I am an atheist. If there really is a "god", why is there no physical proof that he, she, it ever existed? Except for written words ... which, for all that we know, could be all lies so people can feel better about themselves.

Are you supposing that, if something exists, it has to be possible to prove that it does? I would suppose not. So let us rephrase the question: Why isn't there compelling physical evidence that God exists? Some people think there is: The universe itself constitutes such evidence. And if that doesn't seem compelling, what would? The deeper question, however, is why one would suppose there had to be compelling physical evidence of God's existence. There is no compelling physical evidence, so far as I know, that there are such things as nondenumerable ordinal numbers. I suppose nonetheless that there are, and it seems odd to ask for physical evidence that there are such things.

Does trying to prove the God exists undermine religion in that if successful, it removes the need for faith?

I've never met anyone whose belief in God was the result of a "proof" of God's existence. Even if one were convinced by such a proof, I think one's "faith" would have quite a different purpose.

If there is a God, should we ever know who made him/her/it? And if the answer is "God has always existed" then why not argue that the universe has always existed (even before the BingBang) and therefore not created by God. What I am really trying to ask is: How is leaving a question's answer infinite, any answer at all?

When considering a question such as this one, it's worth remembering what the "dialectical context" is, that is, who's asking what question for what purpose, and who's trying to prove what. So, in this case, if someone is trying to prove that God exists by asking "Who made all this stuff?" then the question, "Well, who made God, then?" is perfectly fair, and the answer, "Well, God just is" is, as you note, adequately answered by "Well, then maybe all this stuff just is". What that shows is that the argument has no probative force : It doesn't prove its conclusion; indeed, in this case, at least, the argument doesn't seem to provide any real support for its conclusion. If, however, the question "If there is a God, who made him, her, or it?" is intended to pose a problem for theists, then the answer "God just is" is perfectly adequate, so long as one's reason for saying that God exists isn't the one just mentioned. Which is to say that there is a stalemate here.

What's the difference between a philosophy and a religion?

Philosophers tend not to speak of "a philosophy" the way that phrase is used in ordinary language. You will see people talk, for example, about Russell's philosophy of mind, but that just means Russell's theory about the mind. In so far as people speak of Russell's philosophy, they just mean Russell's work or, again, theories. There's no significant relation between "philosophies" of this kind and religious belief. In the ordinary sense, I suppose "a philosophy" is a set of values or principles. A particular religion might then have a "philosophy" associated with it, but particular "philosophies" will not necessarily have religious elements.

In intelligent design theory, what exactly are the ID scientists comparing life to, to determine its complexity?

My understanding is that they're not really comparing it to anything. The idea is that the structure of DNA is, in itself, so complex that it could not have been produced by the kinds of processes postulated in the theory of evolution. There are ways of measuring complexity in such cases, or at least there are ways of trying to do so, but it is extremely difficult to provide a good account of this kind of complexity. A large part of the reason is that DNA is finite, and most of the mathematics relevant to the study of complexity counts everything finite as supremely simple. Still, there are ways one can go here (using, for exmaple, the resources of information theory). But part of the criticism of many arguments by proponents of intelligent design is that they operate with inadequate accounts of complexity. The more fundamental criticism of these arguments, though, or so I take it, is that there simply isn't any remotely plausible argument that the structure of DNA is too complex to be produced by...

If people did not fear death, is it likely that religion as we know it would not exist?

That question can be taken in many different ways. One way is historical. I'm in no position to answer that question. Another would be sociological. I'm not in a position to answer that question, either. Part of the problem here is that I'm not an historian or sociologist. Another is that there's substantial vagueness in the phrase "religion as we know it". Here's a different question I can answer: Does relgious faith have to be bound up with or somehow a consequence of one's fear of death? The answer to that question seems to me obviously to be "No". I suppose there are particular forms of religious faith that are so bound up with a fear of death, and perhaps these are the most visible in American public life or the most salient to non-believers, but there are plenty of forms of religious faith that are not.

Problem with the Problem Of Evil I've read here a few references to the Problem Of Evil and it brings to mind a small philosophical statement which I hold dear - Beauty in all things. To use the Katrina example for sake of continuity, is it not a short term and narrow view to say people have suffered? Let's assume anybody who has died in the event is not suffering. Those left behind probably are suffering but ultimately their life and those of onlookers may be bettered because of the experience; they may continue to lead more fulfilled lives than what they otherwise may have appreciated. Happiness comes from within and is not determined by what we have, what we've lost, or what we've been through. I concede that beauty in all things is partly just a psychological state, but I also believe rationally that positives can be found in the seemingly most negative situations. We have all experienced this in life first hand. Btw: wonderful website, thanks to all who contribute.

The response to the Problem of Evil that you mention has a long and distinguished history. You suggest that, out of suffering, some good will come. That echoes a Christian tradition in which suffering is regarded as redemptive and transformative. It also echoes Leibniz's famous doctrine that, despite evidence to the contrary, this world is the best possible. My difficulty with these views is that they seem to fail to come to terms with the scope and magnitude of human suffering. I'm prepared to believe that some human suffering is redemptive and transformative, but is it all? As I write, children are buried under the rubble of their schoolhouses in Pakistan. Their legs are crushed. Some of them are bleeding to death. Some of them will suffocate, as the weight of the stone makes it impossible for them to breathe. Some of them will survive a long time and die of thirst. Much of their suffering will never be known, and there will be no acts of heroism where they are concerned. In some cases, there...

I am born into a faith which has an overtly stated principle belief that it is irrational to believe in the existence of a supernatural or a divine power/intelligence. Does that make it a rational or irrational religion? Since it is an organized and practiced religion, am I an atheist, agnostic or religious in the conventional sense. (Jainism and to some degree Buddhism have similar notions.)

As you note, there are plenty of religious people who are atheists, since there are large segments of Buddhism that do not posit the existence of a divine being. The identification of religious belief with belief in God, however, common in the United States and, perhaps, other western countries, is therefore deeply misleading and exclusionary. In the serious study of religion such an identification is not taken terribly seriously. One might well go further and suggest that the emphasis upon "belief"in the popular understanding of religion in the west is itselfinappropriate. Much of the emphasis in religious studies nowadays is on "lived religion" or "lived faith", the idea being that what it is to be religious surfaces in not so much in what one says or even believes but in how one live's one's life.

In a recent discussion with friends about the existence or nonexistence of God, it soon became apparent that there are very different definitions of "existence" being used, and that this seeming hair-splitting is unavoidable if one wants to make any meaningful statement about God's existence. For instance, the Eiffel Tower exists because it is made up of atoms, but no one claims God is made of atoms, so God clearly doesn't exist in the same way the Eiffel Tower does. France, on the other hand, exists as a collective understanding; that doesn't mean that France is a figment of people's imaginations, but it does mean that without people there would be no "France" in any meaningful sense. Many atheists would concede that God "exists" in this sense. But then in what sense does "information" exist? It seems to be a combination of material (which holds the information), and an intelligence (which interprets the information), but I'm not clear on this. I can't say with certainty in what sense concepts like ...

I wish I had something helpful to say about this, but I don't know if I do. We should, however, try to get a little clearer on what is at issue. Let's consider something a little simpler, like plays. I think A Comedy of Errors exists. That is, I think there is such a thing as A Comedy of Errors . But that play isn't a physical thing. You can't tear it up, burn it, or spill your coffee on it, though you can tear up, burn, and soak printings of it. If one wants to say that A Comedy of Errors therefore doesn't exist in the same way that its printings do, I suppose that's all right. But that's not because there is some special sense of "exists" at work here. It's because a play is a very different sort of thing from a printing of one. I take it that the same is true of God. God (if God exists) isn't a physical object, so one wouldn't expect God to be made of atoms. What is it that even atheists will concede about God? Let's look at what you say about France. If you are thinking of France as...

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