The question went something like this: what would it take to make an atheist believe, or what argument would send an atheist back to God? What would it take to destroy atheism forever?
I don’t remember the exact question but I do have below the exact answer, although without the author’s name. (When I find his name I’ll add it to this post.
Atheist here. Looking from the inside of the vast atheist conspiracy, I am prepared this moment, to give you the very key that will destroy atheism forever!
If you do this—you can crush atheism, and shut us down cold. Turns out, we are far more vulnerable than most Christians realize. It’s really simple—there’s one thing you need to do—and only one thing. Do this, and atheism is destroyed.
Do I have your attention? Are you ready?
Provide some hard, verifiable evidence for your God and the other supernatural claims of your religion. Do that—and you will crush atheism everywhere, and save millions of people’s souls.
The evidence must be objective, reliable, observable in some way, even if indirectly. It must hold up under scrutiny by multiple independent observers who would love to prove you wrong, but are forced by the weight of the evidence to agree with your conclusions. And the evidence must point to your religious conclusions as the only, or at least the best/simplest explanation, and there must not be a competing explanation that is better, and there must not be contradictory evidence of similar or better quality.
As a bonus, I’ll even throw in a list of things that won’t do it. This will help you to avoid wasting your time and mine!
Faith. Sorry—”faith” is just shorthand for “I have no evidence or rational justification for believing, but I’m going to do so anyway and I demand you do also.”
The Bible. Sorry—anyone can write anything, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Other religions have their holy texts too—yet they don’t convince you of those other religions, do they?
Subjective reasons, personal convictions, experience, etc. Sorry—you’re making an objective claim (that your religious claims are true for everyone, not just you)—so I want objective evidence. Other religions have their subjective evidence too.
Arguments from existence or ignorance. Sorry—but “how else do you explain…” is a lousy argument—at one time, people used that to justify that the sun was a god. Our ignorance is no excuse for inserting the supernatural as an excuse to believe.
Threats of Hell or wagers. Do the threats from other religions move you to believe in them? Threats of Hell are a sign you’re playing with an empty hand.
Vague philosophical arguments. When was the last time a believer said “The Ontological Argument—that’s the one that blew me away!” Such arguments are used by apologists in professional debates to provide a thin veneer of intellectual and philosophical respectability to theistic arguments, but they are fallacious and convince no one.
The Argument from Design. Sorry—the universe is clearly not designed, but I don’t have the time and patience to explain this now. I’ll go into more detail if this point becomes a focus of replies.
So there you go. Your task is clear, and it should be simple to provide such evidence if an actual god really existed as described by believers. The evidence would be overwhelming. But after thousands of years of the very best and brightest theist minds striving mightily to do so, no one has ever been able to provide evidence of the sort I described above. I wonder why?
But his early life had been geared to ambition, and he felt he must accomplish something, do something, make himself a better man, and his country a better place. This he had been taught as a child, this he still believed. (Louis L’Amour, Chap. 1, Matagorda)
The schools have always made it their business to bring this about (make the country a better place), but have they ever done so? What we witness in Washington today would say emphatically that no, they haven’t, and they are perhaps further away from doing so than ever before (BT, before Trump).
Also for what it’s worth, in regard to those thousands who go on writing about the schools, those who for the nth time would reform them, all those perennials who would make them, if they could, what they were meant to be, ——they are still repeating ad nauseum the same old (tired phrases). See this month’s, What Is Education For? By Danielle Allen et al. in the Boston Review.
A high percentage of a people, of Americans, would place the source of their moral truths in religion. And perhaps most numerous among these are the Evangelicals, those 100 thousands who make up the largest portion of President Trump’s electoral base, still active now as the President begins to campaign for a second term.
The evangelicals’ reading of the Bible places them by and large against abortion, same sex marriage, LGBTQ people, government and private programs protecting a woman’s right to choose, the backing of religious conservative candidates for judgeships, and much else of the same or similar nature. (How did his happen, the rise of the Evangelicals, in a country founded not so much by the born agains as by deists, agnostics, and probably even non- believers?)
But there are others of us who would place the source of our morality in ourselves as we attempt to know ourselves, whether through religion, or science, of just through our own life experiences. This morality is based on who we are and hence it behooves us to follow the example of the Greeks and to learn and know all we can about ourselves. If something is good or bad it should not be because someone or some organization, or even some sacred book, says it is. Rather it should be because we have found it to be good or bad ourselves. It is our nature to be constantly making moral judgements based on our own experiences.
In the article that follows Michael Shermer argues that to some extent morality, our moral judgements, ought to follow from what we have found to be the truth about people, just as the laws of science follow from what we have determined to be true about nature. I would differ from Shermer only to the extent that Hume’s difference between “ought” and “is” (that the two should never meet, see note below) does hold and that the moral truths of what ought to be, of what we ought to do, while a kind of truth, are not the same as the truths of science.
If they are in some respects the same it’s only to the extent that the truths proceed from what we learn, in the one case about nature, and in the other about ourselves, about who and what we are.
How might a social scientist “discover” moral laws in human nature as a physical scientist might discover natural laws in laboratory experiments. It’s a good question. Is it possible to say in some absolute sense that specific acts, such as the large scale massacres of the Holocaust, are evil in an absolute sense?
Pace Abraham Lincoln, who famously said, “If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.” I hereby declare in an unequivocal defense of moral realism: If the Holocaust is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.
Let me approach this defense of moral realism from the perspective of a physical scientist. It is my hypothesis that in the same way that Galileo and Newton discovered physical laws and principles about the natural world that really are out there, so too have social scientists discovered moral laws and principles about human nature and society that really do exist. Just as it was inevitable that the astronomer Johannes Kepler would discover that planets have elliptical orbits—given that he was making accurate astronomical measurements, and given that planets really do travel in elliptical orbits, he could hardly have discovered anything else.
Similarly “scientists” studying political, economic, social, and moral subjects will discover certain things that are true in these fields of inquiry. For example, that democracies are better than autocracies, that market economies are superior to command economies, that torture and the death penalty do not curb crime, that burning women as witches is a fallacious idea, that women are not too weak and emotional to run companies or countries, that blacks do not like being enslaved and that the Jews do not want to be exterminated.
Why? My answer is that it is in human nature to struggle to survive and flourish in the teeth of nature’s entropy while having the freedom, autonomy, and prosperity available in free societies, built as they were on the foundation of Enlightenment philosophers and scientists seeking to discover the best way for humans to live, best meaning enabling individual sentient beings, that is you and I, to live out your and our evolved destinies.
From here we can derive the purpose of life: it is to push back against the entropy of nature, entropy being a fundamental physical rule or law that closed systems (those not taking in energy, those in a box six feet under) move from order to disorder, from organization to disorganization, from structured to unstructured, and from warm to cold. Although entropy can be temporarily reversed in an open system with an outside source of energy, such as heating cold food in a microwave, isolated systems decay as entropy increases.
The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. This law, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is the First Law of life. If your idea or theory is found to go against this law there is no salvation. And evolution or natural selection is the only known natural process that seems to resist this law, by pushing populations of organisms thermodynamically as it were uphill to higher degrees of functional order, offsetting the inevitable increase in disorder that would otherwise take place.
This what we might call “extropy” only happens in an open system with an energy source, such as our planet receiving the rays of the sun and thereby providing the energy that temporarily reverses entropy, or own molecules of RNA and DNA replicating themselves and thereby sending near-duplicates of themselves out into the world that providing for the continuation of further natural selection, for further life forms. However, if we do nothing, entropy will take its course and we will move toward a higher state of disorder (ultimately causing our demise). So the most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by supporting systems open to other energy sources enabling us not only to survive but to reproduce, and flourish.
From the Paleolithic to the present, human groups have evolved from bands of hundreds, to tribes of thousands, to chiefdoms of tens of thousands, to states of hundreds of thousands, to nations of millions. This could not have happened through zero-sum exchanges alone. The hallmarks of humanity ——language, tools, hunting, gathering, farming, writing, art, music, science, and technology—– could not have come about through the actions of isolated zero-sum gamers. Thus, reasoning moral agents would eventually conclude that both should cooperate toward mutual benefit rather than compete to either a zero-sum outcome in which one gains and the other loses, or both lose in a defection cascade.
The moral progress we have witnessed over the centuries—the abolition of slavery, torture, and the death penalty; the expansion of rights to blacks, women, children, workers, and now even animals—has as its origin the scientific and reason-based concept that the world is governed by laws and principles that we can understand and apply, whether it is solar systems, eco systems, political systems, economic systems, or social and moral systems.
Whether or not you consider “ought” to be a scientific category for centuries we have been treating the is of the world—the way things really are that we can discover—as a basis for determining what we ought to do morally. Thus science per se does not in any recognizable sense imply that survival and flourishing is either good or bad, because there is no scientific test for good or bad and no scientific proof that they are positive or negative in moral terms, i.e. that this is the way things ought to be.
Excuse me? We have, in fact, been running such experiments for centuries—the natural experiments of societies and their social, political, and economic systems. Every state or national constitution is an experiment in social and moral living, and we can compare them through the comparative method social scientists and policy makers routinely use. Different laws and systems produce different outcomes. We can study and learn from them, with our evaluative criteria grounded in human nature and our desire to survive and flourish.
Sure, future scientists may one day discover that humans do not have an instinct to survive and flourish, that most people do not want freedom, autonomy, and prosperity, that women want to be lorded over by men, that animals enjoy being tortured, killed, and eaten, that some people like being enslaved, and that large populations of people don’t object to being liquidated in gas chambers. But I doubt it. Through science and reason we have followed a path of discovery that has led more people in more places to lead better lives and enjoy more moral rights, respect and consideration. The is-ought fallacy is a red herring. Mr. Hume: Tear. Down. This. Wall.**
Dr. Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the author of The Moral Arc, The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, Why Darwin Matters, and The Science of Good and Evil.
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.”
Hume asks, given knowledge of the way the universe is, in what sense can we say it ought to be different? Hume calls for caution against such inferences in the absence of any explanation of how the ought-statements follow from the is-statements. But how exactly can an “ought” be derived from an “is”? The question, prompted by Hume’s small paragraph, has become one of the central questions of ethical theory, and Hume is usually assigned the position that such a derivation is impossible. This complete severing of “is” from “ought” has been given the graphic designation of Hume’s Guillotine. (Michael Shermer)
I, that is me, Philip Waring have borrowed or rather taken the following pictures and information, and in some instances the wording itself, from articles by Lindsey Bever in the Washington Post, of May 10, 2018, as well as from the Review and website of Exit International, of May 8.
At 104 years David Goodall chose himself when and where he would die. He said that he had traveled from Australia to Switzerland for the purpose, because euthanasia wasn’t legal in his Australian homeland.
When there and asked, Did he want to eat anything in particular for his last meal? He replied he didn’t know. Did he want any special song played at his bedside? He wasn’t sure — but if he had to choose one, it would be the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the Ode to Joy. And as he said that in response to his questioner, he burst spontaneously into song, singing in German:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
I can understand that. And as my family and friends know well whenever I listen to the Ode to Joy, especially in the Banco Sabadell’s Flashmob performance, I find myself also bursting into the Götterfunken (divine spark) song, at least when no-one is watching or listening.
Anyway, and in accordance with Goodall’s own plan for ending his life around midday on Thursday, an IV was placed into his arm allowing him to turn a wheel to allow the lethal drugs to flow into his bloodstream. Then, in the presence of his family Goodall fell asleep, and within a few minutes, while Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was sounding in German, and just as the joyful music concluded, he died.
The organization, Exit International, in charge of his assisted suicide, said that Goodall had requested that his body be donated to medicine and, if not, that his ashes be sprinkled locally, and also that he wanted to have no funeral, no remembrance service or ceremony of any kind, that he had no belief in an afterlife.
Goodall was a long time botanist and ecologist and was thought to be Australia’s oldest living scientist. On his 104th birthday last month he said simply that he had lived too long.
“I greatly regret having reached my age and I would much prefer now to be 20 or 30 years younger.” When asked whether he had had a good 104th birthday, he replied: “No, I’m not happy. I want to die. … It’s not sad, particularly. What is sad is when one is prevented from dying. My feeling is that an old person like myself should have full citizenship rights, including the right of assisted suicide.”
Because assisted suicide is banned in Australia, Goodall had to board a plane and travel more than 8,000 miles to Basel, a Swiss city near the French and German borders. Switzerland, like many other countries, has not passed legislation legalizing assisted suicide; but under some circumstances, its laws do not forbid it.
“I didn’t want particularly to go to Switzerland, though it’s a nice country,” Goodall said, “but I had to do that in order to do to myself what Australia does not permit. I would have preferred to be able to die in my own country, for Australia is my home. I’m sorry to have to go such a long way away in order to end my life. At my age, and even younger, one wants to be free to choose when is the most appropriate time to die.”
Goodall said he had a good life, but in recent years, his health had declined. He told the ABC that several months ago, he fell down in his apartment in Perth and, for two days, he lay on the floor until his housekeeper found him. “I called out,” he said, “but no one could hear me.” He told reporters that there were things he would miss, such as his “journeys into the Australian countryside.” And there were still many things he would have like to do but that it was too late. “I am content to leave them undone,” he said.
Why would our president want to close our border to immigrants?
After all our country is now made up almost entirely of immigrants, all of whose ancestors have come here during the past 500 years or so, including the ancestors of the President whose grandfather Frederick came here from Kallstadt in the Kingdom of Bavaria at age 16 in 1885, illegally.
So why would this President be now so against others coming here as his own family did, not even 200 years ago? Why does he refuse to accept that that’s who and what we are, a country of immigrants? Why does he not accept that the greatness of our country, that which he would restore, or in his own words make great again, stems by and large from the accomplishments of immigrants most of whom were either brought here enslaved or came themselves illegally, probably without the proper permissions, much as those who are now crossing our southern border?
What’s happening today goes against the grain of what we are as a country. Now the President would remove the TPS or temporary protected status of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from countries close to our Southern border, from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, or from the chaotic Middle East, from Somalia, the Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Now these so-called TPS immigrants are mostly refugees from brutal authoritarian governments, from civil wars, from natural disasters, and such, and have come here in great need. Why would we not change the “temporary” to “permanent” status? What are we afraid of? By helping themselves to have a better life they are going to help us all to have a better country. This has been proved over and over again.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who If he speaks at all is usually speaking for the President, had this to say in response to an NPR questioner: “The TPS people are overwhelmingly rural people. They don’t speak English … They don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills. While they are not bad people they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into modern American society.”
Now John, and yes, Donald Trump, wouldn’t you agree that your own ancestors were probably rural people and would have faced daunting challenges to assimilation, to finding their own places in our country? Why do you, John, now refuse to accept these new immigrants, probably no different from those of the past, from those of your own past in Ireland?
The new Secretary of Homeland Security, DHS, Kirstjen Nielsen, a protégée of Kelly’s, cancelled T.P.S. for the Hondurans…. Given Nielsen’s closeness to Kelly, there was little surprise when she decided to end the protections…. In the weeks before Nielsen cancelled T.P.S. for Hondurans, she had spoken out about a “crisis” at the border, involving a caravan of fifteen hundred Central American migrants travelling north, through Mexico, to seek asylum in the U.S. A Fox News broadcast brought the migrants—almost all of whom were Honduran—to the attention of the President, who immediately began fulminating against U.S. immigration laws. (They were “pathetic” and riddled with “loopholes,” he said.) …
The President, however, apparently didn’t think that his Administration was doing enough. On Thursday, the Times reported that Nielsen had considered resigning this week after Trump berated her in a Cabinet meeting. “Why don’t you have solutions?” he asked her, according to a subsequent article in the Post. He demanded to know why migrants were still streaming north, to the border, adding, “We need to shut it down. We’re closed.”
Can’t speak for others, but this liberal thinks you have very low standards for pride. What next? Pride that you can tie your own shoes? Pride you can wash a dish by hand? Pride you can use the bathroom by yourself?
For the most part we don’t think about it. We know there is a minority population within the US that likes Trump and thinks, beyond all evidence, that he is doing a good job. There will always be fan boys who will rave over something awful no matter how awful it is. The majority of us will sit back and sneer and laugh and pity.
I would implore you to learn more about the man, the things he has done and said. I implore you to use the library to its fullest extent. But by this time if you still feel this way about Trump I know you will not.
President Trump at the White House on Thursday.CreditJim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock
We are tethered to a buffoon. He rages and veers, spreading ugliness, like an oil slick smothering everyone thing in its viscous mantle. He’s about to bomb Syria. He’s not about to bomb Syria. His attention span is nonexistent. He attacks the foundations of our Republic: an independent judiciary, a free press, truth itself. His cabinet looks terrorized, the way Saddam Hussein’s once did.
President Donald Trump is dangerous. The main things mitigating the danger are his incompetence and cowardice. We live in a time that teaches how outrage can turn to a shrug, how the unthinkable repeated over and over can induce moral numbness, how a madman’s manic certainties can overwhelm reason. He is very busy; people resist; he opens another front; people shake their heads. It’s hard to remember on Friday what happened on Monday. Trump’s is the unbearable lightness of the charlatan.
Disorientation spreads. Trump’s main war, beyond all the military bluster, is on truth. This reflects his instinct for the jugular: Once the distinction between truth and falsehood disappears, anything is possible. There are plenty of examples these days, from Moscow to Budapest, of how “democracies” can be manipulated to the point where they can yield only one result. This is Trump’s objective, and for it he needs a weakened Justice Department, a weakened press and an American public that will believe anything. He has had setbacks but is stubborn.
In the mid-1930s, when the world was hurtling toward disaster, Robert Musil, the Austrian author of “The Man Without Qualities,” wrote this on the nature of civilization: “That which we call culture presumably does not directly have the concept of truth as a criterion, but no culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.”
This passage is cited by Olaf Peters, the curator of a wonderful exhibitioncalled “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930’s” at New York’s Neue Galerie. Peters writes of Hitler and the Nazis that they “ultimately came to power above all because they were against something and wanted to make Germany great again at the expense of others; they were against liberal democracy, against cultural modernism,” and hated both Marxism and Judaism, which they blamed for German humiliation.
So, Hitler wanted to make Germany great again. Sure worked out. Trump, of course, also hates “cultural modernism.” He is about a Restoration he equates with restored greatness. Once upon a time the United States won wars, white men ruled, a factory worker in Michigan could afford a couple of quad bikes, and marriage was between a man and a woman. President Trump is about resisting economic, cultural, technological, gender and demographic change. He can’t think, read or reflect; he compensates with urges.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as tweet. No, the United States is not Weimar, but then Weimar was not the Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1914, nor the French monarchy of 1789. It is not quite true that, as Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa observed, if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. Sometimes one gunshot ushers in the obliteration of empire and sumptuous palaces are left to attend to memories.
In the best case, it will take a long time to recover from Trump. America’s word is near worthless today. It’s on America’s word that global security has rested since 1945.
All the dumb noise Trump makes should not mask the fact that he is a symptom, not a cause. He reflects, and reinforces, a global counterrevolutionary moment, a reaction to the cry of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that she was “alternativlos”— without alternative.
The resurgent nationalists and nativists insist there are alternatives — alternatives to openness, to mass migration, to free trade, to secularism, to Europe’s ever closer union, to the legalization of same-sex marriage, to gender as a spectrum, to diversity, to human rights. They seek the homogeneous, a quest that exacted a terrible 20th century price.
This is no time for bystanders. “Before the Fall” reminds us to be vigilant. On April 11, 1939, the future historian Fritz Stern, then age 13, wrote to Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York, who had been outspoken in denouncing Hitler:
“When I heard a few minutes ago over the radio that you, Honorable Mayor, don’t want to run once more as Mayor, I was deeply depressed. Although I am a refugee, coming from Germany only months ago, and only a schoolboy, I beseech you to run again. I am quite sure that 80% of all New Yorkers will elect you (and this without concentration camps and Gestapo!). You must stay in City Hall for the sake of this wonderful city and country. If you are no longer Mayor that ‘international gangster in the brown shirt’ will be all too glad.”
I am grateful to Elisabeth Sifton, the editor and publisher, for passing along her late husband’s letter. The indignant voices of 13-year-olds are needed today on Trump. Stern would go on to write: “The fragility of freedom is the simplest and deepest lesson of my life and work.” RC