The law of conservation of magic – a follow-up to my previous post on the law of conservation of energy

A while ago I wrote about the contrived creationist argument that abuses the law of conservation of energy to reach for an excuse to imagine that science confirms life continues after death. It’s been on my mind again since the subject came up recently, this time raised by a supposed atheist. Looking back on that old post, I don’t think I gave enough context then, so it is worth revisiting.

Briefly, the law of conservation of energy states:

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only converted from one form of energy to another. This means that a system always has the same amount of energy, unless it’s added from the outside.

Makes sense… Imagine the universe as a closed system of finite energy. Over time, that energy changes form many times but is never destroyed. Unfortunately this opens a door for magical thinkers to misstate this law as “evidence” of their magic. This argument generally comes in one of two forms, only the second of which I mentioned last time.

  1. It is a convenient excuse to assume that the energy for the beginning of the universe must have come from outside, and this outside force is then presumed to have been god. (Here is an example.)
  2. It is used to assume that consciousness, assumed to be some kind of energy, lives on after death. Since energy can’t be destroyed, proponents of this argument insist the soul lives on.

Tackling the first type of argument is easy – it’s yet another “I don’t know; therefore god” argument. God is a synonym for magic here. Like many supposed arguments for a creator, it relies on the believer already assuming that their creator exists, in which case it is just an excuse to work backwards to what they already believe. In reality, the law simply makes an observation about the universe, and the law only applies to a snapshot of the universe right now. It doesn’t say anything about where the energy came from. The universe could contain a finite amount of energy that expands and then collapses over many billions of years in a cycle, which is roughly what I believe. Note that my belief contains many gaps. No need to fill those gaps with deities or other magic.

The second kind of argument is the one I’ve often encountered, and is the one I wrote about last time. This summarizes what I wrote then:

Law of Conservation of Energy lame argument for an afterlife Example of begging the question
Premise Assume the existence of a “mind” separate to the brain, that controls the brain. (Let’s call this a soul, shall we?) Assume A.
Inference Energy is never lost, blah blah blah, some verbose crap here that distracts you from the assumption made up front. Introduce B, C, & D.
Remove B, C, & D.
Conclusion Therefore a soul exists and lives on after the body dies. Therefore A.

And I stand by that… The insistence that our soul lives on after death presupposes the existence of the soul, so it is just begging the question. Those who make such an argument use the term energy very vaguely. They assume consciousness has some source outside of the brain. So in their argument, consciousness is the energy they would like to imagine survives death. But consciousness isn’t energy. We don’t fully understand what it is, but it is clear that when our brains stop working, after our hearts stop pumping oxygenated blood into it and our nerve synapses stop firing, our consciousness, in other words our awareness and perception, ends. Consciousness is a function of our brains, a side effect of us being alive.

When we die, our bodies die. Energy does indeed change form, through decomposition, or in the case of our bodies being cremated, combustion. No energy is destroyed and there is no excuse to imagine the existence of a soul to explain some magical energy that you made up in the first place. As in my HTML table that illustrates the point from last time, you start with the assumption of a soul, a body lives and then dies, and you use a vaguely defined “energy” referring to the soul you made up and conflating it with consciousness, and then assume it lives on after death. Again, energy is just another word for magic here.

Hence I sarcastically refer to this as the law of conservation of magic. Assume magic exists. Add life. Subtract life. And what remains is the magic you assumed to begin with. Well done. All magic has been conserved. Twat!

Note: I can’t actually refute the existence of a soul. It is unfalsifiable because a soul, like a god, is assumed to be incorporeal and something that exists outside of the material universe. But in a not so strange twist, it’s unfalsifiability and it being assumed to exist outside of the material universe is exactly what makes this abuse of the law of conservation of energy a self-defeating argument. Energy in science is clearly defined, unlike this wishful thinking. The creationist argument is a poor attempt to use a pretense of scientific logic as an excuse to indulge in magical thinking, but the pretense is easy enough to see under scrutiny.

One of the worst arguments for an afterlife ever (The law of conservation of energy)

I’ve been down for three days with a muscle spasm in my lower back. So, since the pain is still significant even though I can walk now, here’s the shortened version of this post…

Although I don’t participate in atheist vs theist debates any longer, I am still a member of a couple of debate groups, and this dumb argument shows up from time to time, always presented by a man (we are the dumber gender, seriously) who is pretentious, smug, and arrogant… and keen to show how clever he is with overly verbose arguments.

Since I’m in pain and lazy, I’m going to illustrate how stupid the argument is by putting it in a table, side by side with a similarly lame argument.

Law of Conservation of Energy lame argument for an afterlife Example of begging the question
Premise Assume the existence of a “mind” separate to the brain, that controls the brain. (Let’s call this a soul, shall we?) Assume A.
Inference Energy is never lost, blah blah blah, some verbose crap here that distracts you from the assumption made up front. Introduce B, C, & D.
Remove B, C, & D.
Conclusion Therefore a soul exists and lives on after the body dies. Therefore A.

If you can’t see what’s wrong with that argument, you have “issues” with your logic. To be fair, the argument is normally sneaky about the assumption made up front, but it’s always there. The person making the argument puts a lot of effort into their argument inference… a lot. So much that it may be difficult to read, what with all the scientific jargon and elaborate sophisticated language. But none of that changes the fact that the energy lost in death can be perfectly explained by decomposition… or combustion in the case of cremation. Bullshit baffles brains but any argument that assumes its conclusion in the premise is wrong.

To clarify, this argument pretends to be scientific and logical because the argument inference tries to make out that some mysterious energy must be left over after a body dies, and that energy is the soul. Normally people respond only to the argument inference, as the writer intended, but the problem is that the argument always assumes this mystical energy existed separately from the body to begin with. Take away the entire argument inference, as lengthy and verbose as it is, and you will observe that the soul was already assumed to exist in the premise. It just wasn’t called a soul.

Edit… Here’s a real world example of a variation of the above argument, and as I explained in the post, it’s by a man who is as smug as he is stupid, but is keen to show how clever he thinks he is. From a debate group I was added to without asking a while back, so I tend to respond there but treat everything I see as fair game to share outside the group.


On the difference between theism and atheism

Every now and then I try to explain the difference between theism and atheism, trying in vain to show that atheism isn’t also a belief system. After some debate on a random Facebook status (not in a debate group but with an intelligent theist), maybe it’s time to have another go?

The misconception that many people appear to have is that atheists assert there is no god. Thus atheism is posed as a belief system, a belief that god doesn’t exist. It isn’t, but yet we do often say or write “god isn’t real” or “god is imaginary” or even “there is no god”. So it can sure as bad sex look like a belief system…

But the truth is more subtle. I started out as a theist, a devout Roman Catholic, and one day at sixteen years old, I stopped believing. Another way of phrasing it is that I rejected my former belief, and all other claims that a god, a creator, or some sort of deity exists. I didn’t suddenly assert “there is no god”. I just stopped believing in what I’d been taught.

I don’t recognize that any god claim is a valid claim. God is not even a thing. “God” is nothing more than a magical explanation for what is unknown to us, and when you think about it, this god explanation doesn’t even solve the problem it was created to solve… Because by definition you must not question where god came from, it just puts “the unknown” in a little box named “god” that by definition must not be questioned. Take away the little black box called god, and you still have everything that was there before, but with the admission that there are things we do not know, and we don’t need to invent a god to explain them. The unknown is just that – unknown.

So unlike a theist who thinks he or she “knows” their god exists, because of indoctrination conditioning him or her not to think far enough to question it, that is someone who simply assumes their god exists and starts every argument without knowing they made that implicit assumption, when an atheist says “there is no god”, it’s a conclusion. We didn’t start with it, didn’t beg the question as theists do, but concluded it after rejecting your various god claims and realized that the god concept itself is not even a valid assertion. Atheism is not some polar opposite belief system, because god is not even a necessary thing. There is no opposite claim to be made.

Refuting science that you don’t understand does not make your preferred god hypothesis true

I’ve written about this before, but today I’m taking a slightly different approach. Firstly I’ll present the brief version of my argument, followed by my reasons for approaching it this way.

Yesterday somebody trolled a popular local atheist Facebook group with the usual bullshit… He presented a misunderstanding of science that proposes the universe and all life came about as it is now, purely by chance. Then asked, “What are the chances of this?”

Since I can’t remember the exact words of my answer and I’m too lazy to look now, here is the paraphrased version: Straw men are great because they’re easy to burn. Let’s assume for a moment that all science is wrong. Throw out the Big Bang Theory and throw out evolution. What then? (I’ll tell you…) Then, what we have is the big ol’ scary unknown. (Cue the scary music and “da da daaa”.) And you know what? Even then, it still doesn’t make sense to think creation by god is the answer. When you remove science, god is still just a magical, ready-made explanation for the unknown. To think otherwise, is to start with the assumption that god exists, because you think you know he does as I wrote last time, and then thanks to your belief bias, you work backwards from your foregone conclusion and look for reasons to reach it. Not only is that simply begging the question, but it is also a false dichotomy to think that creation is the only alternative to science.

And that’s as much detail I’m interested in writing of my argument today. I’m more interested in why. As I’ve observed in every such discussion, the subject of the discussion is then the misunderstood science as posed by the creationist. I can understand why… It is the subject of his post of course, and he didn’t even mention god. But that’s only because of the assumption he made that if some aspect of science that he didn’t understand is not true, god is the answer.

And here’s what always happens: Several people who know science post loads of detail, enough to give the person a reasonable understanding of that portion of science. And for what? Tomorrow he will return with another straw man, a god of another gap.

I call this kind of approach (from the atheists) defending the straw man. You’re missing the point if you do that. I am not willing to debate science with creationists. Science has gaps. It’s not like science is finished yet. Nor is it like science has anything to do with god. The point here is their underlying thinking, that refuting some aspect of science, that they believe is wrong, leaves god as the only alternative. You need to realize is that defending the straw man is a waste of time. They are not bound by honesty. I’ve even read arguments by creationists who know a fair amount of science, writing pseudo-scientific papers filled with scientific jargon, refuting speciation. But the pattern is always the same: Refute the straw man and claim victory. Meanwhile in reality, the subject of their claim that god exists is not even addressed.

Don’t fall for such arguments that avoid the issue. Expose the belief bias, the circular reasoning and the false dichotomy, and ask directly how the creationist gets from “I don’t know” to god. It’s not about winning the debate. Nine times out of ten, both parties who debated will think they won, and nearly everybody who observed will leave with the same beliefs they started with. But if you expose that their “logic” isn’t logical at all, you might reach an impartial or thinking observer.

Fuck it… I should really avoid such FB arguments. Now someone is claiming that my argument is a straw man because the OP didn’t state his position. I don’t care that he didn’t. Even if he meant something else, my point still stands. Refuting one thing does not mean your preferred hypothesis is true. (Especially if you refute a straw man.) You still need to provide evidence.

This is a frequently posed generic argument for intelligent design. It’s also a classic bait and switch. Don’t state your position but invite those who oppose you to defend the straw man. Then if anyone goes after the implied “conclusion”, you can change your position, since it wasn’t stated.

This again reminds me of the dishonesty of such creationists. Why post a loaded question about science being wrong to an atheist group if you don’t mean to imply that science is wrong “because god”? I have personally seen such “arguments” posted hundreds of times, and this is no exaggeration. By making the post only about the straw man of science, they assume their own position, whatever it may be, is made stronger. Comment and explain how science really works, and you’ll just get another straw man of some other science tomorrow. Comment about the assumptions being made, and they change to bait and switch. It’s a win-win for them, in their small minds. Just another reason not to debate creationists.

Another example of begging the question

In case any regular readers are wondering, I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still here, but don’t have much time to write at the moment. My car, which was in an accident I wrote about recently, is still at the auto repair shop, so I get a lift to work. My lift arrives about an hour later than I normally get there… just before 8AM. I normally get to work at around 6:45AM, so if I am in the mood for writing (and I only write when in the mood), I have around 30 minutes to write, publish, and correct or improve a post after it goes online, and then still start working 15 to 30 minutes before office hours start. Until I have my car back, I won’t be writing much.

I wrote this one mostly to share that first paragraph above, but while I’m here… I saw this strange OP shared in a debate group:

if anything can bring this universe into existence, that must be God

In other words, if anything can bring this universe into existence, that must be the magical explanation for the unknown that ancient man made up thousands of years ago. This is an example of begging the question. Yes, the explanation for the unknown is indeed an explanation for the unknown, but that doesn’t make it true. I’ve mentioned it before, but no matter how many times you assert what you believe, the assertion doesn’t become true. (Someone please tell Donald Trump.)

The person who posted it is probably thinking of an argument from first cause, which I wrote about a while ago, but I find that refuting it is unnecessary in this case. The poster in this case was unaware of the circular reasoning in the statement shared, and probably won’t even understand my rebuttal in the post where I discuss the argument from first cause, and won’t bother to read it anyway. That’s not my best post… I wrote it before I knew what special pleading is, and although I mentioned it, I didn’t call it special pleading.

Lately I partake in the atheist versus theist debate groups mostly for amusement. The status mentioned today was a little different, but it was still just another assertion. Most of the posts are written by people who don’t know or care what atheism is, and I am sick and tired of explaining it to them. It doesn’t help if you are in a debate group, and all you get to do is define what atheism actually is, over and over again, to people who refuse to understand, only to log into the group the following day to find another person making a similar statement.

Here’s another fine example of stupidity:

Are you alive or dead in the afterlife?

What would you answer to that? I simply replied with, “Loaded question is loaded.” What is the point in writing in detail a breakdown of all the claims and assumptions made by such a stupid question, when you know the person who wrote it is not going to comprehend the answer? It’s not like they’re even interested in an answer that addresses their assumptions. When anyone phrases a question that way, they expect an answer from someone who makes the same assumptions. So this person expects to debate an atheist who addresses the question of “alive or dead” in “the afterlife” without addressing the loading of the question… Someone who answers after they have already been “defeated” by “admitting” that an afterlife is real, which it isn’t. They do not know that they made assumptions.

Anybody who says there are no stupid questions has clearly not debated creationists.

Is atheism as dogmatic as religion?

Yesterday someone asked the members of a debate group how we would respond to the suggestion that atheism is dogmatic, just like religion. My answer was simple: Tell the person to look up the meaning of “dogma” or “dogmatic”…


That’s the short answer. It should be perfectly clear that atheism cannot possibly be dogmatic. Of course, this assumes that the person asking the question actually knows what atheism is. They never do. So here’s a longer answer…

Before we can define what atheism is, in its simplest form, we have to agree on what theism is. I don’t think anybody will disagree with me when I write that theism makes at least the first two of, and possibly the last, of the following three claims:

  1. Creation happened.
  2. The god that you believe in (the particular one of your indoctrination) was responsible for that creation.
  3. If you accept this and worship that god (for example take Jesus as your personal saviour), you will be rewarded in some way, after death.

Here’s what atheism is:

  1. I don’t believe the above claims, because there is no evidence for any of them.

That’s it. No dogma, no creed that I follow. I simply reject your claims. I do not propose an alternative, and my views on science are irrelevant. There is no case of your dogma, whatever dogma it may be, being some sort of argument of equal merit to atheism. Atheism does not assert anything. It is merely a position of rejecting religious belief, as well as the dogma of religion.

In fact, I don’t even think past the first of those claims. I reject creation itself, without even considering anything further. And don’t tell me the evidence of creation is all around us. Besides it being irrelevant to my subject today, for you to take the things that you believe to have been created, as evidence of creation, the premise of your argument assumes the conclusion to be true. In other words, it’s circular reasoning.

An assertion is still not evidence of whatever it asserts

Sigh. I thought it was only theist trolls who did this… who spammed atheist groups with links to articles, the titles of which claim “indisputable proof of god” or “NASA confirms everything in the Bible is true”, when the articles themselves simply assert the claim by a third party. But they’re not the only ones…

Before I get to the one I’m referring to, let’s get one thing straight: An assertion, by definition, is a forceful statement of your belief (or fact). In other words, it is a claim made forcefully. The claim is not evidence of itself. Regardless of who makes the claim, how emphatically they assert it, and how tempted you may be to believe them because they are a figure of authority or someone you respect… a claim repeated is still only a claim.

With that in mind, look at this meme that was posted to the snopes Facebook group recently:


What do you see? I see some text with a few images. The text makes a claim, not even a very good claim… The Republican FBI? Russian diplomat confirms???

90% of dentists prefer Sensodyne toothpaste…

I know this is true because it was stated on television by a man wearing a white coat!!!

I commented to that effect, and obviously sensible people agreed (because the group is made up primarily of skeptics) but not everybody did. I was accused of having an agenda, where no amount of evidence will convince me… An agenda, in Africa? (Sorry but I can’t help but think of a sketch from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life… “A tiger, in Africa?”)

The person had posted a video before that, so I reminded him that I was commenting purely on the meme and left it at that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter… A video from a source that’s a proponent of your conspiracy theory, where a statement is made by a man who is some sort of authority (to you) and repeats what you want to believe, is just a repetition of the claim. It’s an argument from dubious authority and also is just another example of the claim being asserted. That’s not evidence. For fuck’s sake, don’t people know this?

I don’t know if the Russian connection with Trump is true or not, although I have not seen any evidence that suggests it to be so. But asserting the claim doesn’t make the claim true.

“Every creation has a creator; therefore God exists.” Way to beg the question, dude!

I really ought to stop debating these people. The other day I mentioned the one person in particular who posts nothing but memes that “debunk” evolution, or at least a straw man thereof. Even though I explained the issues with this argument multiple times, and posted my counterargument, this person continues posting the same thing, phrased differently, over and over. Debating isn’t only about putting forward your argument. It’s also about considering the opposing argument, something that person is unable to do.

Then I saw a comment presenting someone else’s argument, which started like this:

Every creation has a creator.

It then went on, via a lengthy and convoluted argument which I didn’t read, to conclude that god exists. I have also pointed out the problem with circular reasoning and begging the question to these people multiple times, but they just don’t get it…

Yes, it is true to say that every creation has a creator, because that’s what a creation is. However, that’s just a rearrangement of what is being claimed. By assuming creation to be true, you also assume a creator. One does not start an argument with the assumption that one’s conclusion is correct.

Consider this statement:

I am always right. I know this to be true because it was stated by me. I thus conclude that I am never wrong.

That’s exactly the same kind of logic. You can see it’s clearly wrong. My premise was that I am always right. My conclusion was that I am never wrong. But always right means never wrong. Likewise a creation has a creator, so assuming the universe is a creation is the same as assuming it has a creator.

In case anyone fond of Tu Quoque claims that as an atheist, I am also making an assumption (of no creation?) let me make this clear: I make no claim. A theist professes belief in god, and a religious apologist argues that the claim is true. That is, the belief that god exists, and that the universe is a creation of god, is the claim. If you assume creation, you assume the claim to be true. Proving that the universe is a creation is part of the problem that needs proving. The other part is to prove the existence of the creator. The source of the claim is usually some religious text, such as the Bible. As the source of the claim, that can’t be used as the proof either. It would also be circular reasoning to claim that you know the Bible is true because the Bible says so.

Aside: There’s more to the claim that I’ve omitted because it isn’t relevant to pointing out the begging the question fallacy. But to be clear, there is more to the claim. Most religions (and I use Christianity as the example because I was brought up as such and it is the only religion I know well) claim that after we die, we live on in some other form. So they claim that we have a soul or spirit. That’s a testable claim, but nobody has ever been able to prove it. They then insist that if we don’t follow Christ, we will burn in Hell, as opposed to living eternally in Heaven. So often, people simply post memes saying that we will go to Hell, without understanding just how many claims they make in the process, claims that have no evidence.

So instead of this nonsense of begging the question and disproving science, if you want to debate atheists, here is what is expected (at least from me):

  1. Prove that the universe is a creation, not by referring to anything in in that you assume your god created, but by proving the existence of your god.
  2. Prove that a soul exists, by proving that the brain is not the source of our consciousness.
  3. Prove that life continues after physical death.
  4. Prove that Heaven and Hell are real places rather than mythological ones.
  5. Lastly, prove that every other claim (of god) is false, and that your specific one is true. Any theist who knows only about their own religion (because they have accepted their indoctrination) but doesn’t know any others, can be assumed to be brainwashed and unable to proceed with debate, right off the bat.

If all those things can be proved without making any assumptions and without using bad arguments that are riddled with logical fallacies, I will gladly accept your religion.

Note that as an atheist, I don’t have to define what proof of your god is. I make no claim… all I’m doing in effect is saying that your claim is untrue. You claim that a god exists, and thus you must provide the evidence. If god truly is the creator of the universe, this proof must surely exist.

As an atheist, I also don’t have to provide some other explanation for the origin of the universe. Again, I don’t make a claim. I simply reject your magical one.

No, the “works of god” are not proof of god.

Just a quick one today.

I saw this argument several times in the last few days, and I have also seen it many more times presented in debate groups by simple minded and ignorant believers over the last couple of years, so maybe it’s time to write about it? To be honest, this is the easiest “argument” to refute of them all.

When you say that you see the wondrous “works of god” all around you, and they surely prove “His existence”, what you are really proving is not what you think:

  1. You start with the (implicit) assumption that god, your particular religion’s god, created all things.
  2. You then take the things that you assume god created, and declare that they prove god created them.

I’m sorry, but if you can’t see the problem with this logic, you are a prize idiot.

This is simply an example of begging the question, a type of circular reasoning. The premises of your argument assumes the conclusion. In this case, by implicitly and indirectly (it’s often not stated) starting with the assumption that god created all things, and then holding up those things as proof of god, all that you actually prove is that you made the assumption.

Very cool: Biological wheels and motors imaged for the first time, and the old chestnut, the argument from complexity

No time to write today, so a quick share instead… This is fascinating. “Wheels and motors” of bacteria have been imaged for the fist time. (Image is taken from the article without permission. Sorry.)


And of course, there are creationists who cite the existence of such natural wonders as evidence of God. Read the first link… The second one is too long, what with their irrational need to rationalize it as being evidence of a creator.

Of course it is not evidence of god. It’s the same old story… Ooh, something is complicated, therefore it must have been created by God. But God is just a name for magic. If you don’t understand something, fabricating a magical explanation for its existence does not make that magic true, even if the magical explanation was accepted by primitive people thousands of years ago and then handed down through the generations by brainwashing children before they were old enough to think critically.

The argument from irreducible complexity has been used for a long time for many different things, and it still doesn’t make sense. It boils down to saying, “This is so complex, it must have been designed.” The concept only works if you already assume that god exists, and that there is no need to question how this being came about (without recognizing that your assumption solves nothing and that your god is just another name for magic). The fact is, the same line of reasoning can be applied to the creator too, in that surely a being capable of creating such complex things couldn’t just exist. Only through special pleading can you expect this not to be questioned. Of course this fallacious argument is once again an example of begging the question, albeit a subtle one because the existence of god is implicitly assumed, and you might not notice the implication. But it’s still there, and the entire argument is formulated around this starting point. (Thus you have a circle.) So no, still no creator required, thank you very much.