The other elephant in the room is that consciousness and energy, unlike Jesus being God, do not embody a litany of logical contradictions. There's a fine line between accepting that certain things may defy intuitive explanations and accepting something that is, on its face, complete and utter bullshit. The Youth Group subculture really took off in the 90s, and I was smack in the middle of it. My church leaders exemplified the kind of person I wanted to be – strong in faith, close to their families, trying to make a difference in the world.
For as much as my peers and I seemed to relish in talking about how "lost" the "world" was, we weren't exactly saints ourselves. On a more personal note, I wavered between being "on fire for Christ" and being overwhelmed with fear and guilt. On the occasions when I was able to voice my doubts, my experience with the "learned" leaders in my church was much like what Daniel Dennett described in his lecture "The Evolution of Confusion" at AAI 2009, in which he discussed what he called the "canons of good spin": it should seem profound, and it should relieve skepticism without arousing further curiosity. I slowly began to withdraw from the church as I became disillusioned by the social experience. I feel like I ought to clarify that my deconversion had nothing to do with my social experience, nor did it have anything to do with the heavily evangelical and generally conservative doctrines of my particular church.
While I'm certainly not bitter about my time in the evangelical church, I don't just remember the good times and nice people. While my particular church may have been on the more extreme side of the evangelical spectrum, I don't think my experience was unique. John over at Debunking Christianity tracked down an excerpt from one of William Lane Craig's recent debates that I think is well worth watching.
On the program I watched, the theistic response was similar to the objection William Lane Craig made in his review of Vilenkin's book: that's not really "nothing". I deconverted from Christianity mainly because of its theological absurdity (see the previous post for an example), but it took another nine years or so before I considered myself an atheist. I'm telling you all this because Alexander Vilenkin, in Many Worlds in One, details an idea similar to Hawking's. This is actually reflected in Craig's language in his review of Vilenkin's book – he moves away from the cocksure language of his debates and into more conciliatory tone. That's like saying, "the advantage of believing in God is that you can accept the idea of a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe, but still believe God had some sort of inexplicable role in its creation".
One of the more peculiar and absurd theological quirks of Christianity is that Jesus is "fully God and fully man", as is often said. Jesus offers himself to God on our behalf as a sacrifice of atonement – so God is sacrificing himself to himself. He ascends to Heaven and sits at the right hand of God, meaning that he is literally beside himself. I've posed this question to Christians on countless occasions, and I've never received anything remotely resembling a straight answer. Which by the way, in case you've seen that cartoon before and wondered who the artist is, it's Sidney Harris.
By way of Jerry Coyne's blog I came across this video that is a response to William Lane Craig's arguments about the suffering of animals – namely, that the apparent cruelty in nature is theologically compatible with a loving Creator, because animals don't really suffer like we do.
I think a big part of the reason Craig thrives in the debate format (with 20-minute monologues) is because he can often get away with backtracking, equivocating, misrepresenting his opponents, and misrepresenting science simply because it's easily taken for granted that one ought to be presenting arguments honestly in such a forum, and it'd be virtually impossible to correct him on every error, omission or outright lie.
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Use the form below to delete this Miracle On 34th Street GOOSEBUMPS MAG image from our index. Well, I found this video featuring John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician and philosopher who has debated several of the gnu atheists, including Richard Dawkins. Unlike Jesus and God, we have direct evidence that consciousness and energy actually exist. When people ask How can Jesus be fully God and fully human, they're asking How the fuck is that logical at all?! Although I had a few good friends in my early teens, I wasn't what you'd call the coolest kid in school. I think that for many believers, the church is associated with doing good in the world and being connected with a community – so much so that a lot of believers have a difficult time understanding how people can be nonreligious and still be good, charitable, happy, and fulfilled.


There was no shortage of gossip, cliques and feuds; there were cool kids, troubled kids, loners, and of course the Indian guy who barely spoke English but totally rocked the tambourine. I was constantly afraid of "backsliding", of giving into temptation or just not being quite pious enough. I was still determined to be the best Christian I could be though, so in the years following I devoted myself to an intensive study of the Bible and Christian theology. I still keep in touch with some of the people from my youth group, including one of my former pastors. Before I deconverted, I was exposed to much more liberal theological perspectives; unfortunately (for my faith, at least), I found them to be riddled with insurmountable problems of their own.
I remember the hypocrisy, the pride, the gossip, the perceived threat of the unsaved, and the condescending attitude toward more culturally mainstream believers. I think it exemplifies some of the practical problems that emerge when we live by dogma rather than by skepticism and reason.
Generally I don't watch Craig's debates anymore, because he just repeats the same bad arguments over and over (or goes for the volume approach). You can't subscribe to any of those religions without believing in a Creator, and when the evidence for such a being is revealed as bankrupt, it's pointless to have further discussions about, say, the reliability of the Bible. I haven't read Krauss' book of the same name, but having recently finished Alexander Vilenkin's Many Worlds in One, I'm guessing that Krauss' idea likely bears some similarity to Vilenkin's "quantum tunneling" concept in which the observable universe is birthed from some sort of quantum void. In Vilenkin's model, for example, there is no space, time, matter or energy – but the laws of physics would still exist in some way.
As Brian Greene discusses in his latest book Hidden Reality, "universe" doesn't just mean one thing anymore. Maybe armchair philosopher types are simply unwilling to consider that the concept of nothingness can be defined mathematically. I held on to a sort of agnostic theism simply because "God" seemed like an intellectually satisfying answer to some of the most vexing questions we can think of – questions like Why is there something rather than nothing?, Where did the universe come from?, How did life get so complex?, or Why does altruism exist? Much of my perspective changed when I read Stephen Hawking's bestseller A Brief History of Time. Similar in some ways, but different in the sense that Vilenkin seems to take it a step further. The tunneling process is governed by the same fundamental laws that describe the subsequent evolution of the universe. It's irrelevant whether Vilenkin's use of the term "nothing" is identical to Craig's (which it's obviously not). What's funny is that there's really no way at all for Christians to make any logical sense of this. I suppose the best a Christian might manage would be to argue that the rules of logic don't apply to God – he can bend or break them as he wills.
It also leads to a number of absurdities, like God praying to himself and granting (or not) his own request, or God sacrificing himself to himself as sacrifice to save us from what he'll do to us if we don't believe in him. Instead, he says that there are certain things you can't explain about the world, like what exactly consciousness is, or what exactly energy is.
We can manipulate them and use them in scientific experiments to make falsifiable predictions about reality.
Whether it was music from Jars of Clay and DC Talk, colloquialisms like "backsliding" and "on fire for Jesus", or the infamous "Teen Study Bible", I was neck-deep in the evangelical Kool-Aid. I was scrawny and pale, with a questionable sense of fashion (I'm still pale, but I've worked on the other stuff). When I found the weekend youth event at a local church called the "Powerhouse" via my older brother, I discovered an inviting atmosphere I'd never found in school. We all engaged in sort of a piety pissing match, where we bemoaned "lukewarm" believers who weren't as feverishly pious – including those within our own church. I often prayed for forgiveness even when I couldn't think of anything I had done wrong, just because I "knew", being human, that I had probably failed to live up to God's standard in some way.
By age 19, I had grown disillusioned of the tenets of Christian faith, and I could no longer call myself a believer. My deconversion was purely a product of my studies of Christian theology – the more questions I asked, the less sense it made. I remember admonitions to avoid "worldly" temptations like secular music, masturbation, close contact with the opposite sex, unsaved friends, R-rated movies, and non-Christian literature.
The fear of outsiders and contrarian influences, the need to suppress and defeat doubt, the constant fear of failing to live up to an impossible standard – these are all experiences that many other deconverts have told me they dealt with as believers.
In this excerpt, however, Oxford Philosophy professor Peter Millican responds to the Kalam cosmological argument almost exactly as I would.
Some sort of god might still exist, like a pantheistic god, but that's a concept fraught with its own problems.
Aside from the obvious philosophical conundrums the idea inevitably raises, one could argue that even the mere existence of the laws of physics clearly constitutes something. There's nothing in the laws of physics which suggests that the universe came from anything else – including Nothing.
In Vilenkin's model, for example, it is nonsensical to talk about the quantum void coming from something else – for there was no time for it to do so! We could be talking about the observable universe, a parallel universe, a multiverse, some sort of proto-universe (that quantum void mentioned earlier), or all of it together. Maybe physicists should start saying "an uncaused universe" or "a self-contained universe" instead of "a universe from nothing". The question of the origin of the universe vexed him also, but being a physicist he pondered an interesting idea: what if the universe was enclosed and could be described with the laws of mathematics, instead of needing some sort of external cause?
But as you can easily tell from some of my comments in the above debate (should you read it), I had stubbornly assumed that the universe logically had to have some sort of external cause to bring it into existence.
But on the other hand, it's foolhardy to dismiss a mathematical model simply because it's counter-intuitive or because it challenges us with concepts that are difficult to imagine. We may never be able to conclusively establish a No Boundary universe or a "universe from nothing".


As I often say: the only thing worse than a God who doesn't exist is one who might as well not exist. He knew what he wanted to ask himself before he prayed, then granted (or not) his own request.
It's a clear violation of the law of non-contradiction, and it's nonsensical – if Jesus is an autonomous person with unique desires, thoughts and experiences that God does not also have, then he logically is not God.
Except if that's true, then you can throw all Christian apologetics out the window simply on the basis that if God can arbitrarily defy the rules of logic, then there's no sense in using the rules of logic to infer anything about him at all – including his mere existence. Following that, some intrepid skeptics interviewed a bunch of leading neuroscientists on the matter, and came to the conclusion that Craig's arguments were unsubstantiated crap. But clearly, consciousness and energy have lots of explanatory value, so Jesus being God is like that: maybe we can't explain it, but for Christians at least, it explains stuff about the world. And I think that while it might be difficult to conceptualize exactly what they are in an intuitive way, I think the overwhelming majority of neuroscientists and physicists would object to the notion that consciousness and energy defy explanation altogether.
In retrospect, that seems unbelievable – that kind of behavior is so fucking ridiculous. I think that the remaining believers are for the most part good people who earnestly want to live a good life and be a positive force in the world. I wasn't content to hear something that sounded profound without arousing further curiosity; I kept pressing on and asking difficult questions. In the church, the preservation of belief is to valued above all else (it's strange, when you think about it, why God would care so much about mere belief). I particularly like that he was keen enough to point out the fallacy of composition, which is often overlooked in criticisms of the Kalam, and that he quotes Alexander Vilenkin directly contradicting Craig's (ab)use of the BGV Theorem. Even if only the laws of physics existed, they would not have come from anything else, but would simply be. But personally, I think the term "universe from nothing" is really just a rhetorical device used to explain complex, esoteric physics to laypersons like myself.
From there he discussed the Hawking-Hartle No Boundary Proposal, in which he describes a universe that, like the surface of the Earth, is finite but has no boundary or edge. The simple idea that an enclosed universe fits within the known laws of physics humbled my position into one with many uncertainties – uncertainties exacerbated by the logical conundrums of causality somehow applying "to" the universe (for without a universe, what is causality at all?). The universe is essentially "nothing" – there is no space, no time, no matter or energy. Does this mean that the laws are not mere descriptions of reality and can have an independent existence of their own?
I haven't the slightest clue whether Vilenkin's model is correct, and he cautions that this sort of cosmology may be in principle untestable.
But the available evidence simply does not compel us to believe in any sort of Creator, and as a theist I found that very disconcerting. And most importantly, it utterly destroys his arguments with an onslaught of thoroughly-researched science so merciless that Craig ought to be positively humiliated. Throughout middle school and into my freshman year of high school, I was bullied pretty regularly. And when my brother invited me to join him for a Saturday night "Hellfighters" service at the same church, I didn't hesitate.
Plenty of doubt had crept in to my head over the years, and I viewed it as an enemy to be squelched. Like many of my fellow apostates, I've found a rejection of such dogmatic thinking to be liberating. A "universe from nothing", the way Krauss or Vilenkin talk about it, means that the observable universe came from some kind of quantum process, which embodies the closest to Nothing that we can get in science.
As long as I can grasp the concept, the precise language used isn't something I deem worth fussing over.
Why use the process of evolution at all, or wipe out over 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth (to say nothing of the fate of life elsewhere in the universe)? Among them, I was accepted and valued simply for being me; out "there", in "the world", I was an outcast. I studied the Bible intently and attended, at the peak of my involvement, five church events every week. They are, however, fraught with the same problems and challenges as any non-believer I've ever met. The question vexing physicists is whether the universe had to have come from something else, or if it could be enclosed, described entirely with the laws of mathematics. And that's just the problem with these theologians – they're so busy fussing over the semantics that they've lost sight of the broader concepts. I view doubt as a healthy part of skeptical inquiry rather than an obstacle to be overcome. And while we are not ready to declare that we know this to be the case, it is at least plausible that one or more such models could indeed described a self-contained universe. If the medium of mathematics is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate the universe?
Eventually, it would make sense; the evidence would become clear and the ambiguities resolved. I don't have to spend energy conjuring up rationalizations to plug the holes in my beliefs, and I don't have to make excuses for God when bad things happen to good people. It seemed like everything had fallen into place and, for the first time in my life, I was truly happy. Just as evolution showed that humans did not have to be designed with great care, so too do modern physics suggest that the universe may not have needed to be designed with great care.
After my deconversion, I spent the next nine years or so as an "agnostic theist", and became a full-blown atheist around 2008 – around the time when I read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.



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