Podcast: Episode 18 – Ask An Atheist Day Question show special – part 3 of 3

Part three of the monster Ask An Atheist Day question show special is now live.

If you want to ask us a question, you can do so using this handy voice link: https://anchor.fm/reasonpress/message




Podcast: Episode 15: Easter Round Table with Skeptics and Seekers


It’s time for another Round Table episode; Andrew and Matthew are joined by Dale and David from the Skeptics and Seekers podcast for another of their regular round tables. This time fielding questions about Easter.

Find out more about Skeptics and Seekers at https://skepticsandseekers.wordpress.com/



Podcast: Episode 14 – Ask An Atheist Day Question show special – part 1 of 3

There’s going to be a flurry of podcast posts in the upcoming weeks. I have two in the queue waiting for me to hit the publish button, and I have 3 more in the edit process. I never wanted to publish more than one a week, but I don’t think I can avoid it right now. Today is Ask An Atheist Day and I recorded a four hour session answering various questions. Due to the length I have decided to split the recording into three parts, the first hour is available at the link below. The next two parts will follow, plus I have an Easter special episode to publish.


This first part of the Ask An Atheist Day special covers the fire at Notre Dame, deconverting Christians, giving up beliefs, sex and marriage, and monkeys throwing poop! Have a giggle with us.

Podcast: Episode 13: The Burden of Proof, Bayes Theorem, and Molinism


Another of my podcast episodes has gone live, this time Andrew and I are in discussion with Dale from the Skeptics and Seekers podcast (https://anchor.fm/skeptics-and-seekers)

The conversation is supposed to be about who holds the burden of proof for what, but there is a segment where Andrew and Dale get a little stuck on Bayes, don’t worry though, it doesn’t dominate the episode.

As always, comments and discussion are welcome, or join in at the the Skeptics and Seekers site: https://skepticsandseekers.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/ask-an-atheist-anything-when-does-the-atheist-bear-the-burden-of-proof-dale-guest-stars/


Podcast: How should the church respond to Transgender

Recently I was a host on the Still Unbelievable! talking about transgender and the church. This episode is responding to an episode of the Unbelievable? podcast on the same subject.

The Transformed document that is referenced in the episode is found here: https://www.eauk.org/resources/what-we-offer/reports/transformed-understanding-transgender-in-a-changing-culture/transformed-the-resource

It’s a shocking document and I recommend reading this critique of it: http://mikehigton.org.uk/a-critique-of-transformed-1/

Ask An Atheist Day, April 18

Ask An Atheist Day is a thing, Apparently, and this year it falls on April 18th.

To support this, the podcast I co host, Ask An Atheist Anything, is going to do a questions episode. In this episode we’ll field a bunch of questions and give brief answers. This will be a change from most episodes where we have tended to focus on a single question.

So, what question would you like to ask an atheist?

Or, if you’re atheist, what question would you like to be asked?

Or, if you’ve seen an interesting question or set of questions elsewhere, paste in the link.



Can atheism explain Consciouness?


The latest episode of my Ask An Atheist Anything podcast went live over the weekend. Listen to it at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts.


The conversation that Andrew and I have with Ernest is delightful and there is a lot of genuine laughter. Ernest’s enthusiasm for life is infectious and the world does need more people like him.

The blog post that prompted the discussion and eventual recording of the episode is here: https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Unbelievable-blog/How-consciousness-demolished-my-atheism-and-saved-my-faith

Comments are no longer visible or possible on the blog post, which I think is a massive shame. It was only through the ability to comment that I was able to make contact with the author and to organise the live conversation. Shutting down comments kills the ability for dialogue to spread.

I am hopeful that there will be a follow up episode, so any thoughts, feedback, or follow up questions will be welcomed and appreciated.

Twenty Arguments for God – A Summary


I’ve spent the last couple of months considering and responding to twenty arguments for the existence of the Christian god (http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm).

To be blunt, I’m unconvinced and less than impressed. The bottom line is, when Christianity tries to argue for the existence of its god, it does so from a position of wishful thinking. Christianity desperately needs to appear reasoned and lacking in superstition, so arguments like that list emerge to try and show that face. Yet, when the bright light of reason does indeed shine on these arguments, what becomes demonstrably clear is that Christian arguments for their god are framed so that they can only conclude in their god and are worded so as to guide only towards the Christian god. It is the perfect example of putting the cart before the horse.

The big thing that is lacking in all these arguments is the test. This is the pinnacle of a reasoned argument. It’s all well and good making a case for something, but if you don’t create a test that will confirm or deny the validity of the idea, then you have only done half a job.

Christian apologetics as a whole is the school of half a job and this list of twenty arguments demonstrates that nicely.

When I started through the list I was hoping that I would be challenged to think deeper about why I rejected my former faith. I hoped that the challenge would stimulate me into having to think about the implications of the arguments and maybe even spend some time reading up on the background to the arguments. I did that a little for some of them, but over all I found that the arguments were light on substance to the point that my biggest challenge was to try to address the points thoughtfully and not resort to a sarcastic dismissal. It’s very possible that I wasn’t as successful on that as others would be.

The most disappointing argument for me was also one of the most popular and widely used, the Kalam Cosmological Argument. It really is a shocker. That intelligent people hold it in high regard demonstrates the wishful thinking element of religion and how far people will go to shore up their beliefs with arguments that have the superficial appearance of rationality.


Twenty Arguments for God – Sixteen – The Argument from Desire

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 16:


If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

16. The Argument from Desire

Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”
The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial. We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.
Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires. We do not, for example, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires, as we do for the first. There is no word like “Ozlessness” parallel to “sleeplessness.” But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction. This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.
The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do; some don’t. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.
The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone denies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you, really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'”
The conclusion of the argument is not that everything the Bible tells us about God and life with God is really so. What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy. This X is to great beauty as, for example, great beauty is to small beauty or to a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And the same is true of other perfections.
But the “more” is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial. Thus the analogy (X is to great beauty as great beauty is to small beauty) is not proportionate. Twenty is to ten as ten is to five, but infinite is not to twenty as twenty is to ten. The argument points down an infinite corridor in a definite direction. Its conclusion is not “God” as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves.
In other words, the only concept of God in this argument is the concept of that which transcends concepts, something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). In other words, this is the real God.
C. S. Lewis, who uses this argument in a number of places, summarizes it succinctly:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
Question 1: How can you know the major premise—that every natural desire has a real object—is universally true, without first knowing that this natural desire also has a real object? But that is the conclusion. Thus you beg the question. You must know the conclusion to be true before you can know the major premise.
Reply: This is really not an objection to the argument from desire only, but to every deductive argument whatsoever, every syllogism. It is the old saw of John Stuart Mill and the nominalists against the syllogism. It presupposes empiricism—that is, that the only way we can ever know anything is by sensing individual things and then generalizing, by induction. It excludes deduction because it excludes the knowledge of any universal truths (like our major premise). For nominalists do not believe in the existence of any universals—except one (that all universals are only names).
This is very easy to refute. We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like “all humans are mortal,” not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity from the few specimens we do experience by our senses. We know that all humans are mortal because humanity, as such, involves mortality, it is the nature of a human being to be mortal; mortality follows necessarily from its having an animal body. We can understand that. We have the power of understanding, or intellectual intuition, or insight, in addition to the mental powers of sensation and calculation, which are the only two the nominalist and empiricist give us. (We share sensation with animals and calculation with computers; where is the distinctively human way of knowing for the empiricist and nominalist?)
When there is no real connection between the nature of a proposition’s subject and the nature of the predicate, the only way we can know the truth of that proposition is by sense experience and induction. For instance, we can know that all the books on this shelf are red only by looking at each one and counting them. But when there is a real connection between the nature of the subject and the nature of the predicate, we can know the truth of that proposition by understanding and insight—for instance, “Whatever has color must have size,” or, “A Perfect Being would not be ignorant.”
Question 2: Suppose I simply deny the minor premise and say that I just don’t observe any hidden desire for God, or infinite joy, or some mysterious X that is more than earth can offer?
Reply: This denial may take two forms. First, one may say, “Although I am not perfectly happy now, I believe I would be if only I had ten million dollars, a Lear jet, and a new mistress every day.” The reply to this is, of course, “Try it. You won’t like it.” It’s been tried and has never satisfied. In fact, billions of people have performed and are even now performing trillions of such experiments, desperately seeking the ever-elusive satisfaction they crave. For even if they won the whole world, it would not be enough to fill one human heart.
Yet they keep trying, believing that “If only… Next time …” This is the stupidest gamble in the world, for it is the only one that consistently has never paid off. It is like the game of predicting the end of the world: every batter who has ever approached that plate has struck out. There is hardly reason to hope the present ones will fare any better. After trillions of failures and a one hundred percent failure rate, this is one experiment no one should keep trying.
A second form of denial of our premise is: “I am perfectly happy now.” This, we suggest, verges on idiocy or, worse, dishonesty. It requires something more like exorcism than refutation. This is Meursault in Camus’s The Stranger. This is subhuman, vegetation, pop psychology. Even the hedonist utilitarian John Stuart Mill, one of the shallowest (though cleverest) minds in the history of philosophy, said that “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”
Question 3: This argument is just another version of Anselm’s ontological argument (13), which is invalid. You argue to an objective God from a mere subjective idea or desire in you.
Reply: No, we do not argue from the idea alone, as Anselm does. Rather, our argument first derives a major premise from the real world of nature: that nature makes no desire in vain. Then it discovers something real in human nature-namely, human desire for something more than nature-which nature cannot explain, because nature cannot satisfy it. Thus, the argument is based on observed facts in nature, both outer and inner. It has data.

Like several of the other arguments before it, this one opens with statements that are assumed to be true and are framed in such a way that the read is guided towards the already predetermined god answer. There is no attempt made to establish the accuracy of the opening statements first.

The explanatory section that follows makes a distinction between natural desires like sleep and hunger, I’ll call them needs since without them the body will function less efficiently, and desires that I’ll call wants, which are things that align to our preferences but are not requisites for body survival. Needs are things that we find hard or impossible to control and would include addiction. You can’t control your body’s need for food or sleep but your want to drive the latest supercar is entirely optional.

The description of needs and wants seems reasonable enough and I have no specific issue there. However, for reasons which are unclear and unexplained, the concept of infinity and proportionality is introduced and then the subject (predictably) turns to god. It’s almost as though the argument, as pasted above, is an incomplete edit.

What’s going on here is pretty obvious, the author is making the case that there is an innate desire to worship a deity, that deity is of course the Christian god. There is an attempt to justify this by suggesting that this desire is observed in nature. “It has data” apparently, yet no link to the study which supplies it!

Reference is made to John Stuart Mill, read more about him here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/

The three posed questions are odd, they are not phrased how I would put, it’s as though they are worded peculiarly on purpose so as to create some easy to bat away. The second part of the response to question two is especially disingenuous, it foregoes all subtlety and basically says that if you deny that you have an innate desire for god you are a liar. The author isn’t alone in abandoning all integrity when arguing for god; I have seen variations of that claim multiple times since I started engaging Christians from the atheist perspective.

Skipping to question three and the answer given, I like that it gives a clue as to how to dismantle the argument for no 13. The answer draws on the observation that “nature makes no desire in vain”, that part I’ll accept, it goes wrong when it assumes god applies to that and that everyone desires god. That assumption is by no means established and is certainly a subjective interpretation, despite the objections.

Twenty Arguments for God – Seven – The Argument from Contingency

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 7:

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

7. The Argument from Contingency

The basic form of this argument is simple.
If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
Suppose you deny the first premise. Then if X exists, there need not exist what it takes for X to exist. But “what it takes for X to exist” means the immediate condition(s) for X’s existence. You mean that X exists only if Y. Without Y, there can be no X. So the denial of premise 1 amounts to this: X exists; X can only exist if Y exists; and Y does not exist. This is absurd. So there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist. But what does it take?
We spoke of the universe as “the collection of beings in space and time.” Consider one such being: yourself. You exist, and you are, in part at least, material. This means that you are a finite, limited and changing being, you know that right now, as you read this book, you are dependent for your existence on beings outside you. Not your parents or grandparents. They may no longer be alive, but you exist now. And right now you depend on many things in order to exist—for example, on the air you breathe. To be dependent in this way is to be contingent. You exist if something else right now exists.
But not everything can be like this. For then everything would need to be given being, but there would be nothing capable of giving it. There would not exist what it takes for anything to exist. So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself. What it takes for this thing to exist could only be this thing itself. Unlike changing material reality, there would be no distance, so to speak, between what this thing is and that it is. Obviously the collection of beings changing in space and time cannot be such a thing. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist cannot be identical with the universe itself or with a part of the universe.
Question 1: But why should we call this cause “God”? Maybe there is something unknown that grounds the universe of change we live in.
Reply: True. And this “unknown” is God. What we humans know directly is this sensible changing world. We also know that there must exist whatever it takes for something to exist. Therefore, we know that neither this changing universe as a whole nor any part of it can be itself what it takes for the universe to exist. But we have now such direct knowledge of the cause of changing things. We know that there must exist a cause; we know that this cause cannot be finite or material—that it must transcend such limitations. But what this ultimate cause is in itself remains, so far, a mystery.
There is more to be said by reason; and there is very much more God has made known about himself through revelation. But the proofs have given us some real knowledge as well: knowledge that the universe is created; knowledge that right now it is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit, that transcends the kind of being we humans directly know. And that is surely knowledge worth having. We might figure out that someone’s death was murder and no accident, without figuring out exactly who did it and why, and this might leave us frustrated and unsatisfied. But at least we would know what path of questioning to pursue; at least we would know that someone did it.
So it is with the proofs. They let us know that at every moment the being of the universe is the creative act of a Giver—A Giver transcending all material and spiritual limitations. Beyond that, they do not tell us much about what or who this Giver is—but they point in a very definite direction. We know that this Ultimate Reality—the Giver of being—cannot be material. And we know the gift which is given includes personal being: intelligence, will and spirit. The infinite transcendent cause of these things cannot be less than they are, but must be infinitely more. How and in what way we do not know. To some extent this Giver must always remain unknown to human reason. We should never expect otherwise. But reason can at least let us know that “someone did it.” And that is of great value.

Here is another of those arguments which boils down to ‘stuff, therefore god’. I wonder why the author went to so much effort to essentially repeat the same fallacious argument using slightly different words and titles.

The logic starts off okay.

If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.

I’m okay with this so far (I’m ignoring the oddly phrased ‘collection of beings’), it does really need some evidential backup to support the premise though. It shouldn’t be assumed to be true just because I agree that it seems reasonable. One should make adequate steps to confirm what one assumes is true before making further assumptions based on it. I’m not even halfway through this list and how many times has that been said?

What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

This is where it starts to wobble. It seems a reasonable statement on the face of it, but it needs experimental confirmation before it can be asserted as a truth. The bounded by space and time is the critical part. We already know that the time that we experience depends on the matter in the universe. However, the phrasing of that sentence suggests to me that the author thinks that is not the case and that time (and space) may exist outside of the universe, there is some clarity missing. Making more assumptions based on unclear explanations will only lead to greater errors and more confusion.

The argument also assumes that there is indeed something outside of the universe on which the universe depends. Well, more accurately it’s trying to argue that that is indeed the case. Physics hasn’t been able to identify anything that is not within the universe. Our knowledge of how the universe came about is incomplete. All we can be certain of is that the laws that govern matter within the universe do not apply to the inception of the universe and if there is indeed an ‘outside the universe’ those laws certainly will not apply. Yet this argument seems to ignore all of that and carry on with its own conclusions based on arguments that can be observed within the universe. This is a basic error.

So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself.

Please tell me you saw that bit coming. It should have been obvious. The author is a Christian, so of course the non conditional existing thing is the Christian god, nothing else would be accepted. This really is a case of framing the argument around the already assumed but unevidenced conclusion. Why can’t the non conditional existing thing be the universe or the bigger god that created the Christian god? Both of those suggestions fit the logic. The author would reject those two options because they don’t result in the Christian god. The Christian god is the X that needs no Y and no other option will be discussed or considered.