the years, they have tried on several different models of the universe that dodge the need for a beginning while still requiring a big bang. But recent research has shot them full of holes (see “Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event”). It now seems certain that the universe did have a beginning”

    “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.” – Professor Vilenkin

    ““A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God,” -Steven Hawking’

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328473.500-the-genesis-problem.html

    So
    Atheists,
    Where’s
    Your
    Proof?

    Posted by PG | January 21, 2012, 2:43 pm
  19. Atheists were is your proof?

    .

    .

    .

    Crickets…

    Posted by PG | February 12, 2012, 12:13 am

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