Monday, 20 November 2017

Facebook group "Religion Discussion" rules and purpose

#Rules and #purpose.

The primary purpose of this group is to share ideas, discuss and debate issues related to the existence of a deity or deities, the social and psychological implications of religions and personal faiths, and the scientific implications regarding these topics.


Please read these rules before you post in this group. New members are considered probationary for quality control purposes. These rules are elaborate so there won't be much room for confusion. Fear not, for this style of administration has been handed down the Armstrong line for generations.

1. This is an English debate group. Please post/comment in English, and ONLY English. It's ok to post in another language when discussing its interpretation or meaning, however a direct debate or conversation in another language will not be accepted.

2. A meme or a link is not a debate point. If you post a meme or a link without a debate point, don't be surprised if it gets deleted. Accompany your memes or links with at least one sentence worth of argumentation at minimum. This rule may apply in the comments section as well. Members are expected to maintain polite discourse and adhere to basic principles of online debate

3. If you make a regular habit of drive-by preaching by not responding to and/or dancing around rebuttals, don't be surprised if you are removed.

4. No fighting - there is a difference between a debate and a fight. If you feel yourself getting angry, step away from the keyboard for a second. If a thread devolves into a huge fight, the involved comments, and possibly the whole thread, will be removed.

5. Overt insults are not allowed, especially when they are irrelevant to a debate point. If you are slinging insults at someone simply for holding a different opinion, action will be taken. Overt racism and sexism will result in administrative action at the discretion of the admin team.

6. Trolling, or posting solely with intent to upset or offend others, is not allowed. While some people might troll occasionally while also contributing, if your troll levels exceed your quality post levels to an extent that it brings down the quality of the group, action will be taken immediately.

7. Graphic images (pornography or violence) are not allowed. Images of a sexual nature, especially when not related to a serious debate topic, are not allowed. If you're posting an article or source for a debate point, and it happens to contain such images, provide a "NSFW" warning in the post with the link and remove the thumbnail.

8. Admin actions are not to be disputed publicly in the group. If you have an objection to the rules or to admin actions, please private message one of us admins and we will address your concerns.

9. Blocking an Admin or a Moderator is not allowed as this substantially decreases the efficiency with which this group can be run. However, if you message me (Yusuf J Ibrahim) and have valid reasons why you need to block an Admin/Mod (Admin/Mod X killed my sister, etc.), I might make exceptions.

10. Don't worry, admins are instructed to not take admin action in arguments that they are directly involved in. If you are fighting with an admin, another admin will observe things as a third party and take action if necessary.

11. Abusing the report feature on Facebook against others will result in a permanent ban from the group.

12. All posts should be related to the group topic. Off topic posts will result in a warning and the deletion of the post.

13. Spamming in this group is strictly prohibited. This includes advertising services, sites, pages, YouTube channels, other groups, etc. If you are caught spamming here, you will immediately be sent on a vacation.


15. Do not delete or heavily edit a post once you've made it, or switch off commenting. Do not delete comments once other people have replied to the comments.

In this group you will get three (3) warnings. Each specific offense will result in a warning. This means that if you break any individual rule three times, you will be subjected to suspension or removal pending admin decision. The first time you are removed will be a three (3) days suspension, after which you are free to apply for reentry. beyond that, it's admin discretion.

Yusuf J Ibrahim
Adam von Plentl - (Adam Plentl)
Daniel Van Koughnett
Matt Gorman
Zuhdi Ahwal
Brandon L. Williams
Alan Solomon
Trey Simmons

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Discussions with theists, index

Discussions with theists, part 1 - how to discuss with Muslims
Discussions with theists, part 2 - how to discuss with Christians
Discussions with theists, part 3 - how to discuss with Atheists

Discussions with theists, part 4 - how to discuss if you're a Muslim
Discussions with theists, part 5 - how to discuss if you're a Christian
Discussions with theists, part 6 - how to discuss if you're an Atheist

Have fun!

Discussions with theists, part 6

In this essay, which will perhaps be the last in the series (but as with Holy Books, you can never be sure that there isn't another one later), I'm going to cover how an atheist can converse with theists about atheism. Sometimes, I might post "I'm an atheist, you can ask me questions about atheism" and so I've seen many of the questions.

The origin of species

This is a popular question. It comes about because the theist has been taught a theory that is nothing like evolution, and wants to explain that it's rubbish. The theory they want to discuss is indeed rubbish and is only vaguely on nodding terms with evolution. I shall call this theory "not-evolution".

Here's now not-evolution works. One day, a monkey gave birth to a human. Or possibly what happened is that suddenly, all monkeys were giving birth to humans

Yes, it's absurd. Or a squirrel gave birth to a dog. Or something. I have no idea where they learn the theory of not-evolution; perhaps in their religious school?

So now you have a problem. If you try to explain the actual theory of evolution, then you're trying to put a several-hours tutorial, into a short time, which is probably impossible, and even if you do, you may encounter the phenomenon of "Invincible Ignorance" (I'll explain that later). Your best bet is to recommend a website that explains it, and then to recommend a good book. Because trying to explain evolution to someone starting off with not-evolution, is like trying to explain Special Relativity to a goldfish.

And a classic symptom of not-evolution is "If people came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys." You can reply "If Mormon came from Christianity, why are there still Christians", but I doubt if that will do any good.

Another classic symptom is "They haven't found the missing link". Actually, they have.

Or "There's no proof" Actually, there is.

Or "It's just a theory". No, it's a fact.

Invincible ignorance

This is actually a theological term. "Vincible ignorance" is ignorance that can be overcome with teaching. For example, if you didn't know that there are 5240 feet in a statute mile, then that is "Vincible ignorance" and easily dealt with.

"Invincible ignorance" is when, after you have been told that there are 5240 feet in a statute mile, and it has been demonstrated to you, then you continue to insist that it's only 5000. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but invincible ignorance really is a thing. I've met it a few times.

I know of no cure for it.

The origin of life

Many theists accept evolution (including the Pope). But then comes the question of, before there was life, there wasn't life. How did life originate, or to give that its fancy word "Abiogenesis".

My first explanation is "I'm not a biochemist or biologist, and I don't know, but I do know that there are several possibilities, and research is still proceeding. Would you like me to list some of the possibilities?" If they do, the Wikipedia again. I give them the first one, then ask if they want some of the other alternative possibilities.

The origin of the universe

Sometimes this starts off as "How did the planet Earth form" which is an easy one, but after that is answered, you get asked the origin of the universe, so it's easiest to go straight to that. And it's a doozy!

The Big Bang is actually not really relevant, because that begs the question of where the matter in the Big Bang came from.

Again, I start off with I'm not a cosmologist, and I don't know, but I do know that there are several possibilities, and research is still proceeding. Would you like me to list some of the possibilities?"

And then I list the following.

1) It was always there.
2) It came from nothing.
3) It was created by Leprechauns, who have now departed and gone elsewhere
4) It was created by a unicorn, but the unicorn was used up in the process and no longer exists.
5) It was created by a Fairy, and the Fairy is still here, but doesn't do anything now

And then the big discussion starts. I try to get them to deal with one at a time. The usual response to 1) is incredulity, but incredulity butters no parsnips. Why can't it have always been there? And sometimes I might remind them that this is exactly what they believe about their god. So they might say "But everything has a beginning" and I say "Well, maybe except the universe".

The usual response to 2) is also incredulity. How can you get something from nothing? There's a couple of responses. The first is "How do you know? Have you ever seen 'nothing'? I haven't. "Perhaps one of the properties of nothing is that it always spontaneously turns into "something". The second is, actually, quantum mechanics says exactly that. If you have empty space, then it will immediately contain something. And the third is to recommend a book by Lawrence Krauss "A universe from nothing" which shows just how a universe could come from nothing.

I've never gotten as far as 3), 4) or 5).

Fine tuning

This could be as simple as the "Goldilocks" ideal, or more universal. The Goldilocks idea is that planet Earth is in the ideal zone for life. How could that be just chance?

That's easy to deal with. Here we are. If Earth hadn't been suitable for life, we wouldn't be asking this question. Maybe there are zillions of other beings on their planets asking the same question. And clearly, on a planet that is completely inimical to life, there's no-one to ask that question. So we can deduce nothing from the fact that we live on a planet conducive to life.

More difficult is the same thing applied to the universe. Constants such as the ratio of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force, and several dozen other such constants, are just right for life to happen. Surely the odds against that are astronomical?

There are two possible answers, but the main answer is "I'm not a cosmologist, I don't know." After that, there's the fact that we do not currently have the ultimate theory of physics (and maybe never will). It might seem strange that if you dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen, there is *exactly* twice as many hydrogen as oxygen atoms. Not 2.00001 or 1.99999, it's exactly 2.00000. The odds against that are astronomic, surely? No, not if you go to the underlying theory; each water molecule is made of one atom and two hydrogen atoms. So the ratio of 2:1 *has* to be exact.

Likewise, perhaps there's an underlying theory that we haven't yet understood that forces the constants of the universe to be what they are. We don't know.

The other possible answer is the multiverse. This relates to the "something from nothing" idea. Perhaps universes are spawned all the time, in vast numbers, out of nothing. Some immediately collapse, some don't have constants that allow star formation. But some are such that it's possible for stars to form, and planets, and life, and on those, it's possible to have beings that ask questions like this.

The parable of the diamond

A common statement by theists is "My religion comforts me. What harm is there?"

First of all, if you keep it to yourself and don't try to run my life by your religion, there would be no harm. But people use their sincerely held religious convictions, to try to run other people's lives. Gay marriage is a good example of this. Theists like to forbid other people marrying who they choose, with consenting partners. My view is that if a theist doesn't want to marry someone of the same sex, that's fine by me, but just as I would not tell any theist who they may or may not marry, so I would not want any theist to tell me. The harm is when theists try to pass laws that make their religion or religious views compulsory. The harm is when they require people who don't subscribe to their religion, to support it financially.

And for comfort, here's the parable of the diamond. A man says that in my back garden, there is a diamond the size of a hen's egg. I haven't actually tried to dig for it, but my belief in its existence comforts me.

And if you want a painkiller, there's a good case to be made that a bottle of whiskey does less damage than religion. I would recommend "God is not great - how religion poisons everything " by Christopher Hitchens.

Gish gallop

I've not seen this used, but the technique is to present "fact" after "fact" at a galloping speed. This is effective in a time-limited debate before an audience, because it isn't possible to answer every point. Or even remember them. The audience is left with an impression of, on one side a mountain of evidence, on the other side a few responses.

But in conversation, my response would be to wait until the gallop ends, then debate the first point, and not leave it until that point was finished (which it wouldn't be) then move on to the second, and so on.

Pascal's Wager

This says that since hell is so awful, it makes sense to believe in order to avoid that fate. The first answer is actually I don't have conscious control over my beliefs. My beliefs are swayed by evidence. So, for example, it would be great if I could fly, so why don't I stand on a hair and jump? Because even standing on my chair, I still believe that gravity will make me fall, and I cannot force myself to believe otherwise. What I could do, is pretend to believe. But will that fool your god?

The second answer is, you think your god's hell is bad? There are 42,000 other gods, and some of them have an even worse hell. So are you suggesting that the wise course is to believe in the god that has the worst hell?

The Kalam cosmological argument

This is an egregiously specious argument, and to be fair I've never had it used on me. It goes like this.

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
2) The universe began to exist;
3) The universe has a cause.

The problem is, you haven't demonstrated 1), you're just assuming it. And you're assuming it in the teeth of the evidence from quantum mechanics. It just isn't true.

And you haven't demonstrated 2). Maybe the universe was always there.

And even if you start off from 3 as your initial axiom (which you'd have to do because the Kalam doesn't prove it) then how do you know that cause is still in existence, that the cause is a god, and that the cause gives a monkey's about you and me?

Total non-starter. Maybe that's why I haven't heard it. Or maybe I haven't heard it because whenever anyone gets as far as 1) I dispute that assumption, so the argument can go no further.

The Ontological argument

This is another attempt to logic a god into existence. Shout -out to Anselm of Canterbury.

1) By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
2) A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
3) Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
4) But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
5) Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
6) God exists in the mind as an idea.
7) Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality.

Well, I can't argue against 1), if it's a definition. But I disagree with 2). A being that doesn't exist is greater than one that does exist. Consider, for example, two beings. Sally, does exist and baked a cake. Penny doesn't exist, and nevertheless baked a cake. Since baking a cake when you don't exist is vastly more impressive than baking a cake when you do exist, Penny is greater than Sally.

And so 3 to 7 are floating on a proposition which isn't true. And finally, even if you assume that 7) is true, then how did you determine that it gives a monkey's about you and me?

The universe is God

I've heard this suggested. when you drill into it, it turns out that he's decided that the universe and god are synonyms. Fine; I also believe that the universe exists. Do you think that the universe can answer prayers, or cares about you?

There are similar notions; nature is God, the unified consciousness of humanity is God. I tend to smile, not and back quietly away.

What would make you believe?

I think this challenge is designed to short-cut the process of turning an atheist into a believer. My response is "Convincing evidence", which is a no-brainer. If it convinces me, then I'm convinced. Duh. But specifically, what? I don't know. But if your god is omniscient then he'll know what would convince me. And if he's omnipotent, he should be able to say "Hi" to me.

To believe, you must open your heart.

Here, let me summarise that for you. To believe, I must first of all, believe.

You can't prove God doesn't exist

There are a few good answers here. 

1) You're the one making an extraordinary claim. You're not just claiming that there's a pencil on your desk, which I'd believe without any more than your say-so. The burden of proof is on the person claiming something extraordinary, which means you.

2) Yes I can, and there are umpteen proofs that various gods don't exist. My favourite is the Quantum proof (see below).


Look, if you genuinely believe that Matthew 21:22 (and several other places) that "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer.", then how about you just pray me into becoming a Christian. Let me know when you're done, and I'll let you know if it worked.

Quantum theology

Quantum Mechanics is a favourite of several woo-purveyors, such as Deepak Chopra, who seem to drag the word "quantum" into every third sentence. I think the idea is that QM is so difficult to understand, that it must be connected to other things that are difficult, like theology. Also, some people have gotten the idea that consciousness is one of the ingredients in QM (which it isn't).

So I was thinking about that one day, and I came up with a proof that no omniscient (or omnipotent, or omnipresent) god can exist, because of the double slit experiment. And I called it "Quantum Theology", but I'm sad to say that other people used that phrase before me.


Here's a good one. There were thousands of martyrs for Christianity. They wouldn't have let themselves be martyred unless they sincerely believed, would they?

Well, maybe they did sincerely believe, but that doesn't make it true. And what did the 9/11 suiciders believe in? It certainly wasn't Christianity.

Believer numbers

Two billion people believe in Jesus. That makes it true.

No it doesn't. five billion don't believe in him, so if you want to go by voting, Christianity isn't true (and the same argument works for other religions).

Friday, 17 November 2017

Discussions with theists, part 5

This essay is about, if you're a Christian, how do you discuss with another theist or an atheist? So I'll make a list of the main objections to Christianity, and try to suggest ways to answer them.

The resurrection of Christ

This is crucial to the whole religion - no resurrection, no Christianity. The only evidence we have for this is the Bible, and that's a bit self-contradictory.

What were the last words of Jesus? Three gospels give three different versions.

Who buried Jesus? Matthew says that it was Joseph of Arimathea. No, apparently it was the Jews and their rulers, all strangers to Jesus (Acts).

How many women came to the tomb Easter morning? Was it one, as told in John? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)?

Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark) or two (Luke and John)?

Was the tomb already open when they got there? Matthew says no; the other three say yes.

So we have several different versions. If you put this up in a court of law, the differences between the witnesses would be enough to have it thrown out of court.

So how do you explain this? There's a few ways. The best is to explain that the differences between the witnesses, proves that there was no collusion, and therefore strengthens the story.

The Noah flood

There are so many ways that this can be ridiculed, I shan't bother listing them here. The best answer is to explain that the story is allegorical. Not everything in the bible is meant to be taken literally; consider, for example the story of the Prodigal Son. No-one is suggesting that the story actually happened, it's an explanatory device. Likewise the Flood.

If, however, you believe that the Noah flood was actually and literally true, I don't think I can help you; you'll quickly find yourself up the creek without a paddle.

But the problem with allowing that parts of the bible are allegorical, is that you run into the question of "Which parts, and who decides?" That's why many Christians prefer to stick with "It's all totally true"

The crimes of God

Atheists might bring up the three great crimes of God. The Noah Flood, where (apart from those in the Ark) God drowned every man, woman, child, baby, cow, sheep, goat, cat, dog etc etc. The second being Sodom and Gemorrah and the third being the Slaying of the Firstborn in Egypt.

Again, a good defence is that all three stories are allegorical. That's no good if you're a bible literalist, so try this.

The Noah flood was justified because all the men and women were evil. The children and babies would have become evil when they grew up, so it's justified in killing them too. The animals were tainted by the evil of the people (including the wild animals), except the few that made it to the ark, they weren't tainted, so they were rescued from the flood.

Plus, God made them, he is entitled to kill them.

Plus, God could take them all to heaven, although if they were all wicked, that's hard to swallow.

The same responses can apply to the other great die-offs.


Here the question is put as follows. "God loves you so much, he made Hell for you in case you don't love him back". The answer is simple. You don't have to go to hell, just love God.

Another question, "Is it moral to exact an infinite penalty for a finite crime?". The answer is, God is always moral.


God will forgive all sins (except blasphemy, obviously). The objection is that the person sinned against isn't being consulted here. The answer to that is that the sin is only forgiven if the repentance is sincere, and sincere repentance includes restitution of damages.


A common question is "Why do you believe in God" (or Jesus).  Your best answer is if you've had a personal revelation (such as a Near Death Experience, or a vivid dream. Failing that, if you "Just know in my heart" that's pretty hard for them to answer. Citing the Bible as evidence will inevitably lead you to having to show why you think that the bible is true, and that's really difficult, especially if you believe that parts of it are metaphorical.

Old Testament

The Old Testament is a necessary part of the Bible, because Christianity needs to have Adam and Original Sin; without the OT, that isn't there. Also, the prophecies of the OT foretell the coming of Christ.

The problem with the OT, is all the laws. Like the ones on mixed fibres, on not eating pork or shellfish. And worst of all, the verses in Exodus that regulate slavery. And the thing about killing witches, and stoning people who work on Saturday, and stoning Homosexuals. So you have to say "That's the OT, and that was all replaced by a new covenant because of Jesus". But that really means that you can't rely on the Ten Commandments, because that's OT. And worse, Matthew 5:18 says "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Which means that the OT laws still apply.

So if the OT comes up, just change the subject.


Another difficult one. Most Christians are against homosexuality. If you're one of them, then be ready to defend your position.

You can't cite Leviticus, because that's OT and if you do, you have the problem of pork and shellfish. You can't cite "unnatural" because so is wearing clothes. I think you just have to go with "Because I don't like it", but then you have the problem of other people not liking ice cream, and they aren't telling you to stop eating it. No, I think your best bet is either to say "I'm cool with gay" or else change the subject.

The end times and the Second Coming

Every so often, perhaps a couple of times per year, someone announces that the End Times are imminent, and gives a date. Big mistake, because when that date comes and goes, they look foolish. If you're unlucky, then at the time of your conversation, such a date will be imminent. I would strongly advise you to disassociate yourself from that date, otherwise you too will look foolish shortly. The reason you might give is "They aren't real Christians", for example

But that leaves the problem of the Second Coming. Matthew 16: 27, 28, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.". That was 2000 years ago, and he hasn't returned. Mark 13:26-30 and Luke 21:27-32 say the same thing.

This is a difficult one to defend. The early Christians thought that the end times were imminent and said so. I think you have to go with "It's allegorical".

The prophecies of the coming of Christ

In Isaiah, there are many fulfilled prophecies, but there's also unfulfilled prophecies in the OT, such as the lion lying down with the lamb, and beating swords into ploughshares and making war no more. Obviously, that hasn't happened, and the person you're talking to will cite that as evidence that the Messiah hasn't come yet.

The counter to this is to explain that this will all be put right on the Second Coming.

The virginity of Mary

The question might be put "How can a virgin bear a child?" Well, that's an easy one - it's a miracle.

Discussions with theists, part 4

Now I'd like to look at it from the other point of view - how do you defend your position against a debating partner?

First, I'll consider Islam; in subsequent posts, I'll cover Christianity and atheism.


This is one of the commonest attacks on Islam that I see; it's based n the fact that Mohammed married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage at nine.

That would be difficult to defend - indeed, impossible in 2017. But in 600 AD, child marriage was quite acceptable, this being a way to make business or political alliances. And consummation was fairly common shortly after puberty. Still, it's hard to justify. Perhaps your best defence is to go over to the attack. You could cite the fact that more than half of US states do not have a minimum age for marriage, which I find pretty shocking. And a recent marriage in the USA was to a girl of eleven. That is a "tu quoque" defence, which isn't really a defence, but it might embarrass your debate partner enough for him to switch subjects.


That is my favourite go-to subject for both Islam and Christianity because it's hard to defend. The problem is that either the Quran nor the Hadiths forbid slavery. And on the site, you'll find that "We reply emphatically and without shame that slavery is permitted in Islam". So - you can show verses in the Quran that recommend that you free a slave and you can find verses that tell you to be kind to slaves and treat them well. But that still leaves the huge hole - Islam doesn't forbid slavery.

You could point out that the same was true in the USA until 150 years ago, but the debate partner will then point out that it is now 2017, and slavery is no longer legal in the Western countries.

I have to confess, I've not really seen an answer to this question. Perhaps your best bet is to change the subject as soon as it's raised.


That's an easy one because surely it's obvious that not all terrorists are Muslim, and you can make a  list of such incidents (for example, the Oklahoma bombing) ready for use. Obvious subjects that might be brought up are ISIS and the 9/11 terrorists. They can be disposed of by explaining that they weren't actually Muslim, because Islam prohibits the taking of innocent lives. Indeed, that line can be taken concerning any terrorist, and even if they shout "Allahu Akhbar" and claim to be Muslim, they aren't.

A more extreme stance would be to claim that ISIS are a false-flag gambit. In this view, the people of ISIS are paid mercenaries funded by the CIA or some other foreign power, take your pick (I have heard this defence run a few times). Certainly you can claim with justification that the weapons that these terrorists use are all made in Western countries and sold on. OK, that's a bit feeble. Stick with the first paragraph above.

Attitude to women

People often bring up the attitude to women in Islam. So, first, there's the matter of dress, the Hijab, Nikab or Burka. Here, the defence is to insist that women make their own choice in how to dress, and that they are not required to do anything in Islam other than to dress modestly. So that's easy to deal with.

Next, the matter of polygamy. Again, this is a matter of consent. Surely adults should be allowed to marry one or several partners? Just as in the West, gay marriage is a thing because why should the religion get in the way of adult's consenting choices, so in Islam polygamy is a matter of consent; you can't take a second wife without the consent of the first, and so on.

Beating. This is a tricky one, because the Quran, 4:34 says that you can strike, or beat, your wife. Your best counter to this is to suggest that this is only a token, symbolic beating, and it mustn't hurt. For example, it would be with a small twig, such as is used as a toothbrush. Unfortunately, that isn't what the Quran says, so you might have a problem with that.

Inheritance. The Quran says that a son should inherit twice as much as a daughter. That's pretty much impossible to get round, and I think you have to go with "Yes, it's unequal. So what?" By the way, there's another problem in the inheritance issue, see below.

The Quran

The Quran is perfect, of course. I've already covered the slavery issue and the woman-beating issue. But there'a really dire situation. If a man dies leaving a wife, two daughters, and both parents, then his estate is divided up thus:

Wife: 1/8 = 3/24,
Daughters: 2/3 = 16/24,
Father: 1/6 = 4/24,
Mother: 1/6 = 4/24,

Total = 27/24=1.125

So either Allah cannot do arithmetic (unthinkable) or else the Quran got copied down wrong (unthinkable). Fortunately, very few people know about this issue, so it never comes up. But if it does, you could try explaining that first, the wife takes her 1/8, then what is left after that is divided as per 2/3, 1/6, 1/6 and hope that they change the subject.


Yes, Islam bans homosexuality. So does Christianity and Judaism. No, Muslims don't throw gays off rooftops, only ISIS do that and they aren't Muslim (see above). There isn't gay marriage, but even the USA is having doubts about that, and lots of other countries don't allow it.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Discussions with theists, part 3

So far, I've written about how to discuss Islam with Muslims, and Christianity with Christians. So how should you proceed if you're a theist and you want to discuss your religion with an atheist.

I have a few tips for you.

First, a definition. Atheists don't all believe that there is no god. here's what atheism is. You say there is a god, I say "I don't believe you". Notice, "I don't believe there's a god" is not the same as "I believe there is no god". I suggest you meditate on that until you've grasped it, because it could become crucial. See, if someone "doesn't believe" then no faith is needed. And, by the way, atheism isn't a religion, it's a lack of religion. If atheism is a religion, then not-playing-golf is a sport.

1. Don't threaten him with hell. That's like threatening an adult that the Tooth Fairy won't leave him sixpence. Also, Pascal's wager won't work (see part 2 of this series).

2. Don't use any personal revelations you've had. You might find them totally convincing, but they were revelations to you; the atheist didn't get that revelation. If you nearly died and saw Jesus, I can't tell you what yuo saw. But it was your vision, not mine.

3, Don't cite the power of prayer. The atheist will explain that praying to your god is as effective as praying to a china teapot. The answer will be "Yes", or "No", or "Wait". And because we're talking about real-world effects, it's possible to measure them, and that's been tried, and the result is "Prayer does nothing"

Worse than that; every time there's a flood, or a hurricane, or a mass shooting, politicians send "thoughts and prayers", and atheists see that as a way of doing nothing whatsoever while appearing to be doing something.

4. You can try "Someone must have created the creation". But the atheist will first object to your use of the word "Someone" and then the word "created" and then "creation", because you're assuming what you're trying to prove. You'll get more respect if you ask"What is the origin of the universe", but don't be surprised if you get the answer "I don't know. So what?" however, some atheists will have five possible answers, and say "I don't know which of these five is true, but your god-did-it is a sixth"

5. Ditto evolution. If you want to rubbish evolution, then the first thing you have to do is learn what it is. If you learned about evolution from your church or mosque, then it's almost certain that what you were taught was a completely ridiculous scheme that *no-one* believes. There's plenty of internet resources where you can learn what the theory really is, and then you'll be able to argue against it without looking a complete fool. Oh, and if you say "If humans come from monkeys, why are there still monkeys" don't be surprised when everyone laughs at you. Find out why that isn't a sensible question.

6. Where to your morals come from. That's a good question, and worth debating, but many atheists will throw slavery into your face. The Biblical morals allow slavery, and that's a definite no-no today. So how did you determine that slavery is evil? Not from the bible. So you have to use something in your head to decide which parts of the bible are moral and which are not - so what is the bible actually doing here?

7. The fine tuning argument. That's a good one, and many atheists won't know how to counter it. Unless they've read my blog and see the two ways that you can counter the fine tuning argument.

8. How did life originate? This one will stump pretty much every atheist; he'll have to say "I don't know". But if you say "God did it" then you have the problem of explaining how God originated. This one is, however, quite a good point to debate. The technical term for this is "Abiogenesis" and it's worth googling before you start, so you know what the atheist might try.

9. Don't lose your temper and start swearing at him or insulting him. For example "Atheists are sad, lonely, angry etc etc " When a Christian does that to me, I tell him "You're a Christian, aren't you. I can tell." Which isn't really an insult, if you think about it. Or maybe it is, your call.

10. Argument from complexity. For example, the human eye. How could something so complex have evolved (don't say happened by chance, because you did mug up on evolution like I said in point 5, didn't you?"). What you're looking for is something that is irreducibly complex. Which couldn't work if it's only partially there, the full thing has to be there. Half an eye doesn't work. BUT. Here's a tip - the eye isn't going to give you irreducible complexity. You'll need to find something else.

So, good luck. There's lots of atheists around, and many of them will be willing to discuss atheism with you.

Discussions with theists, part 2

In the previous essay, I talked about discussions with Muslims In this essay, I'm going to consider discussions with Christians.

It is much harder to have a discussion with a Christian than with a Muslim. Part of the reason for that is that there are three main Muslim branches, but there are *thousands* of Christian branches. And, of course, some of them claim that the others aren't real Christians, and vice versa. So, especially with Christians, you have to get some idea of what they believe.

Usually, they believe in the Old Testament God, and in *parts* of the OT. Always, they believe in Jesus, who is the son of God (and is also God, there's a three-in-one deal going that is a Mystery that Cannot Be Explained). Or rather, there are umpteen explanations of the Trinity, because they *have* to believe in one god, but then they have a divine Jesus, which makes two, so you have to somehow jam them together while keeping them separate (and for reasons I don't understand a third party has to be jammed in too) - and you thought that quantum mechanics is difficult. My take on this is that "If you think you understand the Trinity, then you don't understand the Trinity".

I've found that Christians willing to discuss are much less common that Muslims. I don't know why this is. But the subject to introduce to Christians is, again slavery.

Exodus 21:20, for example "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished." So you're allowed to beat your slave, but not to death.

"But that's the Old Testament". I hear this again and again. They want the OT, can't do without it, because they need the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, and they need the predictions of the Messiah. But a great deal of the OT is severely embarrassing to them, and they'd like to pretend it isn't there. Except the bit on homosexuality, which gets a free pass to be included.

So, in the New Testament, slavery isn't forbidden. Why not? Is it beyond God's capability to forbid slavery?

Ephesians 6:5-8 (NASB): Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh,

1 Timothy 6:1-2 (NASB):  All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against

Christians sometimes say "But they were servants, not slaves in the sense of being owned"
Matthew 18:25 "And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made."

You sell slaves. You can't sell servants.

So, the bible, OT and NT, supports slavery.

From this we can deduce that our morals, yours and mine, are superior to those of the Bible. So why would we turn to the bible for our moral compass? Better, the bible should be revised and brought up to date. But, of course, it can't be.


This depends on what sort of Christian you're talking to. Many of them believe that "Jesus died for our sins" and "All sins can be forgiven by God". Except blasphemy, no forgiveness for that.

The problem with this is as follows. Alice decides to break Bob's arm. Then Alice asks Carol for forgive her for breaking Boob's arm, and Carol says, it you are truly repentant, then you are forgiven.

What is wrong with this, is that no-one asked Bob. In my view, this third party forgiveness is immoral.


This is not really an argument against Christianity at all, and it only works n Catholics, because the believe in Transubstantiation. The wafer is, according to the doctrine, transformed into the flesh of Jesus, and the wine into his blood. It isn't symbolic, it's actual, a miracle. So you're eating human flesh and drinking human blood. I'm not going to tell you that's wrong in any way, but I'm not a cannibal.

In the case of Protestants, the wafer is merely symbolic (consubstantiation or im[anation), so you're only  cannibal symbolically.


It can be quite important to some Christians, that Jesus was foretold in the OT (and that's another reason why they can't discard it. So there's a whole family tree that traces the ancestry from David downwards, and there's another family tree that traces it upwards (and the two are different) but I've never tried to tackle them on this. They rely heavily on Isaiah, for example, with a whole battery of prophecies, all of which could equally apply to Christopher Hitchens as Jesus, with the exception of the Virgin Birth". But most of these prophecies are so vague, like "Will be widely rejected".

The key prophecy for me is Isaiah 11:6-8. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the adder, and the weaned child shall put forth its hand to the viper's den. "

And Isaiah 2:4 "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

And none of that has happened.

CHristians say, Oh, that's the second coming". Well, that's the prophecy, it hasn't been fulfilled, your excuses don't butter any parsnips.

Personal revelation

This seems to be fairly common amongst Christians, much more so than Muslims. Some Christians have had a personal revelation, as in "Jesus appeared to me ...". I think it's impossible to shift that, so I don't even try, except to point out that no matter how convincing that might be to you, it butters no parsnips for me, because I didn't get that revelation. Near Death Experiences are a rich source of these.

Relationship with Jesus, as in "I have a personal relationship with Jesus". Sorry, I really don't know what that means, except that it's clearly some sort of interior dialogue, and likewise butters no parsnips for me.

An interesting suggestion that is sometimes made is "If you open your heart to jesus then he will make himself know to you" But I would summarise this as "If you believe in Jesus then you will believe in Jesus". Again, no parsnips.

Pascal's Wager

The idea here is that if you don't believe, and God exists, then you go to hell with an infinite torture for ever, an infinite penalty.

If you don't believe and God doesn't exist, no penalty. If you do believe, then no penalty whether God exists or not. Therefore the rational thing is to believe.

There are two huge holes in this. The first is that you don't actually get to choose whether you believe in things or not. Try standing on a chair and disbelieving in the force of gravity.

The second huge hole is that Pascal was assuming that there is only one God. But there are 42,000 gods, and if you choose the wrong one, you're doomed. Indeed, the punishment for believing in the wrong god is probably worse than for not believing at all. And the odds are 42,000 to 1 against that you'll pick the right one.

God's crimes

God is supposed to be all-benevolent. So first he creates the Garden of Eden, and there's one rule, "Don't eat the apple" (actually, we don't know what fruit it was, but never mind). So where does he put this tree? Does he put it outside the Garden, which anyone would obviously do? No. Duh.

So then he decides that nearly all men are evil, so he kills them all with a flood. As collateral damage, this also kills the children, the babies, the cows, the sheep, the cats, the dogs ... I call this God's first genocide.

The second genocide was, of course, Sodom and Gemorrah, with a couple of nice sub-plots, where Lot offers his daughters to be raped instead of the angels - like angels can't look after themselves? Then after they flee, Lot's wife gets turned to salt because she looked back. Then when they find somewhere to rest, Lot's daughters get Lot drunk and rape him while he's incapable. Nice.

So then the third genocide is in Egypt - the slaying of the Firstborn. That would have produced a mountain of dead children and babies. And it wasn't even necessary; Pharaoh had already decided to let the Israelites go, but that wasn't satisfactory to God, so "he hardened Pharaohs heart"  and thereby was able to commit his third genocide.

Skip forward a couple of thousand years. It's 1943, and six million jews are being murdered, hence the expression "Did you sleep well? Yes, like God during the Holocaust".

And finally, there's Hell. The deal there is "I love you, you'd better love me back or I'll torture you for ever."

Christian counterarguments

These include all the same ones that Muslims make. I'll be covering these in my third essay in this series.