Sketches on Atheism

Brain orgasm, anyone?

godscienceI’ll admit it, I’ve been driving this point home relentlessly in the last few posts, but it’s a score (I think) well worth repeating: apologetics only exists because theism is conclusively fraudulent. There isn’t a single validity test (hard or soft, cosmological, philosophical, or scientific) that any religion on the planet has ever passed. If any given mythology were even remotely true (a claim made by all) then that cult, its deities, its rituals, behavioural codes and canons would have emerged independently at least twice on the planet. Its truth would in fact be demonstrable in this supernatural event. This, however, has never happened, nor will it ever happen. Captain Cook did not stumble upon Aborigines sucking back Christian communion wafers at Botany Bay, Columbus was not confronted by a wall of Arawak asses pointed away from Mecca at sunrise on the beaches of Santa María de la Concepción, and Pedro Álvares Cabral did not find tribes of Aimore Indians auditing their Thetans with shiny new Mark Super VII Quantum Electropsychometers. This fact alone is proof theism is unnatural, and if neglected for just one generation its deities and practices would simply die off. Granted, a few generations down the line some other nonsense would emerge, superstition seems (for now) an inevitable blunder, but as Penn Jillette rightly observed, it wouldn’t be the same nonsense.

There is however a test (perhaps the only one) which apologists can in fact turn to to rationalise their religion without necessarily also having to meet the traditional Burden of Proof demands which plague them from sunup to sundown every day. It’s a rather simple exam devised to establish the plausibility of solipsism which, by default, also serves to prove or disprove solipsism’s opposite number: delusion… a word saddled with religious belief due to the failures of apologetics. The same exam can however also be used to prove (to some acceptable degree) god, and for this reason all aspiring apologists should now listen very, very carefully. Now bear with me for a second. Solipsism, the idea that nothing outside your mind is real, contends that since your present experience is generated in your brain (based on inputs from your senses) and given your brain can generate the same experiences without the input from the senses (a dream or hallucination) then there is no guarantee that what you’re experiencing right now is real. That’s to say your reality could all be-self generated, meaning nothing but your mind actually exists. If we turn solipsism inside out we get delusion: an experience which a person believes is real but is in fact self-generated. Now thankfully for the purposes of brevity both solipsism and delusion can be ruled out using the same process: examine the experience and see if anything in it can not be from your own mind. A self-generated delusion (a pot plant talking to you, for example) cannot contain information you don’t already have because you are generating it. Reality on the other hand does contain things you don’t know, meaning it can’t be self-generated, and this pretty much puts a bullet between the eyes of solipsism.

Cracking!

Now here’s how this applies to both professional and bidding apologists alike. A theist can go a long way in establishing some plausibility for their god by asking the same question of their particular belief: can my god be a self-generated delusion or, perhaps, a solipsistic error? The answer the theist is looking for is of course, No, but to arrive at that answer the theist has to determine whether their religion has revealed anything to us (at any time) that we don’t already know.

The question to everyone then is: has any mythology ever achieved this?

*parts of this post derived from ExistentialAtheism.

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114 thoughts on “Brain orgasm, anyone?

  1. Very well written my friend. And of course, never has been demonstrated. It’s probably why the Vatican tries so hard to prove miracles. The pope did this, Mother Teresa did that, here are several eyewitnesses you’ve never heard of before: believe us, this is the real deal! And we’re supposed to go rightttttt, here’s my thinking cap while I credulously accept everything you say…

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    • Good point on the miracles business. If the Vatican wants to be taken seriously perhaps they should open their verification process up to professional sceptics.

      (did you get my email yesterday?)

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      • Ha, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen? Though Christoper Hitchens playing Devil’s Advocate against Mother Teresa seemed like a step they would never take, so who knows?

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  2. Ah, John, you left a way out. Regarding “A self-generated delusion (a pot plant talking to you, for example) cannot contain information you don’t already have because you are generating it.” A good part of “you” the part that is most of you is unconscious and unknown to your conscious mind. It can (and does) know things your conscious mind cannot know because of brain architecture (no connections).

    Apologists are slippery as eels and one you have them hooked, you have to net them so they don’t get away. And miracles . . . meh; I passed Freshman English after getting an F- on my first essay. Now,, that was a miracle.

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    • Haha… I failed English 101 too! I never told my mother, it would have killed her!

      Question: How can the subconscious contain information not directly (at least once) experienced? Granted, it’s a store of information working without conscious knowledge, but wouldn’t that repository be unique to the individual?

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      • The subconscious can blend memories together. Alter prior experiences. If an alien race came and visited us they would probably refer to us as self-destructive artists- if they had any kind of language.

        All our brain needs is the basic structure, pieces of an experience to start creating a memory, manipulating the pieces- painting the picture.

        So, in a way we don’t need to experience something to think we did. Or, indirect/passive experiences will be naturally transformed into something personally meaningful.

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      • Haha. This is interesting. My brain thought it was bringing something new to the discussion! It had already taken your words from this post and made them its own! Completely disregarded the post. I have a hangover to thank for this timeline, but stretch it out and you’ve got a new religion!

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  3. Another sound argument to put the theist’s head in a tailspin John.

    I recently saw the Ang Lee movie, “The Life of Pi”. I waited until it came to pay-per-view because I didn’t want to pay bigger money for what appeared to be a child’s fantasy story. But enough adults that I have a measurable amount of respect for said it was “really good”. When I did finally see it and the prospect that religion was going to be a focal point of the movie my initial thought was, “so this is why these people liked it. It sends a spiritual message.”

    But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. In fact it literally states pretty much what you have expressed here. The whole story is based on a perception by a boy (now fully grown) of his survival following a shipwreck. The viewer is entertained with the fantastical story of this survival as it revolves around the boy’s dealing with a tiger along with some other animals that escaped the shipwreck as part of zoo entourage being shipped to Canada. All but the boy and the tiger perish and endure for some 3 or 4 months at sea until their boat finally washes ashore on the cost of western Mexico.

    We are all captivated by the fantasy. But then the boy – now a grow man – as he tells his story to a writer looking for an idea about a new book, reveals a different version of what took place. It it wasn’t anywhere near as pleasant. In fact it involves innocence exposed to murder and cannibalism. There were no animals involved; only real humans with raw emotions under such stressful conditions

    When the writer is asked which story of the survival he prefers the most, he assures the man who went through this ordeal that he liked the one with the tiger in it. The man then says, “Good. And so it goes with religion”

    I was caught off guard thinking he was going to suggest he owed his survival to God but instead revealed that our imaginations of God is what prevails. The reality is too cold and cruel and we need something more ethereal. More separate from reality to have hope. At least for some people.

    Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that his father was a non-religious Indian who encouraged his son to seek reason first rather than what he referred to as “the dark side of religion”. This in the end is what saves the boy because it is the scientific reasoning he uses to create devices to fish, train the the tiger, prevent exposure to the sun, etc., that ultimately saves him. His interaction with Jesus, Mohammad and Vishnu were mere props to explain things he couldn’t quite wrap his brain around in these unusual circumstances.

    I didn’t mention how Jesus, Mohammad and Vishnu came into this? Guess you’ll need to see the whole thing yourself if you haven’t already to figure that out. 🙂

    Thanks again for your intelligent renderings that challenge the religious superstitions of mankind.

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    • I haven’t seen it yet, but that was a brilliant summary…. you bastard! 🙂

      So let me see if i got this straight: the crux is we believe (in whatever) to spruce up our otherwise ordinary terrestrial lives, and that belief does in-turn take on a tangibility which can be considered real. So, in a sense, solipsism is real… real at least to the individual. Is this it?

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      • “So, in a sense, solipsism is real… real at least to the individual. Is this it?”

        At the most stressful times some humans need it, I think. It’s like religious people always need a good god to protect them in some manifestation against the cruelty that is part of the real world. We want things to be perfect and un-chaotic.

        So we imagine a world that we can control, though in this fantasy we attribute that control at some level to an imaginary being that can’t be controlled by the corporeal forces … like ourselves.

        Pi didn’t want to face the dark side of his world so he created an imaginary one to keep him from going completely insane. In the version that was real, Pi kills a hateful, murderous cook, who survived the shipwreck too. The cook is the imaginary hyena in Pi’s fantasy. Pi is the tiger who kills the hyena for killing his mother, the orangutan, and the zebra, who is the disabled sailor that is used for fish bait.

        The ugly brutality of all of this under such conditions is too much to absorb so Pi has to create a scenario that allows him to assuage the dark side of himself and other humans. Humans he not only didn’t know existed before but now that he does needs a belief system that offers something more, if not here then in some afterlife perhaps.

        Is that clear as mud? 😦

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      • You have a gift at this, Larry. That was brilliantly said. You’re political commentary is second to none, but you should turn your hand to this type of stuff as a side dish. I enjoyed it.

        So it’s a defensive/survival mechanism… a sanctioned delusion which we let run because everyone is happier that way. To me that sounds awfully like a cop-out. I can understand the reaction, even sympathise with it, but… it’s a daydream.

        I’m a little confused by something, though. If i recall Obama remarked after seeing the film as (to paraphrase) “It’s the best proof for a god i’ve yet seen.” What was that about?

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      • “I’m a little confused by something, though. If i recall Obama remarked after seeing the film as (to paraphrase) “It’s the best proof for a god i’ve yet seen.” What was that about?”

        Hmmm. Really? I didn’t catch that about Obama. An appeasing political comment I suppose but if you think about it, it is a back-handed response aimed at religionists that says our gods are a contrivance necessitated out of a fear of our reality. But then again he could have meant something entirely different.

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      • “The ‘power of story telling’ i can get, but a ‘proof of god’? Me thinks Obama didn’t see the movie through to the end”

        Either Obama believes that the life saving events that occurred in the movie – flying fish and the algae eating island that gives Pi rest – were signs of God’s presence or he says it to the religious who voted for him as an appeasement to this sentimentality. I don’t think that if Obama is an atheist that he is likely to reveal this to the public. Perhaps in some biography down the road when life is short and his children are adults.

        I need to correct something myself here too. I said Pi answered the writer with the words, “and so it goes with religion” instead of what he really said which was “and so it goes with God”. That doesn’t change it for me because I’m still thinking he means it as humans see God and/or religion.

        Also, a review of this in wikipedia conveys that the “real” account by Pi was given as a substitute to those who had a hard time of accepting his original version. The wiki comments read “After giving all the relevant information, Pi asks which of the two stories they prefer. Since the officials cannot prove which story is true and neither is relevant to the reasons behind the shipwreck, they choose the story with the animals. Pi thanks them and says, “and so it goes with God.”

        Read the wikipedia account here

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      • And with that the Observer changes the particle 😉

        This reminds me of a guest lecture i attended years ago whilst at Uni. The speaker (I’ve forgotten his name) began with this line: “We are all gods… but do remember, we’re gods with neighbours.”

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    • The strangest part of the whole thing is that Christians have read that book, watched that movie, and declared that very same message to be inspirational and religiously affirming.

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      • Yeah. I haven’t seen it yet, or read the book, but that was the feeling i was getting from commentaries. Seems the complete opposite. I guess the delusion really IS that strong.

        (BTW, i fixed up your post 😉 )

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  4. Your article was the perfect start to my Sunday morning. Thanks for that! I’m not sure my ass pointed away from Mecca at sunrise, though — I have such a problem finding a compass in my dreams. I really need to talk to my shrink about this. Gosh I’m hungry now. I’d better head down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to suck back some wafers and borrow a few bucks from the collection plate for a real breakfast. I’m a bit strapped at the moment. I’m sure God will understand. After all, I’m a member of his favorite tribe.

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  5. That’s the most, and the least, a secular Jew can get out of going to Mass, no? Should I have I been misinformed…?

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    • Ain’t nothing in all three cosmos’ that’ll stop that man looking like a Class-A, turbo-charged assclown.

      That said, i’d like to him answer the question. It’d be interesting to hear what he (or some other apologist) would say… and by that I mean, say ‘honestly.’

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      • If I had a lot of money, I would bet it all that they would ask you to join them in their beloved playground: WORDS. You couldn’t get a direct answer if you put their face in front of a canon.

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      • That’s some tasty imagery there, Chris!

        Still, its a pity. If they did just engage this question (with unabashed honesty) we could seriously move the debate along.

        Has any religion ever revealed something not previously known….

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      • Well, that’s how i’d see it, yes… but would/could apologists find something that they think was new?

        Fuck, if Jesus had just said, “Hey, there’s a place called New Zealand, you don’t know of it, yet, but its pretty cool… Just you wait and see,” then I’d be sold.

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      • Or really blow their minds and say … ladies, gentlemen, this ain’t gonna make any sense to you for hundreds of years, but … e=mc^2

        Any son of god would have to know something about the language of the universe.

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  6. The thing is, diehard theists don’t need to look for any answers or ask themselves any questions.

    All is answered through the simple act of “belief”. That’s what’s so great about it. You get to be right no matter how wrong you are. There’s no need to provide evidence or substantiating documentation. There’s no effort required and no way to be wrong.

    There simply is no rational argument that can put a dent in that, no matter how logical, factual or persistent. The argument may reach some who are not yet irretrievably consumed by a belief, it may be cathartic for the presenter and those who agree, but it will do nothing but harden the resolve of the fundamentalist fanatic.

    This holds true not only with religion. The same conditions seem to apply to “belief” in anything. Belief is very dangerous. It has the power to justify unspeakable things.

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      • “I think people who have waaaay too much time on their hands arrive at it as a way to briefly make themselves feel important.” Definitely! But I’m not convinced that your argument about the unknown in reality in any way affects it as a possibility. And it’s a greater possibility than the pan-theistic tea party because the evidence that I’m here is clear to me. It’s at a good, strong 10%, but it has to be completely disregarded because there’s no benefit to acting on the possibility it’s correct. Now if anyone’s seen the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where she’s in the mental institution, they’ll totally know exactly what I mean. 🙂

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  7. I understand the question and we’re all smart enough to know it’s impossible for anyone to answer. However I know the Tibetans sure as hell have taught the world a lot of technology, along with every other society that’s ever existed.

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    • It’s actually not that complicated a question at all. I’m not setting you up for a head shot here. Just wondering if, in your opinion, religion has ever revealed anything that we didn’t already know.

      Which technologies are you talking about? Were they divinely inspired?

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      • yoga music art metalurgy alchemy sanitation astronomy architecture agriculture psychology war education reproduction law government to name a few. Humans have long sought divine inspiration and expressed it or lack of it in everything they do.

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      • Quite the list, but what of them were ‘gifted’ supernaturally… and is there a record of this transaction? Just because monks play with metals or music doesn’t make it divinely given.

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      • To me, God is the intelligences, sciences, energy. I don’t know physics well enough to know the words but God is that force that designed atoms and keeps them spinning.

        A number of astronauts experienced God this way in outer space and describe it :

        “Traveling back to Earth, having just walked on the moon, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell had an experience for which nothing in his life had prepared him. As he approached the planet we know as home, he was filled with an inner conviction as certain as any mathematical equation he’d ever solved. He knew that the beautiful blue world to which he was returning is part of a living system, harmonious and whole—and that we all participate, as he expressed it later, “in a universe of consciousness….http://noetic.org/directory/person/edgar-mitchell/

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      • If you don’t know physics how are you qualified to make that observation? Just because someone is filled with awe doesn’t mean Ipit was God. Take a look at the stars at night (assuming you don’t live in a city, or cam find a place in your particular city to see them) and just think about how vast the universe is. It’s quite beautiful and awe inspiring isn’t it? Well, that just means its beautiful and awe inspiring, not God.

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      • Getting way off topic here. I could post numerous quotes of astronauts who were religious and upon returning concluded there was no god… but that’s beyond the point of this post.

        Has religion ever revealed anything new to us?

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  8. “Reality… can’t be self-generated.” That statement says it all.

    Religions are analogous to the proverbial Broadway Show. The characters, the dialogue, the costumes, the acts of ritual based on virtue, are all part of the show. It’s the same narrative based on fairytale delusions. It’s time for a reality check, it’s time to pull the plug and close the marquees.

    Religion: Off Broadway

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  9. Thought-provoking reading.

    Initially, you make the assertion that if any religious mythology contained truth, the practices associated with it should have sprung up independently. But I’m afraid that presupposes something inconsistent with quite a few religions: namely, that the proper practice of religion is substantively revealed in nature. Most prominent religions teach that the proper practice of religion–or at least a substantive portion thereof–is supernaturally revealed from a single outside source at some discrete point in time. We would not expect practices originating from instances of special revelation to crop up independently.

    You do make a very good point about telling the difference between a delusion and reality. “The theist has to determine whether [his] religion has revealed anything to us (at any time) that we don’t already know.”

    I’d have to add a caveat, or perhaps an addendum. The issue here becomes: how does one confirm that the thing being revealed is accurate? Obviously, religions reveal a LOT of “things” that we don’t already know….like, you know, how Heracles was the son of Zeus. Nobody “knew” that. But what we’re really after is independent corroboration. Surely, if the Sermon on the Mount had contained a brief note about how elementary particles obtain mass via a field with an associated particle that will only be discovered through very high-energy collisions, we would have corroboration….but the question would arise as to whether this addendum had significantly influenced the study of physics to the point that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously, such a note WOULD have dramatically changed the course of scientific history.

    And since religion is generally more interested in sociology, psychology, and the philosophy of human existence, there exists much less objectivity than we’d otherwise want. Does the New Testament tell us something about ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise know? Ostensibly no….or did the study of the New Testament lead to the discovery of the principles of psychology we now take for granted?

    What’s an example of something which we WOULD reasonably expect religion to reveal that we didn’t already know?

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    • I think you already answered that; a description of the Higgs boson would work for me. The nature of lightning, thunder and weather would be good. Weather stations…. The flushable toilet.

      To your first point, anthropomorphic religions would fit that bill but not animism, Totemism, or ancestor cults which are far, far older. But this point goes well beyond just the practices. The deity should be the same. The behavioural codes identical. The very philosophy a mirror image arrived at by more than one population regardless of geography or epoch.

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      • The difficulty with the Higgs Boson example (or any other robust description of natural science) is that most religions have historically focused on things that are just a little bit more accessible to the average individual. We’ve only known about the nature of lightning for two dozen decades, and we’ve only known (for sure) about the Higgs Boson for 11 days. It’s the height of chronological snobbery to demand divinely encoded information which could only have been confirmed within a very, very brief span of human history.

        Of course, dyed-in-the-wool apologists will point to the numerous public health recommendations in the Old Testament which very closely resemble a modern understanding of germ theory, albeit implemented within a bronze-age religious culture. But inevitably those are “too vague” to serve as the kind of warrant you’re looking for.

        Which leaves the question still open. What revelations even could be both equally accessible to a majority of human beings throughout history AND sufficiently impressive as to make an impact on the delusionality of religion?

        You say, “This point goes well beyond just the practices. The deity should be the same. The behavioural codes identical.” I don’t see how you justify this supposition. Don’t almost all major religions assert that they possess a special thread of revelation not given to any other culture?

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      • One would expect some divine truth to be universal, no? It should rise naturally, unencumbered by culture or language. No supernatural belief has however emerged twice. They are, in the end, culturally centric.

        I think you’re being too lenient on the apparent reluctance of gods and demigods and prophets to divulge truths that would cement their fanciful claims. If you were a god how would you act? Wouldn’t you point someone in the direction of correctional optics, or perhaps teach them the nature of disease?

        Here, I wrote a post just on this subject: https://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/christianitys-nightmare-question/

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  10. Actually, I offer that theology (or magic, if you will) is a natural state, because it is easy. It is science and rational thinking that are hard and, therefore, unnatural 🙂

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  11. Rational thinking comes naturally to me; magic does not. And having worked with scientists, I can attest it comes easy to quite a few. Science and rational thinking come from primal, survival instincts, hunger, how to get laid, building shelter from the weather, predicting the weather based on previous experience and so on.

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    • I’d have to strongly disagree with you here. Rational thought is not easy. We (as a species) are predisposed to making the quicker, cheaper false association than labor through more expensive, time-consuming rational scepticism.

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      • Being rational isn’t always time consuming. Some of us naturally have good sense. However, I’m going to think about what you say because I can’t deny there is a lot of poor decision-maiking in this world. In my earlier comment was referring to myself and personal experience. As for human kind, off the top of my head I’d say that learning not to burn one’s hand in the fire was an easily-grasped rational skill.

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      • Sure, but that’s a learned behaviour. My blog pal, Fourat, summed it up beautifully in his paper: “Science isn’t easy, it is not intuitive; it actually is hard and our brains just don’t get it… If common-sense applied to science, it wouldn’t have taken the human race 200,000 years to begin practicing it.”

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      • Interesting to contemplate because I don’t see how science can’t be based on learning. “Science” is a broad term. Thanks for the ideas to chew on. (But I’m still thinking of famous scientist Einstein whose brain seemed wired that way, and da Vinci, and Hawkings.)

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  12. Nice post, John. When I got to the bottom of it my heart sank to notice 101 comments. I don’t have the stomach to read it all — so I’ll comment on the post alone.

    I may be as put off my apologetics as you are. Nobody can prove there’s a god, nobody can prove there’s no god; but I have all the evidence I need from personal experience that conversations about whether or not God exists are non-productive and destructive. Well, they are for me. Obviously Penn Gillette has figured out how to use the topic of God’s existence as fuel for some hysterically funny videos — many of which I’ve seen and all of which I’ve enjoyed. You can add Randy Newman and George Carlin to that list. John Zande has done pretty well with it as well, when he concentrates on being funny.

    I have more to say, but work beckons….

    Peace,

    Paul

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    • Ok, I’ll see you when you have more time, but the takeaway i get from this is you can’t identify anything religion has ever revealed that we didn’t already know. Will pick up on that later. peace out.

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  13. am joining this quite late, I don’t know how I didn’t see it earlier on my reader.
    If theism were true, there would be no apologists, for what would they be doing? It would be self evident to everyone, the only question we would be left with after this is whether does the knowledge that a god exists warrant worshiping the same god.

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