Interesting/revealing thought exercises

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AccretedMinutiae's picture
Interesting/revealing thought exercises

I was wondering if anyone had come across or developed any particular thought-exercises that relayed particular points, or drove home particular concepts to theistic debate opponents.

As an example, in debating against someone who adamantly argued that atheism was necessarily a "learned" trait, I framed up a simple scenario that had him sputtering and dodging in every reply he made after that went something like:

Let's say we somehow gather up all religious texts and hide them completely away, and the next coming generation of children we guide in absolutely no way theistically. We don't inform them or deny them the idea of god, we don't give them any instruction as to our origins, etc. How many of those children do you think could possibly come to all the same conclusions as exist in Christianity and The Bible as the truth? And then think about how many would be atheists.

There was basically nothing coherent that could be said in retort. It was all too obvious what would happen when you stopped to think in those terms. Zero children under those conditions could even possibly dream up Christianity, and a good deal of them would very easily lack belief in any sort of god concept - handily displaying that it is most certainly theism of any stripe that is the "learned" trait. This could obviously work for any "revealed" religion, or any religions that have a canon of specific textual/spoken data as their core doctrine from which to teach.

Anyway - was thinking it would be great to have more of these under my belt, and figured I'd ask and start by sharing one.

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Alembé's picture
Hi AM,

Hi AM,

That experiment you describe has essentially been performed in China during the 60s and 70s. For a number of years I worked with a very good scientist from the PRC. She grew up with no knowledge of religion. Here in the U.S., some of her christian friends were trying to evangelize her and gave her some scriptures to read. She came to me and said, "What is all of this? It does not make any sense." She did not convert.

Cognostic's picture
And while many social

And while many social conventions were lost, ancestor worship and belief in spirits and ghosts continues to be quite strong in China. "Despite Communist rule since 1949, China has maintained its vibrant spirituality and religiosity for the past 7 decades."

LogicFTW's picture
@Orignal Post by

@Orignal Post by AccretedMinutiae
One that comes to mind for me is one I developed for the "conception" soul debate. Which I have wrote several times on these boards usually in relation the abortion debate. (Many theist define human life beginning at "conception.")

Basically most theist would say "human life/soul" begins at "conception."

I ask them when is that exactly? They almost always respond "when the first sperm successfully enters the egg."

Then I point out the major issues with that. One of the major ones I usually bring up: that the transfer and pairing up of new dna for a new person is not an instant process but instead one that takes several hours. (So when is the moment of conception now with that knowledge?) Did we comprehend the "moment of conception wrong" or did god get it wrong? If we misinterpreted "god's" direction on this, what else may have we misinterpreted, seeing how we got the time of when a human is a human wrong?

Then I bring up the "twins" issue. Identical twins (or triplets etc) can take as long as 4 days to develop after initial sperm successfully entering the egg. When does the twin become a human person? When does the twin have a soul? Is it when the "younger" twin splits off from the initial cell grouping? So how does that work if its not at the moment of "conception" but potentially days later, is it a new "conception" except this time it is not when sperm reaches egg but instead when a group of cells split of the original? What if the first initial "older" twin dies of natural causes a few days later ("god's will" as theist like to say.)

With all this ambiguity about "when" the soul enters and a fertilized cell is supposedly full on human now, how can people make a rational decision on when is a fertilized cell actually contain a soul and is a human being? That solid black line theist love so much suddenly got real blurry. Can anyone truly rationalize that the day after pill is murder of very young human being(s)? When the window for fertilization and twin development is so wide open over several days?

Lots of theist at this point like to say well: "god is omniscient" and knows if their will be twins or not and two or more souls will be present at moment of conception, both sharing the same cellular group until the cells split off. Of course they only dig their own hole deeper. So for every identical twin/triplet/etc there is a time that "older" of the twins actually had two souls or more? Is it fair to still say a group of cells that has two souls is still a person like you and me during that time? Can you call a group of cells a human being while it has two souls?

Also there is the whole thing that 30-60 percent of all fertilized eggs do not make it to healthy birth. Did all those eggs have a soul injected in them by god? Even if god supposedly knew those souls will never make it? Remember, we are talking 10's of BILLIONS of souls here! Why would god inject a soul into a fertilized egg knowing that soul will only last a few hours, completely and utterly devoid of any possible feeling or thought or senses? With many times the mother not even realizing she ever even had a new "soul" /zygote within her?

What possible purpose would it serve this god that supposedly is involved in each and every human life have in injecting souls into something it knows will die usually within hours? And supposedly this god also knows if a baby is going to be aborted because it supposed to know everything, why would it put a "soul" in a baby that it knows will be aborted a few weeks later?

I could further explain and give more issues, but this post is already way too long.


I am an atheist that always likes a good debate
Please include @LogicFTW for responses to me
Tips on forum use. ▮ A.R. Member since 2016.

LogicFTW's picture
Another one, shorter one! I

Another one, shorter one! I promise!

One I been giving lots of thought to is:

To many atheist it is abundantly clear that "god" is a human concept made up by other people, and the likelihood for a god as described by any major religion existing exactly how the various religions describe "god" roughly on par with the odds that we will see the sun rise from the west tomorrow instead of the east.

Taking this knowledge, that so many billions of people got this huge, central, to so many people's lives concept completely wrong, what other major widely held beliefs/concepts have we gotten wrong that we are not yet aware of?

At one point not too long ago in human history most everyone accepted slavery, but later we all thankfully increasingly saw the error in this, from the logic of simple self preservation, that: "might makes right" is not the best way to advance human civilization and insure self preservation for each of us, because we will all likely face a time when someone mightier and equipped with the element of surprise could easily make us slaves or worse.

Cognostic's picture
OP: I don't think your

OP: I don't think your position holds water.
"How many of those children do you think could possibly come to all the same conclusions as exist in Christianity and The Bible as the truth?"

God would reveal himself and the truth would not be lost. (You can not prove anything would be different and they obviously can not prove things would be the same.) In short - lame argument. Any theist worth his shit could tie you in knots.

It's best to know the most common apologetics and the fallacies they are based on. I won't go into them here. But one by one fallacious positions can be pointed out. What is primarily important when dealing with a person of faith is that when you debunk a position they have tried to make, you get them to admit it. Do not let them bounce from topic to topic like we are allowing AJ777 on this site. Pin them down each time on the point they are attempting to make and hold their feet to the fire until they Admit their error.

AJ777 asserts that Atheists have a set of shared beliefs, a world view. He is obviously wrong and has actively avoided responding to my request for him to list those shared beliefs over 20 times now. Everyone knows he is avoiding the question. Everyone knows he is talking out his butt. Everyone knows he is making assertions that he can not defend. Everyone knows he is obviously WRONG. Everyone that is .... but him. His ignorance and inflated ego will not allow him to admit that he has made a mistake in his assessment of atheism. Atheism is a single response to the proposition that god or gods exist. And nothing more! Only by holding their feet to the fire can you make them look completely foolish. Stay on topic. Do not let them slime their way off of a point. Give them an inch and they, will, run from reality.

AccretedMinutiae's picture
"OP: I don't think your

Cognostic "OP: I don't think your position holds water."

I've thought about that rebuttal, and obviously there is no getting around the theist coming back with that sort of "magical" reply no matter what you do. As far as I have seen, there's always a comeback. And when cornered and out of sufficient "ammunition", a theist will always turn to "magic"... always.

But my thought experiment isn't entirely to get the theist focused on a "world without Christianity" - it's also meant to get them to understand that "atheism" is a much more simple concept, with much more fundamental roots than they may have thought about before. What is the person fed no knowledge of god(s) expected to believe? Pair this with the fact that people in other countries, raised within other religious cultures, hold the beliefs of those around them an extremely high percentage of the time, and I feel its a formula for at least some understanding.

As far as getting around the "magic" rebuttals... honestly, one of the only promising things I've seen is the "Street Epistemology" method... whereby the "debater" basically keeps their intent a secret, doesn't actively target their "opponent's" beliefs, but instead targets the other conversant's methods of coming to conclusions. Never openly challenge god, or any supernatural belief (the sore subjects), but instead get them to question how it is they came to obtain certain pieces of knowledge - an area most people aren't even entirely familiar with, and so aren't as defensive about. And even then, the believer will still usually walk away with their belief intact, and perhaps only thinking about some things a bit more openly, or being only slightly more willing to question.

AccretedMinutiae's picture
Here's another one I used

Here's another one I used with someone who insisted that our inability to obtain 100% certainty about anything basically meant that no one should be challenged on anything they believed or wanted to believe, and that all beliefs should garner just about the same amounts of respect - including, of course, beliefs in god/deity:

In some areas, we all feel we have enough knowledge to rule on the relative correctness or falsity of a statement. For example, my children may come to me worried that there are monsters that come out in the dark when I turn off their bedroom light. With years of experience on the Earth, we can attest to them that we have never once seen a "monster" materialize out of the darkness of the bedroom. And we can then ask them if they have ever seen such a thing, appealing to this same understanding that we employ. Year after year - no monsters have ever come out of the dark. It becomes something one can pretty much rely upon, and we become "experts" in the area of knowledge concerning the darkness in our own bedrooms. Who else can claim to be an expert in that area of knowledge? No one! There is not one person with higher knowledge about the darkness of your bedroom than you have personally. And so it is with a lot of things. Thousands upon thousands of things for each of us. They are things we take for granted, but have come to through direct observations, consistent recording of data, and greater and greater understanding of what is possible as concerns the laws governing reality, and the ability to confidently rule things out that do not conform to those laws, let alone present themselves.

But what if, when your child came to you about monsters materializing out of the darkness, you instead told them emphatically that there were such monsters? You would, of course, have to admit to them that you do not have sufficient proof of the monsters, and that you've never seen them yourself, but you could easily reply with the old "just because we do not have sufficient evidence does not mean that the monsters don't exist." And this is, of course, very much like the claim that a "god" exists. I would posit that "god" is just as arbitrary an idea as "darkness-dwelling-monsters." And there is the same caliber of evidence for either.

arakish's picture
one of the better things to

one of the better things to do is force theists to go to a secular university and get a degree in a physical science. Studying such things and the reports one has to write forces them to think critically, use logical and deductive reasoning, and rational and analytical thought. Something theists are never taught to use.


Rohan M.'s picture
But remember that they have a

But remember that they have a persecution complex... the churches would love it...

Rohan M.'s picture
If they use an argument that

If they use an argument that appears circular (e.g. Transcendental argument, Ontological argument, Resurrection argument, Pascal's Wager, etc.), then simply apply Rohan's razor to it:

Any religious argument that is structured in such a way that it requires one to already believe in a particular God(s) and see everything through the lens of a particular faith to begin with in order to appear even remotely sound (and thus exists merely to reinforce rather than actually convince) requires no further serious consideration, and is deemed to automatically fall flat.

AccretedMinutiae's picture
One last one that I've got,

One last one that I've got, regarding the existence of a soul/afterlife - just a simple question that gets someone thinking about the value of evidence and how useless it can be to just take everything for granted:

"Knowing that the only things we have ever witnessed that can provide sensory data (sight/smell/hearing/touch), are necessarily physical objects and systems (eyes/nose/ear/nerves), by what methods does a soul perceive the universe around it?"

It just gets people to stop and think about all of the things they automatically assign to a "soul" in their mind, and what a stretch of the imagination it takes to even get to what we may consider the most mundane of concerns - like perception itself. You have to first grant the soul some special mechanisms or "magic" in order to afford such perception, and not only are they believing in this possibly imaginary construct - but they have to also believe in all the things that go with it to support all their ridiculous assumptions about it - none of which can they possibly have any realistic basis for.

CHK-C's picture
I was born and raised in a

I was born and raised in a non-religious family. When I first learned about the teachings of the Bible in elementary school, I found it utterly unbelievable and stupid.

arakish's picture


I was almost the same way. My father was atheist, yet indifferent, while me mom was die-hard Religious Absolutist. She was brought in the heart of the Baptist Bible Belt. My mom caught me reading cereal box labels when I was 3 and began using the Bible to teach me how to read the summer I turned 4. Even then I did not believe the Bible or Christianity. Two months after turning 5 and being forced to go to church, Star Trek: The Original Series premiered on TV. It was Mr. Spock that grounded me to help prevent those vicious savages from converting me. I'll leave it there since I can get quite verbose about my childhood Christian experience.


David Killens's picture
Algebe's picture
Take a group of babies from

Take a group of babies from Christian families and place them with Muslim families, and vice versa. How many of those children would revert to the religions of their biological parents?

Or if you're feeling kind, put all the Christian and Muslim babies with atheist foster parents and consider how many would seek out religion of their own accord.

My guess is that the formation of deep religious beliefs occurs around the same time as potty training. Coincidence?

Cognostic's picture
OP: Put simply.... You are

OP: Put simply.... You are trying way to hard. The Theist will lose each and every time you have him or her clearly define what is meant by God or spirit. All definitions are vacuous and without content or meaning. The God is either self contradictory and therefore can not logically exist or is so amorphus that it does not matter if it exists or not.

AccretedMinutiae's picture
@Cognostic - I agree with you

@Cognostic - I agree with you wholeheartedly that theists are at a loss when you ask them to clearly define, and ultimately to demonstrate or prove out their god concept. I get it... but going about things as directly as you proposed and then claiming a "win" probably hasn't really accomplished anything. With tactics like those, l too often simply see theists dig-in and entrench themselves even further, and basically saying that you're not proving anything either way so they don't have to listen to you. In my experience, they are more likely to feel the reality of a defeat to their ideas if you get them to think something through for themselves and they ultimately have to concede some point or another, lest they contradict themselves or mutually-accepted realities.

Cognostic's picture
No one needs to claim a "WIN.

No one needs to claim a "WIN." What is there to win? The theist, quite simply, has not met their burden of proof. It's not about winning, it is about clarification and justification for the belief. If the theist can not do that, then what in the hell are we talking about? I work with theists, one is actually a preacher, I tell them, "Don't give me facts, arguments or evidence for your beliefs. They are not actually grounded on anything. Simply tell me that you believe because you want to believe no matter what the evidence and I will agree with you. Your personal experience is your own. You can believe because of it but it is not a reason for me to believe." I have been around these guys six years. They are dug in, entrenched, and they will not alter their beliefs. They do not have to listen to me. When they do make some assertion I simply ask how they know it?

"Let's say we somehow gather up all religious texts and hide them completely away, and the next coming generation of children we guide in absolutely no way theistically. We don't inform them or deny them the idea of god, we don't give them any instruction as to our origins, etc. How many of those children do you think could possibly come to all the same conclusions as exist in Christianity and The Bible as the truth? And then think about how many would be atheists."

Response: "They would not be atheists, God would reveal it to them just like he revealed it to Paul." End of discussion.

You are giving the Christian ammunition. It is up to them to prove the bible is the word of god and not you to disprove it is the word of god. You are working too hard.

David Killens's picture
Cognostic's picture
David Killens: I love videos

David Killens: I love videos like this. I don't know why. They just get right to the core of things.

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