• Phil Tanny
    We might compare the "does God exist" debate to a children’s merry-go-round.

    A merry-go-round creates the compelling illusion of movement with entertaining blinking lights and carnival music, but upon closer inspection we see that the merry-go-round is actually traveling eternally round and round in a very small circle. That is, it’s going nowhere.

    We can see the God debate merry-go-round to nowhere in action through a process of reason which presents the very same challenge in an even handed manner to both theism and atheism.

    Challenging Theism:

    A theist might say something like, “It very clearly says ABC in the Book of XYZ of the Holy Book, so that settles the matter.” An atheist can reasonably ask in reply, “Where is the proof that the Holy Book is qualified to deliver credible answers on the subject of ABC?” This is easy, right?


    Observe what is happening here. Instead of arguing against the specific assertion itself, the atheist is moving up a level and challenging the assumption the assertion is based upon (that the holy book is the word of an all powerful supernatural entity and is thus credible). This is the most efficient way to proceed, because if the theist can not prove the qualifications of their chosen authority then there is no need to debate each and every doctrine which arises from that authority. All assertions which are derived from an unproven authority can be discarded in a single sweep of the hand.

    Challenging Atheism:

    Now let’s do the very same thing with atheist assertions.

    The atheist says something like, “God is not logical, there is no evidence, the concept violates the rules of reason, therefore it can’t be true, and so on.” And so we should reasonably ask in reply…


    Where is the proof that rules of human reason created by a single half insane species on a single planet in one of billions of galaxies are binding upon everything everywhere in all of reality, and thus upon any Gods proposed to be contained within?

    That is, just as we challenged the qualifications of the chosen authority of the theist, we now challenge the qualifications of the chosen authority of the atheist. We challenged the theist's belief in the qualifications of their holy book, and challenged the atheist's belief in the qualifications of human reason. It's exactly the same process in both cases, leading to the same result, an efficient dismissal of all arguments which are built upon an unproven foundation.

    Intellectual Honesty

    If we apply our challenge fairly in an even handed manner to all parties to the debate, that is, if we're intellectual honest, no party will be able to meet the challenge, because no party can prove the qualifications of their chosen authority to credibly address the very largest of questions.

    Sure, reason is useful for too many tasks to begin to list, and holy books have provided comfort and meaning to billions of people over thousands of years. These are impressive accomplishments in both cases, but neither of these achievements at human scale demonstrate that either reason or holy books are qualified to deliver credible answers on the very largest of questions regarding the most fundamental nature of all of reality, which is typically the scope of God claims and counter claims.


    The point here is that all assertions derived from sources whose qualifications are unproven can be discarded. Instead of going endlessly round and round to nowhere on the God debate merry-go-round for centuries, we have the option to get off the merry-go-round, and resolve the God debate in just minutes.

    All it takes is intellectual honesty, a willingness to subject both the theist and atheist positions to the very same challenge.

    Now What?

    What happens next is that the entire God debate collapses under it’s own bloated weight. This is bad news for those who have a cherished collection of memorized clever arguments that they wish to display. It's super bad news for those who make their living selling such arguments. But it’s good news for anyone conducting a sincere investigation because now a huge pile of pointless distractions are swept off the table, making room for a new inquiry.

    If a person comes to see the God debate this way and thus sets the God debate aside, what’s next? Where can that person go from there? If they are no longer a theist, atheist, or agnostic, if they choose to no longer be part of the God debate system, who are they then?

    What such a person can chose to do is set aside the faith based ideologies of theism and atheism, and become a person of reason. (Yes, I know, the atheist typically sincerely believes that they are a person of reason, but really they just have faith in a different unproven authority than the theist.)

    A Renewed Investigation

    What a person of reason might do is ask the question, why did this God business arise in the first place? What human need gave rise to a belief in Gods, and the desire to debunk such beliefs as well? A person of reason might climb down off the God debate merry-go-round to nowhere, stand back and ask, why did we build this merry-go-round?

    Such a person of reason might conclude that 1) if we can identify the need that drove us to build the God debate merry-go-round, and 2) if we can meet that need somehow, then 3) we will have actually resolved the issue at it’s root, even though we haven’t arrived at a credible answer in regards to the possible existence of Gods.

    If a group of hungry children are demanding “where can we find food, where can we find food???” and we gave them a plate of food, their questions fade away. We haven’t answered their question, but we've resolved the problem.

    And so a fresh investigation starts again with nothing. All we have is our mutual ignorance, and our mutual interest. The investigation need not end, but it is now based upon reality instead of fantasy knowings. Now it's based on reason instead of ideology. Isn’t this where philosophers should be trying to go??

    Let's not waste our time challenging assertions within the God debate. We should instead challenge the God debate itself. We can observe the rotting carcass of the endlessly repetitive God debate fall and die, and watch as new green shoots of life spring up out of the ground to take it’s place.

    If you're still interested, we can continue this investigation of An Alternative To The God Debate on the next page.


  • Luis Razo Bravo
    Thank you for posting this. I think you are right, although I'm not 100% convinced that you've represented the atheist position to the satisfaction of atheists.

    In any case, I would argue that what has given rise to the need for religion, from a fundamental physical perspective, is the principle of least action. One of the world's leading physicists, Juan Maldacena, refers to this principle as the "principle of maximal life". In other words, it's built into our very nature to want to be as long as possible. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that one common ground on which we might build a case for or against God and address the underlying need is to figure out how we can refrain from dying, both individually and as a species.

    In religion, this is referred to as salvation. In the secular world, it is manifest as the desire to avoid extinction and as the desire to extend individual human lives through various means. If we can address this need to "live forever" in a way that is less speculative, we might have the common ground we are looking for.

    I don't have time to engage more here but would be happy to arrange some time to talk via Zoom in the future.

    Thanks again.
  • Phil Tanny
    Welcome Luis, happy to have you here. For the historical record :-) you are the site's second member, a pioneer. The first fellow to join was Nick who just received his doctorate in molecular biology.

    Yes, I'm sure many or most atheists would dispute my description of that perspective. They've been doing so for years, as is their right of course. Those who are sincere about reason can be receptive, those seeking a superior ideology, not so much.

    In other words, it's built into our very nature to want to be as long as possible.Luis Razo Bravo

    Ok, that makes sense. Thanks for introducing that concept. As it happens, just yesterday they posted a great video about our relationship with death on BigThink which you may find interesting.

    If this is the case, then it stands to reason that one common ground on which we might build a case for or against God and address the underlying need is to figure out how we can refrain from dying, both individually and as a species.Luis Razo Bravo

    I'm not sure. A search for some form of immortality would seem to be built upon the belief that life is better than death. I don't see any proof of that, or proof for any death theory. Given that, I wouldn't try to advise anyone else on the subject, but my personal inclination is to trust the system as it is.

    I don't have time to engage more here but would be happy to arrange some time to talk via Zoom in the future.Luis Razo Bravo

    I understand. We aren't on a schedule so happy to hear from you whenever your time permits. It's going to take some time to build this community, but over time I think we'll wind up with an environment more satisfying than Facebook.

    Believe it or not, as incredible at this may seem, :-) I've never zoomed. I'll look in to that. And honestly, I'm a print person, so I'm rather less interesting in person.

    There may be an opportunity for us to work together, given you are working in video and I'm in print. Should it ever interest you, I'd be happy to create a section of this forum dedicated to your YouTube channel and give you control over it. This would seem to create a better place to discuss your videos than YouTube comments. YouTube is great at hosting videos, but the comment sections tend to be far less than great.

    In any case, thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to staying connected by some method or another.

  • Luis Razo Bravo
    Thank you, Phil.

    It looks like maybe I was not clear in my comments about the human preference for life over death, which you have apparently doubted. Do you think there is no proof that humans prefer life over death, or is this a case of not understanding the claim?
  • Phil Tanny
    Sorry, Luis, it was me that was unclear. Yes, of course humans prefer life. I just meant there's no proof that life is actually better than death, because we have no proof of what death is. We prefer what we know, and have no way of comparing it to what we don't know.

    The following is perhaps another subject, not sure. As I understand it, just as there is a will to live, there is a corresponding will to die. Not die physically, but psychologically. Many of the activities we most enjoy in life involve a temporary obliteration of the "me". As just one example, when I was young I was an avid surfer. When we're racing down a wave with tons of water arching over our head, there's no room in our mind for all the usual "all about me" thoughts which we are so prone to. "Me" is gone. All that exists psychologically is the real world in that moment. There is a sense in which we are most alive in such moments, and also in a way dead. Life and death are one, so to speak.

    The point here is that if physical death is the end of "me", our experience in life could possibly suggest that outcome is not something to run from, given that we tend to run towards it while living.
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