Welcome to the nation's most morally active
and innovative atheist organization!
Atheists For Human Rights
Hub of Atheism
 
HUB of ATHEISM

Because the source of so many
violations of human rights
is religious authoritarianism.

Reason vs. Faith

Faith is belief without empirical evidence,
or in spite of contradictory empirical evidence.

 

By Tom Lawson

 
 
Free Will
Intelligent Design
Mind vs. Matter
Origin of Evil
Return of Jesus
Personhood
 
 
 

Free Will

 

In 1985, physiologist Benjamin Libet found that the "readiness potential" (RP), a change in electrical activity in the brain, begins up to a second or more before self-paced, apparently voluntary muscle movements. Libet concluded:

The conscious mind doesn't initialize voluntary actions. I propose that the performance of every conscious voluntary act is preceded by special unconscious cerebral processes that begin about one-half second or so before the act.
— Behavioral Brain Sciences, Dec 1985

Some researchers have speculated, as did Libet, that the conscious mind still has the capability to veto an unconsciously generated action. However, recent research indicates that the conscious veto, itself, is probably generated unconsciously.

Shaun Patel and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital eavesdropped on electrical signals from the brains of 8 conscious surgical patients as they played a card game which required pushing a button when they decided to make a bet. The researchers found that betting involved signals from 19 cells in the nucleus accumbens that predicted whether a person would bet high or low. Most surprisingly, this nerve cell pattern was evident about 2.8 seconds before a player pushed a button - a delay so long that Patel said, it's "unheard of in neuroscience. The brain is presumably calculating these things before you're conscious of it." [Brain cells know which way you'll bet, 27 Feb 2012]

The common assumption is that one cannot be held responsible for predetermined choices, desires, and actions. Although free will is an illusion, whatever one wills is a consequence of unconscious neural activity that is fully consistent with one's beliefs, motives, desires, goals, and experiences, as encoded in the neural circuits of one's brain. A truly "free" will would not be strictly determined by those neural circuits. It makes no sense to say that one is compelled to do what one already wanted to do.

 
 

Intelligent Design

 

Fifty-two percent of Americans believe in astrology, but that is no reason to teach astrology alongside astronomy in science classes. The same reasoning applies to "Intelligent Design" (ID). Science classes ought to teach the consensus of evolutionary biologists, among whom there is no controversy. They agree, among other things, that all animals descended from a common ancestor.

In the court case, Kitzmiller v Dover, proponents of ID got exactly the fair public debate they had been clamoring for. Yet they failed miserably to provide evidence for ID, even with the help of their foremost biochemist, Michael Behe, who testified that ID has no serious scientific work or progress on complex biochemical systems like the flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system. Judge John E. Jones III, a conservative Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, ruled that ID is an "untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion."

When the Plaintiffs' attorneys presented Behe with dozens of peer-reviewed books and journal articles about the evolution of such systems, he admitted that he had read virtually none of them. Although he had written that ID theory focuses exclusively on proposed mechanisms of how complex biological structures arose, during cross examination he couldn't identify any of those alleged mechanisms. Moreover, he admitted that his definition of "theory" was so broad it would also include the pseudoscience of astrology.

A credible "scientific theory of creation" must explain how intelligent design occurred. Timothy Wallace, young Earth creationist, claims to have such a theory, yet ironically he insists that man is not entitled to know how anything was intelligently designed:

The very nature of the creationary paradigm precludes man, as a created being, from any right or entitlement to exhaustive knowledge of the Creator's ways or means. It is an act of arrogance for the creature to claim entitlement from the Creator for more information than the Creator has chosen to reveal (as if he had the capability to comprehend it in the first place). The creationist thus can and will claim to "know" no more about the act of creation than what the Creator has chosen to reveal.
— Timothy Wallace, trueorigin.org

 

Why design a water flea (Daphnia pulex) that has at least 30,907 genes - 8,000 more than humans? Why design humans and a few other animals with a broken gene that cannot synthesize the last of four enzymes needed to produce vitamin C, yet design a whole gene in most other species, such as cows, horses, dogs, cats, and even plants? Why design a human capable of regenerating a liver but not limbs or any other organs? Why design fetal humans that develop body hair, or a row of nipples corresponding to the positions on other mammals, or go through an elaborate series of three major stages of kidney development and end up discarding two pairs? Why design women that wastefully menstruate? Why design men that develop the structures that would become a uterus? Why design a female spider (Australian redback spider - Latrodectus hasselti) that aggressively eats its mate during sex? Why design a multitude of parasites - about 50% of all species, such as this grisly example:

Some species of isopods (crustaceans related to the less creepy crabs and lobsters) will swim into the gill of a fish, make their way to its mouth, and devour its tongue. It will jam its legs into the gills to hold itself in place, facing forward, its eyes gazing out of the fish's mouth, taking the very place of the tongue it just ate. Since then, a new generation of scientists have studied these mysterious parasites, and it looks as if their dealings with their hosts are not as peaceful as once thought. In 2003, for example, scientists studying isopods in a fish farm off the coast of Turkey found that sea bass with the parasites in their mouths had lower blood counts than ones that still had their tongues intact. It seems that the isopods act like blood-drinking mouth leeches.
Discover Magazine, 2 Mar 2012

Evolution, rather than intelligent design, is a better explanation of the astonishing diversity of species in the world. Such examples are exactly what one expects of evolution, which produces solutions that either work (without being necessarily optimal or esthetic) or are non-functional, such as nipples on male mammals.

A genuine scientist never stops searching for a natural explanation of a phenomenon. However, when an ID pseudoscientist concludes that a phenomenon is the product of a supernatural designer, he has no reason to find out how it was designed. Phillip E. Johnson, leading defender of ID, recognized its inadequacy when he said:

If there really is a materialist explanation for the origin of life, or the human mind, it surely will be found by a scientist who resolutely ignores the objections of people like me and persists in looking for it.
— Phillip E. Johnson, "Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education," 1995, p.93

 
 

Mind vs. Matter

 

The assumption that mind and matter are not the same stuff is the root of many beliefs in supernatural phenomena, such as an immortal soul, reincarnation, communication with the dead, mental telepathy, and out-of-body experiences.

Some people claim to have special psychic powers. However, they refuse to be tested by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and win their million-dollar prize, because they know they can't pass the simple test and don't want to lose the lucrative income they get from their gullible customers.

Robots with intelligence equal to, or exceeding, human intelligence will demonstrate that consciousness, thought, and memory are totally dependent upon a physical brain and body. Then it will be as absurd to claim that the machine has a soul as it will be to claim that only humans can have souls. William Dembski, proponent of intelligent design, recognized this threat to his religious faith when he wrote:

I fully grant that my theology would crumble with the advent of intelligent machines; yet without such machines on the horizon I feel secure in my "archaic" theology.
— William A. Dembski, "Conflating Matter and Mind," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 43:2 1991

Brain research overwhelmingly supports the theory that every mental event is caused by a corresponding physical event in the brain. Direct stimulation of the brain, chemicals circulating in the brain, and damage to the brain correspond precisely with changes in mental behavior.

When damage is severe enough to cause the death of the brain, the result is a permanent cessation of memory and thought. If personhood cannot survive even in life, as in Alzheimer's disease, then we cannot expect to it to survive death.

The mistaken belief in life after death encourages charlatans who prey upon emotionally vulnerable people by promising contact with dead loved ones. It encourages suicidal bombers who expect a glorious afterlife. It encourages anyone who expects to have a satisfying, fly-on-the-wall view of the shock, sorrow, and anger their deaths will cause. It gives those who look forward to meeting their Creator little incentive to protect the environment or support promising research that could extend life.

Stephen Hawking said:

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
 
 

Origin of Evil

 

Bad things sometimes happen to good people and good things to bad people. An all-powerful deity that allows bad things to happen to good people is indifferent to human suffering.

Some claim that the Creator allows evil in the world in order not to interfere with the free choices of his creations. However, this allows the free choices of a small minority of bad guys to inhibit the free choices of the vast majority of good guys. A benevolent, omnipotent Creator could easily allow the freedom of most people by finding ways to prevent the few bad apples from having their way.

God does not protect even devout worshippers from catastrophe. On Palm Sunday, in Piedmont, Alabama, the congregation was singing Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide) when the Lord provided a tornado that struck the church, injuring 90 worshippers and killing 20, including the pastor's 4-year-old daughter and 5 other children waiting to present a crucifixion pageant.
[Associated Press, 29 Mar 1994]

C. S. Lewis excused the Creator by blaming Satan for evil. However, by claiming [The Case for Christianity, 1943, p.39,40,44] that the Creator gave all his creatures free will including Satan, yet gave all a conscience, except Satan, Lewis made the Creator responsible for the proliferation of evil.

Although the omnipotent Creator of the Old Testament never hesitated to intervene supernaturally in human affairs, in today's world, He seems unable or unwilling to help in even the smallest ways to avert major tragedies.

 
 

Return of Jesus

 

Jesus believed that he would return shortly to establish his kingdom and judge mankind while some of his listeners were still alive:

Note: All biblical quotes are from the KJV (the phrases "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" are interchangeable).

 

Jesus also convinced his disciples and others that he would return shortly to establish his kingdom and judge mankind while some of them were still alive:

 

Therefore, either Jesus was mistakenly convinced that he would return shortly to establish his kingdom, while some of his followers were still alive, or he intentionally misled them. At least one prominent theologian supports the view that Jesus was mistaken:

Most conservatives reject the plain meaning of the passage, "This generation shall not pass away until all these things take place," because it means admitting that Jesus was mistaken about the time. The issue is intensified because Jesus added, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" [Mat 24:35; Mar 13:31; Luk 21:33]. All attempts to reinterpret "generation" are armchair approaches to solve our difficulty in understanding the passage. As [previously] noted, the clear-cut testimony of the rest of the New Testament is that the disciples, Paul, and the early church understood Jesus literally. If Jesus really referred to events more than 2000 years in the future, then he was playing word games with his disciples. When we look at the problem honestly there are two basic options: either Jesus was leading his disciples to think something different from what he had in mind, or he was mistaken. The latter is far more preferable because it was done in innocence and shows his true humanity.
— Dewey M. Beegle, Christian theologian, "Prophecy and Prediction," 1978, pp. 131-132

 

In support of the view that Jesus' return will occur some time in the future, apologists have used the following four flawed arguments:

Argment 1:
"Genea" refers to Jesus' generation.

No, when Jesus said "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" [Mat 24:34; Mar 13:30; Luk 21:32], he used the word "genea" [Strong #1074] in the sense of a period of 30-33 years, as in one of 14 generations between Abraham and David:

So all the generations from Abraham to David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ [are] fourteen generations. [Mat 1:17]

Clearly, referring to his own generation and that of his followers, Jesus used the same word "genea" in the phrase "this generation," [Mat 11:16, Mat 12:41, Mat 12:42, Mat 23:36, Mat 24:34, Mar 8:12, Mar 13:30, Luk 7:31, Luk 11:30, Luk 11:31, Luk 11:32, Luk 11:50, Luk:11:51, Luk 17:25, and Luk 21:32], "this wicked generation" [Mat 12:45], and "this adulterous and sinful generation" [Mar 8:38], a total of 17 times, as in the following example:

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? [Mat 11:16]

Moreover, it is as illogical to claim, during this or some future generation, that "all these things" [Mat 23:36; Mat 24:6; Mar 24:33; Mat 23:34; Mar 13:4] Jesus predicted have not yet occurred as it is to claim, during some future U.S. administration, that an economist who predicted that "the stock market will crash in this administration" was not referring to administration in which he made his prediction.

*  *  *

Argument 2:
The day and hour of Jesus' return is unknown

No, although Jesus said,

But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. [Mat 24:36; Mar 13:32; Luk 21:34]

there is no contradiction between not knowing the precise day and hour and knowing it would occur sometime during Jesus' generation. Moreover, it makes no sense for Jesus to caution his listeners to watch [Mat 24:42; Mar 13:33; Luk 21:36] and be ready [Mat 24:44] for an event that would not occur for thousands of years.

*  *  *

Argument 3:
Jesus' prediction was fulfilled in 70 AD

No, his return could not been figurative (although preterists believe that Jesus fulfilled his prediction by returning invisibly and spiritually in 70 AD to pass judgment on Jerusalem). When Jesus and his disciples used the phrase "sunteleias tou aionos" — "end of the world" (or "end of the age)" [Mat 13:49, 24:3] — they had in mind a far more momentous event than the destruction of the Temple and/or the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They anticipated the greatest event ever, past or future:

*  *  *

Argument 4:
Jesus' prediction was fulfilled in the Transfiguration

No, after Jesus' prediction ...

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. [Mat 16:28; Mar 9:1; Luk 9:27]

... three disciples, Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain where they had a vision of him transformed and talking with the ghosts of Moses and Elija. [Mat 17:1-8; Mar 9:2-8; Luk 9:28-36]

However, during this experience, they did not see Jesus coming in clouds, in his kingdom, with his angels, and rewarding every man according to his works:

 

Moreover, they did not see "all these things" [Mat 23:36; Mat 24:6; Mar 24:33; Mat 23:34; Mar 13:4] that Jesus predicted would closely precede, accompany, and closely follow his coming:

 
 

Personhood

 

Recent studies suggest that many fertilized embryos don't implant or survive long enough to become detectable hormonally; adding these to the total yields a miscarriage rate of perhaps 80 percent. That is, for each person born alive there may have been four phantom brothers or sisters who died before they could be born.
—Jared Diamond, "The Cruel Logic of Our Genes," Discover, Nov 1989, p. 74

 

Opposition to abortion appears to be based on the mistaken belief that an immaterial soul is equivalent to personhood, and that, at conception, a Creator gives each embryo a unique soul that must not be destroyed.

Each ovum and each spermatozoon has the potential to become a person if allowed to combine with its counterpart and continue development to birth. Therefore, abstinence prevents far more potential persons from becoming actual persons than does elective abortion. Because the number of possible potential persons is unmanageably huge, the best option is to aid already born children and leave all choices regarding reproduction solely in the control of each woman in consultation with her doctor.

 
Monstrous embryo
 
Is this human fetus a person?
[Note: Catholic theology has called such gestational errors a "monstrosity" that, unensouled, does not qualify for baptism.]
 
THIS IS NOT A DIFFICULT CONCEPT!

Abortion is not a crime in biblical scripture, which states that, if fighting men hurt a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry, then, if any harm follows the miscarriage (that is, any harm to the woman, not the fetus, which is already dead) her husband may fine the man who hurt her. [Exo 21:22-25]

Every cell in our body — hair, fingernails, saliva, liver, etc. — is alive and human, yet not a person.

Pregnancy causes at least 13 times as many deaths as legal induced abortion.

Most women who have abortions have no regrets and would make the same choice again in similar circumstances, but children born to women denied abortion have more genetic malformations, more insecure childhoods, and more divorce-prone parents. They perform worse at school, have more psychosomatic symptoms, and more often need welfare support and/or psychiatric treatment.
— Paul K. B. Dagg, The Psychological Sequelae of Therapeutic Abortion - Denied and Completed, American Journal of Psychiatry, 1991, Vol.148, No.5, p.578-585

 

The illustration below shows that the human cerebral cortex at birth has a virtual absence of synaptic connections. Because abundant connections are essential to memory, thought, and a sense of self, the developing human is not yet a person.

 
Microscopic views of neurons at various stages
  At birth     15 mo. after birth     2 yr. after birth

Human Cerebral Cortex
D. F. Roberts & A. M. Thomson, The Biology of Human Fetal Growth, 1976, p.145