January 13, 2009

The Year of Reason-2: Starting the process

When in social situations people hear that I am an atheist, they often ask why I don't believe in a god. The answer is extremely simple and can be given in just one sentence: There is no sense in believing in something for which there is no evidence. But I have noticed that when people say, for example, that they belong to some religious sect like the Catholics or Judaism or Islam, no one asks them why they joined that sect or why they believe what members of that sect believes, though we would normally do that if people expressed a preference for anything else, say a film or book or a sports team.

I think this reticence to pose what would be a natural question is because religious people know that there is no real answer that they can give as to why they belong to their religious group. Their allegiance has no more substantive basis than those of fervent supporters of the Browns football team who are fans simply because they were born and live in the Cleveland area. To try to give an answer as to why they belong to a particular religious group is to expose the soft underbelly of religious beliefs, so believers protect other believers from this mutual embarrassment, thus allowing religion to persist (as Sigmund Freud says) as a kind of mass delusion. Freud adds, "No one, needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such." (Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, translated by James Strachey, 1961, p. 32.)

But there is no reason that we atheists should play by those rules. As part of the Year of Reason, we need to start poking holes in this mass delusion. I think that if someone asks us why we are atheists we should, after answering, immediately turn the question around and ask people why they believe in god.

What will people say in response to such a question? My guess is that they will first be surprised that such a question is asked at all, because the basis for religious belief is rarely unquestioned. (Thanks to Lucas for pointing out this typo.)

I also suspect none of them will say that they actually saw god or spoke with him/her/it. If they do say such an incredible thing, good follow up questions to ask them are what god looks like, whether it was a man or woman, whether god spoke in English, what tone of voice or accent he/she/it had, what the exact words were, whether anyone else was present to see this visitation and, if not, whether they called anyone else to come and witness this extraordinary event.

But you are highly unlikely to get such a response, unless you are speaking with Pat Robertson to whom god speaks once a year and tells him what is going to happen in the coming year. Since it is god speaking, you would expect 100% accuracy. But the record is, to put it most charitable, spotty which means that either god is losing his/her/its grip, pulling Pat's leg, or that Pat is a fraud. (God's statement about what is going to happen in 2009 is here. You can also see what god said about what would happen in 2008 and 2007 as well.)

Although every religious person says they believe in god and even claim to speak to him, only delusional people actually claim to have heard voices or had visions. As the TV character House tells a colleague in one episode about a teenage faith healer who says god speaks to him, "You talk to god, you're religious. God talks to you, you're psychotic." (This is a terrific episode of House that reminded me of Marjoe. You can seen an extended clip of the episode here.)

The most likely reason people will give for saying they believe in god is the Argument From Personal Incredulity. This is a version of "I don't understand how the complexity of the world and how life could come about without someone to plan and implement it. So there must be a god." This argument is a lazy one. Collectively we know a huge amount about how the world came to be. There will always be some unanswered questions but there is no reason to think that they will not be answered in the future just the way that previously unanswered ones were.

Another lazy argument is the Argument From Wishful Thinking. This is from people who seek to find some meaning and purpose in life but are incapable of doing the work of constructing meaning and purpose for themselves, so resort to the option of buying one of the off-the-shelf meanings provided by religions, even though they do not make any sense. Take the central dogma of Christianity: "An omnipotent god loves the world and wants to save his creations from the sin he himself allowed them to commit, so he arranges for the brutal murder by crucifixion of his own son, who is also god, in addition to destroying vast numbers of people with natural disasters, wars, and diseases." Only a person committed to self-delusion would subscribe to such a doctrine.

Another is the Argument From Vague Feelings. Here people will take some perfectly natural events that have some emotional punch and imbue them with immense spiritual or cosmic significance. So you will often hear something about the 'miracle' of childbirth or like Francis Collins's experience of being overwhelmed by the sight of a frozen waterfall and seeing in these everyday things signs from god.

Sigmund Freud, trying to understand the appeal of religion even though he himself saw it as an illusion, reports on a religious colleague who told him that the source of his religion "consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of 'eternity', a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded –as it were – 'oceanic'." Freud says that this vague feeling "is the source of religious energy which is seized upon by the various religious Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless exhausted by them." (Freud, p. 10, my italics)

Again, we see that belief caused by a purely internal emotional reaction is transformed in the mind of the believer into something objective and tangible, merely because other people also report similar feelings.

Those answers, weak as they are, are actually the ones that will be given by the more thoughtful people. The real reason that most people believe, but which they are unlikely to admit to, is because they are expected to believe. Social norms expect that one belong to some religious group.

So to usher in the year of reason, whenever someone speaks about their religion, let's simply reflect the question back at them: "Why do you believe in a god?" Reason begins with asking questions about what one believes and why, and using evidence and logic as the bases of one's beliefs.

I know that some readers of this blog are religious. I hope they will give the reasons for they believe in god in the comments.

POST SCRIPT: The Rapture is coming! No, really, this time I mean it!

Richard Bartholomew notes that the people who believe in that weird idea known as the Rapture seem to be getting impatient and are hoping that maybe this year will be when the 'third time lucky' superstition actually kicks in.


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I tend to not believe in the existence of god, at least by the most common definitions. To wit, I think that a person's belief or disbelief in god tends to be one of the least interesting facts about the person.

One of the strongest arguments I have found, however, is not a reason for god's existence, but a reason to believe in god, despite the potential nonexistence: That the individual may be healthier for believing in god.

I do not claim a correlation (and have not necessarily read any research that would support it), but I have met (some) people for whom their belief is a source of confidence, and allows them to participate in the world more boldly than if they had believed they were merely the subject of deterministic forces.

When psychologists have studied depression, they have found that one strength they have in comparison to their healthier counterparts is their sense of realism about their place in the world and their importance. I might accept an argument in favor of trading some of that realism for an internal locus of control.

Posted by Evan on January 13, 2009 09:52 AM

My penultimate sentence will make more sense if you replace "depression" with "depressed people." Pardon.

Posted by Evan on January 13, 2009 10:00 AM


You are right that religion can provide people with confidence. But delusion is a dangerous thing. Someone who thinks that they are invincible may be capable of acts that would otherwise require great courage but does that that make that delusion a good thing?

If religion was the only thing that provides confidence or some other good thing, then we might have make the tradeoff you suggest. But there are many non-religious ways to obtain every single one of the psychological benefits claimed for religion. Surely having coping strategies based on reality is more robust than having those based on delusions?

Posted by Mano on January 13, 2009 11:04 AM

I am going to highlight all of the assumptions/assertions which are backed by nothing but opinion/speculation.

“When in social situations people hear that I am an atheist, they often ask why I don't believe in a god. The answer is extremely simple and can be given in just one sentence: There is no sense on believing in something for which there is no evidence.”

Here you sweepingly dismiss any evidence that does exist as being non-existent. There is a large amount of evidence for many of the religions in the world. Have you studied them all? And if you have, why do you claim there is no evidence, rather than the honest statement that you don’t find the evidence convincing? This opening baseless claim is ironic in light of the many charges you stack against people of religious faith. And if this is your foundation, then you’re building a house of cards in a wind tunnel.

“I think this reticence to pose what would be a natural question is because religious people know that there is no real answer that they can give as to why they belong to their religious group.”

No real answer? Who has determined the qualifications for what a “real answer” is? And how can you make such a broad generalization about millions of people from many different backgrounds and religions? You have, within one and half paragraphs of your article, esteemed yourself well above most of the earth’s population. Even if it wasn’t intentional, that is what you’ve done. I also find it remarkable that you actually think that religious people know that there is no “real answer” for why they belong to a religious group. How do you know this? And how could you? This is just another baseless assertion that furthers your high esteem of yourself above anyone that holds to a certain religion. Again, this type of statement is ironic in light of the charges you pit against religious people.

“To try to give an answer as to why they belong to a particular religious group is to expose the soft underbelly of religious beliefs, so believers protect other believers from this mutual embarrassment, thus allowing religion to persist (as Sigmund Freud says) as a kind of mass delusion. Freud adds, "No one, needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such.”

And now, building on your previous baseless assertion you arrive at a conclusion. And you bolster this shaky conclusion by quoting Freud. Up to this point you’ve simply stated that religious people have no answer to why they believe what they believe, and you’ve leapt over the building of argument supplied with evidence to the conclusion that they are delusional and don’t know it. The irony is now running on all cylinders.

“As part of the Year of Reason, we need to start poking holes in this mass delusion.”

You’ve apparently established a “mass delusion” with a baseless assertion stacked on another baseless assertion. I don’t think it is unreasonable to say your current argument is completely unconvincing and intellectually dishonest.

“What will people say in response to such a question? My guess is that they will first be surprised that such a question is asked at all, because the basis for religious belief is rarely unquestioned.”

Re-read that quote carefully… Don’t you mean rarely questioned? And regardless of what you meant, this is just another baseless generalization stacked on those that came before it.

“Although every religious person says they believe in god and even claim to speak to him, only delusional people actually claim to have heard voices or had visions. As the TV character House tells a colleague in one episode about a teenage faith healer who says god speaks to him, "You talk to god, you're religious. God talks to you, you're psychotic.”

This is another baseless generalization about anyone who has claimed to hear a voice or seen a vision. And you bolster this argument with a quote from a TV show allowing a fictional character to call religious people who claim to hear God psychotic. I don’t think I need to say anymore.

“The most likely reason people will give for saying they believe in god is the Argument From Personal Incredulity.”

The most likely reason? How do you know that this is the most likely reason? You are again, generalizing and asserting something as fact with zero backing. After this first “likely argument” you trot out two more in the same baseless assertion fashion. Not only are you generalizing that people will “likely” use these arguments based on nothing but your opinion, but you’re also just propping up strawman arguments that you’ve kept weak and easy to denounce.

“Those answers, weak as they are, are actually the ones that will be given by the more thoughtful people. The real reason that most people believe, but which they are unlikely to admit to, is because they are expected to believe. Social norms expect that one belong to some religious group.”

By now, anyone reading my criticism should see a pattern. This is just one more generalization based only on the author’s opinion. And the term “real reason” has surfaced again.

And Mr. Singham, you’re contradicting yourself. Apparently, this is the real reason that “most people” will give, and yet your first reason was the “most likely” to be given. So which is it? Will you most likely hear the “Argument From Personal Incredulity” or will most people give the “real reason” that they believe because they are expected to believe? I suppose it is left to the reader to just pick one.

And let me get this straight. Your conclusion, after asserting that millions of people are part of a “mass delusion” is that most of them are delusional because they are expected to be delusional? And that the most likely reason people will give for being delusional is that everything is too complex, so they’ve embraced a delusional state of mind? Simply stunning. For someone who wants to help usher in “The Year of Reason” you seem to sabotage your own aim and don’t set a very good example.

Posted by Lucas on January 13, 2009 02:41 PM


Do you believe in god? If so, why?

Posted by Mano on January 13, 2009 02:57 PM


Yes, I do believe. Because I've studied the evidence, the criticisms of the evidence, the rebuttals to said criticisms, the rebuttals to those rebuttals, etc. And I find the evidence to be extremely convincing first, and existentially satisfying second. And arguments like the one you've put here strengthen my belief because of your apparent desperation. Let me give you an example…

I'm not a Buddhist, but I would never seek to affirm my non-belief in Buddhism by claiming there is no evidence for Buddhism and accuse all Buddhists of being delusional. Such a response would make it seem as though I were scared that Buddhism is true and that I'm over compensating through exaggeration and ad hominem attacks. But if I’ve truly studied Buddhism and find the evidence and arguments unconvincing, I would simply say/show that. To respond in the former way makes no sense if I’ve truly looked into/studied Buddhism.

Posted by Lucas on January 13, 2009 03:28 PM

Lucas: Apparently you're extremely new to this blog. If you go to the top and click categories you can browse Mano's extensive postings on religion, atheism, philosophy, and science.

His assertions aren't baseless; they're cataloged and archived. Sheesh.

"And Mr. Singham, you’re contradicting yourself. Apparently, this is the real reason that 'most people' will give, and yet your first reason was the 'most likely' to be given."

Religious people may be largely forthcoming with a few philosophical "reasons" for their beliefs, while quietly harboring a single more practical one. I suggest reading the post again.

Posted by on January 13, 2009 04:53 PM


Can you share with us the most convincing evidence you found that made you to believe in god?

Posted by Mano on January 13, 2009 05:01 PM

Hm, that last comment should have been attributed to me. My mistake.

Posted by Brock on January 13, 2009 05:01 PM

You can't claim that his assertions aren't baseless just because he has written and archived a bunch of other stuff. The reason his assertions are baseless is because they are propped up with broad generalizations, speculations, and opinions, not with facts. For someone to start an entry by placing emphasis on evidence while providing absolutely no evidence for his argument other than sweeping generalizations doesn't give me much confidence to go digging through 100's of other entries. For his generalizations to even be accepted as datum there would have to be years and years or research, polls, etc. And that research would have to be on such a global scale that the margin of error would be incredibly large; so large, that even if he had said evidence, his confidence would probably be, if he remained intellectually honest, quite a bit toned down. Since I know none of this evidence is available I can make the accusation that his generalizations are baseless, and since they are the crutches on which each of his assertions rests, I can also charge his assertions as being baseless. Let me give you an example….

For me to claim that, “Most Chinese people prefer Coke over Pepsi and they know there isn’t a real reason why.”, I would have to provide a large amount of research and documentation to back up such a claim. Just to prove that they prefer Coke over Pepsi would be a daunting amount of a work, let alone the psychological claim that they know there isn’t a valid reason why. But when claims worded in a very similar fashion are used in his above argument, you apparently don’t question them or ask for any evidence to prove them as true. And the reason that you give? He has written and archived his other writings.

Posted by Lucas on January 13, 2009 05:18 PM

I have a few thoughts.

1) You claim that some of the arguments for the existence of God are lazy. This may be the case, but it is also hypocritical - atheism itself is lazy. Of course one can ignore the mysteries of the universe and claim that science or more specificially, evolutionary biology will provide the answer one day. But accepting that as an eventuality is also lazy, and in many ways, also an act of blind faith.

2) This post depicts religion as the overwhelmingly accepted status and atheists as the minority. Perhaps this is true in the country at large, but it certainly is not true in the liberal academic circles which I know the author, and presumably most of the readers of this blog, exist in. My religious beliefs have been questioned constantly, and they certainly do not exist because of peer pressure, considering how many of my acquaintances and people I admire are atheists, who like the author, consider my beliefs entirely irrational.

3) Describing some of the commonly held justifications in a mocking tone does not in and of themselves make them invalid. There are much stronger justifications for religious feelings than the ones you list.

Posted by on January 13, 2009 05:45 PM

I'll defer to Mano on that, since he's a scientist and it's his blog. Personally I think your demand that a personal blog be held to the same standard as a peer-reviewed journal is unreasonable -- not because it's a poor ideal, but because they are not structured in the same way. I also think it's hypocritical to bemoan the lack of footnotes when you continue to withhold your own "extremely convincing evidence" to the contrary. So, seriously: why do you believe, and why specifically do Mano's generalizations not encompass any of your reasons for believing?

Posted by Brock on January 13, 2009 05:54 PM


Lucas says he has "extremely convincing" evidence that makes him believe in god and you have said that their are "strong justifications" that go beyond peer pressure.

What I am seeking are concrete examples of each. If all the reasons that I gave do not apply to you, exactly what evidence convinced you to believe in god?

(Also, in future could you please make up some name so that readers can know which individual I or other commenters am responding to? Thanks.)

Posted by Mano on January 13, 2009 06:01 PM

I said that there were stronger justifications than the ones, not strong ones. I reject the premise of your whole post - that religion can ever be justified under "rational" reasons that would convince an confirmed atheist, and that rationality is the only, or even superior way to see the world.

My point was only that supporters of religion defend the arguments you list in a way more compelling and less dismissive than "Arguments from Vague Feelings"

Posted by ATS on January 13, 2009 06:47 PM

Asking me to post the evidence that I find convincing is only distracting from the large amount of criticism I have made against your argument. Rather than defend your generalizations or seek to explain why you feel you have the right to make such broad statements, you simply defer to the classic "respond with a question" defense. Besides, just because I find some evidence convincing, doesn't mean that you will. I only mentioned that I found the evidence convincing because you asked me if I believed in God and why. Lets not forget that the major crux of your entry's initial argument is that there is no evidence, and one of the criticisms I made against your argument was that there is evidence for every religion and that the intellectually honest person will admit that said evidence is unconvincing. If you aren’t intellectually honest enough to admit this, and so insecure in your position that you baldly claim there is no evidence for any god, religious people are part of a mass delusion, and that they all know there is no answer for why they believe what they believe, then I don’t think it would be worth my time to delve into all the evidence that I find convincing. My aim in commenting was more to show all the ironies and major problems with your argument, not make a case for my own faith.

Posted by Lucas on January 13, 2009 07:35 PM

Mr. Singham, I enjoyed your essay. I have observed some interesting things in the comments section.

Specious argument #1: when other people write posts for their blog, I expect them to be written as if for a scientific journal (they must always back up every statement with evidence and extensive footnotes and references). This standard does not apply to my own blog (please don't notice the hypocrisy).

Specious argument #2: where is your evidence? I have some of my own, of course, but refuse to speak of it.

Specious argument #3: since I cannot imagine a way for your claims to be supported, I am free to assume they they would be virtually impossible to support.

Specious argument #4: you must supply references and/or evidence for everything you say, but it is highly unreasonable of you to ask me for one example of evidence for god's existence.

Specious argument #5: I do not have a firm grasp on the concept of the burden of proof. Therefore you are wrong, god exists, and I will try to prove it by being rude and insulting.

Posted by Marianne on January 13, 2009 08:38 PM


You disagree with my categorization in the above post of the reasons for belief and say other compelling reasons exist, which is why I posed the question to you. I am not asking you to go into all the evidence that you find convincing. I am asking you to simply name just a single one, so that I have some idea of what you find convincing.

I agree with you that what you find convincing I may not and I do not intend to argue with you on whether your evidence is convincing or not or whether it even counts as "evidence" at all. But refusing to mention any evidence at all seems a bit strange to me.

In my post, I explained clearly why I do not believe in a god, because "There is no sense in believing in something for which there is no evidence." I have gone into the kinds of evidence and arguments that are relevant to existence statements and universal statements here and here, and in this post I described what kind of evidence would convince me that there is a god.

So I do not understand why you do not list even one of the "extremely convincing" evidence that you find compelling. I may not find it compelling personally but I am interested in knowing about reasons other than those categorized under the labels in the post.

Posted by Mano on January 13, 2009 08:41 PM

Ok Lucas:
1. It's not a distraction; it's part of the thesis in Mano's post -- that is, that explanations given for belief by religious apologists are overwhelmingly lazy or shoddy. How convenient that you won't give yours.
2. It strikes me as odd that you would hold your "evidence" to be extremely compelling, yet you don't think it will convince me. That seems to be either a logical discrepancy or prejudice.
3. It should not be challenging whatsoever for you to state the "why" of your god-belief if indeed any positive, testable, empirical, reproducible evidence exists.
4. You seem to have executed the adult version of "I'm rubber, you're glue!". Please contribute something of substance here, even if it's anecdote.

In addition/aside:
4. (to an earlier unneeded illustration) It would indeed proper to assert that Buddhists are delusional and lack any evidence for their religion IF A) they held a majority in the nation and (perhaps with a century headstart) systematically slandered other worldviews or B) sabotaged public education in the name of their beliefs. Or C) if their priests raped children and deliberately covered it up, not that such a thing ever happens...
5. I'm rather publicly active in a number of skeptic/freethought/atheist groups. I can't speak for all atheists, but I'm happy to be one and not particularly insecure about it. If that bothers you, well, too bad.
6. Most atheists I know (self included) aren't especially interested in eradicating private faith (as if that were possible) or demonizing those who embrace it. Rather, belief systems that seek to undermine education or invade public policy are what need to go.

Posted by Brock on January 13, 2009 08:51 PM

Dear Dr. Singham,

I thought it would only be just that I thank you first for your blog; it has been one of my few enjoyments since I came to Case this year. I have been exposed to many different ways of looking at the world, and I feel like you have made aware of some things that I would have otherwise probably never thought about (i.e. "The Problem of Tipping").

In the case of religion, or why I believe in God, I feel that my opinion would definitely steer the conversation into the right direction that I believe you intended to create. Although I feel that Lucas is very passionate about what he believes, I think that he falls into the same situation that, unfortunately, most believers do -that is-a hostile attitude that diminishes any form healthy argument from happening. And both sides of the party leave with the same ideas, because substantial exchange was done, which should happen when an argument is conceded or not. (no offense Lucas)

I am not here to do that.

Now for your question, why do I believe in God?

Personal experiences.

Since I came to Case, I have struggled with my own personal belief on countless occasions. Many of which, were stirred up by some topics that I read on your blog, others that arose from learning more about the theory of evolution, and some from academic works on religion,in particular, “Pagan and Christian Creeds”. While they were by all means convincing, rationality is hard to set aside, I could not detach myself from personal experiences, which were just as true and real.

I come from a very shaky background; a poor immigrant who moved into an inner-city district, only to become exposed the negative culture that promotes drug usage and distribution, school is pointless, and that murder is always justifiable.

Not only I was exposed, but also I was engulfed in this culture to the point where I was selling cocaine in school, was hardly attending school, and was getting expelled out of school. Outside of school, these little things don’t even compare. My life was hanging by a thread. I was sure that I would be the next headline, like many others in my neighborhood.

Don’t get me wrong I had always been a bright kid. My teachers always saw it in me. They would try to work with me, try to get me into programs, try to intervene with my mother to get me right. Therapy was a joke.

I had been an atheist prior to my sophomore year in high school. God was a joke, a delusion to me. Even when my family “accepted Christ” I ridiculed and called them crazy. But ever since they did, they were the only ones in my household that were happy. I was depressed and suicidal, let alone already in vulnerable to the environment around me.

But yet I here I am. At Case Western Reserve University, and a Gate’s Millennium Scholar (scholarship that covers all need-based aid up to a professional degree). Most inner-city students don’t even graduate high school.

Many of the people who knew me back then and still know me now, always repeat the same thing, “ You just made a complete change.”

Not only did being introduced to God save my life (literally) but his doctrines taught me love, humility, and to serve others than myself.

There are actual cases of healing that I have myself experienced. I remember about a year ago, I had gone to the dentist for a checkup because my jaw kept grinding against my skull and hurt me enough that I couldn’t even chew food. They told me that the some cartilage was gone in the jaw socket or something like that. (I never really understood their diagnosis) What I did know was that they said that they would have to “break” my jaw to fix the problem. The thought of having my mouth wired shut was kind of unappealing, not to mention having my jaw broken. I had the appointment that following week. But I went to church that Sunday and got prayer.

At my appointment, the surgeon couldn’t not find the problem with my jaw. (although he had x-rays depicting otherwise) He spent about 20 mins looking at my mouth and at the paper work and even calling the dentist to see what had happened. Eventually, he told me, “ Well, I guess you can go. I can’t seem to find any problem at all.” And “coincidentally” I haven’t had a problem with my jaw since.

There many more instances (I think my post is long enough ?) that I can tell you that depict these rather irrational, and improbable situations that happened to me and many of the people around me, but that doesn’t make them a delusion. I was critical about everything that religion proposed, and I always wanted to make sure it was real. And so far, I haven’t been disappointed.

I may not be able to justify another happenings in the world, or why things are they way they are. I am completely convinced by evolutionary theory and the Big Bang theory, and many other scientific theories of thought that explain our development. I am also an Anthropology major. But there’s no way that I can separate myself from those things that molded me to who I am today. I’m happier than I have ever been. And I think that’s where I have found myself.

I can only talk about what I know.

Posted by Omar on January 13, 2009 10:37 PM

Dear Omar,

Thank you for your comment which I found extremely moving. I am so glad that your have been able to rise so far above your circumstances and make something really good out of your life.

You give the credit to god. There is no question that many people have found belief in god to be of great help in overcoming major obstacles.

I would give the credit to your own character and determination, the love and support of your family and teachers, and all other people in your life who inspired you to better things. I think that people give credit to god because they cannot imagine that they and those around them have the internal strength and resources to overcome such intimidating hurdles.

But my opinion on this is not important. What is important is what you make of your own life. And I am glad to hear that you are making something that you and your loved ones can be really proud of, and I congratulate you and them, and wish you the very best of success.

Posted by Mano on January 14, 2009 09:11 AM

To those that have called me hostile or accused me of being insulting (ad hominem fallacy), you are only furthering my point that the argument presented in this entry cannot be defended with any evidence to support the unfair and baseless generalizations contained therein. Everyone who has defended Mano and his entry have done nothing but distract from my criticisms by claiming I must present evidence for my belief, rather than demand that Mano present evidence for his broad claims. There are a few problems with this approach.

First, my criticisms could have been made by a fellow atheist since they all take issue with the argument's stability and intellectual honesty, so my belief has nothing to do with a rebuttal to my criticisms. Mano would like to distract from my criticisms by having a debate with a believer. Second, my criticisms were not insulting nor were they hostile. Another form of evasion is to claim the person raising criticisms isn’t being “nice enough”, so you take your ball and go play somewhere else, instead of engaging said criticisms. Third, my criticisms have been consistently dodged and avoided which passively affirms some level of validity. Seriously, look at the flow of argument between Mano and myself… it went like this...

Mano writes a blog entry. Criticism of entry by Lucas. Question from Mano(not a single ounce of rebuttal to said criticisms). Answer to question by Lucas. Mano asks for evidence for Lucas’ belief. Lucas doesn't offer said evidence. Criticism of Lucas’ refusal to offer evidence from Mano and others.

Looking at this flow of argument isn’t it obvious why I haven't bothered to post evidence? Every single criticism I raised has been ignored because of the classic evasion tactic of answering a criticism/question with a question. I will continue to point back to my criticisms since that was my aim in coming here. Mano’s aim is obviously to dodge criticisms, and those who defend him don’t ask for evidence, they just believe (sound familiar?).

The irony of this entire entry and all of the comments defending it is that you are accusing religious people are taking part in a mass delusion and not being able to give valid reasons for why they believe, all while posting an entry and defending an entry in the exact same deluded non-answer giving way that you charge people of religion with. And then, someone actually accuses me of misunderstanding burden of proof, when this is a blog that set out to prove/argue for something while offering zero proof, and all I did was offer criticism. Let me give an example as to how burden of proof doesn’t work.

If I wrote a blog claiming that Muslims don't know why they wear turbans, and offered no evidence to support my claim, I couldn't then turn around and demand evidence from someone who simply criticized my poor argument and then claim that the burden of proof falls on them. If you set out to claim something, the burden of proof is, by default, on you to make that claim believable. Here is the definition of “burden of proof…

the obligation to offer evidence that the court or jury could reasonably believe, in support of a contention, failing which the case will be lost

The most important part of the definition is, “in support of a contention”. Mano is contending some large generalizations with no evidence. That fact makes the last part of the definition extremely important.

Posted by Lucas Knisely on January 14, 2009 09:47 AM

I also was moved by Omar's comment and thought your reply was worded very well Mano.

For me, I think the element that may have made a difference in Omar's life was the belief that life has purpose.

I certainly can't testify to Omar's experience - but I've seen people completely change as the result of a newly born child. It seems that a life of drunkenness and wandering can be cast aside simply by looking at the eyes of your infant child. Life now has purpose.

Similarly, religion often provides this purpose. Many denominations teach that our purpose is to give glory to god and to tell others of his love and kindness.

A sick parent, being part of a 'cause', being introduced to a topic or idea that you hadn't considered before, all could cause a drastic shift in personality and life.

Perhaps it is necessary that our lives have (or seem to have) purpose.

That being said, and at risk of pushing the discussion into uncomfortable grounds, isn't the idea of our lives having purpose irrational?

We are, at best, the result of thousands of years of genetic mutations. Intrinsically, our lives have no more value than the life of a fruit fly. To be sure, our society gives value to our existence. But isn't this really a side effect of higher order thought? We think therefore we have purpose.

I think any call to promote reason requires all unreasonable acts and thoughts to be put aside. If the belief in god is unreasonable then surely the idea that our lives have purpose is equally unreasonable.

As a long time reader I know you've spoke to this issue before Mano. The idea that a life without god is without purpose. However the idea seemed like a natural extension of Omar's comment.

Posted by dave on January 14, 2009 10:03 AM

Evidently Lucas also doesn't understand the meaning of "ad hominem fallacy." In other words, nobody has argued "Lucas is/did/said thus-and-so, therefore all his other claims are false."
This conversation might be more effective and efficient if, instead of offering your lengthy criticisms, you attempted to participate.
To wit, if you think Mano is incorrect when he lists the most likely/frequent arguments for god, you could point to one he's left out. If you think his characterization of the Argument from Personal Incredulity makes it look unfairly "weak," you might explain to us how you think it can be seen otherwise.
Likewise, if you find extreme error in the statement "there is no evidence," the most powerful demonstration of your contrary position would probably be to simply point to a single piece of evidence.
Engaging in such a manner would require less of your time spent typing, and should, assuming you actually believe all you've written, be pretty easy for you. It might actually further the amount of understanding in the room, too.

Posted by Marianne on January 14, 2009 10:59 AM

Dave: That seems thoughtful, but I think you answered your own question. That is, meaning/purpose arises both from circumstances (childbirth, sick parent, etc) and from our choices (adopting a cause, pursuing an issue). I'm not at all convinced that thinking in isolation brings purpose, or that "god" (which is just another concept to pursue) has anything to do with it. Why do you think it needs to be innate?

And sure, "meaning" and "purpose" can be vague or intangible, but they're really no more irrational than other ideas, like say, democracy or capitalism. The concepts give our thoughts a framework within which to condense. That in turn helps us get our bearings when we decide how to act.

Lucas: Marianne hit the nail on the head twice now, so if you don't answer my questions, at least try her suggestions.

I'm also going to stick to my original statement that Mano's evidence is archived and built up from his experiences reading about, watching, debating, and conversing face-to-face with religious believers. And, you know, formerly being one. That may not be rigorous enough for scientific publication, but you can't say it lacks evidence just because you weren't there for the same experiences. The very best refutation you can do is cite exceptions to his generalizations. But you haven't done that; you haven't even bothered to read his other posts! So it comes across that you're blaming him for your own stubbornness.

Posted by Brock on January 14, 2009 01:20 PM

States exhibit A for the evidence for a god is Mano Singham. He is empiraclly testable to boot. He is a collection of lipids, amino acids, carbohydrates, and nucleosides that make up over 3 trillion base pairs of DNA composing the specific instructions for over 30,000 proteins. These chemicals together function to carry out some of the deepest thoughts and logical reasoning that any organism that has ever existed on this planet is capable of. My evidence that there is a god is Mano (and I am serious). I believe that this should be the year of reason as well. So to answer your question one piece of evidence that there is a god is you.

Jim D.

Posted by Jim D on January 14, 2009 04:20 PM

Jim D,

The evidence you provide is covered under The Argument From Personal Incredulity. It is true that I, like any organism, am an incredibly complex system. But that is only evidence for god if you believe that it could not have come about by natural processes.

Posted by Mano on January 14, 2009 04:32 PM


I think it is very clear to everyone that you think this post has serious logical flaws. But while you are willing to spend a lot of time and effort to make the claim, you are not using the strongest and simplest argument in your favor, which is to provide just one example of the compelling evidence you said you have that does not fall under any of those categories.

I am not avoiding your criticisms of my post. Take, for example, your criticism of my statement that "There is no sense on believing in something for which there is no evidence." The statement that there is "no evidence" can be classified as a universal statement. In the link I gave in an earlier response as to how we deal with universal and existence statements, you will see that universal statements can never be proved but they can be disproved. The way that is done, as Marianne points out, is by providing a counter example.

You, on the other hand, are making an existence claim ("There is compelling evidence for god") and so the burden of proof is on you to provide one.

This is why I keep asking for an example from you, and I am puzzled by your reluctance to provide one. I have no idea what kind of evidence you have and would like to know. I am still unclear as to why you think that providing evidence is not a good thing, even if you continue to believe that I am avoiding your specific criticisms.

Posted by Mano on January 14, 2009 04:50 PM


In one of your comments you referred to "the classic evasion tactic of answering a criticism/question with a question".

While I can think of examples where questioning c an be used to evade a point, I think that at the beginning of a discussion with someone whom you don't know, it is polite to ask a few questions. This way you don't have to make as many assumptions about the other person. Also, it can both give you a better understanding of where this person is coming from and make it feel less like you are talking to a wall.

I only invoke the term politeness because there is a quote displayed prominently on your blog that reads, "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength," so I figured that it is something that you valued.


Posted by Jared on January 15, 2009 01:10 PM


You said: "You, on the other hand, are making an existence claim ("There is compelling evidence for god") and so the burden of proof is on you to provide one."

That is a misrepresentation, and furthers my point that you are doing nothing but evading. I didn't come here and claim there was evidence until after I criticized your argument. And the only reason I said anything about evidence existing was because I fell for your evasion tactic of questioning me rather than rebutting my criticisms. You've only offered 1-2 sentences in rebuttal while ignoring every other criticism made. You continue to push the burden of proof on me which shows you have no intention of backing a single broad claim made in your argument which means you passively concede none of them are provable which forfeits your entire entry.

The entire entry is un-backed and baseless. That is the gist of my entire lengthy criticism that has been ignored by everyone defending the entry. I again will point to the irony that you claim religious people are part of a mass delusion and have no "real answer" for why they believe yet everyone just believes your broad claims and have no "real answer" or proof for why they do. I keep getting directed to your archived writings, but I don't see anything in your archived writings about a global research project into the psychology of religious people being deluded and not having a real reason for why they believe. Where is the evidence?

The reason I will not provide evidence that I find convincing is because just like your initial questions, it will distract from my criticisms. You are insistent to get me to answer with evidence because that is a windy rabbit hole that never ends. I'll point to what I think is convincing, you'll probably link to an entry that claims it isn't valid evidence, I'll rebuttal, and on and on the evasion game goes. The fact of the matter is you can't back a single broad claim made in this entry or you would have by now.

You keep asking me for evidence when you offered none in support of your entry. You keep asking me for evidence when you are the one contending for something. The definition of burden of proof is by default on the person contending for something. So you’ve failed to prove your contention and continue to distract from that by asking me for evidence. But I’m not the one writing an entry contending for the delusion of an entire group of people.

I never once contended for my belief in God, I only answered your questions. And someone defended your questions by claiming you wanted to know more about me. I really doubt that is your interest since all you’ve done since I answered your question is use it to further evade my criticisms.

Posted by Lucas Knisely on January 15, 2009 01:47 PM

First, Mano I think you sell yourself far short. You are much, much more than an incredibly complex (chemical) machine. I think you have understated the case a bit.

Nonetheless there are 2 ways this can go, either Mano was ultimately produced via a natural process or he was not but I claim that either way this is evidence of god.

Even if Mano was produced via a natural process I still think this is evidence of a god. Natural processes use the natural laws of the universe. Laws need law givers thus you are left with god or the anthropic principle (or some other possibility that someone else can come up with). I think god best fits the evidence we have given the complexity of life and the fine tuning we all appreciate in the universe. Thus Mano is still evidence for a god even if he were made via a natural process. A god is not inhibited from using natural processes which he established himself.


Posted by Jim D on January 16, 2009 03:48 PM

Hi Jim,

In lieu of full disclosure I will mention that I am an athiest, but I don't mean to bait you or anything. It is just hat this is something I've never gotten to ask someone making the "Existence claim" before. I assume you have thought about what I am about to ask before, but I wonder if you have come to a conclusion that you find satisfying.

Here is my question:

If the existence of the universe is evidence for the existence of a god, then what is the existence of this god evidence of? Even if it mysteriously exists partially (or fully, take your pick) outside of our universe, god's ability to make physical laws suggests a describable existence of its own. God must indeed be even more complex than any of us, so according to your claim, this suggests some other form of law-giver that describes/formulates God's existence. Given the existence of God, the existence of Super-god creating God fits the evidence the best.

Perhaps you have played this game before (usually with a small child or an obnoxious peer): Someone asks you "Why?", you give an answer, another "Why? is asked, further elaboration is given, and so on ad nauseum.

Inevitably, the answer comes to, "Because there is something rather than nothing." It is unavoidable. The existence or non-existence of a god or gods does not change this. You can say that there are physical processes because there is someone called God to make them, but that doesn't explain why there is something rather than nothing. Thus, God is not, in our current understanding, a necessary part of the picture.

Incidentally, I am aware that theologians in many major religions do take this infinite causation problem on. For example, my understanding of Mormon doctrine is that they believe that YHWH is the God that created Jesus, Jesus was the God that created us, there was another God that created YHWH, and if we are good enough we will become gods ourselves, forming an infinite chain of sorts. Others suggest that the type of universe that God exists in does not have the same type of causal laws that ours does, but that always strikes me as a non-answer. In fact, I can't think I have seen any religious doctrine that tackles the root problem.


Posted by Jared on January 17, 2009 09:09 PM


Thanks for you comments and question. I think the answer to your question lies in the nature of god. The god that I claim to exist is not a created god and as such his existence is not evidence of anything else. He just is. Philosophically this logically ends the cause and effect loop. I hope this at least gives you my perspective on the question you were asking?


Posted by Jim D on January 18, 2009 09:34 PM

Jim: if we can end the chain of creation at something that "just is", is there any reason we should end it at one god instead of a chain of 42 gods? Do you think the existence of the Universe provides evidence for a particular length of the chain? Or for a finite, rather than infinite, chain? And if we can end the chain at something that "just is", couldn't we just as easily end it at the Universe itself, without even adding a link for one god?

Posted by Paul Jarc on January 19, 2009 08:20 PM


I tried unsuccessfully to post this yesterday-I think my computer may have a problem or else there is a problem of some sort on the blog server. In any event, I apologize if this is redundant.

The existence of the universe provides no evidence for a particular length of the chain of gods you propose. I do not know if the chain is finite or infinite based on my knowledge that the universe exists. I guess using Ockham’s razor there is no need to have more than one but I certainly don’t know this to be a fact. I do know this though, and this is a very old argument: Every effect has a cause. That is science 101. However we both know that this goes into an infinite regress quickly. So…..

It sounds like we agree on something here (and if I interprete your post wrong please forgive me). You and I agree that ultimately something that is eternal exists. The nature of that something is where we part ways though. That something is either matter/energy/the universe or god. I choose god based on the evidence.


Posted by Jim D on January 21, 2009 08:57 AM


I think the problem is with the server, not you.

I have an unmoderated comment policy so comments should show up immediately. But it has been acting up recently, maybe because we are being hit with huge numbers of spam comments, and once in a while a comment get listed in the side menu but the text of it doesn't actually show up. Then I have to go in, delete the spam, and fix it. I try to do this several times a day.

This happens even to my own comments so don't take it personally!

Posted by Mano on January 21, 2009 10:31 AM

Just a quick statement, after reading all of the comments, to attempt to address Lucas' criticisms, not sure if it matters at this point. But when pointing to the validity of a few of the blanket statements discussed in this article, most of the readers, I think, at least if they are active atheist's have experienced some of the responses discussed, when dealing with devout religious affiliates. Therefore, we didn't need him to list specific events when he encountered these responses or a gallup poll of x amount of people and their respective responses to the question. We merely needed to look at our own past experiences when dealing with religious individuals. This taught us that most of the time, these arguments are correct, based on our own personal experience.

Posted by Frank on January 29, 2009 02:54 PM


Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. I am sorry I didn't get back as quickly.

However, I do find your explanation unsatisfactory. Paul touched on some of the reasons - that there is no reason to load God with all of the necessary properties that fill in the holes of our current understanding - in this case giving God the property of eternalness (alpha and omega and all that stuff).

Your 'Exhibit A' for God's existence (the complexity of humans suggests a creator), is based on thee assumption that 'complex objects suggest a creator'. The assertion that God is exempt from this requirement based on some ad hoc intrinsic property violates the original assumption.

Let me know if I am missing something.


Posted by Jared on January 30, 2009 11:22 AM