I recently posted a Carl Sagan quote to my facebook profile in honour of their 'A' week. Since posting this quote, my old "southern baptist minister" has made several comments which I am attempting to rebuttal. He is a very smart man and I am honestly afraid that he may outwit me. I could use any support/advice that anyone would be willing to share. I am still new to being an atheist, s my knowledge is on the subject is not as highly tuned as I would like. Anyway, here is what has transposed thus far:

Me: "It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in
delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." ~ Carl Sagan

How true. And how ironic that Carl Sagan persisted in the satisfying and
reassuring delusion that he could grasp the universe as it really is.

Me:  I tend to disagree. He looked upon the universe with no pretensions and drew his conclusion upon evidence. To see something as it really is based upon what you can observe and test is truly the furthest from delusion that a man could be. The delusion would be in somebody believing something they have been told without question and never seeing what the evidence shows.

Pastor:  It is not only delusional, but arrogant, to believe for a moment that we can "grasp the universe." There is no evidence to support such a belief. Indeed, all the evidence runs to the contrary. And to establish what is observable and testable as the only measure of what "really is" is both nihilistic and silly. Is love real?

Me: It is neither arrogant nor delusional to "believe" that we can "grasp" theuniverse. The ability of people to do this very thing allows you to communicate with me over the internet. Perhaps you have a different definition of "grasp"? I view Sagan's use of "grasp" as "working towards a thorough understanding of". There is much we know and have learned about the world and the universe around us. Also, what do you mean by, "All the evidence runs to the contrary"? As for love, love is an emotional state, and there is plenty of evidence that this emotional state exists. People who claim to be "in love" behave in markedly different ways from people who do not. Studies of the brain show that certain areas are activated by feelings of love. The process by which the mind loves another is a complex chemical cocktail of endorphines that acts as a reward mechanism for spending time with your loved one or offspring. The reward mechanism fills the lovers with a profound sense of peace and contentment. This essentially becomes an addiction, which is understandable.

Grasp means to comprehend, not to move toward comprehension. If we merely  observe the world around us, all evidence points to the reality that we do not understand ourselves, much less the cosmos. Sagan is considered a genius for merely scratching the surface of astronomy! I think it's self-congratulatory to define ultimate enlightment as the mastery of that one subject in which you happen to be an expert. What hubris! You think he grasped love? None of his three wives thought so. No wonder he wanted to reduce love to some chemical reaction! Do you think reducing such things as love, or peace, or contentment, down to a chemical compound is "grasping the universe as it really is?" If so, I
feel sorry for you, my friend, and sorrier yet for anyone with the misfortune of loving you.

BTW - Sagan was not an athiest, but an agnostic. He argued that science was ill-equipped to answer the question of God's existence, and that for science to disprove God would require undeniable evidence of an infinitely old cosmos.

Well, here's wishing you the best chemical reactions possible. :-)


What you are not recognizing in his statement that we are "ill-equipped" is that he isn't referring to a Christian god, but god as a creator. The claims of the god of Genesis can indeed be tested. Sagan's statements do nothing to bolster your position. In your definition of grasp, do you not see the study of astronomy as moving toward comprehension? Infusing God as a solution in places where you don't comprehend nature is the same reaction those whom praised Apollo would do. Do you feel that praying to Apollo was a worthwhile activity?

"Ultimate enlightenment"? Could you please define what you mean? I never claimed anything about an ultimate enlightenment. Grasping something means to have an understanding of it. It need not be complete understanding or "ultimate enlightenment". If we had that, science would stop.

In regards to love, I have not reduced anything. The importance and value of this need to protect each other is as strong and valuable as the desire to eat or drink. If I said that your desire to eat food or drink water is reduced to a chemo-electrical response would you scoff at that as well? What about medicine? When somebody has an emotional or psychological problem, they are usually prescribed medicine to alter the chemo-electrical reactions that are occurring in the brain, thus
through such reactions, we are able to adjust peoples emotions. 

As for your claims on Sagan, he was indeed an atheist. He did not believe or accept the God hypothesis. Most atheists are agnostic and many theists are, too.

In-fact there are four common belief systems when regarding Atheism vs Theism:
1. Agnostic atheist: does not believe any god exists, but doesn't claim to know that no god exists   
2. Gnostic atheist: believes that no god exists and claims to know that this belief is true  
3. Agnostic theist: believes a god exists, but doesn't claim to know that this belief is true   
4. Gnostic theist: believes a god exists and claims to know that this
belief is true 
Also, Sagan's marriages have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. It could be argued that Sagan had three times the love as somebody married only once. This is nothing more than a silly
swipe that is besides the point.

The claims being made without evidence comes from one side of the discussion. While facing a mountain of evidence such as evolution, astronomy, Red shift, Geology, etc, you hold up one book and yell hubris. It may get you a few points in Scrabble, but it will gain you nothing in this  discussion.

Also, thanks for the pity, but I really don't require it. :)

Pastor: Kyle, I know it is en vogue for this kind of psuedo-intellectual jibber jabber to pass for intellegince, but in then end it is nothing more than willful ignorance. Sagan made a name for himself by doing exactly what you do above -- redifining, speculating, presuming, and ignoring the arguments and evidence that inconveniently work against the predetermined conclusions.

Who died and made sceince king? Why is scientific proof (as opposed to legal proof, forensic proof, logical proof, or mere intuition for that matter) the standard that we would apply to the question of God's existence? Why would anyone assert that physical science is even capable of addressing metaphysical questions?

It is a fool who says in his heart that there is no God, and fools may not wish to be pitied, but I do pity them.

This may have begun as a disucssion, but has obviously has degenerated to a debate, one producing heat but no light. So I'm done. The last word is yours, until that day we stand before the God who made the cosmos, and us.

Me: Keith, I would have to agree that Science cannot speak to the Metaphysical. There is no evidence to test. Science says nothing about any god, only the claims made by their followers. Conversely, the metaphysical cannot address the Natural World. If it could, you would agree that science could find it testable and observable and then speak about it.

I hope that from this discussion you take away that I haven't arrived at this position without thought. Even if we disagree about the conclusions. I respect your desire to worship and look to a better tomorrow. Conversely, I hope that you don't see me as a fool, for it may endanger that future. "But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." - Matthew 5:22 Thank you for all that you have tried to do for me over the years and this discussion.

I sincerely wish you and your family a safe and happy Easter weekend.


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It is neither arrogant nor delusional to "believe" that we can "grasp" the universe. The ability of people to do this very thing allows your minister to communicate with you over the internet. Perhaps he has a different definition of "grasp" than what most people might use.

Science has become a tool that has reliably and demonstrably "grasped" the world and the universe we live in. Your pastor is playing the game of if we do not have absolute knowledge, then we know nothing. It is a fallacy called a false dichotomy.

There is plenty of evidence to support our ability to understand the universe around us with out any need for supernatural explanations. Your pastor, I presume, does not live in a mud hut. He himself is surrounded by the fruits of this ability. This makes him not only delusional, but hypocritical as well.

Give him hell and don't stop asking questions!
My, how nihilistic and silly of you, doone. Grasping the universe and all.
And to establish
what is observable and testable as the only measure of what "really is"
is both nihilistic and silly. Is love real?

Love is a "concept." An "idea." People who believe in love have never CLAIMED that it can be quantified, measured, studied, etc. and nor have they claimed that love is anything other than a human emotion; an abstract concept. Now, if your pastor friend would like to concede that God is nothing more than an abstract concept - a set of emotional ideals - then I would be happy to admit that, on those terms, God is real, since the BELIEF in God most certainly IS real.

(And in actual fact, love is a chemical reaction in the brain which certainly CAN be (and has been) studied)
Funny that this guy is explaining it better than New Scientist did.

Oh! He's a scientist, not a science writer for a non-peered review science publication. What a waste of $60 a year.
Exactly. And love or lust can be measured and studied in behavior and other physical reactions. Love is not God and God is not love.
Arguments to expect.

I have no reason to expect that Love is more than an evolutionary chemical reaction to protect those whom are a part of my life as a method to perpetuate my existence and to spread my genes. If you are suggesting that love is something more than a chemical reaction you are the one with the burden of proof. Even facing reality there is beauty in this world view. I can experience the love without sharing it with a third entity. It's more time for me and my loved one and living the life that I have versus the one that I would want.

Keep us posted. Sounds like fun!
Keep us posted. Sounds like fun!

No shit. I wish I had a pastor looking for a debate. Especially on Facebook.
It would be a grand show!
Circle the wagons!

I will let you all know what he says. Thanks for the great info.
You better. You have several atheists living vicariously through you at the moment. :-)
I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the pastor's reply!


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