The Parable of the Pawnbroker

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 14, 2009 in General Atheism

User wiploc at talkrational tells the Parable of the Pawnbroker:

I was a pawnbroker… This guy came into my store, drew a chain out of his right-side pocket, and said, “How much will you give me for this fine gold necklace?”

…I politely looked at his necklace. It was fake. I pointed out to him the chintzy clasp, totally unlike what would be on a necklace of value. But he still insisted that it was real; so I cut the chain with a file, ready to test it with acid. But I didn’t need the acid: the inside was brown, not even gold in color.

The guy dropped the chain in his left pocket. He drew another chain out of his right pocket, and said, “This one’s the real thing.” This one’s the real thing? That was like admitting he’d known all along that the first one was fake.

I showed him that this one didn’t say, “14K,” like real gold would. It said, “14KEP,” meaning it was electroplate. It wasn’t even pretending to be real. But the guy still insisted it was real. So I cut it with my file, and showed him it was another fake.

Can you guess what he did then? He dropped it into his left pocket, pulled a third chain from his right, and told me that this one was real. I was happy to file this one too, ruin it, so he couldn’t try to fool anyone else.

He pulled out a fourth chain. He said it was real. I showed him that it wasn’t.

…First pattern: When this guy said a chain was real, that didn’t carry any weight. His apparent sincerity was an act or a pathology, not an indication of actual truthfulness. His saying something was legitimate didn’t make it legitimate, didn’t even increase the likelihood that it was legitimate.

Second pattern: This guy’s chains were fake. I had yet to examine his [next] chain, but I already believed it was fake.

I was willing to be surprised; if the chain turned out to be real, I would have accepted that. But I believed it was fake. And that was a justified belief, reasonable in the circumstances.

This story is analogous with my experience with Christianity. Somebody will tell me that the ontological argument is solid gold proof of the existence of Jehovah. I point out that it is patently absurd, and he pulls out another argument.

He doesn’t blush or backpedal. He makes no apology for having indiscriminately swallowed a lie and repeated it as a truth. He doesn’t tell his friends, “Hey, don’t be using thiss argument anymore.” No, he just tells me that the modal argument for necessary greatness is absolute proof of god’s existence. When I point out that this argument is no stronger than its opposite, the modal argument for the nonexistence of necessary greatness, what does he do? Is he taken aback? Does he say he’d better rethink whether his god really exists? Of course not. He pulls out another argument, and says, with all the sincerity of a seller of fake chains, “This one’s the real thing.”

I encounter this again and again. When I show a Christian why one of their arguments is flawed, they will often say, “Well, okay, but what about this?” and then give another argument. They seem to be admitting that their first argument was bad, and yet that doesn’t cause them to reconsider their beliefs, and in fact they keep using the argument (on other people) even though they admitted that it fails!

This gives me the impression that for some Christians, the arguments don’t actually matter. They already know what is true, and the arguments are just a game they play. If argument #12 doesn’t work on Mr. Atheist, maybe he’s more susceptible to argument #22! It doesn’t matter if these arguments are logically consistent or not.

That said, I wonder if atheists do this, too. So, I urge Christians and atheists to:

  1. Not use arguments anymore when their failure has been shown to you.
  2. Allow the failure of your arguments to challenge your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Am I committed to this belief, even if the arguments for it fail?”

Bad arguments need to be left for dead.

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

cartesian February 14, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I think you’ll find that there are no knock-down arguments in philosophy for *any* position, including atheism. So the theist can’t persuade you with arguments. So what? You can’t persuade her with arguments either. If that’s troubling for the theist, it’s troubling for you too.

Do you think that, in the absence of compelling arguments either way, we ought to favor atheism? That is, do you think that atheism is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on the theist? If so, why do you think that?

The burden of proof is NOT on skeptics of flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teacups, fairies, etc.

But the burden of proof IS on skeptics of other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, the uniformity of nature, etc.

Do you think that atheism is in the former category, instead of the latter? If so, why?

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lukeprog February 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm

An excellent question that arises naturally from our debate, and deserves its own post!

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manuel July 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Sorry to say, complexity is usually an indication of intelligent design, if an apple laptop was on your doorstep and I said it simply evolved, you would think I was crazy… yet you’re willing to believe in a billion plus coincedenses that are required to explain away the existence of god… when you get video of a monkey transforming into a man, or any animal evolving so to speak… post it. Over 100 prophecies were given concerning intricate details about jesus; if they were written after his arrival we wouldn’t be counting down the days that passed from his death… All atheist believe in god, they just feel like they seem smart spewing this philosphy quoting clever remarks from the same people who will pray their eyes out if they get scared, sick, or feel like they need to take some precautions in case their witty little ideas prove wrong. were early pagans smart for believing in gods they made up looking at animals?, no… but if they settled on the answer that life simply assembled itself even on molecular levels… then we would have legitimate idiots to refer to. Water alone is more complex than any man made design… god should have put a serial number on it maybe then u would stop blaming existence on accidents…

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werj January 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm

who said that monkeys transformed into humans? not that believing such a thing is required for nonbelief in jesus…

manuel:when you get video of a monkey transforming into a man, or any animal evolving so to speak… post it.  

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Pyrakra January 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Manuel: When you get a video of a deity popping into existence… please post it.

But in all seriousness, evolution doesn’t work the way you described. A good example of it in action is with artificial selection. Look at the breeds of cats and dogs. Many cat breeds in particular are fairly recent. These color, size, and personality differences evolved so to speak from humans choosing traits they wanted. There is even video proof, just go to youtube and search for “russian fox experiment.”

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Uncle Roger January 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm

cartesian: So the theist can’t persuade you with arguments. So what? You can’t persuade her with arguments either. If that’s troubling for the theist, it’s troubling for you too.

You’ve missed the point. The fact that the arguments cannot convince is not what’s troubling; it is the invalidity of the arguments that is the problem.

Certainly, if an argument simply fails to convince someone, it might convince another, but if the argument is invalid from a factual or logical point of view, then it should no longer be used.

Suppose I said that no one has ever seen, in real life, a car that could not only talk like KITT (the car from the TV show Knight Rider) but could also think like KITT, so the likelihood of such a car existing is very low — that is a reasonably valid (I think) argument. It may not convince you, but it is still valid.

On the other hand, if I said that my car can’t talk so there are no talking cars, not only would that be unlikely to convince you that KITT doesn’t exist, but it isn’t even a valid argument. If I were made aware that it’s not valid, I should no longer try to use it. In fact, I would say I have an ethical and moral obligation not to use it anymore, given that I now know it isn’t valid.

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Uncle Roger January 19, 2010 at 9:21 pm

manuel: Sorry to say, complexity is usually an indication of intelligent design…

And this, my friends, is a perfect example of what this post is all about. Manuel has provided a veritable plethora of examples of invalidated arguments for the existence of god and against atheism.

Well done, Manuel, you do us a great service by playing the fool.

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Revyloution April 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Well said Uncle Roger. It’s obviously Manuels first foray into the lions den. I wonder if he will learn anything, or just run off with his eyes shut tight.

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Chucky April 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm

This is much the same feeling that I get reading the “new” atheists’ books. Not only do they offer you a series of fake gold chains, but worse, they’ll belittle anyone who doesn’t buy one.

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Arthur April 29, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Manual….sigh.

complexity indicated intelligent design?

snowflake.

do you maybe want to think about your argument a bit then come back to us?

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Jordan Brooke April 30, 2010 at 12:39 am

if an apple laptop was on your doorstep and I said it simply evolved, you would think I was crazy

No I wouldn’t. All technology evolves. The Macbook is no exception. I am not an apple fan myself but every time they come out with a new mac book it keeps the features that were successful and drops the ones that were not. The mac book adapts to the needs and advances of the consumer much the same way a species will adapt and change to it’s environment. Technology is just faster.

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Dan April 30, 2010 at 12:42 am

I like both sides of the argument. I don’t know what I would classify myself as, but Atheism says “there is no higher power” right? Well, there is no proof either way, so I can’t call myself an atheist. I don’t believe in the christian view of God, or any other religions view for that matter, because there is no proof, but I do believe in the possibility of a higher power. I’m not saying there is, I’m not saying there isn’t… just that its a probable option. In that respect, I can’t call myself an atheist, or a theist… But, what I can say is that creationist, christian, muslim, etc. views are all most certainly bogus. The moral value is great, but the overall mythology behind it is completely fabricated.

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 1:17 am

Manuel: “yet you’re willing to believe in a billion plus coincedenses that are required to explain away the existence of god… ”

Yes. Absolutely. You obviously have no idea how evolution works.

Evolution doesn’t occur by an organism saying ‘hmm let me see if i can make my offspring a little taller than i was,’ mutations in RNA/DNA are common, and when a mutation causes a benefit to the offspring, the offspring is more likely to survive.

You seem to not be able to grasp how long a billion years is. Look at it this way: very rarely does a single human survive past 100 years. Now multiply that by 10,000,000.

Another proof that religion is fake is look how long ago the ‘modern’ religions were created: within the last 1800 years. Before ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mohammed’ there were Greek gods (Zeus, etc), before Greek gods, there were Roman Gods. Before Roman gods, there were Norse gods.

We’ve evolved far enough that we no longer worship Zeus, or Thor, or Mercury, now we (some people) worship ‘god.’ He doesn’t have a name, he’s just ‘god.’

Worship a god that punishes you for using the free will HE GAVE YOU? NEV4R!!!1

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 1:31 am

Dan: “Atheism says “there is no higher power” right? Well, there is no proof either way, so I can’t call myself an atheist.”

You can’t prove something, anything *doesn’t* exist, because there’s nothing to prove; there’s no way to prove it. You can only prove something *does* exist, and because of the whole ‘faith over reason’ argument that ‘god’ presented, you never will.

There is no god. Get over it and enjoy this life because it’s the only one you’re ever going to get. Stop being stupid and evolve. Please.

These fairy tales were sprouted from early humans (humans in their current form have been around for about 600,000 years; yet look at what we’ve accomplished in just the last 100, 200 years. It wasn’t until the scientific revolution that mankind found that ‘life does not just spring up out of nowhere. (Previously they believed that life did indeed sprout up, using bacteria, mold, and maggots appearing on rotting food. In fact these forms of life appear on rotting food by way of bacteria floating through the air. Rancid meat also attracts flies, which carry bacteria, which is where maggots come from, I believe.)’

Early humans couldn’t explain lightning, thunder, disease and death, to name a few things, but when children asked questions, their parents felt compelled to try to explain, so they said ‘god did it.’

We don’t need god any more, look at all the wars and deaths and disease and hatred and discrimination and murder he’s caused.

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lumbajack April 30, 2010 at 1:40 am

To Dan, you would seem to be what Richard Dawkins would call a temporary Agnostic meaning that you don’t know the truth but you do value “proof” as you put it. And “proof” to you comes in the form of what? Faith or science? Meaning, would you be open to science having the capability of proving the existence or non-existence of God? I know that’s a loaded question. But do you value science enough to that maybe one day it could answer these questions? I myself, have come to only one reasonable conclusion. And that is placing all my belief in the natural world because I know it exists. And accepting THAT I have to also accept that science, the study of the natural world, could answer questions about God’s existence or non-existence. I personally believe science can answer all of our questions. Whether we ever become advanced enough in our lifetime is difficult to say. If ever.

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david April 30, 2010 at 3:07 am

If Manuel has given a “…perfect example of what this post is all about”, then phil e. drifter has too. P.E.D. states “Manuel… You obviously have no idea how evolution works.” That may be true, I do not know but P.E.D obviously doesn’t understand it either. “mutations in RNA/DNA are common, and when a mutation causes a benefit to the offspring, the offspring is more likely to survive.” Certainly a true statement but what P.E.D. is implying with this and his continuing statement is that evolution can work to fundamentally transform a creature. There is not yet ANY evidence to show that, yet most atheists and believers accept it to be true. The ONLY basis for which to believe this is the existance of diverse creatures.

This cannot be shown to be possible. The DNA code simply does NOT EXIST in, say, fish to grow fingernails or polywogs to grow a head of hair. I explained it to my kids like this. One is sitting at a card table. The dealer has a deck of cards. He will deal out a hand. The hand you get will be your DNA. You can subtract from it but you cannot add to it. The one next to you will get a hand different from you but will come from the same deck. One may get a junk hand, a straight, pair or any combination of the EXISTING possibilities but no one can be delt a fire or a mouse. The possiblities for that are just not extant.

Sorry this turned into a debate on God. Your article is a good one and well worthy of thought. Unfortunately I doubt ANYONE will be able to heed it. It points out a problem we all seem to have in producing and answering logical statements. I see it constantly on, as you said, both sides. I have watched as the religious leaders, many of which love and seek the TRUTH and devote their entire lives to understanding, make statements that are not logical and I see the same almost daily by some of the opposition leaders. Dawkins and P.Z. Meyers (Pharyngula) argue often for reason but often make illogical statements. Why, I would like to know, can we not be logical?

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James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil April 30, 2010 at 3:12 am

I can’t remember who first said, “If theists could be reasoned with, there would be no theists.” But it is shown to be valid every time someone like Manual pops up with the same old illogical, patently false statements and refuses to accept the most obvious facts.

To be a theists, the first thing you must do is abandon all rational thinking and learn to accept the most absurd statements as fact.

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 3:19 am

David: you’re a moron too and I have no time to waste debating morons. I went to catholic school for 12 years where I took 2 years AP Bio, 2 years AP Chem, AP Pre-calc, AP calc, and the stupid required religion courses every year, a waste of my time and an insult to my intelligence.

You blatantly admit that you don’t know how evolution works then you accuse ME of not knowing how evolution works.

here’s a crash course for you:
http://evogeneao.com/images/Evolution_poster_lg.gif
“In 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently proposed a theory of biological evolution to explain the diversity of life on Earth. Since then the fossil record and DNA studies have added, and continue to add, overwhelming support for this view of life’s history. Evolution today is one of the best documented and widely accepted principles of modern science. Life on Earth has changed dramatically through time. The theory of evolution proposes that through the process of natural selection and other natural events stretching over millions of generations, living things diversify, branching from one species into many. This means that all living things are related to one another through common ancestry with earlier, different life forms. In other words, if you follow your family tree far enough back in time, you will find a common ancestor not only with every other living thing, but with every thing that ever lived.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_misconceptions#Evolution

You’re a fucking moron, accept it and stop wasting the time of people much smarter than you. Around the world, 99.9% of scientists who are much smarter than either you or I are atheist or agnostic.

Ask yourself why you hang out on the short bus.

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 3:24 am

James Smith: it’s a quote I have attributed to the tv show House, M.D. who’s lead role is a doc who is an atheist:
http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj48/phillydrifter/atheism/if-you-could-reason-wth-religious-p.jpg
“If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.”

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Darren April 30, 2010 at 3:24 am

Logical – a theist being logical is an oxymoron.
Religeous beleif is the MOST illogical position there is.
If i told you I was magic and coulds dissapear…the onus would be on me to prove it by showing you, not on you to disprove something so “illogical”.
If you say there is some God who created everything – then you are the one who must prove it.
This has NEVER been able to be proven and all your arguments for it have either been disproven or are ridiculously, impossibly ILLOGICAL.
Don’t you think if there was a god he would do something to prove he exists??
I cannot beleive that an intelligent person can beleive in the existance of a god. Any god. Its obviously an outdated untrue myth that thankfully people of the world are starting to see the brainwashing that has taken place for the last couple of Millenia.
C’mon seriously….you must know deep down that it is just a myth. Why is it so hard to admit it? Is it because yoy are stubborn and closed minded and cannot stand to have been wrong?
Its almost at the stage where its no longer even worth talking about. Its like debating whether Santa Claus is real.

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Darren April 30, 2010 at 3:33 am

Manual, I’m afraid is one of those people who black will always be white. No matter how much proof, how many people explain that it is in fact black…poor old Manuel will still say its white.
Better just to leave him in his delusion, as nothing ever will open that closed mind.
The problem is with people like Manuel…that if their silly views were just that, silly, and didn’t hurt anyone else, we could just sigh and shrug it off and think poor poor Manuel. Unfortunately, people with the closed minded-ness of him are dangerous and hurtful to others. Ironic as they are the ones who hold themselves up as the moral compass’ of society.
God help us…..ah thats right, he can’t.
HE DOESN’T EXIST!!

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 3:43 am

Before ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mohammed’ there were Greek gods (Zeus, etc), before Greek gods, there were Roman Gods. Before Roman gods, there were Norse gods.

I was trying to be brief which is why I left off: “Before Norse gods, there were no gods/people worshipped the sun. (‘SUNDAY,’ anyone? ‘Monday’ was for Mars, ‘Thursday’ was for Thor, ‘Friday’ was for Fria, ‘Saturday’ was for Saturnalia/Saturn…) That’s where your winter holiday came from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice ” which I know regret doing because people like Manuel and Chucky need it forced down their stupid f*cking throats.

Around the world, people EVERYWHERE celebrated the day that marked the end of days getting colder-shorter and the start of them getting longer-warmer. And then religions latched onto it and tried to claim it as their own.

http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj48/phillydrifter/dec25y272.jpg

(‘Easter’ is simply a celebration of the Spring Equinox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Equinox “meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long.” http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj48/phillydrifter/feb14.jpg

Notice how you never see summer solstice or fall equinox celebrations, why would people get excited that it’s going to get cold and dark for 6 months?

Religion gives people the false hope that after you die you’re magically zipped away where you sh*t gold bricks and all the women have firm double-D racks with no cancer. It’s a fairy tale.

Now stop being stupid and evolve. You’re embarrassing the rest of us.

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lukeprog April 30, 2010 at 3:49 am

I dunno, I think many religious people can be reasoned with.

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Phil E. Drifter April 30, 2010 at 3:55 am

I see no point to keep following this thread, so I’ve unsubscribed. Perhaps I’ll check on it again in a week. Religitards don’t have an imaginary leg to stand on.

“The invisible and the imaginary look very much alike.” – Delos B. McKown

“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.” – Gene Roddenberry

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts

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noisesmith April 30, 2010 at 4:34 am

cartesian said “The burden of proof is NOT on skeptics of flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teacups, fairies, etc.

But the burden of proof IS on skeptics of other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, the uniformity of nature, etc.

Do you think that atheism is in the former category, instead of the latter? If so, why?”

One could posit events that would be more likely if things in the former list were the case. As far as I know none of these events have come to pass. Similarly I can posit events that would be more likely if the statements in the second list were the case – and many of those events occur with a great frequently.

The existence of fairies would lead me to presume at least one person at least one time in history would have been able to show evidence of one. The lack of any such evidence whatsoever is strong enough an indication not to waste my time speculating about fairies.

The existence of other minds, an external world, and the reality of the past and the uniformity of nature would lead me to presume that I would be able to share an experience with another human being and reach consensus at a future date about what happened. This is often the case (unless so radical a trick has been played on me that all cognition is futile).

Atheism leads me to predict that I will not see intervention of a deity in my day to day life, and this has uniformly been the case.

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Adam April 30, 2010 at 7:59 am

If you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any religious people.

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kirk April 30, 2010 at 8:02 am

Sorry to say, complexity is usually an indication of intelligent design, if an apple laptop was on your doorstep and I said it simply evolved, you would think I was crazy…
[some deleted crap]…maybe then u would stop blaming existence on accidents…  

No one ever says anything “simply” evolved – all things evolve through natural selection INCLUDING APPLE LAPTOPS. John Von Neumann did not have a plan for iPads on his chalkboard when he described how to build computing machines. He did not launch the internet from a ballistic idea launcher in mid century.

The first cell did not have homo sapiens in mind [sic] when it made copies of itself. Evolution happens. You are repeating worn out arguements in a thread about worn out arguements. And you know it. Go ahead and evolve already.

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mEPS April 30, 2010 at 8:25 am

Back a the beginning of this thread there was an argument on burden of proof, the burden of proof is on the person describing something unseen. Not on the person looking out on the real world. My “belief” is that the sun rises and sets (I believe what I see). Your belief (spiritual person) is in something you do not and cannot prove. The burden of proof is with you not me. I can show you what I believe, and have physical proof, you do not.

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Tanner April 30, 2010 at 8:27 am

Sorry to say, complexity is usually an indication of intelligent design, if an apple laptop was on your doorstep and I said it simply evolved, you would think I was crazy… yet you’re willing to believe in a billion plus coincedenses that are required to explain away the existence of god…when you get video of a monkey transforming into a man, or any animal evolving so to speak… post it.Over 100 prophecies were given concerning intricate details about jesus; if they were written after his arrival we wouldn’t be counting down the days that passed from his death…All atheist believe in god, they just feel like they seem smart spewing this philosphy quoting clever remarks from the same people who will pray their eyes out if they get scared, sick, or feel like they need to take some precautions in case their witty little ideas prove wrong.were early pagans smart for believing in gods they made up looking at animals?, no… but if they settled on the answer that life simply assembled itself even on molecular levels… then we would have legitimate idiots to refer to. Water alone is more complex than any man made design… god should have put a serial number on it maybe then u would stop blaming existence on accidents…  

Wow congratulations you proved that non-biological parts can’t evolve. There is no video of a monkey evolving into a man because thats not how it works,it takes billions of years. I mean as much as I love pokemon thats not how evolution works.As for all atheists believe in god, I would love for you to prove to me that all atheists pray when they get sick or are about to die. However even if some atheists do indeed do that, many theists lose their faith after a tragedy so that argument is moot.
Also I’d also love to see these 100+ prophecies that describe intricate details of jesus. But as I’m quite sure they are very general prophecies that people devrive intricate details from much like they do with Nostradamus.

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maddog April 30, 2010 at 9:12 am

Belief systems cannot be changed by external forces. They can only be changed by the holder of the system.

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Dan April 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm

To Phil e. drifter, you missed my point entirely. I understand evolution, I know life is evolving all of the time. You are giving yourself, and the entire human race way too much credit. Until we realize that we literally know absolutely nothing about life as it exists than we can not come to terms with the fact that we simply don’t know whats beyond this earth. Yes, in our little infinitely small section of the cosmos there is absolutely no controvertible proof for any existence of a higher power. But, we as humans only have so many senses to perceive with. There could, and most likely are, many other forces (physical, not spiritual forces) at work in this universe. The possibility of an infinite number of dimensions is a very probable theory. While we live in our 3 dimensional world with a 4th dimension of time, we have no idea what kind of possibility could be found in these other dimensions. Basically all I’m saying is WE DON’T KNOW! So, face the facts that we simply don’t. I honestly don’t believe that there is a God, but I have an open mind; and that means open to all possibilities, so I also entertain the fact that there is a possible “higher power”. But, we can not explain many things in science, much of it is based on theory, i.e. the big bang. How did it happen? what was before? What is void? can there be emptiness? When you talk about a topic like this, you must think philosophically and scientifically. Basically just remember that you know nothing… none of us do.

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Dan April 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Over 100 prophecies were given concerning intricate details about jesus; if they were written after his arrival we wouldn’t be counting down the days that passed from his death…

The 100+ prophecies you speak of were written in the old testament. The fulfillment of the prophecies were written in the new testament. The writers of the new testament were avid readers of the old testament, they studied it quite religiously. All of the gospels were written at least 40 years after jesus’ death. No writers of any gospel actually met jesus. Each story contradicts the others, while fulfilling the prophecies that they had read in the old testament. They simply wrote the stories around the prophecies. Also, just look through the gospels and see how many contradictions you can find.

http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/04/28/the-bible-quiz-show/

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Tadpole April 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

What is just as sad, isn’t that Christians will basically gloss over the fact that their first argument was patently false as they move on to the second one, but the fact that they all use the exact same arguments! Reason can be expressed and supported in seemingly infinite ways, but I have yet to hear a truly novel defense of religion.

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Tadpole April 30, 2010 at 5:18 pm

This is much the same feeling that I get reading the “new” atheists’ books. Not only do they offer you a series of fake gold chains, but worse, they’ll belittle anyone who doesn’t buy one.  

The difference is that their chains aren’t fake! They are solid gold, and they can prove it! It’s testable. It’s repeatable. It’s science. It’s REALITY!

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Bennett April 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Atheism, to me, is not a belief in a negative claim, but a lack of belief in an affirmative claim. It’s not that I believe that there is no god, but I don’t believe that there is a god. This is an important distinction to make especially when you question where the burden of proof lies in an argument. In any argument or assertion, the burden of proof always rests on the person making an affirmative claim.

Many times have theists stated, “There is a god” (Some people would argue that’s why they’re called theists, but bear with me…). The response I as well as many of my non believing friends give is to question why these beliefs are true. Often this inspires a lively debate, but more often the theist’s response is some variation on, “You can’t prove there isn’t.” This argument neatly absolves the theist of any burden of proof, and yet claims are being made, so a burden of proof must exist.

The reason for this is simple and (in my opinion) very elegant. In any knowledge base, either a fact or its converse is true, never both, never neither. Therefore, untested hypotheses must have some default truth value of either true or false. If we automatically believe that all assertions are true, then contradictions arise when two affirmative claims are made which contradict each other.

If we are inside, and we are speaking of the sky, then we can say that the sky is blue, but we can just as easily say the sky is gray. Having no evidence in favor of one stance or the other, and assigning a default value of “true” to all affirmative claims, then we must believe that the sky is blue AND gray and the same time. All meteorology aside, this creates a contradiction. If, however, we refuse to accept either fact as true, then the burden of proof returns to the amateur weathermen trying to convince us what color the sky is, while we have no beliefs as to the color of the sky.

“There is a god” is an affirmative claim. Therefore, any being whose worldview is based upon the above logic, must ask for proof before accepting the truth of the claim, and say, “I do not believe there is a god.” Therefore, atheism, a lack of belief in a god, is, in fact, the default position that must necessarily be taken in this argument in order to maintain a consistent and predictive worldview.

I think you’ll find that there are no knock-down arguments in philosophy for *any* position, including atheism. So the theist can’t persuade you with arguments. So what? You can’t persuade her with arguments either. If that’s troubling for the theist, it’s troubling for you too.Do you think that, in the absence of compelling arguments either way, we ought to favor atheism? That is, do you think that atheism is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on the theist? If so, why do you think that?The burden of proof is NOT on skeptics of flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teacups, fairies, etc.But the burden of proof IS on skeptics of other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, the uniformity of nature, etc.Do you think that atheism is in the former category, instead of the latter? If so, why?  

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Ian May 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

Ugh, you guys are so angry about all this. Especially Phil E. Drifter. I mean, insulting the opposition does nothing to strengthen your argument. In the spirit of this post, an insult to the opposition is just an invalid argument.

And for the record, religious people are rather logical. Without an elementary grasp of evolution and cosmology(big bang theory), a designer is an acceptable explanation. If the universe is designed, we can predict that things will be complex, that things will act as if they have a purpose, that things will therefor be predictable. Beyond that of course, there is little that the God hypothesis is useful for, but most people don’t need a more accurate theory. It’s kinda like the spherical earth compared to the slightly pear shaped earth; the earth may be pear shaped, but who cares?

The most interesting thing I saw on this post was the argument that we atheists choose not to place God with the self-evident truths: The existence of this world, the existence of other minds, the reality of the past, the accuracy of our senses.

Descartes’, “I think therefore I am” comes to mind. But if this alone were true, I would be able to control the universe in the same way I control my body. Because I cannot do this, I must assume that there is something other than me in existence. It then becomes a question of finding the most effective way to describe this other thing.

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Harv May 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I was trying to be brief which is why I left off: “Before Norse gods, there were no gods/people worshipped the sun. (’SUNDAY,’ anyone? ‘Monday’ was for Mars, ‘Thursday’ was for Thor, ‘Friday’ was for Fria, ‘Saturday’ was for Saturnalia/Saturn…)

Um, yeah. Kinda. Try this – Sunday = Sun; Monday = Moon; Tuesday = Tiw (Mars); Wednesday = Woden (Mercury); Thursday = Thor (Jupiter); Friday = Frigga (Venus); Saturday = Saturn.

Notice how you never see summer solstice or fall equinox celebrations, why would people get excited that it’s going to get cold and dark for 6 months?

My god, you’re right! In fact, now I come to think of it, the summer solstice is the most un-celebrated day in the pagan/druidic calendar…

*facepalm*

And while we’re on the subject, I’m struggling to think of any major festivals on or around the autumn equinox…

*double facepalm*

Seriously, engage brain before posting. You’re giving the rest of us a bad name.

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BYTE-Smasher May 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm

There is no deliberate design which is wholly original. Every truly functional element of design we use as a species has been used before, albeit in potentially less functional states. For original design to enter our consciousness it indeed has to be fallen upon by chance. This original design will never be a perfect design, and will rarely serve a purpose. Stumbling upon the original design is the first step, finding purpose for it comes later. Improving the design is again a process of trial and error, stumbling on more possible designs before settling on a functional model. We strive for perfection in our designs, but by nature, are incapable of perfect design, as perfection is only a goal which we strive to achieve… there will always be potential improvements no matter how good a design is. There will always be natural barriers to our design.

Thus, no design is really designed in the sense that Intelligent Design would propose. Nowhere can we see a car that someone has entirely conceived and designed from scratch, without any concept of what a car should be… not even the first car was such a beast, because it was an amalgamation of technology that already existed: The steam engine, the wheel, etc. Each of these technologies came from earlier designs that were less functional… which built on designs for other things…. Steam engines from stoves, and wheels from logs stripped of branches, which rolled in one direction and served to help move heavy things like stone.

Thus, everything which we have ever designed we did so as a collective. Much like life, which arose from a collective of accidental design, we too have continued the trend of evolving our technology from simple electronics to computers to the grand center of knowledge known as the internet…. the internet which is significantly more complex than one human being was designed by us all… the human body which is significantly more complex than a cell was designed by cells. Everything we’ve ever designed has essentially evolved through us to aide our survival.

Irreducible complexity is thus a flawed theory, as is specified complexity… none of what we’ve ever designed prescribes to these concepts. Fine-tuned Universe falls flat on its face when you realize that everything in this universe, including life is fine tuned for the universe itself, not the other way around. Fine-tuned universe is the song of water in a puddle, thinking the ground was designed just for it because its the perfect shape for all the puddle’s many curves.

But then, you’re all well aware of most of it… some of you have just never looked at the concept of human design from an accidental perspective. It’s clear for me though, being a computer programmer and a musician, that all my original ideas were thought out long ago by the plethora of people that came before me… I’m just arranging them in new (or old) ways which please me. The only thing we have that makes our design less than purely accidental is our ability to spot a good idea. Lets keep the good ones and filter out the bad, shall we?

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Tim May 3, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Manuel: All atheist believe in god.

Says a lot for thinking before you speak.

the earth may be pear shaped, but who cares?

Nope… not important at all… doesn’t change anything at all. *EXTREME SARCASM*

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Ben May 4, 2010 at 5:57 am

to BYTE-Smasher

That was very elegantly elucidated. Thanks.
Ben.

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lukeprog May 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

So random how old posts suddenly become popular…

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Conrad May 4, 2010 at 7:20 am

Very poor argument Mr. Atheist for two reasons.

1. Assuming you are an individual of marked intelligence you will know it is almost entirely impossible to prove the non-existence of something unless you were all knowing in which case YOU would be God (very unlikely that you are). You would have to have knowledge of every facet of this earth and universe in order to do so from a purely scientific not spiritual standpoint and please do not even get on to the idea of statistical reasoning!
Only thing you may have proved is that the argument presented to prove God’s existence might be flawed which I as a Christian do realise is most definitely the case in many instances. You have not disproved God’s existence however! Remember when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb every person who told him it could not be done had to retract their disbelief and yet still could not explain the light that they saw before them. The evidence does not lie, even if your understanding of the “How” and “Why” does not yet add up.
2. It is not up the Christians to prove God to you because the evidence of Him is all around. Rather you need to disprove Him despite all the evidence first which I’m sure you will find alot harder to do.
Imagine I told you about my sister who lived in a different country. Instead of trying to disprove her existence from your side of the world rather get on a plane and come visit me and see for yourself if she exists. In the same way you can find out if God exists by leaving the reasoning of your fallible mind and entering the realm of faith where God lives and you will meet Him!

Conrad

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Lindsay May 4, 2010 at 7:52 am

Phil… your a pompous ass hole. Sorry. And if you ever got past high school, you would have learned that Wiki is NOT an acceptable resource… EVER. Atheist, Theist, Agnostic… I don’t even care what you are, or what your so called “brilliant, enlightened” answers may be… no ones ever going to take you seriously when you pretend like you know everything, when clearly, no one does. Your just as closed minded as the Theists you so passionately argue against.

I see no point to keep following this thread, so I’ve unsubscribed.

Please do that. I’m sure i’m not the only one who is unimpressed with your “AP” status from high school.

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Uncle Roger May 4, 2010 at 11:30 am

2. It is not up the Christians to prove God to you because the evidence of Him is all around.

Imagine I told you about my sister who lived in a different country. Instead of trying to disprove her existence from your side of the world rather get on a plane and come visit me and see for yourself if she exists. In the same way you can find out if God exists by leaving the reasoning of your fallible mind and entering the realm of faith where God lives and you will meet Him!

And here is where YOUR argument is flawed. If you tell me you have a sister in a different country, I have no reason, really, to disbelieve you. I will so stipulate. If, on the other hand, you said your sister is Michelle Obama, I might be a little more skeptical. If you told me you were sleeping with Michelle Obama, I would probably not believe you, unless you could prove it. As they say, pics or it didn’t happen. If you told me you were sleeping with Michelle Obama and she’s actually an alien, I’d assume you are nuts. Assuming you’re insane makes more sense than believe that the first lady is an alien. So you see, as your claims become more and more outrageous, there is more and more need for evidence before a reasonable person believes them.

As for “the evidence of Him is all around” — I’m sorry but I see no evidence for God. In fact, everything I see was actually created by a guy named Barry I met in a pub once. He told me so. Even showed me a book he wrote that said he created everything. You got a book that says god created everything? Barry’s book had pictures. Does yours? The fact is, anyone can claim responsibility after the fact. Doesn’t mean they actually did it. Or that they exist at all.

But then you say we need to enter “the realm of faith where God lives” in order to believe. Forget about evidence and just believe. Why? Because you say so? Because some book says so? I can show you a book that says you should send me all your money. Gonna do that? What if I told you God wrote it?

“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.” That’s all fine and dandy for little kids believing in Santa Claus, but I’ve outgrown that. Perhaps it’s time you outgrew your fairy tales too.

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Revelen May 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm

It’s no secret that mothers like to pass on bits of advice to their children. Mine always had two phrases in particular that she liked to use, which I find applicable here. The first being, “Never argue with Drunks, or with religious fanatics.”

It’s like being a magnet, and trying to pick up Styrofoam. Sure, it’s light as hell, but it’s electrons are not lined up in a way that my electrons will pull on. (Or however the hell magnetic force works) Religious beliefs are BELIEFS. Faith-based. Not relying on reason, proof or logic.

We thinkers attempt to counter this faith with reason, proof, and logic. Unfortunately for us, the more a faithful person can ignore the truth, the prouder and stronger their faith is proven to be. They have absolutely no incentive to change.

They, on the flip side, try to convert our reasoning, questioning, proof-desiring minds with faith based arguments. Equally futile, for the most part.

It just ain’t gonna happen, on either side, unless the theist has some damned good logic, (tricky, in most religions) or if the atheist can somehow apply to their faith to emancipate itself from itself. It’s two completely different mindsets. Both ways, it’s magnets trying to pull Styrofoam.

And one thing that keeps bugging me, from Phil E Drifter, aside from numerous other sweeping and un-justified statements, (of which I also am guilty) is his chronology of Religious belief systems. Sure, Greco-Roman deities were at points co-existent with Norse Gods, a continent away, sure he left out thousands of years, sure he left out most of the world, sure he asserted that Religions with sun-gods don’t count, sure he screwed up the names of many deities, and their relationship to days of the week. Fine. What really is bugging me is this: GRECIAN GODS CAME BEFORE ROMAN GODS! Actually, they were more or less the same gods, the Romans, after they took up the reins of “Great Mediterranean Empire,” just changed the names of most of them. I realize that bears no relationship to anything important, except that, when jousting from the high horse of “Facts and Knowledge,” it is often wise to actually use “Facts and Knowledge,” rather than “Misconceptions and Guesses.” Rome did in fact, come AFTER Greece!

As far as that second phrase from my mother, it was this. “And they can ALL vote.”

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CultivatedAndroid May 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I think you’ll find that there are no knock-down arguments in philosophy for *any* position, including atheism. So the theist can’t persuade you with arguments. So what? You can’t persuade her with arguments either. If that’s troubling for the theist, it’s troubling for you too.Do you think that, in the absence of compelling arguments either way, we ought to favor atheism? That is, do you think that atheism is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on the theist? If so, why do you think that?The burden of proof is NOT on skeptics of flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teacups, fairies, etc.But the burden of proof IS on skeptics of other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, the uniformity of nature, etc.Do you think that atheism is in the former category, instead of the latter? If so, why?  

Umm, yeah, the burden of proof is on theists. By definitions, a thing does not exist until proven otherwise. It is impossible to proove that something does not exist (you can’t proove unicorns don’t). So actually, if you can’t find compelling evidence for God, atheism is true for the time being

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JesusDiedLOL May 7, 2010 at 3:26 am

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”-Epicurus

Epicurus, winning since 341 BCE.

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Rich Shull May 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm

If only psychology ,philosphopy and other discplines knew the next 1000 chapters of the mind, the building blocks of the mind, this relgion debate will be settled once and for all and man would be very distrought with his freeble mindset. His thinking mind has actually got worse in the past century with the advent of television type of things.

I started out life on the very bottom of the gene pool in special education and learned a different kind of human thought process that has never been in a text book before. It is BOTH mr/dd and Einstein and yes even normal thoughts when its all figured out. Humans are blindsided by their own thoughts! The killer punch to them is human thought is shortcutted thought so that means we have the cart before the horse as we ponder the how the mind works question and don’t even know the very internal thoughts that make us work. Trust me once Psychology figures that out man will be in for a major let down has his mind is not all that advanced and we even use the same ideals and thought process to talk with a pariot does.

Some day all this intenral thought process we (old autism people- not admitted to ) learned by default will grace psychology and then we can tunnel backward up threw the mind to discover how backward man really is. Some day kindergarten will not be 123 and the ABCs but picture thoughts that need ironed out before the 123′s and the ABC ‘s work. Tap into the mind correctly and EVERY human will have the Einstein ability in them harvested. Suddenly Personality issues from Dyslexia to stuttering,narcissiam to serial killers and plain good guys will all have an explanation that fits. This will also explain man’s obession with religion and indeed his instance his religion what ever one it is -is the right one.

Rich Shull, Inventor of The Turing Motor. Read more of the mind you don’t know you have at my blog Pre Rain Man Autism thanks.

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RKatic May 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

The burden of proof rests on the positive claim, theists say “God exists”, while the vast majority of atheists (agnostic atheists) simply say “I have not yet been shown convincing proof or heard a convincing argument for Gods existence.” making no positive claims, so yes, atheism IS the default position when it comes to a reasoned consideration of god.

I think you’ll find that there are no knock-down arguments in philosophy for *any* position, including atheism. So the theist can’t persuade you with arguments. So what? You can’t persuade her with arguments either. If that’s troubling for the theist, it’s troubling for you too.Do you think that, in the absence of compelling arguments either way, we ought to favor atheism? That is, do you think that atheism is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on the theist? If so, why do you think that?The burden of proof is NOT on skeptics of flying spaghetti monsters, cosmic teacups, fairies, etc.But the burden of proof IS on skeptics of other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, the uniformity of nature, etc.Do you think that atheism is in the former category, instead of the latter? If so, why?  

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Alison May 20, 2010 at 9:25 pm

“In the same way you can find out if God exists by leaving the reasoning of your fallible mind and entering the realm of faith where God lives and you will meet Him!

Conrad Conrad

Comment | May 4, 2010″

Conrad, are you telling me, that I must be out of my mind to believe in God???

You know, that really is what it boils down to (faith VS reason) and why the argument has to be “left for dead”.

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charlie May 23, 2010 at 7:20 am

yeah, Phil E. D.
you are what is fundementally wrong with mankind in general.
i understand you completed years 11 and 12 of high school science…great, I am curently doing the same, many students in my classes are fucking retarded (for lack of a better word). dont act like a pompous ass due to an exageratted sense of self-worth/importance.

to be so ultimately fundementalist atheist is just as bad as being a fundementalist catholic or muslim.
and so are other people, these people have no real qualifacations and are simply basing their opinions off of what other people have told them is correct. I myself have no qualifacations and as such do not pretend to have all the answers.

Phill, you do not have the all the answers, you cannot definitively say that christians, romans, germanic norse people, catholics, pastafarians, muslims, hindu’s, budhists, jews, ancient egyptions or evangilists are wrong.

im in year 12, 17 yrs old, male, atheist agnostic,
meaning I, at this point in time have no reason to believe in a god, this being due to the fact that i have not seen evidence for a god, in saying that however niether myself, nor anyone in the entirety of mankind can prove beyond reasonable doubt the complete non-existance of god. Now i agree, the onus of proof is on the theists, however there are large aspects of our existance which are unexplained or exlained through unprovable theory. case in point being the infinite mass which created the big bang, there are many theories as to where the infinite mass arose from (blackholes for example) but no common agreement or proof.

therfore i am reluctant to completely dismiss the idea of a higher power in a strictly pantheist or deist view (much the same as einstien)

so people basically what im trying to say is to have an open mind, remember that we dont have all the answers and dont be a condescending, arrogant wankstain on humanity who has an over inflated sense of importance like our friend Phil E. Drifter with a few years of high school science under his belt.

oh and feel free to email me with any objections you may have to anything i have written here on

finally_64@hotmail.com
or facebook me: Charles Champion de Crespigny

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Gil May 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

The problem is that the mode of religious discourse has turned into “I am right, you are wrong.” The entire discussion is focused on establishing _that_, rather than on uncovering some new understanding. It’s even worse in politics.

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Eleanor Simpson August 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

being a computer programmer myself makes me very proud of my job;-’

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Kojakofgrief April 23, 2011 at 11:59 am

I don’t know if anyone has already said this but I find religion works as an escape for those people with too feeble a mind to accept difficulties in their lives. Instead of dealing with an issue and becoming a better person they simply pray it away. If bad things happen it’s gods will not the fact the person has made a mess of things. If things go well it’s gods will and the person has achieved nothing. I believe it was Nietzsche who said “god is dead” and explained it by saying the modern human has no need for a god as they are merely a safety net. Like a “Linus” blanket. Eventually most children grow out of that phase and become well rounded adults. Religion is the refusal to grow up and accept the world as it is.

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