Monday, April 16, 2012

Critical Thinking: Atheists VS Theists

Whenever there is discussions on theism (in this case, I will be talking mostly about Christianity) and atheism, the opposing parties tend to claim that the other side is irrational and subject to sloppy, uncritical thinking. In this blog post, I am going to go through a few critical thinking concepts and see how each side holds up. I am going to base my assessment off one of the best critical thinking book I have read, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” by Thomas Kida. The benefit of using this book is twofold. First, it doesn’t mention anything about atheism or religion to begin with (so there can't be claims of stacking the deck). Second, it highlights six main points, which means I don’t have to go through dozens of fallacies, etc. Basically, this will keep things relatively short and simple. The six “problems in thinking” that the book discusses are:
1 - We prefer stories to statistics.
2 - We seek to confirm, not question our ideas.
3 - We rarely appreciate the role of chance or coincidence.
4 - We sometimes misperceive the world.
5 - We tend to oversimplify our thinking.
6 - Our memories are often inaccurate.

1 - Are atheists or theists more likely to prefer stories to statistics? While both sides no doubt fall for this, when it comes to the topic at hand, theists dominate. This is most easily demonstrated with the belief in prayer. If you ask a theist for evidence of prayer, you will get a number of anecdotes.1 However, what you will not get is references to studies. This is not because studies haven't investigated prayer--quite the opposite. A number of studies have investigated prayer, but every well controlled, large scale study has shown prayer to have no effect. The most recent (and largest) of these studies was funded by the Templeton Foundation (a group that seeks to harmonize science and religion), so any attempt to claim that the study was run by atheists who somehow skewed the results is no good.

I can’t think of any example where atheists tend to prefer stories to statistics, at least in this context. For myself, I have been accused of being biased to the evidence simply because I prefer the statistics. So I think the clear winners (or losers?) are the theists.

2 - Next, we seek to confirm our ideas, rather than questioning them. While atheists are no doubt guilty of this (reading only one side of an argument, for example), theists blow the atheists out of the water. For example, the Talbot School of Theology has a statement of faith that proclaims, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.” Incredible! And Talbot is not the only school that has subscribes to such an idea. Likewise, the father of the creationist movement, Henry Morris, stated that “When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.” All creationist organizations would agree with both statements. 

Stating that your view is 100% true from the get go, and any appearance of it being wrong is an illusion is pretty incriminating. I can’t think of any atheist, atheist group or even science organization that dares to claim it is 100% right, and any appearance of being false is an illusion. Even Richard Dawkins stated that on a scale of 1 to 7 (in terms of certainty of God not existing), he was only a “6 but leaning towards 7.”2

So while seeking to confirm your view is no doubt a human problem, and isn’t specific to theism, the theists take it to a whole new level, and unashamedly at that.

3 - We rarely appreciate the role of chance or coincidence. Humans find patterns in randomness all the time, and it is the basis for most psudosciences like ESP and astrology. Penn Jillette has pointed out that an event that has a one in a million odds of occurring, happens six times a day in New York City! In terms of appreciating these sorts of odds, how do theists and atheists fare? Well, theist's belief in miracles tips the scales. Whenever you hear of “miracle” stories, they are almost always about something that was just too improbable to happen without the assistance of the divine. Unfortunately, these miracles (often medical) are only about things that have a small chance of happening anyway. Cancer (for example) sometimes goes into remission. It’s not common, but it does happen. I guarantee that almost everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer has had at least a few people pray for them. Of course, a large number of the cancer patients will not be so fortunate as to have the cancer go into remission. Of the lucky few who do, some may attribute their good fortune to the prayers of their friends and family. Of course, this is just a misunderstanding of statistics

The atheists, on the other hand, don’t have anything in particular that they misperceive as meaningful (in fact, they are often chided as NOT seeing things like improbable healings as meaningful). So again, the theists are the guilty party.

4 - Often, we misperceive our world. That is, we see things that aren’t there. Things like mass hysteria, hallucinations and the will to want to see something in particular are all areas of this problem. Where do theists fall in regards to these? We have to look no further than bleeding statues, faith healers and other supposed miracles. In the early 1900’s more than 10,000 people claimed to witness the sun jumping all over the sky. However, they were also told to stare at the sun (looking away will cause an after image, making it appear that the sun was moving), and reported it as a miracle. There are many stories of people wanting to see a miracle, and basically denying commonsense to hold on to the belief in it. 

If there is something similar that applies to atheists, I am not aware of it.

5 - Next, oversimplified thinking. This breaks down into a lot of areas surrounding how we are bombarded by information, which leads to either “analysis paralysis” or a false understanding of a situation. Unfortunately, as far as this discussion is concerned, none of that is relevant. And because of that, I can’t claim one party is more guilty than the other, so I am going to drop this one.

6 - Memories are not that great. Memories aren’t like a videotaped recording of what happened. They are so easily corrupted and influenced that it truly is amazing. Now, how does this relate to our topic? As for modern theists and atheists, it doesn’t so much. However, in the context of holy books, it is very relevant. The Christians believe that their holy texts are basically reliable. However, at least with the Gospels (the most important part!), they were written 30 to 70 years after the fact. And they weren’t written by eyewitnesses, or even friends of eyewitnesses. They were orally transmitted by friends of a friend of a friend of a friend, for decades, crossing over into a different language, before finally written down.3 Are we really to believe that these stories accurately reflect an event? You have to deny all of what science has taught us about how memories work in order for the gospel miracle stories to be even remotely believable.

As a close-up magician, it is truly amazing how much a trick can change in someone’s mind over the course of a few hours. Often times I would have someone come up to me, describe a trick their friend told them about (which I performed earlier), and want to see it. However, the trick described was not a trick I knew. As far as I could tell, was impossible! How much less accurate would the trick have been three decades later, being recalled by at least a fourth generation recipient of the story who speaks another language?

The fact that Christians have to base so much (all?) of their beliefs on things that are based on undoubtedly inaccurate memories means they take the cake for this final section. As far as I can tell, there is nothing regarding faulty memories that atheists would be necessarily prone to, or that they rely on.


Atheists win. Of course, I am biased and it is possible I have fallen for a confirmation bias, and can only recall examples of theists making mistakes in judgment and conveniently forgot examples of atheists doing such things. However, I have taken quite some time to write this post, racking my brain for relevant examples of atheists making one of these six mistakes in thinking. But if I have missed any, I hope someone will point it out!

Some people also might also deny my conclusions. To those who do, I ask “how do you explain other religions with similar beliefs?” For example, if prayer only really works for Catholics, why do Protestants, Mormons and even Muslims believe in it? And why is it that they all use the same rationale?

Ultimately, I think that if one truly wants to be a clear, honest and critical thinker, being religious is going to hold you back. As we can see, basically all of it rests on fallacious thinking.

1. When confronted with the results of a prayer study, Bob Barth (director of the Silent Unity prayer ministry) stated that "We've been praying a long time and we've seen prayer work, we know it works."
2. The God Delusion, pg. 50.
3. Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic, but the Gospels were originally written in Greek.


  1. Wrong, totally wrong. You know you believe in the flying spaghetti monster. Other than that massively important point, I see your arrogant point. Miss you!

  2. LOL! You will always know my dark secrets! Miss you and our chats too!

  3. Hey, it's Paul Wilson. I did enjoy reading your blog but I wanted to offer a few counterpoints if I may. Firstly I will say that I consider myself a Christian. On the same note I have been banned from most Christian churches for my beliefs. As I see it you are dead on about the bible, it is a bunch of scattered memories of events that may or may not have happened. I see the bible in a different light, in my opinion there are layers of truth in it but that it was an interperetation of something that actually happened. Just like the idea of most urban legends having a truth inside of them. I Believe in god not because of what a mystical book tells me nor a preacher, I beleace because of my own experiences and my own conclusions. I follow the law of occams razor all things being equal the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. There are so many religions in the world I cannot discount them all as dilution. It would make more sense that they would have a cause allbeit god or aliens or some form of mutation or powers that we have lost over time. I just cannot imagine a. We are all here by random chance. B. we are alone in the universe. It sounds kooky but hear me out. By odds themselves if we evolved from goo ion the planet then other cultures in other places did too. What is to say that who we believe as god isn't some other culture. More to the matter at hand I agree with most of what you are saying but I do. Not see any side as being right or wrong. Just imagine if no one had anything to believe in, both atheist and theists. People use god as an excuse for far too many things. We have used god for thousands of years as an ecuse to be crappy to each other. I have had many conversations with atheists and honestly I agree with a good part of what they all say. But in the reality of things my belief does not define me i define my beliefs. I think that's why most Christians get it wrong, blind faith is not ok. And there are ways to justify faith but for the most part I find most Christians nuts.

    Also sorry if it's hard to read I'm typing this on an iPad. (which I hate) I just wanted to say that I appreciate your blog and it makes good points but everyone deserves to believe in something, as a crhristian my job is not to berate you for your faith (contrary to popular oppinion) but I respect it I just think differently and as I see it there is no "winner" just people with opinions. And since perception is reality were both right :-p

    1. In topic 1. you state that there are studies to show that prayer is innefective. This seems to me a moot point since the Bible itself says "few are those who find the way". If only these few are praying effectivly, it probably won't show up on statistics. Prayer is something personal, and for me it is often effective.

      In 2. you state "Stating that your view is 100% true from the get go,..." in refernce to Henry Morris, but you know as well as I that he made those comments after years of study.
      Also, faith in God is something subject to evidence AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, atheism is mostly only subject to evidence, since you can't experience the absence of God.

      3. is true, but you are still making the common mistake of attributing man's flawed attempts at religion to that religion's correct message, or God, or the real evidence. Maybe it's just the title then Atheism vs. Theism. If your just talking about your everyday atheist vs theist, then in my experience, atheists tend to be more irrational than you give them credit for.

      4. You said in the beginning of your article that your talking mostly about christians. Well these "TV healers" and stuff are not christians, they are very fake. That would be like some atheist group starting some spirit energy healing on TV and calling them atheists when really they're just nuts.

      6. You do realize that we have earlier and more copies of new testament scripture than any other ancient text? 60 or 70 years after the fact is relatively an extremely short period of time. Yes, they might have been friends of those who wrote it, but not friends of friends, and there were plenty of people to correct any errors, yet nothing is found secular of religious to correct the new testament.

    2. Hi Oliver, thanks for the comments!

      1. Matthew 7:14 is not referring to prayer. But regardless, all that matters is the evidence. To quote the physicist Richard Feynman, “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.” Now, you can make all sorts of rationalizations and excuses, but these are the EXACT same reasons and excuses you hear from members of other religions, as well as psychics, fortune tellers, etc. “It doesn’t work while tested.” Or “God/the spirits can do what they want.” Imagine your doctor gave you some medicine, but told you “This is a personal thing, and it’s efficacy doesn’t show up in the research?” You would think he was nuts. I could also use the exact same logic, rationale and arguments to argue that a jar of peanut butter grants wishes. Basically, it just makes everything non-falsifiable. It’s “heads I win, tails you lose” sort of logic.

      Now, if you mean prayer is personal--meaning it’s sort of meditative and whatnot, fine. But as for the idea that petitionary or intercessory prayer has any effect… it just doesn’t. And all the excuses in the world can’t get around the fact that this is EXACTLY what atheism predicts.

      2. It is even worse that the Morris quote is from years of study. If one has studied something for years, they should be well aware of the intricacies of the issues. To quote Feynman again “I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and of many things I don't know anything about.” The idea of absolute certainty is the antithesis of science and learning. There is a reason we don’t see such absolute statements from science organizations. They are open to evidence and changing their minds, whereas people like Morris, are not. I mean, the fact that he devoted himself to a cause that even people like William Lane Craig call "hugely embarrassing... scientifically, it’s nonsense" should be revealing.

      3. Your underlying argument seems to be that if we observe the world and come to the conclusion that God does not exist, this is just mans flawed mistake of trying to understand religion. But if we happen to come to the conclusion that God does exist, THEN we are right, and haven’t made mistakes. You can’t have it both ways. We can either use our understanding to make judgments or we can’t. If we can’t, then we can’t make any statements about the truth of religion.

      Yes, there are tons of idiot atheists out there (such as the “Jesus was a myth” crowd). But atheist don’t tend to rely on a misunderstanding of statistics to validate their views (on God at least). If you think I am wrong, I would be very interested to see some examples.

      4. I never mentioned “TV healers.” Though, I agree that the big ones are definitely just hucksters taking advantage of desperate, superstitious people who DO believe in such things (that’s important). Heck, look at the Pentecostals and southern Baptists. They are all about the prayer healing sessions.

      6. Yes, I am very aware (New Testament history is actually one of my top 3 interests. I LOVE it!!). Now, are you familiar with Sathya Sai Baba? He was an Indian Guru that died a couple of years ago. Anyway, he was EXTREMELY popular (even with educated westerners with a new-age bent), had over a million people show up to his 80th bday party, did thousands of miracles, such as raising the dead, healing the sick, making fruit appear on trees, etc etc etc. There are millions of contemporary eye-witnesses. But no one cares. There hasn’t been one news Discovery channel special on him. Why? Why is it that when we have millions of contemporary eyewitnesses, it’s bogus? But when we take miracle stories that come from a time of zero scientific literacy and rampant superstition, and these stories were passed from person to person to person into a different language, and finally written down decades later… THEN the stories are credible? C’mon.

  4. Mankind makes no sense without God, we are obviously not just advanced mammals, atheists ignore obvious which we live with every day, they are wrong.

    1. Dkall, that is just an assertion... you need to make an argument. Otherwise, I could do the same thing: "Mankind makes no sense with God, we are obviously just advanced mammals. Theists ignore obvious evidence which we live with every day, and they are wrong." See?

      Also, please don't just come make random assertions/arguments on my blog. If you want to email me with something random, fine. But if you want to comment here, have something to say about the topic/argument I have written about.

  5. ATHEISM VS THEISM, CRITICAL THINKING. I'm talking about atheism making no sense. If it makes no sense then maybe your conclusion that atheists think more critically is wrong, I don't see how this is off topic.

    If you can't see what arguments that statement entails fine. Why are we so much different than all animals, and do things that suggest divine nature and a soul? We wear clothes, build things, get embarrassed, do artwork, read and write books etc etc., but most importantly we have morals that can't be explained by logic, survival of the fittest, ATHEISM, or any type of evolution that involves a change in species, ONE OR THE OTHER MUST BE TRUE.

    If this is off topic tell me which of you blogs is more appropriate, unless you don't have one and like to assert atheism and discredit theism in this roundabout way so you don't have to deal with any direct arguments against such a ridiculous idea as atheism.

    1. Okay, of the six aspects of critical thinking I addressed, which point would your comment relate to?

      I haven't written any blog posts about morality or the uniqueness of humans to other animals. Mostly, because I don't have anything unique to say about it. TONS of books by people much more qualified than I have been written about such things.

      But if you want to discuss it, feel free to email me (as it's clear that your comment has nothing to do with any of the 6 points I brought up).

  6. Yes my comment only has to do with the title of your blog, your right, what was I thinking!

    1. Your logic is weird.

      Imagine I read a blog post called "An Argument for Christianity", in which the content of the post is an argument for why we should believe the resurrection of Jesus. I go and write a response, not about the resurrection, but about how the mind is the product of the brain, and that causes problems for Christianity. The author then asks me to stay on topic, but I get all fussy because "my comment only has to do with the title of the blog." That would be absurd of me--but it is exactly what you are doing.

      This blog post is about six aspects of critical thinking, and addressing which group fails to use these critical thinking skills more often. There is nothing about accounting for morality, why we write books, etc. It's about six major critical thinking skills and a failure of people to use them.

      If you think I am wrong about one of my six points, please feel free to let me know.

  7. Moot point. Even if theists think less critically, when the best logical arguments from both sides meet, theism wins.

    And a question; how well known is "Don't Believe Everything You Think"?. I tried to look up publishing numbers and couldn't find anything.

    Lastly, do you really equate belief in God with belief in the spaghetti monster? or were you just joking with your friend?

    1. Hi Oliver,

      Pay attention to what you just did here. You first argued that my points were no good, but when I rebutted your points, you then came back to say that it didn't matter anyway. If it didn't matter, why argue the points to begin with? I think you are just switching gears, and trying a different line of argument, since your first attempt failed.

      Regardless, your second line of argument is also insufficient. Your first point fails logically and empirically. Logically, it is an extreme case of special pleading to say that even though theists think less critically, they have the best logical arguments. Can you think of any other example in which the side that is the least logical has the most logical arguments? I don't think you can.

      Empirically speaking, only 14% of philosophers and 7% of members of the National Academy of Science believe in God.

      So it is not even close to true that theism has the best arguments. If it did, the VAST majority of scientists and philosophers wouldn't be atheists.

      You then have people like Keith Parsons (a philosopher of religion) who gave up the field, as it is so obvious that theism is wrong, that there is no more work to do.

      Though, if there is some specific argument you find particularly convincing, feel free to ask me about it. But first, ask yourself, was the argument convincing before or after you already believed in God? The answer, every time, is that it was only convincing once you already believed in God.

      I'm not sure about the publishing numbers of the book. I can't imagine it's that high, as books on critical thinking aren't generally very popular.

      As for the FSM, I don't really ever use it as a debating point. I tend to use my own parody, a moldy jar of peanut butter in my pantry. But I tend to use it to just explain why certain ideas are non-falsifiable, and it isn't limited to theism.

  8. Actually my first attempt didn't fail, I was just pointing out that your points are irrelevant ANYWAY.

    1. Yes, your first attempt failed quite spectacularly. If, for some reason, I hadn't been able to refute your points, you never would have said they were irrelevant. You are just back tracking.

      It also doesn't explain why you would take the time to write the points out to begin with. Can you think of any other example of an argument made, in which someone responds with points that are no way relevant to the argument?

      But more importantly (so you say), the "relevant" points also failed. You also forgot to give me an example of a viewpoint that is the least logical proponents, but has the most logical arguments. As I said before, I don't think you can--and you are special pleading.

  9. And you didn't answer my other two questions about the book, and the spaghetti monster. Is this your way of ignoring things that make you or your ridiculous arguments look bad? I think so.

    14% philosophers and 7% scientists sounds about right to me since the fields are bias to begin with, so that argument FAILS.

    1. Yes I did. Read the last two paragraphs of the response in question. Your failure to read my responses does not mean I am ignoring your points.

      Your points about philosophers and scientists is a flat out assertion with zero supporting evidence. That's not an argument. And with that, you are creating a non-falsifiable situation in which there is nothing that can show you to be wrong. Dangerous stuff my friend.

  10. It's a possible explanation for those statistics which means that you have proven nothing.

    1. A possible explanation is not enough, it needs to be probable. It's also possible that space aliens came down, possessed the people taking the survey, and answered the way they (the aliens) wanted.

      So again, what is the reason you think that is a probable explanation? What evidence do you have? And if the surveys said the opposite, would you also agree that it was because science is apparently biased? Or are you only make your argument because you don't like what the evidence says?

  11. Well your original assertion that those statistics are a result of atheism having better arguments is merely a possibility as well.

    1. My interpretation is a very good possibility, since the people most familiar with the arguments are philosophers, and the people most familiar with nature are scientists.

      What evidence/argument do you have that shows my interpretation to be less likely than yours?

      And more importantly, the percentages about the scientists and philosophers was in regards to your comment that "when the best logical arguments from both sides meet, theism wins." Clearly, you are wrong about that. Sure, you can claim bias, but then what standard are you using? If the VAST majority of philosophers agree that the arguments for theism are bad, then who or what are you referring to when you say that "theism wins"? Christians? Now THAT would be a bias.

      Can you HONESTLY say that philosophers are not familiar with philosophical arguments, and anytime they disagree with you, it's because they are biased? How is that not special pleading?

  12. ...and the media isn't bias either right? How about you submit your own thoughts instead of just pointing out what others believe.

    1. The media isn't the scientific establishment. The media tries to get ratings, scientists try to get breakthroughs. Also, peer review eliminates much bias.

      I do have my own thoughts (that is what my entire blog is). But if the majority of scientists and philosophers did believe in God, you wouldn't be making this argument. Hence me saying you are creating a non-falsifiable situation.

  13. To your first point, prayer is not something that can be studied for effectiveness. Prayer, by definition is a conversation with God... and asking for things isn't (or shouldn't be) even the most important part of it.

    And because God is another person with a will of his own, there is never any guarantee that he will grant certain request even half of the time. It all depends on your relationship with him, what you are asking for, and how it lines up with his own will/agenda.

    Likewise, if we conducted a study of random people asking my wife for all kinds of things... to see if asking was effective... we could not conclude that it is ineffective just because 50% or more did not get what they wanted. Because I... who know here well and am familiar with her own motivations... I won't ask for things that I know she won't agree to. And because of our close relationship, she is more likely to grant me what I ask for than she would with some random stranger.

    So prayer studies are invalid from the get go, because by necessity they treat prayer as though it is somehow magic... that it either works or doesn't work. Like rubbing a lamp and making a wish, etc. etc.

    If you conduct a study based on a false concept of what prayer is, then your conclusions will be invalid no matter what you find.

    And I will say that atheists rely on anecdotes ALL THE TIME. In my experience, over half of the arguments against theism take the form of anecdotes. These preists did such and such. What about these natural disasters? Here is the story of how life appeared for the first time (without any reliable evidence in support) and God was not necessary for it.

    Often times I get so frustrated because I will quote stats, scientific journals, historical scholarship, etc. to make an argument... and the response will be to side-step all of it and shoot back some with some stupid meme or an anecdote that is a complete change of subject.

    So I definitely think your suffering from some conformation bias on this one, because I have no problems finding numerous examples of each of these things coming from the atheist side of the aisle.

    1. Hi Brian, thanks for the comments!

      It’s a very common dodge for theists to claim that pray can’t be studied. On the contrary, it can, and has been. The only reason people claim it can’t, is because they are looking for a rationalization of the evidence. If the evidence was in your favor, I am quite sure you would be signing a different tune. But seeing as the evidence is what it is, I hear rationalizations like yours all the time, “God isn’t a genie who grants wishes”, “God isn’t a gumball machine that you can give a quarter and get a treat", etc. The problem with these rationalizations is twofold: first, you can make the exact same argument about literally anything. “Wish upon a star, did your wish come true? If not, it’s because the star doesn’t have to grant your wishes.” This logic renders prayer non-falsifiable, and literally superstition.

      Secondly, rationalizations or not, these results are EXACTLY what we would expect with atheism. It is exactly what atheism predicts.

      Also, prayers don’t have to work every time (or even 50% of the time). They just have to work more often than the control group of people not prayed for. Seeing as they don’t, there is no reason to think they have any effect whatsoever.

      Anyway, I do find it ironic that you expressed annoyance of presenting scientific stats, only for atheists to side-step it, when that is literally exactly what you did with regards to the scientific data around prayer.

      I am also not sure how pointing out naughty priests is an example of anecdotes, if they are well documented. Now, if the argument was “religion is bad because my friend told me about this priest from his hometown who molested a kid”, then sure. But when the argument is “Catholicism is bad, because there is enormous evidence of the church systematically hide child abusing priests”, that is a bit different.

      Natural disaster things are just examples of deductive arguments. God is supposedly all good and all powerful, so every natural disaster that happens needlessly is evidence against such a being. But for sake of argument, let’s say you are right, and all the natural disaster stuff is anecdotal. The problem is that that is offset by religious people saying that ever good thing is a miracle, or work of God. “Look at that hurricane, it destroyed so many people’s lives… how could there be a God?” asked the atheist. But then the theist responds with “but that baby who was ripped from its mother’s arms and landed in a bush survived. God truly is wonderful!”

      Though, if the people you are talking to are responding with memes… I would suggest talking to other people. High school kids definitely won’t give you the level of conversation you are surely looking for.

    2. Haha! If only meme-based arguments were limited to high schoolers. The fact is, I don't really talk to many high school atheists, because they just get overwhelmed and frustrated. They're not sure how to respond to arguments they weren't yet familiar with, and it's just easier to bail, with some parting clever comment.

      No, everyone I debate with is at least in college, if not graduated. And most of those are in scientific fields. My most frequent debate partner is a chemical engineer at UC Santa Barbara.

      ...and yet I see no lack of memes, or pot shot responses that are inspired by them.

      ----SECONDLY, calling my argument regarding prayer a "common dodge" doesn't demonstrate that my argument is invalid.

      Yes, these stats on prayer are exactly what an atheist would expect to see. My argument is that these are also what I, as a THEIST, would expect to see. And if there were a study done that showed some sort of positive correlation, I would be suspicious of that as well.

      Prayer should not be expected to "work" within any given group or population. It is a misconception of what prayer is, and therefore any such studies would be based on a misconception.

      The Wiki on "Studies on Intercessory Prayer" says this:

      "Some religions claim that praying for somebody who is sick can have positive effects on the health of the person being prayed for. Adherents of those religions 'believe' that prayer, like forgiveness, has a positive effect on the health and well-being of the person doing the prayer or forgiveness."

      That is just plain WRONG. Some people/religions may claim that, but it is not a biblical picture of what prayer is. Prayer is a conversation with God, in which you may ask for things... which he may or may not grant. There is nothing in the Bible that promises any "effects."

      You say it only needs to work more often for the group being prayed for, as opposed to the control group. But how do you know that the control group isn't being prayed for?

      Is there a way to insure that nobody anywhere is praying for people in the control group? No, only that there is nobody praying for them within the study. But that's not good enough. You have to actually INSURE that there was NO prayer for the people in the control group. The control is fundamentally compromised, and by extension, the whole study.

      These are legitimate points regarding key flaws in such studies. Dismiss them as "common dodges" if you like. But that will only confirm that there is no reasoned defeater to these objections.

      BTW, The wiki also says that "...there are relatively few carefully monitored studies of the subject [of intercessory prayer] and the field remains tiny..."

      I'm just sayin'... :)

    3. ----LASTLY, you say I ironically side-stepped your stats on prayer... just as I complained my atheist friends do.

      On the contrary, I gave you a reasoned exposition on the nature of prayer, and why studies fail to properly account for that. Is that side-stepping?

      Did I shoot you a meme, fling some insult at you, or make some comment about atheists lacking in common sense or reason... as so many often do on both sides of the aisle?

      No. I gave a well-reasoned, thoughtful response... that I think merited a reasoned, thoughtful rebuttal. But instead you dismiss my arguments as "common dodges" and "side-stepping."

      If you have many readers here who are Christians, or who are undecided. But if they're reading these comments, you could have lost a small amount of credibility with your last response.

      Deal with the content of peoples arguments. Don't assume that everyone on the internet is simply hitting you with some stupid talking points. I get frustrated with idiots on the other side to... but when I let that direct my responses I merely discredit myself.

      There are intelligent, thinking people on both sides of the debate, and if you want to seem like one of them, then you're going to have engage rather than dismiss/put down what people are saying.

    4. You’re right, saying your argument is a dodge doesn’t make it wrong, but it is a pretty good indicator. I get literally that exact same sort of response to anything supernatural I discuss with people (and even non supernatural things, like homeopathy and dousing). I have talked to Christians, as well as Mormons, Muslims and Jews about prayer, and they say literally the exact same things you do. I also have had discussions with New Agers, Reiki healers and wiccans. Just like with your prayer, their magical beliefs are not expected to work all the time or when studied. I am told, "The forces that control such things aren't like laws of nature." I once challenged some witches to a “magic-off” (I do close up card magic), in which I would float a table, and change the color of a card, and then they would then do something that is supposedly *real* magic. Of course, the spirits didn’t care for my skepticism, and the witches were unable to do their magic. “You can’t just expect the spirits to do anything you want”, they told me. Ah, of course.

      Likewise, there are TONS of arguments by parapsychologists as to why it is that when you add more controls to a research study designed to find psychic powers, the less the effects show up. There are explanations as to why all the evidence that 9-11 was an inside job is covered up. There are very clever arguments on why we have never found a chupacabra or big foot, and why aliens abductions always evade our cameras. Likewise, there are arguments as to why there is no objective evidence for prayer.

      Your view of what is Biblical is your view. But of course you know that tons of Christians disagree with you, and can cite all sorts of verses for why they are right. A quick google search brings up dozens of verses, such as John 15:6, Mark 1:24. 1 John 3:22, John 12:23-24 and Matthew 18:19. All of which seem to make it pretty clear that if you pray, your prayers will be answered. Plus, as my original point was, if you just ask people about answered prayers, you will get all sorts of responses regarding how this or that prayer was answered.

      You are right, it’s pretty much impossible for someone to assure someone is not being prayed for. This is a limitation of such studies. Yet, people of every religious group on earth (who believe in prayer), thinks that it works for them. Why do you think that is? Is it because of confirmation bias and intermittent reinforcement, or is God answering all of the prayers from different religions? If there is no way to discern if it works or not, why would anyone (especially you) believe it does? The answer “personal experience” proves my original point: stories over stats.

      An explanation comes with testable, positive predictions. Your explanation is just saying “here is a reason we won’t find evidence.” It’s no better an explanation than why we can never quite find good evidence of psychic powers. It would be like me saying “I have a dragon in my garage… but you can’t see it, cause it’s invisible. Look! You can’t see it, and my prediction is confirmed!” and then insisting that I have given you a well-reasoned, thoughtful response on the nature of dragons. Or here is a case you can see for yourself:
      James Hydrick claims he can move pages of a phone book with his mind. However, when controls are put in place (styrafoam bits, to ensure he isn’t just blowing the pages), he can’t do it. He gives an explanation that “the Styrofoam and the lights forms electricity which pulls the page down, instead of freeing the pages.” A nice, well-reasoned argument… which is a complete and obvious dodge.

      Anyway, I don’t mean to write so much about this—I just want you to understand that your well-reasoned arguments look identical to all the other supposedly well-reasoned arguments that people make when defending literally every other supernatural claim out there. I apologize if the term “dodge” (which I used, rather than “excuse”) is offensive in any way, but it’s extremely clear that that’s what it is.

    5. Also, I agree that there are a lot of idiots, as well as smart people on both sides of the debate (though I suspect more idiots haha).

      Also, sorry that it was non-high school kids who respond with memes. I guess I can't say I am all that surprised. Internet atheists are not a group that I would ever want to identify with. Even atheist "groups" in general are pretty disappointing (in regards to how they tend to go about engaging with others), and as such, I don't want anything to do with them.

  14. Shouldn't your title be AtheistS vs TheistS instead of Atheism vs Theism since your entire article is about atheists and theists and their tendencies. Oh sorry, I forgot that atheism itself is ridiculous and it is easier to attack the people of theism rather than the idea itself.

  15. Hmmm, that is a very small issue, but I think you're right. I will change it.

    I "attack" theism in other posts (as you are well aware), so your second point is at best disingenuous, and at worst a flat-out lie. Such behavior makes attacking theists VERY easy.

  16. No what's disingenuous is that you attack theists in the name of attacking theism because your arguments against the ideology itself in other posts don't hold up. It's also disingenuous when you call someone disingenuous when they see past your cheap tricks. It's also very revealing that you form your opinions on ideologies and their merits based on the thoughts of random people who have no clue about the core of the arguments relating to the ideology. What's easy to attack is atheism which rests on the long standing hypothesis of evolution.

  17. That's a good argument but why is your hair so long?

  18. Oh sorry! forgot you were getting "that operation" done, well congratulations you look fantastic.