Wednesday, January 25, 2012

That irrefutable evidence for God in full...

[for the benefit of those living overseas or who missed The Big Questions on January 15th or the iPlayer version while it was up]

Are you unconvinced about the existence of God? Sceptical about claims of supernatural beings, miracles, virgin births, spiritual dimensions and an afterlife? Well great news. BBC One went to the trouble to invite a wide range of people from a variety of faiths and denominations and giving them a whole hour to present this gripping evidence in front of a handful of atheists: me, evolutionary biologist Diana Fleischman, Prof Peter Atkins and journalist David Aaronovitch.

Key highlights include:

"There's no evolutionary basis for altruism" Yes there is, it helps the survival of those around you, all of whom will be carrying at least some of your genes.

"I just feel like there's a God-shaped gap in my life" Yes many people feel things like loneliness or insecurity. But the presence of a void doesn't prove the existence of something that fills that void. By that argument ever colander is a bowl. [Also if you believe every hole should be filled - that's a pro-rape argument, though I didn't say anything so shocking on the show!]

"I know God exists from the really strong feeling I get when I see a landscape or hear great music". Right what about when you have an orgasm? Is that a strong enough feeling? And if God gave you the joy of music, she must have also given you that feeling of nausea when you see maggots. [Actually Diana Fleischman had just come from a conference on disgust!]

"When personal tragedy struck, I wanted God to exist and so I decided to believe" Does this have anything to do with evidence? "No". Ok.

"God appeared to me personally when I was in prison for committing hundreds of crimes and spoke to me (in English)" Shame she didn't show up BEFORE you ruined all those victims' lives.

Here's what didn't happen:

"I prayed to Allah and my amputated leg grew back"

"Jesus spoke to me in a dream and here he is, I brought him on TV with me, so you can all see it wasn't a hallucination"

Also as previously discussed, this is the episode where I compare the Qu'ran to Harry Potter. Deep apologies to Harry Potter fans everywhere!



Unknown said...

Like this

londonbayley said...

Brilliant summary of an interesting if somewhat one-sided debate. Is there evidence for God? NO!!! Next...

Deiter said...

Just discovered your work (on YouTube) and love what you're doing. Praise to you.

- Any discussion about evidence always, ALWAYS, gets to reduced to an explanation of yearning. Or, scientific descriptions are just not elegant enough. We yearn for a god, therefore It exists.
- The Soviet Union was NOT a atheist state. Its religion was communism. Being skeptical of a faith-based system of belief is NOT a belief system itself.
- "What caused the causer." Indeed. "That's a ridiculous argument." Typical response: "We can't address that w/ Scripture so it's absurd." Arbitrary boundaries abound.
- The best a religionist can do is offer amazing deflections and evasions.
- "Atheists believe in nothing!" I hate that argument! I don't believe in your religion's preposterousness. There is so much more in the world beyond your religion!
- Love your response to the aborted fetuses going to heaven comment. Wouldn't abortion send a soul more surely to heaven w/o life and all its messiness getting in the way? Brilliant!

There's so much to admire and respond to here. I wish something like was possible on telly in the U.S. Thank heavens it does happen somewhere in the world!

Thanks for fighting the good fight!

Jack Everitt said...

Off topic fyi: Your three Google Ads links on this page are:


God on Earth

Does God Exist

Nathan P said...


I was there in the audience, sitting in the row behind you. With all due respect (and I am being sincere), I thought that you were rather abrasive and did not keep to debate etiquette. By the camber of your work, I can hardly imagine you'd care. It would only matter if one was trying to establish a civil, equitable discussion. Judging from your other appearances on the same show, you consider those of faith to be "idiots". So I'm guessing that 'civil' is not really what you're going for...

Back to the show, I would be perfectly happy to conclude that [A] it was incredibly panel focussed (Atkins in particular being given a lot of focus), and [B] that the atheist side 'won' the discussion. Not that this was intellectually deserved, mind you; the standard of argument was almost universally poor, but it just so happened that the atheist arguments were slightly less poor.

As usual with the Big Questions, debate discipline was virtually non-existent, and the titillating won over the essential. Instead of a variety of other, more germane topics, the audience was forced to listen to yet another shouting match over 'religion and science'. It would have been far more fruitful to discuss the following:

1) What is the nature of the proposed theistic proofs? (A priori? A posteriori? Cumulative?);

2) Is 'evidence' even the right category for how we are said to 'know' God?

3) Is 'evidence', as an epistemic criterion, the sole standard? Is it even the most important?

Absolutely crucial here is the acknowledgement that for your blanket dismissal of theism to be not only inappropriate but intellectually incredulous, the theist's epistemological system merely has to be shown to be "reasonable", or at least "not unreasonable". The theist does not have to establish a case of compulsion - one that the atheist must believe following its vindication - only a case of reasonable ascription.

If we focused on this, then the question "Is there any evidence for God?" may have been at least engaged.

As it happened, the two front rows were happy with juvenile shouting and intellectual hand waves. Heck, I know that's the nature of media. That the BBC probably requested your participation knowing that heat would generate more interest than light. Your row may even have enjoyed something of a 'victory' in Warrington that day, but I assure you, it was a hollow one. It changed and said nothing.

Cruella said...

Oh yes, I undoubtedly expressed my points in the wrong tone of voice! That is the ultimate argument for someone who doesn't actually havea point to make. I thinks more interesting question would be "given there is no evidence whatsoever for god, what is wrong with you lot??"

Nathan P said...


Many thanks for your response. Two things.

[A] Regarding me 'not having a point to make', this feels rather juvenile. To take you to task for your lack of civility may not be relevant to the *debate topic*, but it is incredibly germane if you have any concern whatsoever for *strategy*. How you look and how you sound in a discussion such as the one a few Sundays ago influences how people evaluate the worldview you're advocating. 18 year old boys on YouTube might be excited by you calling religious people names, but it doesn't do much do endear the general populace.

More to the point, if you truly believe atheism to be the superior worldview, then why can't you do what Christians are meant to do, only better? Christians are called to provide a defence for their faith in "gentleness and reverence" [1 Pet 3:15ff] - unless this is a degenerate aspiration [which would be an indefensible suggestion, one would hope], then why shouldn't atheists try to be JUST AS respectful, AND show us how mistaken we are? This strikes me as the most obvious and preferable strategy.

[B] Regarding the apparent absence of evidence - whilst it would be interesting discussing the nuances of the Christian cumulative case, or the philosophical weaknesses of prominent atheist arguments, perhaps it may be interesting to ask a question back. I hear Jesus liked doing it, so why not :)

Namely this: when you say 'evidence', do you mean 'empirical proofs'? (And if I may add a second question: do you believe that without evidence, one is unjustified in believing in something?)

Cruella said...

So me implying that religious people are idiots is deeply offensive. What about the hundreds of religious people who write to me saying I am going to burn in hell, that I deserve to be raped and murdered and calling me things like "bitch" and "whore"? I really think the word "idiot" is a perfectly civilised one. I didn't ask you for advice on what tone I should take, but for the record I think themedias fawning public respect for religion and refusal to call it out for the obvious lie it is is a. It problem that needs addressing. When I was much younger I remember thinking there must be some credibility to this notion becauseno-one ever calls people out on it. If I am one small drop in the ocean of changing that then I am so with pride.

And when I say evidence, I mean evidence. Convincing data points, repeatable experiments, that sort of thing. And you're more than welcome to believe what you like for no reason. But you are still an idiot!

Anonymous said...

You want to learn of God, you must go to Haiti or my country Malaysia. You have issues with faith which not a problem, but you need to seek it first. If you seek it "hard" enough and still can't find it, then your first cause to disbelieve becomes absolute. Actually faith comes in the early years when you first came out from your mama's womb... that the first thing you learn of faith is breathe on air when you can't see the air. Yet, you still breathe because you know it is essential to your life. That's where God starts teaches faith. Along the way, you are clouded by logical misinterpretation...May God have mercy on your soul.

Deiter said...

Sorry, Nathan, your arguments are a time waster. There is no need for "prominent atheist arguments." Ultimately, there should be no burden on the atheist to provide any. As has been said ad nauseum, the burden of proof is on you, not the skeptic. What we're saying is merely that the theist narrative unconvincing by any reasonable standard. Theists operate in a spiritual realm of feeling and "knowing" for themselves. That's fine and good. The theist wants to convert the non-believer to accept this feeling: Good luck with that. However you dress it up, that's all it ever is.

You may cloak your arguments in intellectual lingerie, but like any trashy lingerie, it can be seen right through.

But you know what? Bless you anyway.

Stentor said...

Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. Funny, that song always runs through my head whenever I see the name cruella.

Ho, hum. Anyway, love your blog, but I wanted to tell you the sodding wankers over at the BBC got the YouTube-account-holder who hosted those videos for you, expelled, and his account deleted. Hopefully you can find them somewhere else, and re-embed. I'd really like to see them. Keep up the good work, and giving them the back of your hand, rhetorically speaking, of course.

You should start comparing their beliefs to that of the Pastafarians who believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may you be forever touched by his noodly appendage. Mmm, pasta, now I'm hungry. Good thing I made some turkey rotellini last night.

Anonymous said...

I am sure if you all create website like this one, go public on your opinions, and other means, you are not only belief this but you are willing to fight for your cause right? Then, I suggest you should explore spiritual realm by just going to different country and taking parts of spiritual activities.

If you not scare, I don't see why you shouldn't go debunking any myth there is. You can start with going to Asia country. We have "journey to hell" where you pay only US$150 and they will open your eyes to have sightseeing at hell for a short while (money back guaranteed) or just pass some samples of your hair so they can use it to show you some stuff. There is also special treats that shows how you can vomit needles by just sampling your don't need to be there when they perform the ritual. Get a few friends to join in. It will be fun.

The best way to get empirical evidence on subject of faith is to experience it. Its pretty much like air, you cant see it but you know its there. Don't just tell people you don't believe it, proof to them that faith is a bunch of hokus pokus for idiots.

If you don't want, theres only few possibilities. First, you are the devil yourself which I hope not. Second, you are not entirely sure of your stand enough to out them to the test it out.

Calum Miller said...

I'm not surprised - The Big Questions is hardly known for its intellectual rigour. People have given much more cogent defences of theism, though, why not read them?

Cruella said...

Oh yes of course - it's my job to go hunt down "evidence" for your magic cloud-dwelling pixies. why don't you dig out these "cogent defences for theism" and see if any scientific journals would like to publish them?

Calum Miller said...

Well, do you think it would be acceptable for a scientist to say, "Oh yes of course - it's my job to go hunt down "evidence""?

The answer, of course, if one is interested in the truth, is yes. Of course, you don't *have* to read them. But if you're not prepared to, there's not much point banging on about how there's no evidence.

Cruella said...

Look I've read tons of stuff. I don't even know what you're referring to as "cogent defences". Interesting that you suggest there are :cogent defences" but not actually "evidence". Ha ha ha.