The Improved Hotpocket Argument

Premise 1: The hotpocket has been designed by man Premise 2: The hotpocket will burn you if you are not careful. Premise 3: God is like a hotpocket Therefore: Man created a wrathful God that sends people to Hell if they are not careful. Or would this argument be better... Premise 1: A hotpocket is intelligently designed Premise 2: A hotpocket is intrinsically perfect, but may be introduced to flaw by manipulation from a third party without the guidance of its creator. Therefore: Satan caused the fall of mankind PS: Thanks for your time
Atheist Answer: 

You know you can carry on from your initial question using comments, right?

It's still silly, but let's make some sense out of it all. By substituting just a few words in these arguments you get some of the real religious arguments from design, and approaches to theodicy. The issue with the above, like the real ones, is the dearth of support for the premises themselves. Take Premise 3 in the first argument for an example; even if there were scriptural support for God's similarity to a hotpocket, which I don't think there is, how is scripture itself supported?

I'm trying to go along with your intent, Pritchard, but come clean for us. What are you getting at?

- SmartLX

Breaking to family...

How can I break to my family and friends that I'm an atheist? I live in the Southern Baptist state of North Carolina where there's atleast 3 churches within a mile radius of your house. I'm only 12, so I don't think they'll accept it. Any suggestions at all would be nice. Thanks!
Atheist Answer: 

I hate to say it, but I wouldn't start off with the word "atheist". Losing your faith and not being religious is one thing, but atheism currently has a special stigma among Christian zealots of all kinds.

If it's important enough to you to be fully honest with people, I would simply say to selected people that you don't believe in God (anymore, if you ever did). Don't deny atheism if you're accused of it, but don't bring it up yourself.

Once it's out there, you'll have to explain yourself. Not just yourself, but all atheists - you'll find all kinds of misconceptions about them: that they hate God, that they worship Satan, that they want to force people to give up religion or remove kids from religious parents and so on.

Besides that you'll get all the really obvious, kneejerk arguments for God, like the beauty of a flower and "where did it all come from". Your family may send you to a preacher or even a Bible camp if they don't trust their own ability to proselytise. This site and the rest of the Web provides answers to pretty much all of it. Bone up. Start by searching for my "Great Big Arguments" series.

Once you've established that you've thought this through and you can't be reconverted with simple platitudes, if your community is as religious as you say it is then you will lose friends. Sorry, but some people don't like to be around atheists, who question their lifelong assumptions by just existing.

You may also find that you become better friends with others; those who are also quietly questioning their faith. When Richard Dawkins did a lecture tour through the Bible Belt, he found big, enthusiastic audiences everyplace. The irreligious are everywhere, as paranoid Christians often warn. Hopefully you'll find some more of them.

Let us know how you go, if you go ahead with it. Good luck.

- SmartLX

Evidence for God -- the hotpocket argument

This is my contribution to philosophy. Premise 1: A hotpocket is intelligently designed Premise 2: A hotpocket will burn the roof of your mouth Premise 3: A hotpocket is intelligently designed but flawed Therefore: humans were intelligently designed by the Old Testament God 6000 years ago.
Atheist Answer: 

Well now you're just being silly. Some of the sincere arguments appear to make about as much sense though.

- SmartLX

Is Atheism the answer?

"The seismic shock of out-and-out atheism sent tidal waves across Europe and beyond, accounting directly for the annhilation and butchering of more than one hundred million people this past century alone. Humanity has paid a steep gruesome price for the awful experiments in deliberate antitheism carried out by Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and others – each of whom was profoundly influenced by the apostles of atheism... After watching atheism proliferate... it's clearer than ever that... without God, we're lost." (Luis Palau, "God is Relevant". New York: Doubleday, 1997) "During my lifetime, America has been constantly waging war against much of humanity: impoverished people mostly, in stricken places." (John Pilger) I will pre-emptively highlight the five major blots on Christian history – the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, exploitation by missionaries, and anti-Semitism. These blots reflect not Christianity but its misuse and exploitation by power-hungry men, who manifestly rejected the teachings of Jesus. We know they are wrong because they can be sized up against their own objective morality. However, were Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and others wrong in an aetheistic world? According to Michael Ruse: “Morality is a biological adaption no less than are hands and feet and teeth… [morality is] just an aid to survival and reproduction… any deeper meaning is illusory.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Rouledge, 1989) What do we measure these men against? The teachings of Jesus Christ have never been more necessary. It’s time more Christians started behavng like christians, as a minority already so gloriously do. In aethesitic America and Western Europe, it’s obvious what the values are: power, wealth and materialistic pleasure. Totally antithetical to the teachings of the Bible. What is atheism's answer to today's problems? Tom
Atheist Answer: 

Atheism's answer isn't communism, for one thing.

Totalitarian communist regimes suppress religion because of one person: Karl Marx. You know the famous "opium of the masses" quote? Here's more of it:

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

In other words, according to Marx, oppressed people use religion to make their oppression bearable. If you remove their religion they will truly feel the suffering of their situation, and be spurred to rise up and revolt. Once socialism is in place and the people are no longer oppressed, they will no longer need religion.

Communist dictatorships have of course done little to alleviate the suffering of the people living in them. They see the persistence of religion as an outward sign of this, and thus pretending that the populace is happily irreligious by forcibly ousting religion becomes an ongoing requirement for international PR.

Marx may or may not be right about religion, but he could have told the Communists that forcing people to change, hide or cease their religious activities has little effect on their actual beliefs. (Incidentally, compare the terrible coercion by Communists to the peaceful activism which is now frivolously labeled "militant atheism". Compare that to "militant Islam" while you're at it.)

Communism's self-declared incompatibility with religion does not imply that atheism is responsible for the atrocities committed in the name of communism, even less than anti-Semitic atrocities can be laid at the feet of Christianity. This is because there are no atheistic commandments, no creed, no dogma, no central authority and certainly no "apostles". Nowhere does it say, "There are no gods, therefore do this and this." Communism declares that there are no gods while separately giving its followers commands, but does not link the two.

Atheism is a simple position on the existence of gods, a single conclusion and nothing more. It does not presume to contain answers to today's or any other era's problems. By precluding absolute trust in religious doctrine, however, it leaves one open to secular philosophies and moral systems, which provide earthly, tangible, verifiable rationales for their guidance. Those only interested in "power, wealth and materialistic pleasure" are not following these philosophies any more than they're following Christian morality.

On another topic, to Ruse's list of five "blots" on Christianity I would add three more:
- The continuing attacks on science and scientists in the interest of preserving the plausibility of Christian dogma, from Galileo to Darwin.
- The Thirty Years' War of the 17th century, fought between Christians with the singular goal of spreading people's own idea of God's Word.
- The continuing death of thousands in the Third and First Worlds as a result of intrinsically ineffective abstinence-only education and the defamation of condom use.

- SmartLX

Friend who fears living forever

My boyfriend has always had a difficult time with the thought of living forever. He labels himself an atheist, however continues to have many panics about the "what if I am wrong?" I myself am a very strong atheist and I cannot seem to get a good enough persuasion for him to relax a little. How do you help someone who has extreme fears over living forever? What should a helpful explanation for him?
Atheist Answer: 

Infinity/eternity is frightening to anyone who really thinks about it. It can be especially troubling to the recently ex-religious, because they've lost their particular assurances of perfect eternal happiness. Compared to that superficial idea, the prospect of simple unending persistence is much harder to shake, because we all have a tough time imagining ourselves not existing.

Your boyfriend's on the right track intellectually, because he accepts that there probably won't be a him after he dies. We just need to address that small probability that there will, and settle his emotions a bit.

Right then, what if he IS wrong? Anything is possible. The odds of any particular afterlife story being the real deal, including whichever version he may have grown up with, is almost zero. That's because there are an infinite number of possible afterlifes: the thousands imagined by humans in the last few thousand years, plus the countless ones we haven't thought of yet.

You haven't said what he specifically fears about living forever. Maybe he hasn't really told you. He might fear torture in hell, or a post-life sentence as a ghost watching everything he knows crumble away, or imprisonment in his own disembodied mind deprived of all senses, going mad in darkness and silence. That last one sure gives me the willies.

If anything is possible, all of the above are. Is any one of them at all likely? No, because they're swimming in an endless sea of alternatives. Put simply, whatever he's afraid his ultimate fate will be if he doesn't end at death, he's almost certainly wrong.

The only death scenario for which there is any solid physical support is oblivion. The mind, the ego, the identity, the memory and everything else that comprises "you" is contained and operated in a physical, bio-electrical brain. After death, that brain first shuts down and then disintegrates. It's a materialist view, I know, but arguments against it centre on things the physical brain supposedly can't do, and without exhaustive analysis are arguments from ignorance.

So take your boyfriend's most troubling scenario and work out the chances: the probability of an identity outliving the human brain outside of all detection, multiplied by the probability of that scenario being the one real one out of infinity. It's like the chances of finding a particular blade of grass if you don't know which country it's in.

That's the thrust of my recommended reassurance. To sum up, if there's an afterlife, you can be confident that it's different from and therefore less scary than his idea of it.

- SmartLX

Could our "energy" recycle itself?

After reading your response to a recent question regarding reincarnation I couldn't help but think, what if our bodies energy recycles itself? When I say energy I mean the electrical impulses or electricity that runs through our bodies that carry and direct our thoughts, memories and bodily functions. When we die does this electricity just cease to exist or is it conceivable that the energy may leaves our bodies but still continues on in another form, possibly finding a home in a newly conceived human life. Has science not suggested that energy never truly disappears?
Atheist Answer: 

A certain amount of the energy that makes a human being function will certainly end up in other humans after he/she dies. A lot of it is recycled chemically in the soil that claims our bodies, for a start.

Does that count as reincarnation, though? Once that energy leaves your body, it has no memory of who or even what you were. It does not carry any part of what you would think of as your identity (you might suppose it does so invisibly, but then you're getting into the realms of fantasy).Those who come into contact with it will not be contacting "you".

It is a nice thought that our physical remains continue on as part of our larger legacy, and I've actually used that thought to comfort the bereaved. The energy we've used, while it is out there, will not produce any long-term echoes of us that anyone will ever identify. Our memories and identities are much better preserved in photo albums.

- SmartLX

Possible accounts of reincarnation.

Hello as im sure you know im new here and ive yet to see anything on the possible claims of reincarnation. such as young children claiming oddly accurate details of a past life. the one that i found interesting was of the WWII pilot who was shot down over Iwa Jima *sorry for spelling.* also im agnostic theist if not pagan in ways. i find that the Christianity version of a god is quite scary really, but anywho i was just woundering what you think of this. i have also read alot of your info on NDE too.
Atheist Answer: 

Welcome WolfFable. Yeah, I ended up writing a mountain of stuff on NDEs when Maroun took it upon himself to defend them as evidence for God.

The boy you're referring to is James Leininger, who according to the story remembered details of the life of WW2 pilot James Huston, killed over Iwo Jima.

It seems to have become a flagship case for reincarnation, and in the case of the above link the religious are using it to support the existence of God. This is interesting, because reincarnation is not an accepted part of many mainstream religions. The impetus, I sadly suspect, is the New Age industry based around helping people "remember" their past lives.

Here is an excellent skeptical analysis of the case. Highlights:
- The first and only counsellor who saw the poor kid was a believer in reincarnation, who went about recovering the old memories on the immediate assumption that they were there.
- Most versions of the story fail to mention that the boy had been to the Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas a few months before it all started.
- Little James talked about a Corsair, among the more distinctive planes featured at the museum. After investigation, it turned out James Huston was killed in a FM2 Wildcat.

There are other elements of the story which cannot be attacked so readily, but see how much less credible it is when just a few omitted facts are re-integrated into the story? Unfortunately parts of this story will probably get harder to pin down as time goes on, but there's enough so far to suggest that little James Leininger had plenty of earthly inspiration for his initial fixation.

Generally, reincarnation depends on the existence of souls, so you've got to establish those before you can talk about them moving between bodies. There are atheists out there who believe in ghosts, so a few atheists might well buy this concept too. I don't.

- SmartLX

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