The Independent Variable - Matt Haugland

Saturday, February 28, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #2

"All information concerning the gods comes to us through intermediaries, self-elected 'prophets' who claim to have been favoured with secret 'revelations' which they then proceed, magnanimously, to pass on to the rest of us. (Examples: Zarathustra, Paul, the Buddha, Joseph Smith, Muhammad.)"

1. Everything we know about God comes from human so-called 'prophets'.
2. If all the information we have about God comes from man, God must not exist.

False assumption, but better than most of the previous arguments

I pretty much agree with the spirit of this argument. Most people who've claimed to be prophets do not have much credibility, including at least one or two that the author mentioned. As a scientist, it's goes against my conscience to believe something just because someone said so long ago. That doesn't mean the claims/testimonies in the Bible doesn't count at all as evidence. But I would need more, a lot more, in order to believe in the God it describes.

But there is more. A lot more. And that's the problem with this argument. It's simply incorrect to say that everything (or even the majority of what) we know about God comes from 'prophets'. If God is the one who designed/created the universe, than it would make sense that the majority of what we know about him is communicated through nature. A case could even be made that the Bible, fundamentally, is more a description of nature than it is a revelation by prophets. And nature, as it is understood by current science, is remarkably consistent with it.

The debate really shouldn't be about whether there is a God. If we define "God" loosely enough, (e.g., God = whatever caused the big bang to occur), we can then have a more meaningful about about the characteristics of God, and whether it/he is personal or not. At that point, arguing for a personal "God / whatever caused the big bang" as described in the Bible, most of the evidence I'd bring up would be from nature/science/history rather than Biblical prophets. That's not to say this is the best way to make a case for the existence of God, or that such evidence would be convincing or conclusive. But the fact that I can make such a case at all suggests that human prophets are not the only source of information about God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #3

"By whatever standards we define the concept of evil, the very existence of evil negates the idea of deity, unless, that is, deity itself is evil! Perhaps it is!"

1. A non-evil God would not allow evil to occur.

False assumption

This is a very common argument, also known as "the problem of evil." Entire books have been written about this. There's no way I can completely address it in a couple paragraphs. But the issue may be simpler than it appears.

This really isn't an argument at all against the Christian God, who allows evil and has a purpose for it. Instead, it is an argument against a particular concept of God that conforms to what the author thinks a God should be.

I know it's very hard to look past all the evil and suffering in the world. And obviously there is no God, if "God" means one who makes the world exactly how we would want it to be. So we're left with 3 options: no God at all, an evil God, or a God who has a purpose for all this evil and suffering. Apparently, the author never considered the third option.

Friday, February 20, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #4

"The conflicting claims put forward in the name of the thousands of deities only serve to indicate that all such claims are false. If not, which do we believe and which reject? We are confronted with the incredible spectacle of RIVAL GODS! Yahweh v. Allah, Christ v. Krishna, et al."

1. Different religions each have their own God.
2. The beliefs of these religions are mutually exclusive.
3. If some claims about God are false, all are false.

Multiple fallacies and false assumptions

This is a very common argument, but is probably the worst so far, for a variety of reasons. First, it is absurd to assume that if various claims are mutually exclusive, ALL must be wrong. While it's true that they can't all be right about the nature of God (in cases where they contradict each other), this in no way implies that God does not exist. Religions make contradictory claims about all kinds of things (e.g., marriage, war, sex, food, ...). Does that mean those things don't exist?

The characterization of religion in the world is either ignorant or dishonest. The author paints a picture of thousands of religions each believing in a completely different deity. But according to the statistics I found (on, over 75% of theists* in the world are either Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. These three all claim to believe in the SAME God (Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Moses, etc.). Another 19% are Hindu, and the rest are indigenous beliefs.

So rather than a choice between "thousands" of religions/deities, it's more like a choice between Yahweh, the Gods of Hinduism, and the Gods of various tribes. And for the vast majority outside of India and Africa, it's not much of a choice at all. "incredible spectacle of RIVAL GODS"? Hardly.

* Note: I defined "theists" as anyone who is not atheist, agnostic, secular, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, or Sikh -- the latter 4 religions are not based on belief in a deity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #5

"Children entering the world through birth have no concept of the existence of any god. It would be reasonable to suppose that the deity would implant within the human being knowledge of his existence. But no, children have to learn religion from those around them. And, curiously, they learn different religions in each different culture!"

1. If there was a God, he would implant knowledge of his existence into everyone from birth.
2. Children are not born with knowledge of God -- they have to learn it.

False assumption

Assumption #1 is pure speculation, and silly speculation at that. Children are not implanted with knowledge of anything, so why would God have to make an exception for this? Why can't the existence of God be something people learn as they grow up (just like the existence of, well, everything else in the universe)?

And if any of you see any merit in Assumption #1, I suggest you read "The 'God' Part of the Brain" by Matthew Alper -- although usually used against religion, it would turn this particular atheist argument upside-down.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #6

"All holy books (and especially the Jewish-Christian Bible) are, upon careful examination, found to be full of error, conflict, superstition, repetition, and general nonsense."

1. If the Bible is found to be in error on some things, it should not be trusted regarding the existence of God.
2. The Bible is full of errors.

Compelling reason

I could try to challenge Assumption #2, but there's no way I could resolve that here. I'm tempted to say "man-made religious books are irrelevant to the existence of God". But since I defined these discussions as about the Christian God, the accuracy of Bible is certainly important. Errors in the Bible would call into question its teachings about who God is and even whether he exists at all. So unless Assumption #2 is disproved (and I have not disproved it here), this is a compelling reason not to believe in the Christian God. It's not conclusive (lots of people would take issue with Assumption #2 and even #1), but it warrants further examination and should not be dismissed.

So in the bottom 5, we had 3 red herrings, one based on a false assumption, and one compelling reason. The top 5 should be better.

Friday, February 13, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #7-8

#8: "Taking the whole body of believers of all kinds, there is no discernible worthwhile difference between the lives of those who profess religious faith and those who do not do so. (Example: The Pope demonstrates his faith by riding about in a bullet-proof vehicle!)"

Not gonna discuss this one, as it's basically the same as the last one. My only comment would be that there's a lot of truth to this, and that's very sad.

#7: "Any alleged miraculous element in religion, whether past or present, is readily explicable in scientific terms; the innumerable frauds perpetrated in the name of religion are notorious. (Example: The supposed miracles of many 'faith healers'.)"

1. The word "miracle" necessarily implies something that cannot be explained by science.
2. If there is a God, he must perform such "miracles" that cannot be explained.
3. The "innumerable frauds" imply that no such miracles have occurred.

Logical fallacy (red herring)

I'd rather not get into what miracles are or whether they have occurred. Personally, I believe most, if not all "miracles" in the Bible, CAN be explained by science, they just couldn't be explained at the time they occurred -- and many probably can't be explained even by today's science. But I'm already getting into the trap of the atheist's statement. The fact remains, the existence and/or nature of miracles, while it could disprove certain claims of some religions, has no bearing on whether there is a God or not.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

10 Reasons why I am an Atheist: #9

"Religion has bequeathed to the world at least as much evil as it has good, and probably more of the former than the latter. We have only to think of the Inquisition, the witch mania, and the mass slaughter of thousands of men, women and children in the name of their gods by Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and almost every religious body; and it continued TODAY!"

1. If there is a God, his followers would do more good than evil.
2. Religious people have done a lot of evil in the world.

Logical fallacy (red herring)

We all can agree that religious people have done a lot of evil things throughout history. But it does not follow that there is no God. Regardless of whether God exists, people who claim to believe in God can choose to do evil. The Bible is full of examples of this. Notice I said "claim to believe" -- doing things in the name of a religion does not necessarily make someone a genuine believer in that religion.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

10 Reasons Why I am an Atheist: #10

Instead of writing on a new topic every day, the next several posts will be a series on the same topic. I recently came across a list from an atheist web site ( of 10 reasons why the author is an atheist. I will go through theses reasons one by one, examining their assumptions and discussing my thoughts on them. For each one, I will list the assumptions behind them, and give one of the following verdicts: False Assumption (if the reason is based on a false assumption about God/Christianity), Logical Fallacy (if the reason depends on a logical fallacy), or Compelling Reason (if it is a compelling reason that should be examined more carefully). For brevity I will assume the arguments are against Christian theism rather than deal with every form of theism.

I'll start with #10: "The creative activities of the various gods are faulty, to say the least! Evolution explains deformed, disfigured and brain-damaged babies; religion has no explanation!"

1. Evolution is essentially true, or at least is the best theory we have.
2. Theism is inconsistent with evolution.
3. God would not create "deformed, disfigured and brain-damaged babies."

False Assumptions

Personally, I agree with assumption #1, that Evolution is, at the very least, the best theory we have. I also am a Christian and believe that God created animals and humans through the process of evolution. I see absolutely no contradiction in that. In my opinion, a careful reading of Genesis, along with an understanding of the original language and context, is remarkably consistent with what science has shown.

But even if I am wrong about that, the 3rd assumption is not true. There's nothing in the Bible that suggests God would not create "deformed, brain-damaged babies." Rather, it says God has a purpose for everything, and some things that may appear "bad" to some people are actually blessings in disguise. I recently had the pleasure of spending time with a toddler with Downs Syndrome. She was one of the happiest, most beautiful children I have ever seen. Some may call it a "defect", but from what I know of people who have Downs Syndrome and other genetic disorders, I think they are closer than the rest of us to what a loving God would want people to be like. People who look down on them are the ones with the bigger defects.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Forecast Maps & Meteograms

I just realized that I've never posted links to the forecasts I've been doing for the past several months. Here are a few of them. At these locations, the National Weather Service has helping me by comparing the forecasts to observations. In some cases (e.g., Guam), they have been driving around and taking measurements there. I love working with meteorologists around the country, especially when it involves temperature measurements.

Eventually I plan to make maps like this for every major city in America (and the world?), and they will be free, supported by advertising. I just need a few more computers in order to do that. I'm really hoping that 8 or 16 core processors are available soon so I can do more of these on a single computer.

Norman, OK

Reno, NV


San Juan, PR

Oxnard, CA

East Norman