I'm glad you and your wife are still getting along despite your difference of opinion.
The gist of your brother's argument is that God is beyond logic and rational thought, and cannot be understood or accepted with these approaches alone. Therefore you must use your emotional side when considering Him.
The first part is an admission that God doesn't make conventional sense even to your brother. He himself has tried to reconcile the whole idea, and failed. The reason he's still a believer is the emotional experiences he's had while worshipping. He's probably attributed them directly to God. The power of these experiences, regardless of their source (my guess: himself, with the help of semi-hypnotic preachers) overrides the apparent irrationality of belief.
To use an old, casually religious expression, it's a case of "there but for the grace of God go I". If you were to go to a service with him and have a "religious experience", knowing full well that your own brain could have produced it, it would still be hard for you to dismiss the idea of God so easily. Don't think that your brother is somehow weak because his experiences have admittedly affected his judgement. His emotional state is working against his own logic. That's hard on anyone.
I agree with your brother in one way. We must all be open to the unknown, or as he says, "leave a space for Him to reveal Himself," if He exists. However, that does not mean falling to your knees as soon as something extraordinary happens to you. It means honestly examining all the evidence, interior and exterior, and comparing different explanations.
As simple as it looks, this witnessing method often works wonders for Ray Comfort and those who learn from him, especially on subjects unfamiliar with this kind of thinking. The Way of the Master radio and TV shows have disseminated this method far and wide, such that especially if you live in the US you're more likely to get this from an evangelist than any other approach.
Let's look at the intended delivery and effect in detail.
1. Would you consider yourself a good person?
If yes, sets up the subject for disappointment and shock when it's later explained that this is unimportant because the subject has sinned. If no, reveals that the subject probably has poor self-esteem and will react well to a chance at redemption.
2. Do you think you have kept the Ten Commandments?
The witness must obtain a no. If the subject does not volunteer any sins, the witness often invokes Matthew 5:28 - "...anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Therefore if you've got working eyes and hormones, you've broken the seventh Commandment. In the unlikely event that the subject is entirely innocent, the witness invokes the inescapable blemish of Original Sin.
3. If God judges you by the 10 Commandments on the Day of Judgment, will you be innocent or guilty?
Since the answer to 2 was no, the answer to this must be guilty.
4. Based on that, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
Does that concern you?
The answer to this is unimportant. Up to this point, the exchange has been an intellectual exercise. The suddenly personal nature and immediacy of the final question triggers an emotional response. Any latent belief the subject may have bubbles to the surface and creates fear. After that, it's just a matter of telling the subject that there's only one way to Heaven: to accept Jesus Christ as personal lord and saviour. It becomes the way out of the fear, and is accepted on that emotional level it needs in order to stick.
Obviously, the questions are rigged to produce the expected answers. You will also have noticed that the questions simply assume the existence of God, Jesus, the Ten Commandments (therefore Moses), sin, Heaven and Hell.
Their purpose is not to convince the subject that God exists, but to capitalise on the fact that most people already believe, even if they do not act upon that belief or have not thought about it lately. It prompts a renewed commitment without inspiring new doubt. After this commitment, doubt is even less likely. It takes moderately religious or even barely religious people, and makes them want to be saved.
The spanner in the works is the very thing the method seeks to avoid: doubt. The existence of God, sin, Hell and the basic truth of the Bible are critical premises. If the subject expresses doubt during the initial questions, a common response by the witness is to proceed hypothetically and then invoke Pascal's Wager, e.g. "If I'm right, then you're going to Hell unless you commit to Christ. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"
If that doesn't work (for example if the subject has one of these responses to the Wager), the method is finally derailed and the witness must use other apologetic to bring the subject up to the necessary level of belief.
Without pre-existing fear of God and eternal damnation, the method has no emotional punch. If the witness is in a public place or is trying to "save" many people, he/she will probably decide at this point that the subject isn't worth the effort, hand out a card or pamphlet and move on.
A nice thing you can say about WOTM's method is that it takes evangelical belief to its logical conclusion. If you believe deep down that this stuff is true, it shows you the thing you need to do. However, that is one huge if.
It only works properly in an atmosphere where its premises are unchallenged, so that's where to attack it if a friend or family member has been or is being swayed. Make use of doubt. Get people outside of the little box in which the questions force them to think.
Painful as it might be, and whether you're against WOTM or not, try watching witnessing clips from the WOTM television show on YouTube (or even GodTube). Take note of the level of belief subjects begin with, and how much they're willing to accept without argument before the "punch" line. Witness for yourself the persuasive power of passive belief, and understand why so many atheists want people to shed even this.
As you will have noticed, Celia, formatting doesn't work in the question field. That's because it was designed for much shorter questions. We don't mind at all if you split up your thoughts into separate questions, and it might also help you organise your thoughts. For now, I'll just follow along and answer what I see.
- Do you realise that with each exchange we're looking further back in time? You meet each of my responses with, "But how did X get there in the first place?" Eventually we'll reach the stage when I simply don't know, but beyond that is not simply a gap in which gods must sit, as you'll see.
The Earth formed from a cloud of loose rocks and gases, containing nearly every known element, which was pulled together by gravity. The heaviest elements, like iron and lead, sank towards the middle. The lightest elements, like hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, stayed around the edges. The heavy clump in the middle solidified and formed the rocks which make up the planet beneath us. The aura of gases around it became the atmosphere. Some of the hydrogen and oxygen combined to form water, and rained down into what's now the oceans. The earth, air and water were now separate.
- They were not stable, though; earthquakes, mudslides, lava flows, winds, tides and rains still moved everything around, slowly and quickly. That's how the molecules of everything came together, and still come together every moment of every day.
- The likely reason that life isn't still forming from scratch is that the combinations were different back then. For example there was a lot more ammonia and methane in the air; what if those two are needed as gases? (This is very likely. In an old experiment, they shot canned lightning into a replica of the ancient atmosphere. They produced 22 amino acids.)
- Most chemical reactions occur as a result of contact and friction between atoms and molecules. That doesn't mean that all contact causes reactions, but with more and varied contact you will likely get more types of reactions. In a muddy, gassy swamp, where the earth, air and water all mix together, you've got massive potential for interesting new combinations.
- I'm not a good enough chemist to explain the origin of self-replicators. This short video shows one likely way.
- The Big Bang was when everything in the universe rapidly expanded outwards from a single point. It's often seen as the beginning of the universe, but it ain't necessarily so. The vast amount of material in that single point might have always existed, and spent some time compressing together beforehand. It might have been contributed by another universe, one of many. Or, if you subscribe to a certain part of quantum theory, it might have emerged spontaneously from a quantum "foam".
- If you use a god to explain the origin of the matter in the universe, you then need to address the origin of the god. If you declare, without evidence, that the god has existed forever, then why not declare that the universe has existed forever and didn't need to be created? As an explanatory device, gods are quite useless here.
- Not every effect of evolution must be beneficial. A new feature doesn't have to be perfect to be passed on, simply more beneficial than the alternative when all's said and done. The benefits just have to outweigh the costs.
Think of all the "crap" emotions put us through and consider how many lives are actually lost. Just how many suicides are there, anyway? Compare this with the billions of little nice things people do for each other every day, just because it makes them feel good. Consider the children who would not exist without their parents' love and devotion to each other in the face of any circumstances. The benefits of emotions outweigh the costs for most people, most of the time. That's all it takes for them to be passed on.
- Nature, as Darwin said, is red in tooth and claw. Countless animals die in fear and pain because they have been defeated in pursuit or battle by other animals who intend to eat them. To me, this makes more sense if there is no god than if a god continuously allows all this suffering. (The Christian response to this is that even the most loving animals don't have souls, and although we should be nice to them they are not ultimately important.)
- Life does just go away. This life will end for each of us. Does that make it any less enjoyable to live? Doesn't the possibility that there is no afterlife make this life all the more important? Think of the things you enjoy in life. Would you enjoy them any more or less if God has never existed all along? Why does life need to have meaning to some distant, external observer anyway? If it has meaning to you, if there is something you have to live for, that's plenty. Atheism does not lead inexorably to nihilism, as Christians sometimes charge.
- Humans think there is "something more" because there always is something more. The universe, and even the planet, has more in it than we can ever explore in one lifetime. Simply because we can, we extend this beyond the natural world and wonder about the possible existence of the supernatural. It's at this point that we may not have any grounds to continue. I think it occupies our thoughts anyway because there's no good way to explore the supernatural. It's a permanent "undiscovered country".
- You've developed a great many questions about your own faith. There are many answers the faithful and those without faith can give you, but there are no concrete answers and there may never be. The nice thing is, you don't have to be sure to be happy. I'm not sure there are no gods, but I think the chances are so low that I am content to live my life as if there aren't any. It's like going out at night despite the tiny possibility that I'll be hit by a meteorite; why bother to worry about it?
Your train of thought seems a little bit scattered. I'll try and follow along as I respond.
- In order to prove the non-existence of a god, you have to rule out not only all possible places it could be, but all possible things it could be. The study of what something is is called ontology, and the ontology of even the Christian god is terribly vague.
- The idea that the real god might not be the Christian one is the best response to Pascal's Wager. Well done coming up with it yourself.
- There is no available physical evidence for any of the figures or events you mention, only documentation in the form of the Bible and some other writings. That's why these texts are defended so aggressively. They're the last and only line of defence for Christianity, and Judaism too.
- When the gospels were written is no more settled than who wrote the things. As the link explains, Christian scholars tend towards a range of dates in the middle of the first century (20-30 years after the apparent crucifixion), while others think it was closer to the end of that century (30-60 years after).
- The God is Imaginary website doesn't really prove that God is imaginary. It does have some very clever arguments which turn scripture against itself and portray certain beliefs as very silly indeed. It's become infamous enough that evangelists have posted direct responses. This guy has written fifty proofs God is real to counter the site's fifty "proofs" God is imaginary. Not one of his is a real proof either.
I would suggest that what I consider to be "outside the cave" might simply be a larger cave, but yes, there is an urge to show people the new space.
I don't think anything comes after death. After death, there is no longer a person who might experience anything.
It's difficult for most people, including me, to properly wrap their heads around the idea of not existing. In the absence of an afterlife, many people still imagine themselves persisting forever, alone in darkness and silence. It's an idea I find more frightening than Hell. (Therefore if there is a Hell, that's how it might well manifest for me.) I remind myself that at the moment of death, there won't be a me anymore, so any thoughts of what might happen to me after death are meaningless.
The energy in the body is eternal, but it's not a soul. It's the simple chemical and electrical energy in our bodily fluids, as well as our muscles and our brains. When we die, it escapes mostly as heat. It also contributes to the reactions which decompose the body. Some of it goes to feed some lucky earthworms, and eventually to enrich the soil around the grave and whatever grows in it.
The Christian concept of a soul has nothing to do with quantifiable energy. (They did try to connect the two by identifying a measurable loss of substance at the moment of death, but ultimately failed.) The soul, hypothetically, is an intangible entity which accompanies the human body for its entire lifespan. It controls the body and supplies it with human qualities, and human worth. Essentially the soul is an externalisation of certain brain functions and social conventions. Upon death, it severs all connections with the physical world and goes to God to be distributed as He sees fit.
The soul shares a category with Buddhism's karma and all manner of energies posited by New Age systems, in that although it's credited with many effects (for example a person's conscience), none can be attributed to it unambiguously. Associating it with the ordinary, observable energy inside the body is one way to make it sound more plausible, but there's no merit in the comparison.
TalkOrigins, the site with the list, is currently trying to recover its domain. An archived version is still available, and the list is intact.
Hello and welcome, Celia. The one-thing-at-a-time approach will be just fine. Amber123 recently did the same thing.
The answer to this specific question is rooted in human evolution. At every stage in our development as a species there has been fierce competition for the resources necessary to survive. The survivors all the way along have been not just the strongest or the smartest, but those with the greatest will to live.
We didn't always have religion to drive us, you know. Before our ancestors even had the intelligence to conceive of gods or ponder the meaning of life, if they lacked a strong will to survive they would not have survived and we wouldn't be here. Those who were content not to survive or procreate were quickly scooped out of the gene pool by the dangers of the harsh ancient world. The survivors passed down their determination to us, as instinct.
On a personal intellectual level, I'm an atheist and I want to survive because I don't think I have any other life but this. There is a great deal of joy to be had, and to spread, and I want to make the most of it before I die.