Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A response to yesterday's email...

Randy, thank you so much for your interest in The Things That Matter Most. You are so right on
your definition of "faith." I was confusing the definition of "faith" with the definition of "knowledge."
Quite a gaffe. And I will certainly apologize and clarify the next time we address the subject of faith,
which is often. The definition I was trying to think of was from my older Webster's at home which
defines faith first of all as, "confidence or trust in a person or thing." As with your definition in the
more recent Webster's, the concept of believing "without proof" is secondary.
I responded briefly to some of your comments below...
Lael Arrington
Co-host, The Things That Matter Most
Sunday mornings at 9:00, AM 700 KSEV
Author, Godsight:
Renewing the Eyes of Our Hearts
My original email with Lael's comments in red, my rebuttals in blue… I will update this as it gets
edited. Any comments to add would be welcome.
I'm listening to your show of Feb 25 right now and I suggest you folks look up the definition of 'faith'
again. Webster (your purported source) defines 'faith' as:
1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b  (1) : fidelity to one's promises  (2) : sincerity of
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b
(1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially a system of religious
I see nothing here about 'justifiable belief'....
Your atheist guest was well spoken. We do not need to prove the non-existence of an exceptional
The point I was trying to make was that "In the beginning were the particles" is a statement of belief
without proof. I remain unclear as to why this does not agree with both of our dictionaries' primary
and secondary definitions of faith.
The default position is the non-existence of said proposition. If there is a complete paucity of
evidence for the existence of god (and by all accounts, an Abrahamic god is a BIG effect), then it
can be concluded that god does not exist (any pseudoscientific claims to the contrary, like the
illusion of a fine-tuned universe (it most definitely is not, as it is very hostile to life), aside).
Reasoning without evidence is irrational. Beliefs based on feelings and not physical evidence is
I believe that I have thoughts. I cannot open my brain and find any physical evidence for my
thoughts themselves, only their effects. Postmodernists are increasingly rejecting empiricism as the
only reliable source of knowledge. And in this we agree. Neuro-scientists tell us that our brains
process millions perhaps even billions of bits of information. But the bits that penetrate and stick
usually have some affective connection.
The more emotional impact in which empirical information is "wrapped" the more we tend to remember
it. Were learning that our brains do not assimilate information in an emotional vacuum. Quite the
contrary. Our feelings have a great deal to do with our beliefs. Many people with injuries to brain
regions that process emotions result in people not being able to reason well. See Daniel Golman's
Emotional Intelligence.
We do indeed have a significant body of evidence for the existence of thought (aside from the
obvious 'I think therefore I am' (the logic of which has actually been shown to have significant flaws)
that have provided (even at this very early stage in this Science) models for the production of
thought. However, what you have written does not change my conclusion that reasoning without
evidence is irrational. I know when I decide that something is incorrect based on a feeling I am the
one that is wrong. Being correct by relying on feelings is coincidence, and I see no reason to praise
The weakest form of evidence in a court of law eyewitness evidence, 
On the contrary, eyewitness testimony will put a man in the electric chair as well as DNA evidence.
Ask any lawyer if eyewitness testimony will ever trump properly-obtained physical evidence.
The answer is most definitely no. Eyewitness testimony is quite mutable. The longer a witness has to
wait before giving testimony the less reliable it is. Many verdicts have been overturned on the basis
of physical evidence that was unavailable at the time. Not so many because of eyewitness testimony.
This is moot, though, since…
which we don't even have because there are absolutely no eyewitness accounts of Jesus.
It depends on what you mean by, "accounts." For example, many credible biblical scholars believe
that Christ's apostle John wrote the epistle attributed to him where he writes,
 1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our
eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-
 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal
life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-
 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship
with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. John was
eyewitness to both Jesus' transfiguration and his resurrection.
And many others, even as early as the 2nd century CE, have disputed the claim that it was John.
The most often accepted date for this codex is in fact 90 CE. I would have thought that if god
wanted to be believed that something more than a book (which has been translated umpteen times
into many versions with many translational errors). It makes no sense, even from the point of view
of free will. You wouldn't base your beliefs on the contents of the National Enquirer, so why this?
The Bible is the word of god only because it says so, which is a bit of a tautology. I mean, if the
manual for my car said that it could fly, I think I'd like some evidence to back that up. Taking the
Bible as truth without independent confirmation is dangerous. You end up with people like Paul Hill.
Any belief in any deity is BLIND FAITH. Period. 
You overlook a great deal of empirical evidence from textual criticism, archaeology, biology, physics,
etc. Part of our mission on The Things That Matter Most is to review this evidence with experts who
are knowledgeable in these fields. All our conversations are on our web site. Interestingly we taped
an interview this week with a best-selling author who focuses on the persuasiveness of non-empirical
evidence for faith in Christ, the evidence within our own souls: our cravings for love (not just sex),
destiny or purpose, and meaning. The show will be aired on Sunday.
There are many events that are only verifiable in the bible, lacking any independent verification at all.
There is absolutely no archaelogical evidence for the exodus. Jericho was not even settled at the
time Joshua blew his trumpet. There is no record of Harod ordering the massacre of the innocents,
no record of a census at the time of Jesus' supposed birth, and the list goes on. So how can textual
criticism be accurately applied when you have to pick and choose (arbitrarily it seems) what is and
isn't correct? Do Biology and Physics in support of the existence of god? Hardly. More on that later.
If the Bible is inaccurate in any area, how can it reliably be used as evidence for anything?
No one has proven the existence of a soul, and any conclusions drawn are invalid outside of a
religious framework. It's a tautology- the existence of the soul proves religion because religion tells
us the soul exists. In fact, all evidence points to its non-existence. For instance, how does the
existence of a soul jibe with behavior changes after brain injury? It was another early attempt to
explain consciousness that has been superseded by less metaphysical explanations.
Our cravings for love (not just sex), destiny or purpose, and meaning, not to mention morality and
ethics, and a host of other behaviors can all be traced quite satisfactorily back to their evolutionary
origins. Application of non-empirical evidence (whatever that is) is an admission that there is no
empirical evidence in support of belief and, frankly, a copout.
There is not one shred of evidence to support the existence of Jehovah any more than there is any
evidence to support the deities you do not believe in, like Zeus, Baal or Wotan.
You never did answer your guest's valid point about the incompatibility of a loving god and the
existence of hell. He was completely correct in the utter lack of reasoning there. Punishment for bad
behavior is a spanking and being sent to bed early, not scalding a child. You should be morally
outraged at such a god! Indeed, the willing acceptance of such a god is telling.
I would be morally outraged if there were no such God. Deeds that cry out to heaven (Auschwitz,
9-11) also cry out for the justice of hell. Hitler should not just be sent to his room. If we don't want
God on his terms, if we refuse him, and he withdraws all his good gifts-his creation, his invitation to
grow and build and seek and find, his presence and his people, his hope, his future-what would be
left? "Outer darkness." If I reject God on his own terms then I am asserting that life is ultimately
about my self-sufficiency. If "it's all about me," then in the end there seems a certain symmetry that
it really is that and absolutely nothing more. No plot. No setting. No other characters to interest or
even use. Just me. Alone in outer darkness. Living small beyond imagining. I am left with no gifts from
God. Only what I can provide for myself. I grieve the loss of anyone who makes these choices. But I
respect their choice.
'Ultimate justice' sounds good, but there is no evidence for such a thing. If god had been outraged at
the actions of Hitler, Pol Pot, Tomas de Torquemada, why did he wait till they were dead to take
action? Since omniscience is supposedly an aspect of god, god's inaction in the face of holding the
power to prevent such atrocities is unconscionable. For a god that was very hands-on in the Bible he
has certainly backed off of that position.
I have a problem with the idea that anyone, no matter how morally and ethically they have lived,
make one slip that they are said to be fated to the same treatment as these monsters. This is not a
deity to be admired, but one to be shunned.
As for refusing god, you forget that I hold that there is no god to refuse (a seemingly small, but
crucial distinction). That self-sufficiency you reject is actually quite fulfilling. How fulfilling? How
fulfilling do you want it to be? That freedom is amazing and you will never know it. My life is what I
make it to be, and I have done a lot with it. But at least you respect the choice. Many theists out
there do not, and I thank you for it.
I applaud your reading Dawkins, Hawking, etc., but your guest has it correct. Modern physics has a
number of models which do indeed have no time beginning, though the jury is still out on which model
is the most accurate.
As I understand Hawking and the scientists who have looked at the data of radiation from the big
bang, the ruling consensus is that indeed the Universe did have a beginning. Yes, there are a few
other models, but none with a shred of evidence. In fact the expansion of the universe is actually
accelerating, not slowing down to an eventual contraction. Brian also mentioned the law of
conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics) being the most fundamental of the universe. Of
course each Big Bang would violate that, having come out of nothing. He also failed to mention the
other most fundamental law of the universe, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that the
universe is running down to an even heat distribution, not evolving to more complexity.
The sum total of the energy in the universe is zero and thus mass-energy is conserved. The universe
can indeed come from nothing, as weird as that sounds. Absolute nothingness is extremely unstable.
Particles in our universe are constantly being spontaneously generated and annihilated uncountable
times as I write this, and that is not even in totally empty space. As for the second law, the universe
as a whole is not becoming more complex, but the second law does not preclude local increases in
order. In fact, for our existence on this planet, the second law is not even valid, since the Earth is a
thermodynamically-speaking open system.
There is certainly no concensus. We simply do not know what happened prior to the Planck time
following the initial expansion of the universe. Stenger's recent book, God: The Failed Hypothesis
covers this and other cosmological arguments for the existence of god quite well. And to explain the
Big Bang as 'these particles bumping around' sounds a lot like that old debunked strawman argument
of random chance again. It was quite condescending.
Science models the universe, and it is extremely successful at this. THIS is 'faith'. The fossils and
rocks that you so easily dismiss strengthen the models that we construct to describe nature.
I do not dismiss the fossils and rocks. The rocks are the rocks. What I reject is an interpretation of
the rocks that says the complexity of a cell can self organize like a snowflake. All we see self-
organization producing is simple, repetitive patterns. Ben Wiker and Jonathan Witt beautifully show
the inability of Nature to produce the genius woven into the Natural order in A Meaningful World.
Wait. You have no problem with a snowflake self-organizing, but not something like a cell? Certainly,
we can not expect a cell to just assemble by random chance, and no Evolutionist has ever said that
this occurs. A cell is a modern construct, earlier organisms were much simpler. Micelle formation
strongly resembles a cell, and you form them every time you wash your hands with soap. It is not a
big stretch of the imagination that life would make use of such chemistry in order to be better
survival machines. Early life made use of physics and chemistry to evolve from simpler organisms to
more complex organisms. Biologist PZ Meyers has an interesting question: if humans were designed,
for example, why is the enzyme responsible for synthesizing
ascorbic acid (L-gulonolactone oxidase)
broken? Natural Selection explains this perfectly; ID does not.
To find meaning in the universe dangerously approaches anthropomorphizing. Humans evolved to find
patterns even when no pattern exists. But I will look for a copy of that book.
We see no need for deities in our models and Ockham's Razor does the rest. If an Abrahamic god did
exist, this would most definitely not be the case. Consciousness is a direct consequence of Evolution
(Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett, eg.) and we now have some tools to explore it and
even the evolutionary basis for morality using fMRI and PET (Moral Minds by Marc Hauser is a good
Francis Collins, by the way, sees what he thinks are patterns in DNA, but unfortunately for his views
there are perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanations for everything he sees. And after reading the
book I would agree with your guest that his whole argument is based on the 'argument from personal
incredulity', which is no argument at all. Complexity from simplicity is demonstrably very easy to
produce. All you've done is produced one scientist that has done something quite remarkable that
also believes (quite irrationally, in my opinion) and disingenuously propped him up as a poster boy,
but 93% of the American Academy of Sciences, the most esteemed scientific body in
, do not believe in the existence of personal gods. Funny how that was never mentioned.
Change in scientific paradigms always begins with a minority. Usually greeted by a chorus of protest
from the status quo.
Interesting. Christianity in the general population is hardly a minority. At the time Darwin proposed
Natural Selection his position most definitely was in the minority. Many stones were thrown at it, it
withstood all attacks and that is how Science works, and how Natural Selection became a standard
Theory of Biology. Quantum Theory and Relativity did not supersede Newtonian Mechanics, but
complement it. Newtonian Mechanics is still used and is accurate to amazing precision.
And I use that big-'T' with good reason. These now widely accepted Theories became so because of
a huge body of evidence in support. That's not a weakness of Science, but a strength. Otherwise,
fly-by-night ideas such as ID end up getting totally unearned credibility. Einstein himself had a great
deal of problem with the interpretation of quantum mechanics and proposed experiments that would
yield (to him) impossible results. I'd like to think that when the experiments were finally carried out
(unfortunately long after Einstein's death) and his 'impossible' results were verified that he would
have set aside his objections. Lord Kelvin had vehement objections to the Theory of Evolution on
thermodynamic grounds. His calculations showed that the age of the Earth could not be sufficiently
long for natural selection to act. Unfortunately, he could not have known about a mechanism for
heating the mantle (radioactive decay). Once this was known Lord Kelvin did in fact remove his
objections. This is how Science works, and it works (on the whole) very well.
We atheists are becoming vocal simply because our beliefs are threatened daily. Believers are not
satisfied with believing, but seem to be compelled to convince others to believe as well.
Believers have for 2,000 years been compelled to convince others to believe as well. That is Christ's
command. So why does it feel like things are changing? The Hubble and the electron microscope are
revealing complexity previously unimagined and it doesn't fit Darwinian theory. Also, believers are
becoming more active (and successfully so) in the public square. As long as we kept our beliefs
private and focused on private charity work, we were tolerated. The success of even the faith based
initiatives to fund our charity work threatens people who want to keep God out of the public square.
Since when have theists kept their beliefs private? I dispute that whole-heartedly. Even McDonalds
does not have that many franchises, all of which are totally visible to the public. It is we atheists
that have kept quiet, and what got us into trouble. Theists took our silence as quiet assent to
having our freedoms placed in jeopardy. Have you ever considered that it is your belief that you
are commanded to convert people overrides the fact that forcing beliefs on others is unethical and
immoral? Atheists don't go door-to-door espousing that we should unshackle ourselves from outdated
belief systems. Maybe we should. The outcry would be tremendous! Why is that? It was theists that
tried to place the ten commandments in public buildings, even though this is clearly unconstitutional.
God does indeed not belong in the public arena. It is offensive to thrust any one groups ideals upon
any other without concern for trampling their beliefs. The only solution to this is that government
remain neutral and secular. Faith-based initiatives, as far as government support is concerned, are
clearly unconstitutional in the American system. The Founding Fathers were quite specific about
government not backing any religious group at the expense of others. How would you feel if when
taking the Pledge of Allegiance you had to say 'One nation under Allah?' Probably not all that hot
about the idea, right? Then think about how an atheist must feel when forced by their own
institutions to lie under oath…. The fact that the majority of Americans are theistic is not a reason to
trample the rights of minority groups by enforcing Christianity on them. Indeed, that they are the
majority makes it their responsibility to uphold the Constitution and protect minorities from being
swamped. Might does not make Right.
Thankfully here in Canada religion and politics don't mix much. I'd like it to stay that way.
Believers find new ways to attack science that is incompatible with their beliefs, like 'intelligent
design'. The Theory of Natural Selection is THE backbone of biology, the only game in town.
Read the hundreds of scientists with terminal degrees that disagree on the Discovery Institute's
Ah, yes. The much touted DI list of people supporting ID. Almost none of those people in fact have
specializations which are even remotely associated with the biological sciences. Every major body
representing the vast majority of the thousands of scientists working in the biological sciences has
stated that Natural Selection is it- period. As I said below, they have a slick ad campaign, but that's
all ID amounts to.
The sum total of evidence for ID amounts to deceitfully erroneous attacks on Evolution and a slick ad
campaign. Science is being decided in the political arena as a result, which is patently ridiculous. As
scientists, we are forced to push back. ID, young Earth creationism, etc., make the prior assumption
that there was a designer, or creator, and this is where they start and end. The level of bias in this
is immense, and is how you end up with baseless ideas like ID or Kent Hovind's. Science starts with
observation, then a model is constructed to explain the observations. These models make testable
predictions. If the predictions are verified, then the confidence of the model is increased. There is no
assumed end point.
I disagree. Science assumes the end point of Naturalism and naturalistic processes and has redefined
"science" to assume Naturalism. The scientific revolution was launched by Christians.
No. It is methodological naturalism (of which I profess) that proposes that all phenomena can be
explained by natural processes. That Christians launched the scientific revolution is irrelevant and
not even accurate. The ancient Greeks had a better understanding of how to do Science, and
Science owes a great deal to them. Indeed, Science has adopted naturalism as it does not allow
miraculous events in explaining phenomena. But there is a very good reason for this: one invocation
of god begets others, and as Richard Dawkins rightly points out, it becomes an excuse to not look
for the true underlying mechanism. Even if there is no good naturalistic explanation at the present
time this does not preclude a naturalistic explanation at a later time. Here is where faith comes into
Science. We can do this because of naturalism's phenomenal track record.
As Science increasingly showed that the invocation of deities was not required to explain observed
phenomena, religion became a hindrance to the accumulation of knowledge, not a help. Many
scientists that are also theists, such as Georges LemaƮtre (who proposed the Big Bang), have had to
deal with the clash between scientific discovery and their personal beliefs. LemaƮtre, much to his
credit, published his findings despite his personal beliefs, not because of them. Others' belief, like Kurt
Wise's, overrode reasoning and he rejected (in the face of overwhelming evidence) Natural Selection.
In no other aspect of anyone's life would they reject reasoned arguments over belief.
We just go where the data takes us. If it takes us to the existence of god, so be it. But it does not.
What I do wonder is why you mention several times that atheists are aiming at children. It sounds
like a bit of fear mongering, the nasty atheists are coming to take your children away. I know of no
atheist groups or atheists which practice this.
Brian admits to targeting youth in his advertisements to take the Blasphemy challenge. See the
transcript of his Nightline interview.
I have indeed found that he does try to attract teens. While I disagree with his method, he is not
doing the atheist equivalent of taking them to church every Sunday. He is, in fact, only making the
information available to those that want to learn more. The blasphemy challenge itself is only for
avowed atheists. Dawkins does the same thing. He is only passively making the information on
atheism available for those that come to him. I won't hold it against you, though, if you don't agree
with this assessment. It's a fine distinction. (I have been unable to find a copy of that Nightline
transcript and would appreciate a link.)
Indeed, it is theists that actively engage in the practice of converting children, indoctrinating young
minds before they can form an educated opinion on what they should believe. All we desire is that
everyone be able to make an informed decision when they are ready, and children are not. There is
no atheist alternative to 'Jesus Camp' and never will be. I was outraged when I saw that film.
I haven't seen the film. From reading accounts of their methodologies, it doesn't sound like anything
I've seen or would recommend. And I've seen a lot of evangelical ministries across the country. But
of course parents will want to teach their children their worldview. It seems more appropriate for a
parent to send his kid to a Christian camp than for a young teen to be proselytized by Brian on the
computer his parents provided.
I am glad to know that you do not support the child abuse that is performed by the subjects of 'Jesus
Camp'. But these parents are doing just what you espouse: teaching their children their world view.
It's a tightrope act to be sure, but teaching any particular religion to your children as if it is the only
possible valid belief system is wrong and leads to the massive misunderstandings that we see today.
Atheists are not immune from the effects of this. The CNN debacle on Paula Zahn Now demonstrated
this clearly. How can you have a discussion group talking about atheism without a single atheist
Gods have been around a long time. They had their place once. They were invoked to explain natural
phenomena, like lightning and thunder, the sun, day and night, etc. We have perfectly reasonable
naturalistic explanations for these. Atheists have simply said to themselves that it is time to let them
We do not wish to actively engage in changing minds,
Have you visited Brian's website? Read Sam Harris's "End of Faith"? Some of your fellow atheists most
certainly want to change minds. Harris acknowledges that he wants to wants to create a cultural
consensus that will mock Christians to the margins of society. Just as has been done with the KKK
(his example).
I have indeed read Sam Harris and agree with him that religion, no matter how moderate, will breed
fundamentalists. I've already mentioned Torquemada, and Paul Hill is a more modern example.
Ideologues such as Stalin and Pol Pot are cut from the same cloth; it's just that there is no god in
their system. This does present a prickly problem. Harris does not believe that the danger
undamentalism represents can be eliminated without eliminating religion, but he does not suggest a
way to do this either. We just have to hope reason can prevail, but religion has a habit of suspending
the ability to reason.
but simply want to be understood. We atheists have been extremely quiet till now, but we can no
longer afford that luxury. The harmful misconceptions about atheists that are out there need to be
countered. Atheists are just as moral as theists, we love, we have likes and dislikes, and it is quite
likely that every theist knows at least a few and don't realize it (except for more vocal ones like me).
We believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, an ideal that seems to be eroding in US
public institutions. This erosion is what has precipitated the writings of Dawkins, Harris and others,
and created a need for atheists to stand up and be noticed.
In reason,
Randy Tyson 
Thank you Randy for your thoughtful response. I have tried to honor the time you put into this by
taking the time to respond thoughtfully. If you have the opportunity to listen to next week's show on
non-empirical evidence, I would love to hear your comments.

Open dialog such as this is, I feel, the way to go. The idea is not about conversion, but mutual
respect. It's too easy for people to have preconceived and erroneous ideas about others holding
different beliefs. This leads to intergroup tensions that history has shown to be disastrous. I look
forward to listening to that webcast.

No comments: