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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The argument from the inability to smell ones own brain.

This time last week, I was getting ready to go to church. Yes, an atheist, getting ready to attend church. I attended with four other members of the Sydney Atheists. We attended a presentation at Toongabbie Anglican church, a talk entitled "Does God Exist".

Upon arrival, we affixed our compulsory name tags, and were greeted by many friendly, smiling Christians, many of whom were complaining about the intense heat. Thank god for the air conditioning in the church!

The evening opened with a few prayers and some jesus themed music from the band. Donny Kwan then began his topical talk. He opened with a brief outline of the four main arguments: cosmological, ontological, teleological and the moral argument. One of my favourite annecdoetes was a discussion between an "atheist" and a Christian. It went something like this:

Christian: So Mr Atheist, can you see god?
Atheist: No...
Christian: Can you smell god?
Atheist: No...
Christian: Can you see your own brain?
Atheist: No...
Christian: Can you smell your own brain?
Atheist: No...
Christian: Aha! But you know you have a brain! This is the same way we know god exists.

Seriously. I really did have to bite down hard on my tongue to stop the laughter. Afterwards, we asked Donny if he had ever heard of an MRI scan? This allows us to see our own brains! Hooray for medical science! As hard as we have been trying though, none of us have yet had a whiff of our own brains...

Other examples he used to argue for the existence of a god were "clues in creation". "The skies proclaim the work of his hands," he said. No, the sky is a completely natural phenomenon and is the atmosphere around the earth. The existence of the sky is in no way any evidence for the existence of god.

Donny likened "clues in creation" to a game of Cluedo, where by investigating all the clues of the crime you can come to a conclusion about whodunnit. This metaphor it similar to the watchmaker argument, likening the fact that a murder case has a murderer, the universe has a designer. This is one of the worst argements for the existence of a god, and is often used by the credulous Ray Comfort. It is a faulty analogy, debunked so well by Richard Dawkins in "The Blind Watchmaker". As an aside, Donny quirked (in regard to the game Cluedo) "I've never understood how you could kill someone with a candlestick!". You beat them Donny. A candlestick made of metal will do a lot of damage if you constantly beat someone over the head with it.

The rest of the talk was filled with arguments from the bible, such as "god speaks to us through the bible, so therefore he exists...". I was really hoping for some interesting arguments, but when all you talk about is "evidence" from the bible, it is completely unstimulating and boring.

The bass player from the band then got up at the end to say a prayer that he had written. He started by expressing his absolute sadness and dismay that in these modern times we would need to even be asking a question such as "does god exist". He then went on about how atheists are spreading hateful messages, and that we need to pray that Richard Dawkins stop spreading his disgusting messages. At this point I got the giggles and really had to exercise some self control. The hilarity factor was going off the scale.

Before the talk we were given a pamphlet encouraging us to take notes throughout the talk, on which the pamphlet says "take notes to raise a question for future discussion." However there was no Q & A at the end. We had many, many questions and points we wanted to clarify, which would have been useful for the congregation to hear, but no one was asked if they had a question. At the end of the pamphlet is a box that says "Do you believe in this God who exists?". I find this question rather odd in the way it is worded. It assumes that the god is a who and that it exists. If you answer no, then they would argue that you are denying god, because he does exist, rather than asking the question "do you believe in a god?".

We then had some very interesting discussions with Donny, and a few others who were interested in what we had to say. It was very friendly and I was pleased that they welcomed us and these discussions. We discussed topics such as contradictions in the bible, to which we were constantly told "but you have to consider the context!". Yes, in some cases this maybe so, but I suspect that most of their points of reference consist of christian apologetics. I was recommended to watch Tim Keller's Authors at Google talk, as he is "one of the best apologetics and difficult to refute". I watched it, and it was pretty bad. In fact, it was truly awful. (I will blog about that talk another time). Honestly, if that is the best they've seen, then they have some serious researching to do.

We do thank Toongabbie Anglican church for welcoming and being so friendly to us, and we had some great conversations, which were stimulating and interesting. We would love to have any of them come to our meetups, or even give a talk. Details can be found at


  1. I thought candlesticks were made from wax!

  2. ... nope.

    Candles are made of wax

    Candlesticks hold candles and are usually made of heatproof substances (ie, not wax)

    It's a subtle difference.

  3. You're right! I always thought they were called candlestick holders. If I had had a more Roman Catholic upbringing I guess I might have had a greater knowledge of candles and their accesories!

  4. I like the Tim Keller talk, not sure if he is "one of the best apologists".

    He adds something fresh to the debate, which is absent from a lot of the discussions. And that is respect and humility.

    He shows great respect for those with opposing views, and he is very humble in his responses. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers, and he readily admits that a Christian has a set of metaphyisical 'un-provable' presuppositions about the world, his point is that the atheist have their own set of metaphysical presuppositions, yet will rarely admit to them in these kind of discussions.


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