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Introduction: How to reason

Section 2: What do we know?

At this early stage of our investigation, all we can say is that we live in a universe bounded by natural laws. We do not yet know if there is a God.

When we want to analyze a situation or resolve a problem, our first step must be to distinguish between what we know and what we think we know. That is not always easy. Many of us have strong convictions - we know that God exists, drugs are harmful, Republicans are evil, dogs are unclean, China is one nation and so on. In order to verify whether these or any other ideas we have are true, we have to stand back and examine them dispassionately - and that's something that many of us find difficult to do.

We are going to think very carefully about the possible existence of God. So where do we start? Do we start with the knowledge that that each of us has - or think we have? Or do we start with the idea that we know nothing at all?

We can quickly rule out the idea that we start with the knowledge that each of us has. Firstly, because much of what we know as individuals isn't true - there are many things we don't know and we sometimes change our minds about things that we thought were true (we may only have just learnt that Brasilia, not Rio de Janeiro, is the capital of Brazil). Secondly, because pieces of my knowledge contradict pieces of yours (we disagree over who won the 1975 World Series). Lastly, even if we agree with each other and we assume that everything we both know is true, we could still be wrong and we don't have much incentive to analyze that knowledge.

So let's look at the second option - we should start with the idea that all knowledge is an illusion and nobody knows anything. We could go as far as arguing, as some philosophers do, that we do not even know whether we exist. Or we can say that "I know that I exist but you might just be a figment of my imagination".

Those are interesting ideas and at one level of analysis it may be true that we know nothing more than cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am. In reality, however, such a viewpoint is meaningless. Anyone who comes to the conclusion that the rest of the world is an illusion will very soon end up either starving to death in a lonely room or

How good is your reasoning?

Can you distinguish lies from truth? Or a good argument from a false one? Can you when tell someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes?

We keep physically fit by exercising regularly and eating healthy
food. The same is true of our minds - we need regular mental exercise and a good diet of solid facts and logic.

This chapter offers basic reasoning skills to help you understand the contradictions that lie at the heart of all religion.

0.1: Basic principles
Start at the beginning

0.2: What do we know?
Separate fact from fiction

0.3: Start with the question ...
... not with the answer

0.4: All the evidence ...
... not just some of it

0.5: Cause, correlation and no connection
What's the difference?

0.6: Don't jump to conclusions ...
... or you could land in the ...

0.7: No way
Proving a negative

0.8: Occam's Razor
The simplest solution

0.9: Facts, knowledge and science
What we know and how we know it

0.10: Know or believe?
The impossibility of God

0.11: Reason and faith
Understanding the difference

0.12: Summary

Finished the introduction? Move on to

Chapter 1
Defining God

Does God exist? Before we try to answer that question we need to have a clear idea of who or what God is. How do we describe God? What versions of God are on offer?

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locked up with a dozen - theoretically illusionary - prisoners in some town jail.

There is, however, a middle stance between knowing nothing and knowing everything. Almost everyone on the planet, whether atheist, agnostic or believer, would accept the following premises as true:
• we are human beings who can reason (we can identify facts and
    deduce information from those facts);
• as human beings we are born, live and die;
• as human beings we can and do communicate with each other, although not
    always successfully;
• we human beings live in a universe that is totally subject to natural laws.

Let us agree that these four points are true and the foundations of our knowledge. That allows us to move on to consider our two key questions:
• can we prove whether God / gods exist(s)?
• if a God or gods exist(s), can we describe his / their nature?

These questions are interdependent and it is more logical to take the second one first (God's nature) before deciding whether he (or many gods) exists. It will take some time to look at all the options before we come to a conclusion. But while we are doing so, we can also investigate a related question:
• is there such a thing as a soul - a part of ourselves that lives forever?

We have made a start. At this early stage, all we can say with certainty is that we live in a universe bounded by natural laws. We do not yet know if there is a God. Now let's look at the reasoning tools which will help us find answers to these important questions.

Next: Introduction: Section 3
Start with the question ...

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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